~ ASTRALIUS ~
There is no other video game that pisses me off quite as much as this one does.
What's so awful about this seemingly innocuous RPG? I don't even know where to begin...
Well, the heroes walk slowly. I mean RIDICULOUSLY slowly. Perhaps you think the Faussete Amour and Beyond Shadowgate protagonists are slow. Well, they're Sonics compared to this bunch. And as if the game weren't inflicting enough agony upon you by making you plod along from one point to another, it also forces you to participate in a battle every slow step of the way. Yes, I do mean that quite literally. Take a step. Battle. Step. Battle. Two steps! Battle. Time slips away, and after a while you realize that for all the battles you've fought, you've explored but one small segment of a realm that's absolutely massive compared to your small, slow, dimwitted characters.
The slow traveling speed is annoying even when you're simply strolling about a village. Did you think you'd be allowed to save and heal in the same spot? Think again. The respective buildings are often located at opposite ends of town, meaning you have to trudge S-L-O-W-L-Y from one to the other. If you aren't familiar with the layout of whatever poorly drawn village you're stumbling through, this can take quite a while. And you'll have to watch out for "obstacles" as you go: I once encountered a SHADOW that my character bumped into and was unable to pass!
The inconvenience doesn't end there. Want to sell an item? You can hold plenty at once, and items you doff get placed at the very bottom of your inventory. You can't just hold down on your control pad to move through the items; you have to press down repeatedly. And you can't sell more than a single item at once. So if everyone in your party has just acquired new stuff, selling off the old junk can take forever. You can store things in a bank, but that would mean slowly walking to the building in the first place and then "scrolling" through your stuff until you get to the object you'd like to stash. Hell, you can't even talk to a townsperson without going through the trouble of bringing up a window and selecting a command.
Combat, too, is carried out in a remarkably goofy way. You'd have to view the "action" firsthand to understand just how goofy it is, but here's a hint: you actually have to utilize a menu command to see what your enemies look like, as you'll spend most of the time in battles looking at nothing but text windows on a black screen.
Most of the monsters are able to withstand hit after hit after worthless hit from your incompetent, overmatched band of warriors. And this is one of those obsolete RPGs in which you select attack targets for your characters at the beginning of each round and if their target gets killed or runs away, they lose their turn completely rather than moving on to a remaining creature. When you finally win, remember that you're literally just one step away from having to repeat the agonizing process.
And then there's the camel. Our poor heroes couldn't possibly endure the pain of treading across hot desert sands, so they need to buy and ride a camel. For some reason, after each random battle that occurs, field play resumes with your characters standing beside the camel. So if you're accustomed to getting on with your travels after battles, you'll find yourself walking away from your camel (and getting scorched in the process). Then you'll have to trudge back to it (and get scorched in the process). You'll almost certainly be attacked again on your way back, even though you probably won't be more than two steps away from the animal.
During one stretch of camel riding, I was attacked over and over and over and over to the point where I LITERALLY was moving BACKWARDS. Eventually, I got off the stupid camel and charged onward, paying no heed to the damage I was taking from the hot sands. I came upon a strange building and acquired an item that allowed me to see the spots in the desert where battles would occur. Practically the entire screen was covered with these spots. The situation was so absurd that I just laughed ruefully and shut off my PCE.
You'd think a game that incorporates music as a major thematic element (the heroes play instruments to perform magic-based attacks) would have a decent soundtrack. Of course, this one doesn't. Its audio is quite irritating, in fact. Its monster art is also unimpressive.
All of these complaints I've expressed so far are gripes I had after playing through a mere ten percent of the game. I did eventually beat the thing, and it really is horrible, but I'd be lying if I were to say I didn't develop a certain fondness for it. Part of that fondness has to do with me being "proud" of myself for defeating such a hellish game, but the adventure does take you through some neat sequences if you suffer long enough to experience them. There's a town with living, breathing snowmen; a large tree that plays host to a family of talking birds; a funny hot-springs scene; and an upside-down continent.
There's also a beautiful cinema that shows a sword buried in snow with reindeer prancing about. It's a very memorable scene in a game that, for the most part, lacks impressive cinematic moments.
Heck, even the basic idea of starring traveling musicians instead of typical warriors and wizards is pretty neat; and by having said musicians "jam" together, you can pull off special attacks, a few of which are quite useful and one of which actually looks really cool.
The best part of the game is an area consisting of small islands separated by vast stretches of sea. You make your way from one bit of land to the next by jaunting along atop sharks who stick their heads above water and make for a pretty darn cool method of travel. The enemies in this area attack just as frequently as their cohorts, but some of them actually give you lots of gold and experience points for your troubles. Plus, the music suddenly decides to rule.
Unfortunately, every time I started to like Astralius just a bit, something would happen to remind me what an awful game it really is. Engaging in battle ten or more times while taking twenty slow steps is rather unbearable, especially when every adversary you come across is utterly merciless. Some enemies "curse" your characters (read: reduce their attack power to nothing), and, believe it or not, the "collision detection" for the curse spell is horrid. What I mean is that one character might be marked as cursed while it's really the person next to him who's screwed. And I mustn't neglect to mention the expansive final maze; deep inside the labyrinth is an outwardly typical staircase that actually took me right out of the structure, forcing me to begin my trek anew. Even more annoying was the time I was making my way through an enormous dungeon only for a random pillar to suddenly fall down and crush my flutist, abruptly wiping out thirty minutes' worth of progress.
For those who decide they're tough (or insane) enough to accept Astralius' challenge, I can at least tell you that the early desert stretch is by far the most tedious and annoying part of the trip. If you survive that area, you'll stand a legitimate chance of completing your mission, though there will still be many hours of severe hellishness yet to come. Thank goodness my benevolent cousin Zigfriedozlov wrote up an Astralius walkthrough, which can be found here.