Review by Zaiburst

"Twelve temples with some unrealized potential"


Introduction:
This is an extensive review of both the PAL (European) and the NTSC (Japanese) versions. For those unfamiliar with the anime or the manga series that this game is based on, it basically concerns on-going battles between warriors governed by reincarnations of various Greek gods. The primary focus of the series is upon the goddess Athena and her knight-like warriors, known as ‘saints' as they fight evil.

The game surrounds an early chapter of the series that concerns an insurrection between the saints under Athena's jurisdiction. 5 saints must bypass temples housing an extremely powerful and superior order of saints in hope to save the life of Athena. This chapter is commonly regarded as the best by fans, (with the possible exception of the Hades Chapter) and is thus a good choice to base a game upon. It is essentially a 3D fighting game (beat ‘em up).

Gameplay:
The game has two main modes of play, namely “12 Gold Palaces” -the story mode, “1,000 Day War” -a standard vs mode, and an extra mode you unlock by completing the story mode a couple of times, entitled Demon Pope Fist -which I will come back to later. In story mode, you play out the entire chapter of the series' storyline. You are presented with lengthy cut-scenes that explain each segment of the chapter's plot. For the most part these details are very well explained, so that even non-fans of the series can comprehend what is transpiring, however there are a few references made in the game that apply to events not covered within the scope of the game. After each cut-scene is over, you must face-off against your opponent in combat. You have 2 strengths of physical attack, a block button, a dash button and special attack button.

You can unleash a series of attacks by pushing the attack buttons in a sequence and special attacks can be launched with the simple use of the special button, or holding it down for the larger ‘big bang' attacks that are a signature occurrence in the anime. Many characters have a choice of 3 to initiate of varying strengths, depending on how long the button is held down for. Grapples can also be executed by the push of the block and attack buttons simultaneously, which leads you into a short cutscene animation. some characters share the same throw animations which can give the impression that they're not particularly distinctive. Also the throw itself cannot be countered whereas everything else seems to be.

All melee attacks can be parried by quite easily pressing the block button at the moment of impact. Successfully parrying gives you the advantage of freely attacking your opponent until he regains his composure. Occasionally this can lead to disjointed gameplay as characters are unwilling to invest in an all out attack. Pressing both attack buttons simultaneously results in power surge that knocks back the enemy, and very effective at disrupting any attacks or combos. However using this depletes your cosmo power bar, and is thus a relatively fair balance. The physics in the combat mode is a mixed bag, occasionally characters don't behave naturally, most significantly thanks to the power surge move aforementioned, however the combo system is fairly fun, it can feel quite intrinsic to juggle your opponent in mid-air for example. Combat takes place in a 3D arena, and attacks can be side-stepped as you can move around your opponent in the 3D plain. Combat in this game isn't particularly refined; characters don't move with the fluidity and precision of more notable ps2 combat games, it's quite clunky in areas.

Characters aren't particularly distinctive on how they handle either. All their combos are initiated the same way, and the only real difference is in their special attacks. Any significant differences in speed, strength or range are quite superficial and do not really enhance fighting dynamics, that games such as these often contain to promote in-depth gameplay.

Against the CPU quite often it feels that your success isn't always dependant on your ability. In some instances you attack, and hope your opponent doesn't simply parry it and retaliate with a guaranteed hit. Or when you unleash a big bang attack, and hope the CPU doesn't manage to counter it by pressing the button within the slither of the window of opportunity. Perhaps a point worth mentioning is that for better or worse this window seems larger in the Japanese version. In 2-player mode (1,000 day war) these criticisms are much less pronounced, as humans have less ability to foresee and predict what is going to happen, and therefore cheat. The game is most rewarding to play in this mode. But when playing against the CPU, especially on harder difficulties, it quite often feels like you're testing your luck on most attacks.

After each fight a score board will appear rating how well you fought, in attack, defense and valor. Your performance in this will have an effect on the collections you unlock in the game, and also the availability of bonus stages. At certain points of the game between battles you will find yourself playing a bonus stage in the form of a third person mini-game in order to travel between one temple to the next. These segments are rather like that of ‘Tekken Force mode' whereby you're swarmed by a flurry of foot soldiers and defeating a marked one will enable you to progress, which you must do before the time limit runs out. It's a rather simplistic, mundane affair, but does help to bridge the battles together. On the plus side, a rather interesting element to the story mode is that upon second play-through, you are able to select different scenarios rather than the conventional missions. These do not follow the continuity of the series, but are instead interesting alternative scenarios to what could have happened. Fans of the series will undoubtedly appreciate this diversion to the otherwise accurate and well-known storyline. The European version allows you to choose the language of the text within the game (English, Italian, German, French or Spanish).

The English translation is competent, but there are a few omissions here and there that mainly purists will notice, most notably the use of “Knight” instead of “Saint” throughout the game, Hyoga the Cygnus Saint is named “Swan” (however within the battle screen, he is referred to correctly), and “Deathmask” is entitled “Mephisto”. But these can easily be overlooked; at least they didn't adopt the various terms contained in the hideously reworked American version of the series entitled ‘Knights of the Zodiac'.

The Demon Pope Fist mode is quite an innovative concept. This mode basically reverses your role in the chapter, so that you are on the side of evil, trying to prevent the main heroes from succeeding in their mission by traversing the 12 temples. You are awarded experience points after every battle regardless of whether you win or lose that effect your abilities to fight against the onslaught. Unfortunately gathering this experience over a number of entire games is your only chance of realistically defeating your opponent.

There are other elements thrown into the mix, such as certain enhancements granted depending on who is fighting in which arena, and certain ‘god powers' that can aid your cause, such as adding more defense, slowing down the opponent, etc. When you start this mode, you will consistently be frustrated by how the enemies' attacks do significantly more than yours, and also how the computers difficulty level seems to have risen dramatically. You'll often find your attacks deflected and successfully punished, and almost all big bang attacks launched stopped and reversed no matter how fast you're able to mash the buttons. While even if you reverse your opponent's Big Bang attack, the CPU will almost always out-mash buttons causing you to lose. It's understandable they had to make the bronze warriors a challenge since they are fewer in number, but it simply feels unfair and futile and thus quite a frustrating experience. You may find that you have to lose a few whole games (around 13 battles per game) before you stand a mere chance of succeeding. This mode had the potential to add much longevity to the game, but is too poorly designed to be worth anything but a fleeting interest.

Visuals:
The graphics in the game are of a high standard. Characters are polygonal models, and do a surprisingly good job of replicating the distinctive look of the characters from the anime. Mouths move in synch with the words spoken during sequences (if Japanese language is selected).

The Cloths (the armor the saints wear) look very good, reflective and metallic, although perhaps occasionally a bit rougher around the edges than I imagine needed to be. All 3D representations of characters are generally of a high standard. The Gold cloth glistening effect works rather well, and it's quite a joy, especially for fans of the series, to see some of the beautifully designed cloths portrayed in 3D this way. The 2D illustrations for the various characters are also very nice. The title and menu screens are adorned by ornamental decorations and stars that give the game an appropriate Greek mythological feel representative of the series.

There is an array of lighting effects during battles, most notably during the strongest attacks, known as ‘big bang' attacks, do a great job of making battles as flamboyant as they are in the series. These are truly great to behold. Characters also emit auras, illustrating their cosmo energies, which are rendered well. The main mode of the game retells the story of the anime in segments that often feel like that have been lifted directly and rendered as 3D models. They are a joy to watch, and movement is good also.

The backdrops of all the various stages are a highlight of the game, they all look very good. You'd be forgiven for assuming that since in the anime each temple does look very similar to one another, that it would be that way in the game too, but fortunately the developers did a marvelous job of making them look unique and aesthetically pleasing. Virgo's temple for example has a petal effect running throughout the stage, reminiscent of the twin sala as seen in the Hades chapter. Some of the stages have a lens flare effect as the camera rotates in alignment with the sun. Most of the arenas provide a good atmosphere.

Certain parts of the scenery, such as columns, can be destroyed in the heat of battle making fights appear more spectacular, the downside however is that on more than one occasion the dust and debris from it can often obscure your character from view and leave you bewildered to oncoming attacks. It's worth noting that the Japanese version contains quite a lot of comic book style speech and effect bubbles within the story segments of the main game. These are usually Japanese text indicating sound effects and names of various attacks when they're projected by characters. These give the game a manga style element, and are missing from the European version for obvious reasons.

Audio:
The main difference between the ntsc and pal versions is in the audio.
The European version's default spoken language is in French, but you can change this in the options to Japanese. I can't comment on the quality of the French voice-acting, however the Japanese Language mode contains voice work by most of the original voice actors of the anime series, and is of high standard. I watch the entire series in Japanese, so I'd naturally recommend the Japanese audio unless you happen to be French.

There is quite a lot of voice work done within the game; all battles open with the characters saying a couple of lines to one another, and more times than not it will be context specific. Some of the music in the European version is different to the music in the Japanese version. This was due to copyright issues in the west regarding some of the original tracks. Thus much of the music that's in the Japanese version features the splendid music offered in the anime whereas the European has reworked tracks.

In the Japanese version every segment plays out more like an episode of the anime, at the beginning of every segment it plays the introduction sequence with the great track ‘Pegasus Fantasy', followed by coverage narration and title of the episode all with the appropriate music featured in the anime. The European version opts out of playing the title opening to each segment which is understandable because it loses so much appeal with different music. The opening title animation is specifically choreographed to suit the original music. The music playing for the European version is the same music playing in the collections menu in the Japanese version and is a rather lackluster alternative.

The alternative music featured in the European version is not necessarily bad, but simply isn't as suitable as in the Japanese version, which does a much better job of setting tension, upbeat and foreboding moods within the story parts of the game. Sound effects are reasonable, but far from great. Some effects are nice, such as the big bang effects, but impact effects could have been heavier.

Longevity:
Playing through the main game and selecting the side-stories adds a replay factor. Also as you progress through the various gameplay modes, you release collections viewable in the “Zodiac Holiday” section. Namely these are music, character profiles, in-game movies, cards, and Bandai toy merchandise images. Hidden characters can also be unlocked. These give you incentive to play through a few times. The Pope Fist mode has the potential to be fun and long lasting, provided that you have the patience to be slaughtered a few times. But in terms of the combat engine, once you've seen what the characters have to offer, you won't be tempted to play over and over as you would in better designed fighting games, since you may find that quite often winning can best be achieved by resorting to unfair methods induced by the game's somewhat unrefined fighting system.

In the Japanese version, the toy collection contains more descriptions for each image, there is a list of character's voice samples, and of course, the background music has a wider selection.

Conclusion:
I would love to give this game a high rating, since it's the first Saint Seiya game to hit the consoles since the NES. However the great graphics and music of this game are overshadowed by rather sub-standard gameplay. There is a market for these types of fighting games that are based on popular anime series, such as Dragonball Budokai, Yuyu Hakusho, Ranma, etc. Unfortunately more often than not they, like most licensed games in general, rely too heavily on the fan loyalty to buy into the franchise, rather than creating something that can truly stand by its own merits. This game isn't exactly an exception.

It's still an enjoyable game however, regardless of whether you're a fan, but don't expect a great deal of depth. True fans of the series should definitely give this game a try, mainly for the spectacle of viewing the chapter in great 3D graphics, curious side-missions and to simply pit gold saint against one another for kicks, something that is often an area of much speculation and interest to fans of the series.

Out of the 2 versions, I would recommend the European version for English and other European language speakers, since the written translations are comprehensive and help you understand the story and various extras in the game. However, having the original soundtrack of the Japanese version does make the story mode seem so much better and engaging; more akin to the series which is renown for its great music.

Veterans of the series who can overlook the language barrier may want to opt for the Japanese version if the choice is available. An interesting point is the fact that the capacity of the game isn't particularly large, which is hardly indicative of a bad game, however it does seem to suggest that the game is a little lower on achievable content than it could have been, especially since some ps2 games nowadays come on dual layer dvds and this game is roughly around half a layer.

I personally believe that the Saint Seiya series is probably better suited to an RPG style of gameplay rather than a fighting game. But hopefully a better combat system will be made with a sequel, which I would be happy to see if improvements were made.

Rating 7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/28/05


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