Friday, January 25, 2013

Seiya Monogatari (Anearth Fantasy Stories)

Hudson Soft / Media Works
Super CD-ROM

I've long hailed Anearth Fantasy Stories as not only one of the greatest 16-bit RPGs but also one of the PC Engine's most beautiful and innovative games. Yet, it's never lost on me when I play it that, stylistically, it isn't the type of title I'd typically be interested in, as I'm an impatient sort, and Anearth never seems to be any hurry to get anywhere. Ships lazily drift into ports; butterflies slowly flutter about towns. It's as if the game is inviting players to take in every dazzling aspect of the magnificence that surrounds them, every detail of the beautifully drawn trees, buildings, grottoes, and statuaries. Surprisingly (considering my no-time-to-lose nature), I'm always more than willing to accept its invitation. The unbelievably gorgeous world of Anearth never fails to enthrall me.

The red book-heavy soundtrack does its part to ensure immersion. Delightfully pleasant numbers accompany worry-free jaunts through forests while an unforgettably eerie track portends events yet to unfold on a misleadingly tranquil island. Cinemas serve as bookends for the quest, and the touching opening sequence lays the groundwork for what ends up being an incredible artistic accomplishment.

But the unparalleled presentation is just one aspect of the game's overall brilliance. The land's enormous labyrinths are packed with so many secrets and puzzles that every single one of them becomes a unique adventure unto itself.

There's so much terrain to explore, so many niches to examine, such a wide variety of challenges to face. Morph from a fish to a frog to a butterfly to circumvent various obstacles. Make your way through an upside-down nightmare by making alterations to the flip-flopped structure. The tasks you're asked to perform are appealingly unusual and intriguing.

Character interplay is fascinating and deep. Enter a realm of cannibals who serve up flesh stew (which restores your health!). Challenge a roaring behemoth for his treasure or hammer out a deal with him diplomatically. Trail a wall-smashing dragon. Buddy up with a bunch of pirates. Give in to a lizard king's demands and achieve revenge later on; and mutilate a vicious, near-invincible villain.

The focus on exploration, puzzle solving, and character development means there are no random battles to deal with, as there's just no need for the game to have players partake in such busy work. Fights are set to occur at various spots, with the manner in which your party develops dependent on the techniques you utilize during scuffles. I never needed to bore myself by "leveling up," yet my little band was a force to be reckoned with by adventure's end. Pacing- and design-wise, the title is simply perfect. Strategy is a more important factor in combat than stats or equipment, making every fight interesting rather than an RPG standard level of tedious.

This is a special game, folks--perhaps the best ever released for the system. Don't let a perceived language barrier bar you from picking it up--a wonderful guide has been written by Duomazov ally M1savage to help people play through it. And playing through it is a pleasure not to be missed.