Monday, August 8, 2011

Tenshi no Uta

Riot / Telenet
Super CD-ROM

I was hooked on this outstanding RPG right from my very first session with it. It's such an easy game to delve into and garner immediate enjoyment from, even for players who don't know know a bit of Japanese. The menus are a breeze to figure out, and the battle system is straightforward and conducive to fast-paced pummeling. Plus, there's a dash button to speed up exploration, so the adventure proceeds at a breakneck rate for its duration.

Perhaps even more appealing than the at-once accessible and pleasantly fast gameplay is the amazing music. Tenshi has a distinct Celtic flavor about it, which is most evident in its soundtrack. Michiko Naruke's brilliant tunes have a way of evoking the perfect feeling for every scenario, be it a feeling of adventurousness or melancholy or mere frivolity. This is the sort of material that's immensely listenable even outside the realm of game playing. And the story it augments features plenty of surprising moments; I actually gasped in shock at one point. Yes, I was one entranced nerd.

The graphics aren't as immediately appealing as the tunes and will probably seem somewhat primitive at first. In truth, they're not bad at all; it's just that you view the action from a distant perspective, which makes most everything seem rather small. However, you'll undoubtedly find that the vantage point works to your benefit when you're exploring vast stretches of overworld or forking paths of dungeon, as it allows you a broad view of your surroundings.

Speaking of the dungeons, they're quite large but never become tedious, and they contain their fair share of traps, which are never hindersome or befuddling enough to be annoying.

Cinemas (of which there aren't many, unfortunately) are implemented extremely well. An encounter with a huge, chest-pounding ogre is interrupted by cinematics depicting the arrival of an unexpected battle participant, who promptly chops one of the behemoth's arms off. The then-one-fisted fiend surges forth again, however, and battle resumes.

That ogre represents impressive enemy design, as do most of the other big bosses. The cast of regular foes might seem unimpressive early on, but before long, you'll be trading jabs with awesome creatures that are quite large and extremely strange in appearance.

Additional trials come in the forms of in-town missions that you're occasionally obliged to complete. You'll have to thwart the midnight dealings of demons in disguise; hop into a well and confront an ugly, furry bug boss; track down a local pickpocket and discover his obscure hiding place; and follow a little canine guide to a mystical flower garden.

There are some cool "Easter eggs" to stumble upon, but you'll need to be able to read Japanese to enjoy a few of the neatest ones.

Most of the time, however, the language barrier should not be a huge issue. The game really opens up once you acquire an airship near the end, so figuring out your next destination at that point can be a little tricky. In fact, for a stretch, I'd thought my journey had reached a premature conclusion, as I was unable to gain access to the final mountain-enclosed continent. But it was during a late-night session with the game that I--half asleep and stumbling around and about to give up--managed to find my way. You'll be able to find your way as well--perhaps with the aid of the strategy guide I wrote. And once you complete your quest, you'll witness an unexpectedly grim conclusion you may never forget.

There was nothing grim about my experience with Tenshi no Uta, though. As far as pure enjoyability goes, it ranks right up there with the almighty Anearth Fantasy Stories.

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