Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tengai Makyou: Ziria

RED/Hudson Soft - 1989/1992 - Japan

This game is old, old, old. That’ll probably be your first thought upon playing Ziria.

When I told my brother and RPG veteran IvaNEC that I was going to get into the Tengai Makyou series he recommended I start with Kabuki Den and work my way backwards through the episodes. Being the stubborn fool that I am, I ignored his recommendation and started off with Ziria, intending to play through the series in the “proper” order.

Despite its “slow” start, I managed to have fun with Ziria right from the beginning. It wasn’t until late in the journey that mixed feelings began to tread on my fun. First, though, the good stuff.

Battle backgrounds and cinematic “moments” are great hand-painted fare (ala Beyond Shadowgate). The manual for the game has a piece at the end (in Japanese) that shows the process the artists used to digitize these paintings, which I found really cool. It seems like a totally different team must have been responsible for enemy design and background art vs. the “overhead” graphics. Enemy design is also great, with all sorts of cool looking and detailed creatures to fend off during your quest. Music is pretty good too, excellent in some places. Also, during the first two thirds of the adventure your party is accompanied by a friendly frog who will randomly assist during battles. You’ll free all sorts of animal spirits that give you helpful items and spells as you venture towards your final goal.

Now for the not-so-good stuff.... Well, the overhead landscape visuals are awful. Poor color choices combined with grainy graphics makes for an extremely “blah” visual experience as you traverse the lands. What’s worse, however, is that the landscape doesn’t change at all from the beginning right through the end of the game save for a dungeon here and a pyramid there, which in truth are few and far between. The last town in the game looks exactly the same (size aside) as the first town in the game, and everything in between. More variety in this area would’ve gone a long way. The user interface is also extremely antiquated, however this didn’t bother me much. I’m pretty easy going when it comes to this sort of thing as long as the controls aren’t atrocious, and they aren’t.

By the time I reached the final quarter of the journey, my interest was waning. It got to a point during the final dungeon where I just wanted to get the whole thing over with so I could move on to something else. As it turns out, IvaNEC was right on in his recommendation I not make Ziria my introduction to the series. Ziria is a dated game that shows its age, despite some strengths. Its worth a look for the hardcore RPG crowd, but don’t make it your first Japanese RPG.

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