~ XAK III ~
Micro Cabin / NEC Home Electronics
Just as Ys had undergone a change in play formula upon reaching its third episode, so too did Xak abandon its old bump-to-kill ways for its own second sequel. But while Falcom made a foray into the realm of sidescrollers, Micro Cabin opted to retain a bird's-eye view for Xak III and simply added button-press-triggered slashing to the mix. The PC Engine had seen this "Ys plus manual hacking" recipe before in Brain Grey's Efera & Jiliora, a favorite of mine that I believed Xak III would resemble in style based on similarities I'd perceived in screen captures.
Well, I was right in thinking that Xak III would play like E&J, but the speedier of the respective avatars, the one that possesses the greater range of attack, is to be found in Brain Grey's title. I don't mind X3's imperfect combat so much (as E&J is kind of rough itself), but the sluggish shambling really annoys me. People often observe that The eternal recurrence is longer than its two-quest predecessor, but they usually neglect to mention that the added length is primarily attributable to the game having you shuffle along at an extremely slow pace (whereas its forerunner allows you to blaze across the countryside), not to mention that it forces you to trudge through a number of very large towns and structures, with nothing of note happening during the dragged-out trips.
What's frequently mentioned in testimonials (in rather nebulous fashion) is that Xak III is "dark." Well, when I think dark, I think of games with somber atmospheres and bleak environments--games like The Legendary Axe II and the aforementioned E&J. Xak III's take on dark is more along the lines of Mortal Kombat-type "darkness," as it contains a few bloody scenes where big, bad assholes decide to rip some people apart. Keep in mind we're talking in-game gore here, "horrific" happenings featuring small sprites and little red puddles, not breathtaking cinematic doses of blood-spattering a la the dramatic ice cave scene in Manji Maru. Also keep in mind that most of this stuff happens very early on. What follows is adventuring of the typical old-action-RPG variety, questing with a humdrum feel about it and not a whole lot of "darkness" to speak of.
There aren't many quality tunes to come across, either. I & II's soundtrack is brilliant, but III's is mostly boring and forgettable. And the graphics are so bad in some of X3's first few areas that it's occasionally difficult to tell which zones are open for exploration and which ones are perennially closed to travelers...
...but I suppose I should mention that the visuals do eventually advance all the way to "so-so" caliber.
The sporadically presented cinemas also fail to impress...
...and aside from one or two cunning creatures that confront you early on, the bosses can all be beaten through attrition.
Forgive me for making the comparison again, but Efera & Jiliora stars a crew of much cooler and tougher bosses. And E&J doesn't have us control a flying goober for its final battle.