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Crazy religious symbolism permeates a bizarrely entertaining story

  • Silviera
  • 11/11/2009 04:00 AM
Battle System- 3.5/5
Despite being a fairly standard turn based traditional affair, I ended up liking the battles in this game far more than most. What I enjoyed about the battles in this game stemmed from the party dynamic, which is rather unusual. Throughout most of the game you will have three party members. The team is comprised of a merchant, a little girl, and a bodyguard. The merchant is completely inept with a weapon and has no battle techniques whatsoever. He has to rely on a stock of items, specifically a set of elemental amulets, which he can use during combat to great effect. Since leveling has such a tiny influence on his overall strength the only way he will prove useful is if you manage your money and item stock carefully. The little girl joins up second and is in fact about as powerful as you would expect a little girl to be. She does 0 damage to most enemies and will fall after only a few hits and requires a great deal of protection to have any chance at surviving combat, especially early on. Even though she is quite weak it's still quite a problem if she falls in battle since she makes herself useful throwing out recovery items and taking extra hits. The last party member that joins up is a powerful bodyguard who is easily the most valuable member of the party. Not only does he come equipped with a powerful array of skills, but he also has an effective party healing skill.

As a result of this party setup battles play a bit differently from the standard fare, even with the default rm2k battle mechanics. The bodyguard ends up doing most of the damage but usually isn't capable of taking enemies down quickly without being accompanied by a well placed item from the merchant. When it comes to bosses even the little girl has to be fully utilized or things will turn sour quite rapidly. Even though the bodyguard is for the most part all powerful, if they spend the entire battle healing the party you're not going to get anything done. So the merchant and girl have to pick up the slack and keep the party alive while the bodyguard dishes out as much damage as possible. When things take a turn for the worse you'll have that healing spell available to get you out of a pinch.

On average combat is on the tough side, particularly in the case of boss fights which leave little room for error. Thankfully there is blissfully little grinding involved due to the fact that experience gain is ridiculously high. Early on you'll be gaining a level almost every single battle, even if you stop to clean out an entire area of monsters. The game does include an extra mechanic which essentially allows you to instantly bypass any difficult fight. One of your characters possesses an ability that will one shot any enemy in the game, including bosses. The downside is that if you overuse this ability you'll be on your way to a bad ending or even an early game over (if you've played Dragon Quarter it's essentially the same idea). Used sparingly it allows you to bypass any potentially frustrating encounter, which is a nice thing to have around since some of the bosses are merciless.

Unfortunately, the battle system sort of implodes in on itself in the final few hours of the game. In a very short time span every single character in your party gains a powerful skill that allows them to hit all enemies for massive damage. Battles go from requiring careful strategy and item management to simply spamming your best ability with every character every single round. These attacks also have to the longest attack animations in the game so despite the fact you're dishing out more damage than ever before battles actually begin to feel horribly slow. The entire remainder of the game consists of nothing but nuking enemies while throwing out the occasional heal. It was extremely disappointing that such a fun battle system went sour so quickly.

Storyline- 4/5
You are a simple merchant named Elijah and the times they are tough. Being the spineless weakling that you are, when a powerful knight refuses to pay for a large shipment of healing potions you've delivered you're in no position to argue. He sends you half way across the country to pick up your payment from a supposed contact, and knowing full well that your contact most likely does not even exist you set off in your tiny airship betting on the slim chance that you'll actually be getting paid for your goods. Unfortunately that plan falls through rapidly as your airship malfunctions and sends you crashing to a forest below. Although you miraculously survive the crash you find yourself in a forest swarming with vicious monsters with no choice but to travel the remaining distance on foot. Things finally turn around for Elijah when you find a little girl wandering alone in the forest. Turns out she's the latest incarnation of a demon as old as time, one that just happens to be public enemy number one with a bounty large enough to guarantee a very early retirement. Conveniently she has a mark on her forehead identifying her and as a bonus once had her powers sealed away by god himself, making her completely harmless. All Elijah has to do is escort her safely to the capital of the church to collect on his bounty. Unfortunately he has to do so while hiding his true intentions and keeping her identity a secret from the rest of the world. A world full of people who would murder him without a second thought to get their hands on his newfound fortune.

The story only gets stranger from there, and it is indeed one of the strangest adventures I have ever experienced. It's absolutely jam packed with crazy religious symbolism and occasionally references so overt they hardly qualify as even being symbolic. The writing is quite solid despite a few points that feel a little rushed (namely the ending), there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you fully entertained throughout the bizarre adventure. For me the storyline was enough to keep me playing even when other parts of the game began to drag, and despite some predictable elements it's outlandish enough that you'll likely remember it for a long time.

Characters- 4/5
The main character, as mentioned previously, is a simple merchant who is severely lacking in fighting ability. He's rather interesting as a lead because not only is he a weakling and a coward, but he's also amoral and quite duplicitous. Although he's not strictly evil he's only in it for himself and if the opportunity arises he'll take advantage of anyone he can in order to get ahead. Adding the demonic little girl to the party adds quite an interesting dynamic, as she too has her own goals in mind but is not powerful enough to do much of anything without some assistance. They are joined by an effeminate bodyguard who is mostly there to keep everyone else alive, though he does become a lot more important as the story goes on. There are actually a few other party members but they join a bit late and mentioning any specifics would spoil an interesting part of the game so I'll leave it at that. I will say they are extremely entertaining. As far as villains go there are plenty of them. Although for the most part they're a bit stereotypical and predictable there's enough interesting things going on in the storyline that a few of them will still manage to be engaging.

Level Design- 3/5
Fairly average here. Everything is functional enough but for the most part towns aren't very interesting and dungeons rarely deviate from having you walk in a straight path. Rather than stuffing items in chests and other obvious places, nearly everything is hidden in random barrels or even lying out in the middle of the ground. Instead of asking you to search everything one of your characters starts out with the ability to sense nearby items through a field ability that will last for a few minutes. While active a large purple arrow will appear indicating that an item is hiding there. Early on it's somewhat interesting since you have an extremely low mp pool and can't simply spam it constantly, you have to consider suspicious looking areas and use it accordingly. As the game goes on the cost of this ability becomes trivial, and the end result is that you have to keep it active at all times just to pick up items the game expects you to have anyway.

The game uses touch encounters and does include a useful ability revolving around that. One of your party members has the ability to freeze all enemies on the map for 10 seconds which makes evasion trivial. The only downside to this ability is you cannot have it and the item scan active at the same time, so if you want to avoid combat you'll need to do a bit of switching if you still want to keep an eye out for loot. Much like the item scan this ability becomes less interesting as your mp pool increases to the point where you can spam it as much as you'd like. Though if you're getting tired of the combat that may turn out to be a good point for you instead.

One thing of note is that your adventure is somewhat timed. Although there is no constant timer running and you are free to explore and grind in any area as much as you wish without fear, entering a new location or traveling between regions consumes PE (I'm not exactly sure what this stands for. I do not remember the game telling me though I may have just forgotten). Shortly into the game the concept of PE is introduced and you are given 50 to complete the game. Entering any area consumes 1, while changing regions of the map will consume 2. Using the ultimate attacked mentioned above also consumes 2 PE. Basically you have a limited ability to return to old areas, whether you wish to grind or simply restock on items. If you spend too much time messing around or abuse your ultimate attack you'll be on your way to a bad ending, and if you completely ignore PE and recklessly backtrack you'll be on your way to an instant game over. Fortunately it is quite possible to complete the game without ever returning to previous areas or using the ultimate attack and the initial stock of PE is more than adequate (I was able to finish the game with 30 remaining). It's a nice feature that makes the adventure seem a bit more urgent while being lenient enough to avoid resulting in a lot of unnecessary stress.

Graphics- 4/5
Nearly 100% custom here, and for the most part things look very good. The only thing I came across that was not custom were a few chipsets here and there. The game includes a few fully hand drawn scenes which help accentuate a handful of key moments, though the part that sold me in this category was definitely the monster graphics. In particular the boss graphics tended to be extremely weird and grotesque which made them appear genuinely terrifying. Although the game does use the traditional rm2k front view battle system the game manages to utilize sideview character battlers used in every attack animation. These attacks are well animated but they do tend to wear thin since you'll be seeing the same ones over and over, especially during the last few hours of the game. I must make special mention that this game contains a plethora of blood and gore and a few fully animated messy deaths. It also contains a bit of minor nudity that did feel a bit needlessly tacked on at times. Minor issues aside I quite enjoyed the graphical style of this game.

Music/Sound- 4/5
For the most part music is well placed and fits with the mood at all times. The song selection has been drawn from a variety of sources, mostly various videogames and anime. It's a wide enough selection that you're unlikely to recognize everything and probably won't be overly bothered when you come across something you do. A bit of voice acting has been added to the battles, mostly utilized during skill animations. Aside from having a bit of a grainy sound quality to it it's decent enough not to detract from the game.

Random stuff I liked-
An early moment in the game, one of the NPCs in the first town offers to teach you about fishing and even offers a spare fishing rod. He rapidly explains the complicated mechanics of the fishing system while the main character frantically refuses to be any part of it. He eventually asserts that he has no intention of ever touching a fishing rod and runs away assuming the fisherman has gone insane.


Random stuff I hated-
Valedar, a boss who causes insanity by screaming. He's easily the most difficult encounter for a good part of the game, largely due to the fact he likes to cause confusion which you have no way of curing. If you're unlucky enough to have the bodyguard confused he'll unceremoniously slaughter the rest of your party before committing seppuku while the boss sits back and enjoys the show. Fortunately if things get too annoying you always have the ultimate attack to fall back on.

Final Thoughts-
An extremely entertaining game. It is a bit average on the technical side and the writing suffers from a few problems here and there, but despite the flaws it's such a crazy experience that I highly recommend playing through it at least once. You won't be bored.