Review by Pluvius
"This late Famicom RPG has good graphics... and that's about it."
Here's another late Famicom RPG, this time one from Angel Studios (a little-known Japan-only publisher) called Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust Gaiden ("Armored Dragon Fantasy Villgust Sidestory," or "Villgust" for short). The reason why Villgust came out so late is simple; it's based on the original Villgust game that was released for the Super Famicom a year earlier. Presumably, the reason why this gaiden was released on the Famicom is because it was cheaper to do so (and perhaps the game itself was cheaper to consumers than average). Incidentally, there's also a Villgust anime. I don't know much about it obviously, but I'm guessing that it's also based on the original game (which was published by Bandai, unsurprisingly), since it's just a two-episode OAV that came out in the same year.
Before I actually start talking about the game, I have to have a word on the translation. It's really bad. I mean, I thought the Kaijuu Monogatari translation was weak, but at least I could understand it most of the time. First of all, the Villgust translation is really buggy, with lots of people saying gibberish or things that they aren't supposed to say at that point in the game, or at all. Now you could argue that that's the hacker's fault, but the dialogue itself looks like it was obtained through Babelfish. There's plenty of bad grammar and a number of cases where Japanese homophones appeared to be translated incorrectly. (A typical example: The word "chou" is translated as "butterfly" instead of "chief," which resulted in about five billion people in the game being named "Butterfly.") Furthermore, there are a few "wow this game is cool because it uses the f-word" vulgarities in the script which I don't think were there originally, but I admit I could be wrong about that.
Fortunately, this bad translation doesn't affect the game nearly as much as you'd think simply because there's very little plot to speak of. The story is a simple one of five people being brought together by some generic goddess figure to fight some generic demon figure and save the world, and the various simple quests you do only connect to this overall arc in a very indirect manner. Characterization is also nonexistent aside from a few "we're good and hate evil" comments made by the PCs from time to time and a completely undeveloped romance between two of the characters. So what little dialogue there is is just coherent enough to understand basically all you need to know about the literary and continuity aspects of this game.
Villgust is an action-RPG in the style of the Tales games; that is, the game plays like a normal console RPG except in battle, where your characters fight enemies on a 2D side-perspective battlefield where you can jump around, cast spells, and so forth. The traditional parts of the game are standard, with the interesting exception of the tiered nature of the game world. Instead of the usual method of having a big world map that contains all of the towns and dungeons, the world map is relatively small and contains a number of discrete self-contained regions which collectively contain most of the the towns and dungeons. So you go from the world map to a regional map to a town map, for example.
The battle aspects of Villgust are the best part of gameplay, as you might expect. Before each battle, you're shown a pie chart cut into five pieces, each of which may or may not contain one or two enemies. Each piece of the chart is handled by one of your five characters, and you can change which characters protect which parts before each round of the battle (unless you were surprised, in which case you forfeit this ability for the first round). From there, you have two choices of how to fight (unless, again, you were surprised). The second choice allows you to handle the fight like a normal RPG; however, it's automatic, which means that you'll probably not use it because it's boring and brings needless harm to your characters. The first choice is what you'll undoubtedly use to play the game normally.
When you start the battle round, you enter a series of one-on-one (or one-on-two, as the case may be) battles depending on how you set your characters up in the planning stage. These battles are fought like an action game; you can jump around (sometimes onto platforms), attack with your weapon, and even cast spells by pressing Up and B like in Castlevania. The battles generally aren't too tough, especially when you learn that jumping and pressing Down gives you a strong (though hard to aim) attack that will kill your enemies in about half the time as normal. However, there is a wide variety of monsters each with different strengths and weaknesses, and each of your characters also has advantages and disadvantages, so it's possible to create a mismatch that makes battles harder than they need to be. Frustratingly, the only way to get out of a battle is to win or die, so there's no effective way to deal with a problem like this when it arises.
Probably the best part of Villgust, sad to say, is the graphics, which are absolutely gorgeous compared to the average. Sprites are satisfyingly large, and your characters themselves each are portrayed in three different ways: first are the sprites on the maps, which look similar to NPC sprites; second are the bigger sprites in the battles; and last are the full-body portraits found on the status screens. The latter two change depending on what equipment the characters are using, which adds a lot of detail. The monsters are similarly nice-looking, though there is the problem of palette-swap in some cases. The only problem that the graphics directly cause is the feeling of tunnel-vision on the maps due to the large size of everything.
The biggest problems with Villgust aside from the translation seem to be the indirect results of the ROM-filling graphics, ironically enough, combined with the fact that this game is a gaiden. First of all, Villgust is very short. You're only expected to get to about Level 20 (a simple task) and someone who's reasonably skilled at action games can probably get through the whole thing (there are only about five regions and a sixth endgame area, each of which have quick and easy quests) in a matter of hours. The game also gets really repetitive; this is most obvious when it comes to town buildings, which all look the same both inside and out, but the aforementioned variety of monsters also dies out about halfway in. Combine this with a seeming increase of random battles later in the game and the uninspired dungeon design and you'll find yourself wishing you could get to the end faster even though you're already approaching it quite fast enough.
I haven't yet played the Super Famicom game Villgust is based on, but I imagine that this is pretty disappointing in comparison. That's partly because of the Famicom's age, but also because of the problem of putting graphics before gameplay, which existed long before Final Fantasy VII (which wasn't even guilty of it besides, but that's another debate). Still, I don't think any other game of this precise type exists on the Famicom, and you can't really expect much better on such an old system. So if you for some reason have the urge to play something like Star Ocean on an 8-bit system, this game is for you. Otherwise, avoid.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 08/15/06
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