Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cosmic Fantasy 2

Working Designs (US) / Laser Soft / Telenet
1992 (JPN: 1991)

CF2 is one of the games that convinced me I really needed to acquire the Turbo CD unit. I'd wanted a true RPG for my TG-16 from the day I bought the system, and this one looked absolutely awesome in Electronic Gaming Monthly's previews. And here I am now, having just played through it for the tenth or so time (which is probably my "record" as far as traditional-style RPGs go), and I still love it for all the elements that appealed to me years ago: the characters are a wonderful bunch (the Van-Babs-Pico fellowship is legendary among Turbo circles), and the story is absolutely unforgettable, culminating with one of the most memorable and emotional endings to be experienced in a video game.

While the awesome cinemas constituted one of the main reasons I wanted the game so badly, CF2's tale has more going for it than just fancy interludes. It contains lots of unforgettable twists that don't even get the cinematic treatment (the dramatic unveiling of imposter city leaders, for instance), and cool characters are constantly joining your party and aiding you in completing the tasks you're charged with, providing you with some nice little backstories along the way (Jiela in particular has always struck me as a badass minor character). With so many intriguing story elements and appealing small-part players, the game achieves an epic feel that other episodes in the CF series (and many of CF2's contemporaries) lack.

But even with such a great story, the game takes its knocks, mainly because of its unintuitive battle system. I acknowledge that said system is completely obsolete, and it doesn't help that the encounter rate is quite high. However, it should be noted that fights can be won quickly and easily; I can think of a number of games flaunting "fancier" systems that are much more irritating to play due to combat proceedings that unfold so much more slowly. And I've always been a big fan of the CF2 enemy art; having cool-looking monsters to slaughter helps ease the pain of dealing with an outdated fighting setup. Plus, the drum-driven battle tune is pretty darn cool.

In fact, the music on the whole is quite good, even though there's a very limited selection of tracks. Among those tracks are some extremely effective "sad" pieces. One somber town tune accompanied by wind effects makes matters seem very bleak indeed, and there's an incredibly sweet melody that plays when you arrive at a certain significant hut late in the adventure (and at other important spots). The end-credits track is also excellent.

My only complaint at this point in time is that I don't particularly care for many of the townspeople mutterings. WD's "pop culture" references are occasionally effective (particularly a clever Twilight Zone allusion), but when everyone in a village including the resident chicken is trying to be a fucking comedian, I don't find it amusing and I start to get annoyed.

Even with those scripting stumbles, the story is simply brilliant. CF2's money moments make as much of an emotional impact as any other game's.

Some folks have made a big stink about the lack of status effects and enemy elemental powers in the US version of the game. Personally, I'm just fine with those omissions. Status effects in console-based RPGs often do nothing but force the player to partake in time-wasting busy work: pulling out an antidote or casting a cure spell doesn't involve much "strategy" or contribute much "depth" to a role-playing experience if you ask me. Such effects are much more interesting in games like Might & Magic and Ultima, as those efforts strive for engaging intricacy, and any given effect can make a significant impact. Elemental effects also don't matter much to me, as damage is damage, and again, the "strategy" elements in games that do implement these sorts of attack and defense types are usually minimal enough to be practically negligible. However, I do think Working Designs screwed up by leaving in all the items that are supposed to relieve or defend against these non-existent hazards and documenting them in the instruction manual. For years, I didn't know whether or not it was only my copy that lacked the effects.

In any event, I eventually picked up and played through the Japanese version, as I wanted to find out how much of a cumulative impact would be made by status effects and other things that Working Designs is said to have "removed" when they "mutilated" the game.

Well, I didn't get hit with a single status effect. Not one. I was never poisoned. I was never paralyzed. I was never turned to stone. And if the enemies used any magic spells or "elemental powers" while I was zipping through the fights, I certainly didn't notice.

In fact, the PCE game plays out exactly like its US counterpart. WD did not "shaft" us; the product they gave us plays just like the original, despite the inclusion in both of all those items apparently intended to combat/remedy things that aren't even in the game. I don't know what the hell happened during the making of CF2, but that's the way it is. Again, I think the effort is better off without that crap anyway. But it's very strange that said items wound up being included.

Anyway, for those who are curious about the JPN release, many of the names it uses for characters, enemies, places, and pieces of equipment can also be found in the US rendition. Obviously, there are some notable exceptions: Rim and Yuu became Cadet Babbette and Cobra, respectively, for instance. In a Robotech-esque moment, you can see the word "RIM" in the US version on a monitor during a cinema in which Cobra and Sayo are being told of Babbette's plight.

Babs gives her AI ally the finger during a cinema in the PCE game, but you can check that out just by finding a picture of the back of the case or, uh, looking at this screen cap:

And while we're on the subject of Babs, the rumors that you can see more of her in JPN CF2 during the famous shower scene are completely false. The shower scenes are identical. (However, the scene actually was redone in more risque fashion for the Cosmic Fantasy Visual Collection.)

Moving on to admittedly less-interesting matters, I expected that the PCE version would feature voice acting when characters are having conversations and a portrait of one of them appears in a corner of the screen. That's how PCE RPGs often work, after all. But the JPN one goes with text alone, just like the US game. And I prefer it that way: I hate not being able to skip pointless bits of voice acting.

One thing I'd always been looking forward to was hearing the end-credits number as sung in Japanese. The dueling versions feature identical music and melodies, but I believe the US got the better vocals.

There are posters in US CF2 that mention the then-upcoming Cosmic Fantasy 3, which many figured to be another instance of "WD tinkering," but JPN CF2 actually has the posters as well, and it doesn't stop there with game namedropping.

One rather odd difference involves a lost floppy disk that can be found in a strange town hidden behind a waterfall. An elderly fellow wants the floppy, so you have to locate it and bring it back to him. In the English version, the old dude rewards you with experience points, but in the original, you get treated to... two screens of Japanese text!

So there are shower-scene similarities and floppy-disk-related differences, but the bottom line is you can rest assured that the gameplay wasn't hideously adjusted for the title's US release. And so I say what I've always said anyway: get the English one. The story is an extremely important part of the experience, and US CF2 is incredibly cheap these days anyway. (And if you dig this title, make sure to pick up CF4 Chapter 2. You'll want to find out what eventually happens to Van and crew.)

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