|Playstation > Whats New > PlayStation Reviews > Staff Review|
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|Distributor:||Working Designs||1 Player|
|Game Type:||RPG||Memory Card|
|Review Date:||July 1998||Standard Joypad|
Setting the Scene
Working Designs is well known for it's American conversions of Japanese RPG titles for the Saturn game console. They always had a unique way of grabbing some of the best overseas RPG's and modifying them to fit an American audience...often adding their own special blend of humor to each title. So when Working Design's announced around a year and a half ago that they would start doing the same service for the Playstation, I was ecstatic! After waiting around for what seemed like forever, Alundra was the first title selected by WD for American release (not counting RayStorm from their Spaz division). The title was originally touted as a "Zelda Killer" and while I cannot say that I agree with that statement, it's does compare quite favorably to the old Zelda titles from the Super NES days. Okay, so let's not waste anymore time on a history lesson and instead jump right into the review.
Alundra is an action first, role playing game second kinda title. Actually, I should probably say that it's a puzzle solving game above all else because brain teasers virtually dominate this game.
The graphics in Alundra are of the sprite-based variety. I wouldn't quite say that they are "16 bitish", but it's close. Alundra and the rest of the characters in the game are quite detailed and possess average animation. Certainly nothing to make you stop and say "wow!", but surely detailed enough to make out which character is which. If you have ever seen or played the game Wild Arms, you can draw a pretty good mental image of what to expect with Alundra minus the polygon based battle scenes and the vibrant color scheme. While the world that Alundra travels through is certainly detailed and imaginatively depicted, the colors used are rather...well, drab. It's kind of hard to put into words but there are very few locations that you will visit in this game that you would consider colorful. Yes, there is a decent color palette in use here, but it's very muted and "earthy". There are some very nice special effects used in the game though. Transparencies are liberally applied throughout the game for such effects like mist, clouds and smoke. This adds a nice atmosphere to the game and sets an eerie mood in many situations. There are also nice sprite lighting effects used for explosions, sword trails when you swing your weapon and the ripples and splashes Alundra makes when walking through water. Overall, it's just a shot over the 16 bit RPG style games you may have been used to seeing, mainly because of all the detail in the backgrounds and the smoother animation. If you were expecting Final Fantasy VII graphics, you should look elsewhere...but the graphics in Alundra work just fine to progress the game along.
Sounds and Effects
There are some really cool sound effects in the game. From subtle splashing noises that Alundra makes while treading water or the stone-on stone sound of a huge rock slab scrapping across the ground, up to the blood curdling shrieks that some of the creatures in the game make. The sounds serve the game well in creating the proper tone and mood while traveling from location to location. The music is also nicely done with grand majestic themes playing in the background when you have accomplished something worthy of note, to the more subtle haunting music when you are exploring some deep dark crypt. Overall the music is nicely scored and fits in with the overall theme of the game. I am a firm believer that sound and music make up a good portion of the overall game experience and luckily, Alundra comes through in this category very nicely. Oh, I should also note that the song for the opening anime sequence totally kicks ass. It reminded me instantly of an old Iron Maiden tune...works for me!
Let me just start out by saying that I thought Alundra was a relatively well executed game. It walks that fine line between being so frustrating that you want to nuke your controller and too easy that you end up breezing through the game in a few hours. Truth be told it is much closer to the nuke your controller line than the easy one... Alundra is a rather unique title in that it is not your typical RPG game. Yes, your character does increase his attributes...kind of, and yes you do find items and weapons...rarely, but the game doesn't set levels for you to attain with experience points. It's kinda weird...whenever you complete a certain mission in the game, you will normally find a special diamond shaped object that will extend your life meter...that's about it for the experience gained stuff in the game. Weapons and armor can be found or purchased but they don't seem to have as profound an impact as in other games of this type. So anyway, it's not your typical RPG by any means, but it does allow you to kind of play a role as the main character. The game predominately features action and puzzle elements quite often melding the two successfully into one...I'll get to the puzzles in a moment. On the action side, you move Alundra through a rather large environment that surprisingly takes place very close to the main town. It's just that there are so many rooms and nooks and crannies to explore, the overall scope is much larger than the actual world that you visit. Dungeons are huge, very maze-like and can become confusing, but they are always laid out in a very logical manner that makes you think instead of just reacting. Alundra can run, jump, swing his sword and use stuff from his inventory to progress himself along. The control is pretty good, but could have been a bit better in my opinion. There are a lot of jumping sequences in the game that can become overly frustrating due to the somewhat unresponsive controls...errrr.... My two biggest complaints though with this area of the gameplay is that there is no map feature...no world overview...nada...I really like that feature in a game of this type and it was sorely missed. The other is the save feature. Save stations are few and far between and normally placed after several difficult puzzle sequences and a final boss confrontation. This means that you should be prepared to spend a lot of time figuring out the puzzles, then fighting and probably dying on your first or second boss encounter and then having to go back and run through the same area all over again. Not my idea of fun. Now, onto the puzzles...and oh boy, what puzzles they are indeed...I would say that Alundra's primary purpose in life is to throw as many brain frying puzzles at the gamer as possible. It seems that right after you proudly solve a rather difficult brainteaser and start to get all cocky and full of yourself, the game throws a mind masher at you that will knock your pride down a few notches. Some of the puzzles are just plain devious in nature and had to be created by some sadistic fellow that just loves to inflict mental pain. There are some of us that view all this as a challenge and you will be happy to know that while the puzzles can often seem daunting or nearly impossible to solve, once done you can say to yourself, "yeah, that made sense...I wonder why I didn't think of that sooner". For the most part the puzzles do make good, logical sense...they are just damn hard, so make sure you have a few extra controllers handy or something else close-by should the need to smash something overwhelm you. The battles in Alundra are fought out in real time. What this means is that as you wander through the game you will encounter all sorts of creatures to get your frustration out on. All you have to do is walk up to them and start hacking away...no load time to a special battle screen, no flashy special warping effects, just walk up and start swinging your sword. Of course sometimes the creatures don't always cooperate and you have to plan certain attack patterns to be successful, but that's just all in a days work. The gameplay is rather linear in nature, as you always have to complete a particular area to advance forward. This is not to say that you can't wander around and explore, but certain areas may not open for you until you complete things in order. Suggestions as to what to accomplish next are offered by townsfolk, so make sure you talk to everyone! Overall I would certainly not recommend Alundra to a novice or first time RPG'er. It would either totally frustrate them or mentally disable them for life. I am of course just kidding about that last part...kind of, but with all of the puzzle elements and somewhat non-RPG like gameplay, Alundra is better suited towards those of you that loved the old Nintendo Zelda games or for someone looking for an RPG game with a little twist.
Value for Money
Alundra is certainly not a short game to complete first time around. You will be spending plenty of time getting stumped by the puzzles and having to go back and do things over again due to the positioning of the Save stations, so the actual game time that is tracked may not accurately reflect the real time you spent on the title. Certainly going through the game a second time would greatly reduce the time to completion, but I am not so sure most people would be compelled to do so. The game offers a good challenge and for people that like this type of game, you will surely feel you got your money's worth. Other's may want to test the waters by renting first and maybe buying later.
I give Alundra credit for trying something a bit new and unique...an
action/RPG. Yes, it's been done before just not very often and with so
very little traditional RPG elements involved.
The world you travel is complex, well laid out and presented nicely. The graphics are pretty nice and the music above average...there is just nothing in the game though that shouts "hey I'm way above average here!!" You just kinda jump into the game and start plugging away at all of the vexing puzzles, without really getting involved or caring about any of the characters.
If you love to solve puzzles, hey by all means go for it...this game has 'em in spades, but if you are looking for something that will leave you in awe or move you in some way like many RPG's do, you may want to look elsewhere.
In the end Alundra winds up being a rather uninspired, but enjoyable enough experience. You will probably walk away feeling a real sense of accomplishment for solving the all of the puzzles, but the game itself will in all likelihood, not leave much of a lasting impression.