Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Laser Soft / Telenet
Super CD-ROM

Poor, ill-famed Babel is a traditional-style RPG best known for having stupidly enormous towns. They're certainly larger than those you'll find in most of the game's contemporaries, but there's only one of truly abominable size. It's a ridiculous continent-sized metropolis split up into five sections, each of which consists of about a billion buildings, and said buildings aren't arranged in neat little rows. Heck, even the interiors of many of the structures are labyrinthine. This is a village so massive that the disc comes packaged with a map of it. And you'll have to spend a lot of time wandering its streets early in the game, looking for just the right person to talk to before you can get on with things.

For a while, there seemed to be no end in sight to the roving, but that isn't the only reason I was unhappy with how the adventure was going in its early stages. Some of the music is fairly good, but a lot of it really isn't. Some of the character designs are very cool, but many of them are not. Some of the towns look pretty decent, but the environments are dull for the most part. And while the cinemas aren't terrible, a lot of them are of the pint-sized Valis II variety.

That's mostly superficial stuff, though; the battles are a more serious matter, and a number of problems plague them initially. Enemy designs are overutilized and mostly uninteresting. Your characters' attack animations have to be loaded up during each fight, which causes the music to stop playing. And the encounter rate is way too high. It's relatively easy to flee from foes in most areas of the game, but the parts that make you buckle down and fight can be really annoying, particularly early on.

But "early on" doesn't last forever, and Babel gets better the further you get in it. Once you've done what you have to do in that big, silly town, the quest becomes much more focused. And you never have to dilly-dally around earning experience points or money. In fact, the game shuns XP entirely and strengthens your characters by itself at certain points, and you acquire plenty of items that you can sell off for good cash. After getting off to a rough start, everything proceeds quickly and smoothly. And aside from some early extended periods of seemingly aimless wandering, there were no points at which I found myself stuck. There are no stupid puzzles or secret warp spots to worry about. It's just mission after mission.

Still, Babel isn't a good game for novices, who'll probably never overcome the early big-town trial. RPG heavyweights, on the other hand, should be able to get through it without much grief (as long as they have this excellent guide on hand, that is). If you plan to acquire the disc, I highly recommend that you obtain a copy that comes with the map sheet, which features not only a sketch of the infamous town but also one of the entire overworld.

I like Babel's main characters, and I like how the quest keeps moving along. I also like many of the significant story scenes. There's some good, violent, exciting material here: bad guys take beam shots to the head, giant robots massacre villages, and innocent innkeepers get their brains blown out.

There are some awkward stretches, though. The game is split up into six chapters, and the fourth features a shitload of text with no actual gameplay. I felt like I was experiencing the second disc of Xenogears all over again. Also, the ending is a goofy cop-out.

But in between the slow start and the wretched conclusion, there's some good fun to be had.

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