Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alnam no Kiba (Fang of Alnam)

Right Stuff
Super CD-ROM

I expected good things from this RPG. Its cover art is very nice, after all. And as for the game itself, well, I'd never read any negative reports on it. I guess I'll be the first to deliver one: Alnam disappointed me. It's merely okay on the whole--and even rather bad at times.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play a Xenosaga game designed for the Turbo? You probably haven't, but a Xeno-esque affair is essentially what you'll get with Alnam. The cutscenes here go on and on, and it's not like they feature much cool stuff. It's almost all endless, boring conversation; exchanges that could've been completed in thirty seconds had they been handled with in-game text are pointlessly dragged out into anime-style congregations. I actually walked away to do something else during some of them. You do get a bit of tragedy, and you do get a bit of comedy, and the game handles those bits fairly well. Plus, the two leads have good "game-character chemistry." But the entertaining cinematic stuff drowns amid the useless material.

Even worse are the instances when the game decides not to switch over to cinematics but to host unskippable voice-acted babblefests instead. And get ready for some excruciatingly long load times--not just prior to cinemas, but upon entering dungeons and towns as well.

The cinemas are presented in solid style, at least, though the character designs are kind of hit-or-miss: most of the girls are cool, but most of the guys are lame. The in-game visuals don't fare as well as the anime stuff, as they're dark and drab and often ugly (except for... the water; some of the water looks really nice). Everything is small and indistinct; at times, I just barely noticed that there was a townsperson standing nearby.

The music seems pretty good at first but reveals itself to be merely decent. It's also very repetitive, as there aren't many tracks and you're forced to bumble around in certain locations for long periods at a time. Bird chirps and the like do their best to create pleasant atmosphere, but they can't make up for the ugliness of the visuals or the limitations of the music.

What almost manages to save this game (which is actually deplorable in so many respects) is a very good battle system. In fact, the ballyhooed Emerald Dragon could've learned a thing or two from Alnam's combat. You view the slugfests from an overhead perspective, as you do in ED, and you're given "move points," various amounts of which are spent each time you perform an action. The options at your disposal are quite cool and range from animal transformations to tag-team techniques. Strategy obviously plays a role here; but unlike the later-stage scrums in ED, Alnam's fights play out extremely quickly. Your characters achieve level-ups quite often, especially during stretches when you have a good magic user in your band. Unfortunately, the graphics mess things up a bit, as the battle terrain is usually dull and the tiny enemies are rather ugly and get palette swapped around at a ridiculously early point in the quest.

But another combat-related positive to note is the handling of cash. You aren't given a monetary reward at the end of each battle; instead, you have to see a certain fellow in town and collect a cash sum based on your collective killings since the previous payday. It probably seems like a silly way to handle things, but there's a feeling of anticipation that comes with each visit to the cash house, and I was often eager to see just how much money I'd get after a while spent on the battlefield.

Sadly, as much as Right Stuff did right with combat, they left me with far more to mention on the negative side of things. Long cinemas and ugly graphics don't tell the whole sad story. Dungeon designs are boring and uninspired, town layouts are annoyingly tortuous, and the random-encounter rate is high. It's somewhat convenient for those who don't know Japanese that the quest is a straightforward one, as you often can't leave or enter towns until you've hit the right trigger or discovered the correct course to take; but then again, this can be extremely annoying when you stop at a previously visited town to buy something only for some jackass to bar you from entering. I really can't see Alnam being much of a winner for anyone, unless somebody is looking for an RPG in which leveling up is the most enjoyable part.

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