I like playing RPGs for many reasons, and Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean by Sunsoft is, perhaps, one that I liked for the wrong reasons. It is such by-the-numbers RPG fare that if you've played any menu-driven console RPG, you won't find yourself doing anything in it that you haven't done before. Its two strongest features are a spectacularly overdone soundtrack that outclasses even some of the best efforts of Squaresoft and an intentionally-hilarious translation by Working Designs. It is the story of a young boy named Pike, a tale that has been told countless times in countless medieval fantasy games. There are, of course, great magicians, dragons, knights in shining armor, and a mysteriously powerful sword to round out the cliches.
In the opening sequence, Pike's home town is set ablaze and plundered by roving goblins. His parents are killed, but the father's mysterious sword, Cirrus, destroys the goblins on its own and saves the child. The next morning, a Harpy woman named Laia finds Pike and rescues him. Ten years pass and all is well, until a mysterious man named Belnard arrives in the village on a flying dragon and steals a sacred crystal. In the process he manages to turn both Pike and Laia to stone. Cirrus, the magical sword, once again saves Pike and breaks the spell, but is unable to do the same for Laia. Pike then sets out on a quest to find her a cure.
Pike eventually discovers that Belnard is part of a more serious threat to the world, which is headed by Radoria, an immortal sorcerer who seeks world domination. Of course, it's up to Pike to defeat Radoria, but he can't do it alone. So, as RPG logic goes into effect, he meets up with various other characters who join his party. There is Eka who falls in love with Pike and joins because she is tired of her life as a dancer. There is also Leos, a female monk who fights barehanded with martial arts, Gryzz the noble samurai dragon, Kia the ditzy sorceress who promptly falls flat on her face when executing an attack, and Amon Walker the flamboyant gender-bending birdman. In time, I found myself really liking and believing in these characters.
Sometimes, I fear that the Working Designs approach to translating games could be tantamount to desecration. I know that they are famous for placing jokes and dialogue in their games that weren't in the original Japanese versions, and I wonder what more direct, true-to-the-original translations would be like. WD's answer to this is, "If you GOTTA have the pure Japanese stuff, take up Japanese!", an attitude which I feel gamers should find disturbing. I don't really know for sure what Albert Odyssey's original Japanese story was like, but I am hoping that it was intentionally comedic (certain humorous animations seem to attest to that.) But I don't know if I'd fault WD too much for this particular game - it's such a generic RPG that it needed something to make it worth playing. And much of the dialogue that is intended to be funny is genuinely funny. In many situations, you are prompted to reply to someone with two possible lines of dialogue. Choosing the more raunchy of the two usually results in some hilarious out takes. (Watch for a particular scene at the end of the North Fargasta Tower.) The humor that is less successful is that of characters quoting various lines from movies, songs, TV shows, and commercials. Although sometimes, in proper situations, this can be funny (such as a botched attempt to sing "Wind Beneath My Wings"), but in most cases it is not, and it needs to stop! What if you went to see a movie and all the "jokes" consisted of characters quoting other movies and commercials? I think I'd want my 7 bucks back.
The story is not entirely slapstick - there is enough true drama to go around. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of Pike losing his magical sword, Cirrus, and having to continue the second half of the game, fighting a much larger threat than what came before, without the item that gave him most of his incredible powers. There is even a slight jab at the "chosen one" cliche - the character, Guy, is believed to be the one who will save the world due to his lineage, but not all is what it seems. One issue I have with the story are the rather sudden and abrupt plot developments that blurt out at the very end before the final boss. Apparently, the dialogue is referencing events from the original Super Famicom Albert Odyssey game, of which "Legend of Eldean" is a sequel to, and which I'd guess many people have not played. Working Designs did so much to tweak the rest of the dialogue. Couldn't they have made what's going on there seem more relevant to events of this game?
Albert Odyssey's graphics are truly beautiful and showcase just how well the Saturn was capable of presenting 2D graphics. Character sprites and backgrounds alike are drawn large and colorfully. The battle scenes are viewed from the side, as in the Final Fantasy series, and this is where Sunsoft really shows off: Characters and enemies have lots of animations! Eka has a different attack for almost every unique weapon she can equip. Spell effects range from simple fire and lightning to more dazzling effects, like the transparent head of a giant wolf lunging up from the bottom of the screen, and the Starduster spell which rains down 3D polygonal meteors on its victims. The overworld appears a bit muddy, like Mode 7 gone wrong, but it'll become apparent why it was done this way when you get the airship: This fish-shaped contraption is easily the most riveting visual in the whole game, as it glides, spins, and zips through the air with spectacularly fluid 3D effects.
Albert Odyssey's soundtrack is one of the most riveting, memorable, and haunting that I have ever heard. The lush overworld themes are romantic ballads played on real violins (the violinists are credited in the ending sequence.) The town themes are similar in style to what's been done in previous RPGs (such as Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger), but seemingly elevated to a new level. The problem with the score is similar to that of Lufia 2: it never really seems to "connect" to anything in the story. Songs such as the haunting lute melody of Gigarl, the bagpipe strains of Chestoria, and the rhythmic island chanting of the Beastmen's town evoke a grand sense of atmosphere that the game refuses to linger on. It's not the fault of the score, but the writing, which is unable to live up to how grandiose the music is. Consider the romantic Italian-style passage that accompanies the kitchen scene where Pike and Eka start to fall in love. It deserves more convincing dialogue than WD's usual wisecracks. There are some exceptions to this. One is Cirrus's theme, a delicate melody whispered on native flutes and my personal favorite in the game, which makes it possible to take the dramatic moments seriously. The other is the hollow Karnait theme which occurs at a poignant moment when Pike stumbles into the remains of the town where he was born.
The bad news about Albert Odyssey is that as a game, it staggers. The battle system is no-frills, menu-driven fare that doesn't even have an active-time option. Although there are a few tough bosses here and there, Albert Odyssey is still one of the easiest RPGs I've ever completed. (The dragonman's ability to heal the entire party at no cost plays a big part in this.) Although specific strategies may be necessary to win some battles, there is never a need to try something a little more daring. (Remember the Wrexsoul fight in Final Fantasy 6 or the Ashura boss in Final Fantasy 4?) Experience levels go up incredibly fast, and there is a dark reason for this: Albert Odyssey has very bad loading delays. I'm not one to exaggerate about loading delays, I don't mind one here or there, but we're talking upwards of 6 seconds of loading time before and after every battle! Thankfully, Albert Odyssey's extremely fast pace (which never requires much level-building) won't give you enough time to get bored with it. Dungeons are of the maze variety with puzzles few and far between. The final dungeon is a confounding multi-floored tower with enough elevators and secret passages to keep your head spinning. But like everything else in this game, they aren't too difficult to handle. With such an incredible soundtrack and well-done story, I would've liked for Albert Odyssey to have been something a lot more than what it is, but perhaps such thinking is in vain: I doubt Sunsoft had any real ambitions for this title outside of "make an RPG with a great soundtrack and pretty battle animations".
I make no apology about spending most of this review on story and aesthetics, because there is little I can say about Albert Odyssey's game play besides, "It's an RPG". In the end, I still liked it, perhaps because its charms are too hard for me to resist. As for a recommendation, I'm not going to ask anyone to go out and buy a Saturn for this game, but consider two things: 1. If you have a Saturn, and you want to play an RPG, I managed to find this one for only $15. 2. Whether or not you have a Saturn, if you want to hear some beautiful music, you can put the game in a CD player and listen to the songs that are streamed with Redbook Audio. And you don't need to know what's going on in the plot to appreciate them.
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