GAME REVIEWS

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Burai

~ BURAI ~
Riverhill Soft
CD-ROM
1991

I took a chance on this RPG for two reasons: it was inexpensive, and its cover flaunts some really cool character designs. When I powered it up for the first time, the kick-ass opening cinemas made me think I'd stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.



But moments later I laid my eyes upon the most primitive PCE visuals I'd ever had the "privilege" to be blinded by. Please note that I can tolerate bad graphics; it was the limited scope of the ridiculously small playfield (which occupies merely one-fourth of the menu-and-stats-dominated screen) that I found particularly appalling.



I concluded that the game was useless, as I couldn't even see enough of the surrounding landscape to have any clue of where I was supposed to go. And so Burai stood rotting on my shelf for years. Eventually, I decided to play it and finish it once and for all, if for no other reason than to finally clear it from my queue.



Well, its premise is fairly interesting. You have to play through seven mini-quests that involve wacky characters who meet up for one final adventure during which they search for legendary weapons and make a "dramatic" charge through the ultimate bad guy's castle.



And it all actually works thanks to the fact that the game generally makes life easy for the player. The mini-quests are short and straightforward: typically, you make your way to a nearby town where you hang around and power up, and then you venture out into the world to find a mazelike area (be it a tower or cavern or mountain path). You'll experience event scenes and fight bosses and mini-bosses during the proceedings.



Even when a given mini-quest diverges from that rudimentary pattern, affairs remain simple and fun. One young fellow needs to bust out of prison--not exactly a unique theme, but the mischievous rogue gets to free other "criminals" along the way, some of whom team up with him to pummel the guards.



The game does very little to annoy the player aside from the infamous playfield scrunching, and even that ultimately isn't much of an issue, as the overworld proves to be quite linear and the (first few) dungeons are far from tortuous. In just about every area, you can find enemies who regularly drop restorative potions, so you don't have to take many "inn breaks" during requisite leveling sessions. Most of your enemies can be dealt with fairly quickly, and encounters not only are spaced out so they don't become annoying but also happen at an amazingly consistent rate: you can usually tell when you're about to be attacked just by listening to the music, as confrontations occur at a particular part of the field tune nearly every time.



Speaking of the music, it does seem horrible at first, but play on and you'll get to hear some surprisingly nice field and town themes. There's also one particularly cool rock number that accompanies certain "showdown time" event scenes (it's worth noting, however, that poor acoustics make the track sound as if it were recorded in a grotto).



These nice things make the game playable but not necessarily memorable. But when your characters finally get together, the overworld really opens up, and the game ascends to another level. The final stretch covers a lot more territory than the mini-quests that precede it, but by the time you reach said stretch, you'll have a good handle on how the game works, and you shouldn't have much trouble figuring out the lay of the land. You'll suddenly have a whopping eight different characters to suit up, but enemies drop lots of equipment articles, most of which can be sold off for tons of cash. And matters become more interesting thanks to some really cool tasks that your party must complete, like butchering an ogre and then annihilating his persistent, "never say die" body parts.



You never know when you might find a secret weapon or be assaulted by one of the game's many mini-bosses. You could be stumbling along in a desert when you'll suddenly spot a remarkable blade lying in the sands. You might be jaunting along merrily when a giant gorgon or octopus or mammoth (with minions in tow) will decide to attack you.



Some of the last few dungeons are absolutely enormous, but unlike the large labyrinths in the abominable Last Armageddon, they never quite become drags, as Burai sticks to its roots of simplicity and convenience throughout.



When I finally decided to play this game in earnest, I pretty much promised myself that I wouldn't end up making it out to be some sort of Cinderella story if it somehow were to prove acceptable. Then I found myself staying up really late, pressing onward to see what kind of weapon I'd find or boss I'd fight or event I'd experience next. The secrets and dungeons and crazy characters made sure that whenever I put the controller down, I did so begrudgingly. I'm not sure there's any better sign of a quality RPG than that.

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