Newest Review: ... There are three sequences done in anime style - the intro, cut sequence and ending are excellent. These are fully animated, and are stunnin... more
Member Name: tirial
Advantages: Excellent story, gameplay and puzzles
Disadvantages: Sometimes the isometrics hate you
Alundra is an excellent, possibly the best, puzzle based RPG. It's possibly the best game of its genre on any console. Originally for the PS1, it is now available on Playstation Network for purchase and play on the PS3.
Shipwrecked in a small village and advised by a local scholar, Alundra must use his ability to enter dreams to destroy the nightmares plaguing the villagers before they are all killed. Along the way he must resolve the issue of Maia, another new arrival with similar powers to his own, and eventually find an defeat the demon responsible. Along the way there are some shockingly dark twists for a game rendered in classic 2D animation.
The game uses very basic graphics and game engine. It uses the standard 2D isometric engine of many early RPGS, in purely-top down fashion. There are no other camera angles, and you control Alundra as he runs around the screen (up down, left right, and never on diagonals...). There are three sequences done in anime style - the intro, cut sequence and ending are excellent. These are fully animated, and are stunning. However within the game, the majority of cut sequences are done using the 2D game engine. The idea of the seperate nightmare and waking worlds is well developed, with a distinct look that lets you tell the difference between dream and reality. Concerning the soundtrack, the music is unobtrusive, but also not particularly memorable, and the same is true of the effects. The game has no voices, and is purely text-based.
What makes this game outstanding is what the designers have done with it. The puzzles, unusually for this type of game, span rooms and are intelligently designed. It is easy to work out what you have to do, but even simple block puzzles can take a bit of working out. There is a real sense of achievement when you finally complete a dungeon.
More importantly, the story is good enough to keep you hooked and make it worth while playing. The villagers are people you want to help, and it's hard not to feel sorry for them when they work out what is going on. There is a fair degree of horror, watching them die one by one in their sleep, and a very dark twist when they realise what is supposed to happen. There are several exposition sections, but you get invested in the characters enough that you don't mind - unlike many video games you want them to find a way out.
Storywise the game is very linear, and although there are references to a "King" and other towns it takes place on a small peninsular with one village, giving the game a very crowded feel. (It is also never explained why the King's army isn't involved if the demon is known to be a threat to the realm.) Although there are side quests which can be completed, most of these need to be done in the course of the story anyway.
While you can build up resources quickly by the old standby of mowing grass with your sword, items can be of limited use since so much of the ganme is puzzle solving. Enemies appear on the map and so can be avoided or fought, rather than having random encounters.
That's not to say this game is perfect. One frustration was that if you fail to defeat the boss after a cut scene, you're left to watch the cut scene again...and again...and again. Another was that the isometric view on odd occasssions made puzzles very difficult to solve, and with some sequences precise timing is required. A running joke while playing was "level design by M.C.Escher".
I would not recommend the game to younger players due to the simple graphics, complex puzzles and surprisingly adult story line. This game does not shy away from killing off NPCs, sometimes horrifically. However, any other gamer should thoroughly enjoy it.
While I played and have the PS1 version, the PSN version is an almost direct port, bringing a very good game to a new generation. Retro or not, this one is well worth shelf-space in your collection.
(An update of my CIAO review)
Summary: Absolutely outstanding puzzle RPG game. A modern classic.