Review by Kamatari47
"If you didn't buy this game to get the limited edition goodies -- you're gonna want your money back."
Aa Megami-sama is a game produced by Marvelous Entertainment as something of a "20th Anniversary of Aa Megami-sama" present to fans of the Aa Megami-sama/Ah! My Goddess franchise. The limited edition package certainly delivers for the fans: special box art, a silver pocket watch (made in the likeness of the watch seen in the game), dress-up cels, memory card-sticker cels, limited edition cards, a special drama CD, and a desktop accessories CD for those who pre-ordered the package (these are goodies for your computer).
Turns out that those goodies are what you were paying for, because the game itself isn't worth much. My condolences if you bought the standalone edition that contains only the game itself.
The Spirit of the Silver Watch, who rules over a deserted island, needs the help of the goddesses -- and Morisato Keiichi -- to fix a mysterious flaw within the magic island. She enlists the help of some shady characters -- Hildr and Marller -- and ends up trapping the goddesses (and Keiichi) inside a magic maze that encompasses the whole of the island. To escape the maze (and to stop it from draining the goddesses dry of their most precious memories), our four protagonists must penetrate to the center of the island and disable the magic circle fueling the barrier around the island. To do that, though, they must overcome the myriad challenges and pitfalls lying in their path...
The story is nothing spectacular. It's basically a little side adventure for Keiichi and the girls. Due to the way the game plays, you never really feel any suspense or any true sense of danger. The pace of the story progression is rather slow, as well. Luckily there's a built in "Skip Event" function (press Start) -- there aren't many scenes you'd want to see more than once.
The gameplay in Aa Megami-sama is tedious, tiresome, uninteresting, occasionally frustrating, and just generally uninspired. As Keiichi, you run around the landscape of the island, using clues, intuition, and your goddess partner's special powers to solve puzzles that block your path. Each goddess possesses access to her unique elemental powers (Urd: Thunder, Belldandy: Wind, Skuld: Water), and it's often necessary to swap your goddess partner at a swap pod in order to solve a puzzle and move on. Puzzle-solving in Aa Megami-sama depends on Keiichi's ability to "extract" actions (such as "hit", "show", "turn", "talk", etc. etc.) and conditions (such as "thunder", "wind", and "water", in addition to the ones listed above) from objects and then use them on other objects in order to activate them/move them out of your way (the Triangle button lets you exchange stored activation conditions for the ones possessed by each object, and the Circle button lets you perform a similar exchange with your stored actions and those of the target object. Once you perform an action that satisfies an activation condition for the object, it will do what you want it to.). The whole game is centered around such puzzle-solving -- there's no life meter and no fighting or dying (the ubiquitous giant robots only look scary -- they can't hurt you), so the only danger is in getting "stuck." As in most puzzle-based games, this will happen quite a bit and could prove quite frustrating, especially as you move deeper into the island and clues become more cryptic.
The really frustrating thing, though, is that some of the puzzles will "trap" you so that you cannot advance further in the level without restarting (the game has a retry option that allows you to restart a level either from the beginning or a retry gate). Certain levels (such as the final level of the "Future" zone) will hit you with puzzles of that ilk in rapid succession, which will no doubt cause some gamers to slam their controllers in disgust. Perhaps this is just a function of the game's difficulty, but due to the aforementioned cryptic nature of some clues (and the fact that some gamers will struggle to even read those clues without sufficient Japanese skills), these "trapping" puzzles causes the game to quickly lapse into tedious repetition. Tedious repetition is not fun.
The puzzles themselves are also unspectacular. Everything is set so that you have to rearrange/modify an object or a combination of objects so that you can move from point A to point B (for example, in the first level of the "Past" zone, you have to manipulate a group of golems so that they can hit a series of tuning forks to lower pedestals which allow you to enter previously inaccessible areas). Sometimes you have to jump through an awful lot of hoops to do a seemingly simple thing (in the second level of the "Past" zone, you have to manipulate three golems in a series of complex maneuvers just to open a door that grants access to the next part of the level), and sometimes you're made to run halfway back across the level just to retrieve an action you'll need to solve your current puzzle. There are also these transporter pads which simply won't work if you have any stored actions, and it's a major hassle to find objects nearby to throw your actions away on just so you can teleport to the next part of the level. It's similarly tedious to have to run a long way to a swap pod when you need a different goddess partner to come out and do something. Overall, there's little variance in the type of puzzles you see, and just about everything you see has been done already in bigger, better puzzle adventure games.
Please note that you also need significant skill in Japanese to play this game: it's very difficult to decipher many of the clues without firm command of the language and knowledge of many kanji characters.
Aa Megami-sama doesn't look good. All the levels are mapped out with 3-D textures, but the quality of those textures is sorely lacking. While the character models are decent (but far worse looking than models found in recent PS2 games), the settings look little better than those you'd find from later PSOne games. The island is divided into "zones" corresponding to each goddess: the "Past" zone for Urd, the "Present" zone for Belldandy, and the "Future" zone for Skuld. Settings in each zone match the theme of that zone (e.g. tall, pristine buildings, jet engines, circuit boards, and giant LCDs convey a futuristic look for Skuld's zone), and while some of the settings look neat, the majority of them suffer from the low quality of the textures used to construct them. The game also suffers from poor collision detection: Skuld's water pellets have a tendency to hit things that aren't there, limbs often pass through walls, and giant robots may run into each other or stick to each other even when there's clearly enough space for them to pass by one another. Dialogue scenes use 2-D sprites, and these aren't any good either -- each character only has about four or five interchangeable facial expressions, and their postures don't change. Ever. Goddess or no goddess, Skuld should come down with a badly sprained elbow from having to hold that pose for an entire game. The expressions are simplistic, too -- the characters blink, smile, and talk (the movement of their mouths never match any of their lines, by the way) with animations light years behind what a modern PS2 visual novel offers. Also, in case you're curious -- there are no pretty CGs or FMVs in this game. None whatsoever.
The sound effects in Aa Megami-sama offer a mixed bag. The voice acting is good but not spectacular: everyone sounds the way they should, but due to the poor pacing of the dialogue scenes, no one sounds very enthusiastic. Also, while a large number of characters from the series appear (e.g. Peorth, Lind, Troubadour, Chihiro, Megumi, Sora), they're generally confined to short cameos during the dialogue scenes, so you won't hear very much from anyone other than the main characters. The background music tends to be just boring: instead of being really soothing or really exciting, you usually get a dose of the same bland tune being played over... and over... and over again.
There is a comprehensive "Encyclopedia" option accessible through the game menu on the overworld map (i.e. between levels): it lets you review all the dialogue scenes that have occurred so far, view profiles of every character encountered so far (with an option for viewing their rotating 3-D character models as well as their different facial expressions), and view a list of all the devices (robots, doors, contraptions, etc.) you've encountered throughout the game. Nothing spectacular, but it is very thorough and a neat touch. Unfortunately, the Devices portion of the encyclopedia is flawed -- you usually have to train your camera very close on a device when it performs an action for that action to be transcribed in your encyclopedia (even if you're sure you "witnessed" an action, sometimes the game doesn't record it). While inside a stage, you're not allowed to view your encyclopedia, which means that completionists will have to repeat levels ad nauseum in order to fill out their encyclopedia entries. Also, you can unlock two special outfits for each goddess (in addition to the "casual dress" they start the game wearing) -- a swimsuit and a battle uniform -- and special scenes by collecting hearts (for the swimsuit) and items (for a special scene when you complete the current zone -- battle uniforms are automatically unlocked once you complete each of the three zones). There are typically one heart (collect all the hearts in each zone to unlock the swimsuit of the goddess who holds dominion over the zone) and two items in each level (for the special scene), and collecting them is a headache-inducing endeavor: if you missed a heart or an item in one level, you must replay that entire level from beginning to end -- there is no option that lets you grab what you missed and exit back to the overworld map. The extras are neat -- being forced to replay entire levels is not.
All in all, Marvelous Entertainment just did not put much effort into making this game. Aa Megami-sama bears the markings of a low-budget production all around, and even among anime/manga-based PS2 games (a classification where bland games are the norm) it stands out as a particularly uninspired product. If you're a hardcore fan of the franchise, you'll likely persevere to the bitter end because you get to spend more time with your beloved characters, though you won't enjoy the game nearly as much as you'd hoped (you'll enjoy the limited edition goodies, though!). If you're only a casual fan of the series, though, take a pass on this one: it's definitely not worth your money. If you don't know what Aa Megami-sama/Ah! My Goddess is or aren't a fan of the series... don't even bother. Spend your hard-earned money on something else.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/01/07, Updated 03/06/07
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