Review by YusakuG

"An average, but fun, RPG"

Okay, picture this scenario: The time is summer 1997, you play RPGs, and you're the owner of a Sega Saturn. Needless to say, pickings are slim. The Saturn has been out in the US for 2 years at this time, and so far, not one traditional, turn-based, Final Fantasy-style RPG has been released for the system. Sure, there had been some action RPGs (the mediocre Shining Wisdom, and the much better Legend of Oasis), one really good strategic RPG (Dragon Force), one very good 3D dungeon-crawler RPG (Shining the Holy Ark), and even one 3D RPG that was so bad, it was probably spawned in hell (Virtual Hydlide). However, there had been no traditional turn-based RPGs released in the domestic market for the system, while Playstation owners were already enjoying games like Suikoden and Wild ARMs, with Final Fantasy VII just around the corner. Many Saturn owneres had little else to do except wait for the upcoming Lunar: Silver Star Story and Grandia. (Both of which eventually never came out for the US Saturn, and instead, wound up arriving on the Playstation.)

However, Working Designs had a small bit of relief for those who were demanding a traditional RPG. It wasn't much, but hey, when you're starving, almost anything tastes good. The game Working Designs brought us was Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean. And although it was ultimately too little too late, the game did manage to win me over somewhat in the end.

Albert Odyssey is the latest in a series of RPGs released in Japan by Sunsoft that originated on the Super Famicom. The previous games had never made it over here, but Working Designs decided to take a chance anyway. In fact, this game was originally going to be released on the Super Famicom, but it was scrapped half-way, and ported over to the Saturn.

The game's storyline is nothing complex, nor original. You play the role of Pike, a young boy was was orphaned as a baby when his parents were killed during a goblin raid of his village. Fortunately, Pike was saved by Cirrus, the magical talking sword that once belonged to his father. A few days later, as the baby lay crying among the ruins of his former home, he was discovered by a young harpy named Laia who took pity on the child, and took her home to her tree village to raise him. Pike grew up among the harpies, and is generally accepted by them, although some of them ridicule him for not having wings like they do. As the game's story begins, an evil wizard named Belnard descends upon the harpy village on a giant dragon. He is seeking the Power Crystal, a treasure that the harpies have long worshiped. Laia and Pike try to stop the wizard from stealing the Crystal, but Belnard uses his magic to turn both Pike and Laia to stone. Cirrus the sword uses her magic to return Pike to normal. However, Laia's curse is not so easily lifted. Pike must, for the first time, leave the safety of the tree village, and find a cure for Laia's curse.

Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean, is actually a story told in two parts. The first half of the game tells the tale of Pike trying to save Laia, and the second half takes place a few years later, after the crisis has been averted. So, it's like getting two small 10 or 12 hour RPGs for the price of one.

The game is certainly nothing innovative in the gameplay department. It's a standard, old school traditional RPG. (This is most likely due to the fact that the game was originally intended for the Super Famicom, so it probably began development in the early to mid 90's.) You gain levels, and your characters gain spells at certain levels. There are no complex systems, no equipping of spells, and no job system. It may sound like a complaint, but sometimes, it's kind of nice to have a somewhat simplistic RPG. You control a party of five characters, who range in species (from humans to Dragonmen to Birdmen), each with his or her own special skills.

The graphics are entirely 2D, except for the overworld map, which tries for a kind of Mode 7-style 3D map, which isn't very impressive at all. The scenery on the map is very chunky-looking, and doesn't look smooth at all. The 2D scenes, however, are beautiful. The characters are small, but very well animated. Each character has his or her own unique way of attacking in battle. (For example, Kia, the little girl who joins your party in the second half of the game, always trips over herself and falls down flat on her face when she attacks.) The towns are detailed and colorful, and even the miscellaneous villagers that you talk to in towns seem to be designed well. You can easily see that this game was originally designed for the Super Famicom, but you can also see that these graphic artists knew what they were doing when it came to 2D characters. However, that doesn't mean that there's no noticeable improvements in converting the game to 32 Bits. Like I said, the animation is wonderful, much more detailed than a 16 Bit cart would have allowed. There are even some cool lighting effects when you're in dungeons. the only weak spots in the graphic area are the previously mentioned overworld map, and the spell effects, which are less than dramatic sometimes.

The music is one area where Sunsoft really took advantage of the upgrade from 16 Bit to 32 Bit. Many of the game's tracks were performed by a symphonic orchestra, which really gives this game an epic feel. It adds so much to the experience, playing an RPG accompanied by live music. Best of all, you can listen to these tracks if you put the game CD in your stereo. From the soothing violin theme of the overworld map, to Cirrus' hauntingly beautiful flute and harp theme, the music is top-notch stuff. Even if not all of the music is orchestrated, the synthesized tunes sound just as nice. I especially liked the music in the Birdmens' village. I wish I could find a soundtrack to this game, because the game CD itself only includes the symphonic pieces, not the synthesized ones. The only area where the soundtrack slips is the battle music, which is a bit too jazzy and modern, and doesn't fit in with the rest of the soundtrack. Also, the music played when you are in the final dungeon is a bit too upbeat-sounding. But, these are minor faults.

The other areas of the sound are good, but don't quite reach the heights of the soundtrack. The characters have some cute comments in Japanese during battle, like when they attack or cast a spell. But, surprisingly, there's very little actual dialogue in this game. I say this is surprising, because Working Designs did the US release, and they seem to pride themselves on their usually above-average voice acting. The only real acting in the game comes during the first opening 10 minutes of the game, and a brief narration over a black screen that leads into the second half of the game, after you've cured Laia of her curse. Other than that, the characters are mute, so the voice acting in this game does not really get a chance to leave any kind of impression.

Working Designs' translation is, as usual, very good, but not quite as good as some of their other attempts. The game suffers from a few moments of modern day humor sapping out the drama of the situation. (An example is when an army of soldiers are storming a villain's fortress, and in order to make him mad, they start shouting ''Yo' mama'' jokes at him. ''Yo' mama's so ugly...'') Aside from the modern day references, there are even some mild jabs at RPG cliches. Most of the jokes are restricted to nameless people you talk to in towns, though, and the dramatic dialogue is usually pretty good, though not as strong as say, the Lunar series.

So, what prevents this game from being an RPG classic? Well, the game's a bit on the easy side. It should only take around 20 hours or so to beat it. None of the bosses really present any real challenge, and I never had to spend a lot of time leveling up my characters. However, the game's main gripes have to be with loading. Even though they were improved from the import version, the load times are still too long. It takes a good 5 or 7 seconds before and after a battle for the game to load. And since this is a traditional turn-based RPG, and battles are frequent, it can be annoying. Not only that, the game has to load when you kill an enemy. Once you have killed an enemy, the enemy just kind of stands there for about 2 or 3 seconds, THEN it fades away. Seems kind of ridiculous, making you wait for a death animation.

However, the game's main flaw in the end is that the game is just not really enough. It's a nice enough RPG with good 2D graphics and a great soundtrack, but the game is just a bit too simplistic. By the time this game had been released in the US in late summer 1997, Final Fantasy VII was only a month or two away, and would revolutionize RPGs forever. Albert Odyssey's old school gameplay didn't stand a chance, and it certainly didn't win over any new fans to the Saturn. It was just too old fashioned, and not flashy enough, to get the attention of the general public.

Despite all this, Albert Odyssey is a pleasant RPG that's fun to play through once or twice. You'll probably wind up remembering the soundtrack more than the game itself, though. It's too bad the US Saturn did not get a true RPG epic during its lifetime. This probably wasn't the game Saturn RPG fans had in mind, but at least it was something.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/19/01, Updated 06/09/03

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