Combat is difficult to analyze in this game. Due to the nature of party building, you could have a very interesting, fun, grindy, or challenging time. My party choice (2 mutants, 1 human, and a monster) allowed me to get by without grinding while the game remained challenging. If I had to suggest a better party than this, I'd say skip the monster and include a mutant for an easier time (or human with a little extra grinding required).
Monsters are hard to manage and remain one of the weakest characters. Mutants offer a lot of variety: stats that increase from combat and the ability to use spells. Humans are bland, but with enough cash are overpowered. I never found a good balance.
The bosses, normally a highlight for challenge, are some of the weakest battles when compared to random encounters. The final battle bucks the trend, but ultimately comes down to luck. There's enough here to enjoy, but it's not as rewarding as it could have been.
|Critical hits automatically kill enemies, not that the high damage from my human wouldn't already|
It's interesting that as the second Final Fantasy game (I know it's not really one) released in the US, we still don't have a static party that is now a series staple. At the start, the player chooses one character: a human, mutant, or one of four starter monsters. Additional party members are recruited from the guild to fill empty slots or replace dead members. The guild for each world has characters with appropriate stats for that world. The ability to create any combination of characters is the game's greatest merit.
The appearance of each character doesn't change with equipment, and is set based on race (and gender). Only the first character in the party is displayed while exploring. Mutant and monsters are the only ones with modifiable abilities, but it's unfortunate that they are modified randomly. Reading through one FAQ, it suggests to save after each fight to reduce randomness and keep beneficial abilities and monster types. I don't think it's necessary, as I went through most of the game without any good abilities. With more control over progress though, I would have rated this category higher.
|Initial character options|
Puzzles... puzzles. Nope. None here. The main quest, while not supported with logical reasoning (let's head into monster infested tower instead of sealing it), keeps things focused. The worlds do offer some excursions on the side with a couple optional treasures, and the ability fix at least one problem that has nothing to do with the main quest. I wish there was more examples of such interaction, but we'll have to wait for other games to fill that void.
|Hmmm, how can I solve this problem? Oh! Take the garbage out maybe|
The main story, the driving force for the party, is to discover the purpose, the design behind, this looming tower spewing forth monsters. Some vague rumor that there was a paradise on the other side is mentioned, but our party doesn't seem interested in all that. The world is filled with characters that have their own purpose, which do seem to have their own goals to fulfill. The atmosphere created around events in and out of the tower support the otherwise shallow experience of a dungeon crawl.
Unfortunately, with the limited space of Game Boy games, we're left with only a surface experience of each location, item, enemies, and characters. The player is often left in the dark as to why the party needs to get the Red Orb from Sei-Ryu, or why Sayaka couldn't give me the sphere when I first arrived. There also aren't any choices; the game goes as far as to ask a question, but also takes control of a character to answer it.
|That's where I was going already|
There are a lot of items. Too many to purchase without some heavy grinding, and the manual only describes half of them. I also learned that some armor bestows additional protection beyond the defense stat. I'm not sure how the developers expected these effects, and item uses, to be discovered other than through trial and error. When's the last time you walked up to a shop keeper, and he wouldn't tell you anything about what he was selling?
One interesting thing to note is there is always something better to buy. I only had a single human, and purchasing stats for him only capped out near the end. Also counting one less set of armor and weapons for my monster, I can easily see a necessity to fight additional battles to afford equipment for a well equipped party.
The biggest limitation to collecting is finding a place to put it all. A party of four humans has a chance of storing everything of interest, but you'll also face the fact that weapons and items, even the rare ones, degrade with use. In the last shop is an item to restore uses (Arcane), but it doesn't work on the glass sword (best sword), nor the one time use N. Bomb.
|Only 8 items in my backpack, but who's carrying it and why do I have only one?|
I've always been able to look past graphics, music, and sound effects when the game is enjoyable. I found them acceptable, although some of the music is a little ear piercing if turned up too loudly. Maybe it sounded different on the actual console instead of through the Game Cube. The colored graphics are good, but I also enjoyed them in monochrome.
The worlds, and the tower climbs in between, offer a sense of discovery with tidbits of atmosphere that hint at sinister forces while adding a sense of life, inviting such exploration. There are many hidden items, missed without deviation from the main quest. I missed out on some powerful weapons from the hidden town before it disappeared, and a few others by giving up on more thorough searches through difficult battles. When areas are cleared, change to the world and inhabitants is apparent.
|Just an interesting scene. I think the spikes are supposed to cause damage, but they never did|
I'm a bit surprised at the final score (I thought it might get a bit higher), but the game really is light in a lot of areas. With the random aspects of character development in its infancy here, and the inability to lock at least a few good abilities down, there is more potential than is delivered. I'm looking forward to seeing the series grow into the SaGa games I know, which is really only SaGa Frontier. For those interested, here's a speedrun of the game done in about 1 hour.
Thanks all for joining me for this one. Chet (CRPGAddict, I'm sure I don't have to introduce him to anyone, but his focus is on in-depth reviews of computer RPGs) made mention of this blog on his, which spiked page views for a couple of days. With the dust settling over the next month we'll see how many turn into regulars, but I hope some will check back down the road once I get to some more modern favorites. I welcome all feedback, and hope you enjoy your time here.
Next up is Swords and Serpents, notorious for it's password system; I believe I rented this once and couldn't figure out what the passwords were. Luckily with my recorded playthroughs to take screenshots, I shouldn't lose or misread those passwords. It's another game with a customized party. A party of four (with a choice of fighter, thief, or magician) are assembled to explore a dungeon. I've already been warned to have at least one magician. My planned party is one of each, plus an extra magician. I figure one can never have too much healing potential.