Monday, August 22, 2011

Tenshi no Uta II

Riot / Telenet
Super CD-ROM

There would be no big surprises this time. The first Tenshi no Uta was a stunner, a one-dollar toss-in equipped with the gameplay, soundtrack, story, and spirit of an all-time classic. Tenshi II would not be sneaking up on me in similar fashion; in fact, in light of its predecessor's incredible showing, I expected nothing short of excellence from it. Riot went with a safe and smart game plan for II, delivering a product that relies on and succeeds via the strengths of its forerunner. It's a sequel broader in scope than its already-epic progenitor--if not quite as impeccable in execution. Once again, players are granted a seat placed far above the action, an advantageous perspective for exploring the featured realm and its many labyrinths. The sprites are not quite as lovably tiny this time, but everything is a bit more colorful, even bordering on cartoonish at times, both out on the field...

...and within the confines of combat.

Riot's artistic ambitions occasionally went awry: extreme Ys III-esque choppiness riddles sporadic scenes plagued by ill-executed parallax. Areas that should've come off as beautiful are rendered rough, slowed-up sludge-stretches instead.

Despite the graphical stumbling, it's fun to scout out each countryside township and dreary dungeon. As was the case with the first game's mazes, Tenshi II's feature a fair number of well-thought-out puzzles and dramatic story-advancing sketches. Never do they annoy with their many branches or frustrate with their numerous conundrums; the game shuns convolution and remains engaging throughout.

Offering convenience in matters of party management is one of the many reasons that the original Tenshi shines; its sequel makes a tradition of such handiness, even having departing party members leave their equipment behind with the warriors still under your control. Never will a character you spent lots of cash equipping abruptly dash off with expensive, newly acquired wares.

Fast-paced fighting is another of the first episode's strengths, and Tenshi II sticks with the player-friendly skirmish style for the most part. A number of the bullyish monsters here can prove to be very tough customers, leading to some longer-than-Tenshi-norm combat scenes, but battling seldom becomes irritating.

Among the coolest of those combat scenes is a showdown with the ogre who suffered limb severance at your party's hands in the previous game. The wily fellow shows up this time with prosthetics in place.

And he's not the only old friend you'll run into. Riot devised a brilliant method of connecting this wonderful new plot with the adventure experienced by the original cast, even calling on certain stars to assume important guest roles in the name of achieving closure following the stunningly bleak turn the first story took at its end (which they went about accomplishing in very satisfying fashion).

You'll notice that said old friends are depicted in a vastly different way here. Indeed, while the cinemas in the first Tenshi did a nice job of establishing the featured fellowship as an extremely unlikely, goofy-but-endearing group of heroes, II's represent an enormous step forward with gorgeous artwork and exemplary animation. Particularly memorable is the surprise-laden ending sequence.

Prior to viewing that sequence, you'll do battle with a stern final boss to the tune of a catchy number reminiscent of Popful Mail's finest tracks. While you'll enjoy a significant dose of excellent red book audio before hearing that climactic tune, one of the most impressive numbers is the chip-produced, bass-driven battle theme. Greatest of all the tracks, though, is the one Riot employed for the game's final dungeon, a terrifying dirge backed by ominous chanting.

And as it just won't do for anyone to get stuck and be unable to hear that amazing track, I wrote up a strategy guide that players can check out if they're ever in need of assistance while making their way through the game.

Playing through the game is something I've done myself many, many times. Still, while my adoration for the first episode never wavers, I tend to forget just how damn good this sequel really is. Each revisitation reminds me that it's the excellent latter half of what ultimately amounts to a two-classic saga.

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