COSMO CANYON ZONE ACT 1

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A
Arc the Lad
Release Info

Developer: G-Craft

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment, Working Designs

Release Date:

JP June 30, 1995

US April 18, 2002 (Arc the Lad Collection)

A depressingly short, but very enjoyable game. What ended up hooking me in SRPGs. The plot is basically "evil demon king and monsters have been unsealed from their prison, collect the five macguffins and save the day" mixed with a somewhat touching tale of a determined son searching for his long lost father. As he travels the world, he befriends a bunch of neat people, from the timid Poco, to the kooky Gogen, to the stoic Iga. He also gains back the trust of the spirits who long gave up on the world and its greedy people lusting for power. The game does end with a cliffhanger that really isn't an end at all, which is a shame.

Gameplay is a very brisk, light on menus rendition of Turn Based Strategy gameplay. Battles are the usual 5+ minute affair, but they're pretty fast, turns with a character are finished in a snap. The balancing is sadly a mess, you can basically focus all your level ups on Arc and barely worry about anything other than the petrification from the enemies at Sabatico Falls, and even then you can get a Mirror from one of the chests in the Forbidden Ruins for it. It makes replaying the game really easy so, really it's not problem for me.

Music and graphics are also stellar. Music is by the talented Masahiro Andoh, guitarist of legendary jazz fusion band T-Square. There's a lot of bangers in this soundtrack like. Just click here and you'll find nothing but bangers. Personal favorites include Battle 1 (戦闘1), Critical Moment (危機一髪), which was later reused in the sequel as an area map theme, Chongara's theme (チョンガラ) and Iga's theme (イーガ). The pixel art is also godly. It's not at the same level as like Metal Slug which is basically Pixel Art Godhood, but man this is so good for the PlayStation in 1995. Quite a few graphics are a bit under saturated in palette which is not my type of thing, but it's excusable. A lot of detail was crammed into each frame and tile, just enough to not make it seem too crowded.

Apparently the reason for its short length is simply the ambition G-Craft gained while developing the title. While they certainly stepped up to the plate in the sequel, the first game, while terrific and a definite recommend, is just a bit too short which would be excused if the plot didn't only start developing at the very end with the big plot twist.

The translation I'm more divisive on, while it twists a few words with a few accidental mistranslations here and there, which, valid, it does rewrite a few characters, Tosh IIRC is a bit less aggressive in the English release which I prefer, but it feels unnecessary. Kukuru also acts more airheaded and naive, which is awkward. She is a teenager but, she is from a lineage of sacred shrine priests. Even more egregious is how Chongara is handled.

For some reason, Vic Ireland's twisted mind that we're being welcomed into decided that The Greedy, Arab-coded Merchant Character, which by itself is already a sus idea, should speak entirely in Borat brand broken funnyman English. And no one thought to veto this. Because highkey racism is just the Working Designs way I guess. And very few people outside of the very little Arc the Lad fandom in the west (of which I am very much part of, Thank You) call this out!!! Not guilting anyone, I'm just saying: More people should be warned about this because it could color the game negatively for Arab folk, for example. And it's not in the source scripts, so it's disrespectful and damaging to the game. I'll try to update this with more stuff I find comparing the main text of both scripts, but just keep that in mind if you want to play the English version.

I will leave you with this line from Wikipedia, "Despite a heavy push for a North American release from RPG fans, the video game media, and third-party publishers, Arc the Lad was never formally released outside of Japan. However, years later it was included in the North American compilation Arc the Lad Collection." Thanks Bernie Stolar, we really needed nothing but Beyond the Beyond until like Wild ARMs and Suikoden (two excellent games btw) came out. The disrespect North America had for 2D games in the 5th Gen was insane. Truly, we live in a society /joker

Actually I'll add one more thing. Chongara and Arsalan from Housamo share a voice actor, Kenichi Ogata. So whenever you're having inpure thoughts about the sexy Turkish oil wrestler lion dad, think about the anti-hero bizarro!Torneko instead. Who is honestly pretty hot too.

Final Rating: ★★★★☆

If I could sum it up: Sinfully short, but sinfully delightful.

H
Hydlide II: Shine of Darkness
Release Info

Developer: T&E Soft

Release Date:

JP December 13, 1985 (PC-8801 version)

Hoo boy. How can I start. I went into this game expecting a slightly improved version of Hydlide 1, which, imo (pronounced emo), I thought was rough, but had a lot of potential. The best way I could summarise the problems I have with this game is like. It tries to do a lot, but falls flat on its ass with roughly all of them. Now, I'm not one of those AVGN-addled "Hydlide is a ripoff of Zelda" "philistines", despite liking AVGN's older videos a lot (his Sega CD, 32X, CD-i and Jaguar videos are kino). I understand the big role the Hydlide trilogy had in the history of Japanese Role Playing Games. They were pioneers and their messy gameplay was more excusable at the time, especially with the popularity of games like The Tower of Druaga. But Hydlide II was special. It drained me.

A big problem with Hydlide II is that, while Hydlide 1 asked you to grind like fuck, Hydlide II exacerbates that by multiplying the grind amount by 10. I don't know if it's just me but it feels like there's less game and more grind. Strength and the new Magic bar aren't increased with levels anymore, instead being trained, which is a novel idea and would be explored in later RPGs. However, both training methods require paying a steep fee to increase your strength and magic levels. The game also explains nothing to you (at least outside of a manual?) so you could play the entire game without knowing that the timing for the strength training is to press punch just as the monk swings his head fully forward. So you can imagine the grind for gold.

Forth also hinders the game further than it improves it. It's basically another bar that decreases if you do the wrong things like... Slaying the wrong kind of enemy? Or killing a Fairylander. Who are all over Fairyland, outright outnumbering the monsters. I guess it's to indicate the peacefulness of the land at the time of the game's events, but it feels counterintuitive. Anyway, the Forth bar is basically a bad morality meter, which like, I guess it's an early attempt. I can still say I don't like it because, if you reach Evil status, you have to grind evil monsters to get it back up to Normal or Justice, otherwise Fairylanders and shopkeepers will not speak to you, and if you're not in Justice by the time you reach the final "boss" (it's basically a puzzle/setpiece) you cannot win the game, you have to grind to reach Justice or you cannot reach the end screen. It's so stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Magic also feels pointless, the only spells I found any use for was the camp spells, Cloud, and if I was playing blind, Search. I only used Fire to get the Red Crystal, it feels very tacked on at the last minute. Armor is also just there, you can get the strongest sword very early in the game, the Tower is recommended by many people to be the first dungeon you go to. Outside of grinding, combat is unnecessary so armor is usually a non issue, and there's usually easy grinding monsters like the Golems or the Worms (which are both good monsters btw so have fun grinding Ghouls once you're done with those if you're heading to the final boss).

So yeah at the end of the day it's. It's a game that's trying to do a lot and due to a combination of the Japanese gaming industry, nay, the gaming world not having progressed as much and possibly time and resources (apparently Naito actually coded his games rather quickly though, so who knows), its features are hindrances and you could strip away a lot of it and focus on like maybe one new feature along with just refining the original Hydlide structure of scavenging a world for hidden treasure to progress further, Druaga-style.

A pioneer, but man if it isn't tragic.

Final Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

If I could sum it up: You tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try.

L
The Legend of Heroes III: The White Witch / Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch
Release Info

Developer: Nihon Falcom

Release Date:

JP March 18, 1994 (PC-9801 version)

This game calls itself a Poetic RPG in its promotional material and. I feel that. The majority of this review will be based on the Windows 9x release, fair warning. This game's story isn't an epic like FFVI where you have people literally surviving the attempted destruction of the world in a desolate wasteland ruled by a human guinea pig who in an attempt to be turned into an all powerful super soldier to fight for an empire, regressed into a demented sociopathic manchild who lost the ability to feel any emotion but manic contempt and hatred, and is also punishing cities at his whim atop his ivory tower of literal garbage like the vengeful god he wants so much to be, just to instill fear in the people he perceives to be weak.

No.

This is a game about two little pilgrims, going on an adventure that will have them meet several people, interact with the many countries in Tirasweel, stop a menace secretly pulling the strings behind the curtain right in their country, and learn what it means to be an adult. While FFVI was a game about tragedy and surviving the most painful parts of your life stronger than you were before, White Witch is about maturing as a person. Spreading your wings. What it means to live.

The main plot of the game is, in the country of Pholthia in Tirasweel, there is a small mountain village called Ragpick Village. In there live two children, a 14 year old boy named Jurio (Julio i guess) and a 15 year old girl named Christina, Chris for short. It's time for them to embark on a pilgrimage all over Tirasweel to fulfill their Rite of Adulthood and be considered adults amongst the villagers. Their mission: To visit the five Sharines, or Shrines if you'd rather, the PSP translation did good on localizing it to that, and gaze into the Magic Mirrors within. Their predictions, and the predictions of the great White Witch who once visited Tirasweel 20 years ago, will weave the tale of their journey.

Along the way they meet many people and see many events, from stopping a robber aboard a ship and then trying to steer the ship to its proper course as everyone is knocked out from the robber's sleeping pills, to a village going through famine, but filled with extremely helpful and kind folk, to villages and cities being ravaged by a sea beast that's gone out of control, and meeting up with Chris' uncle who is a penniless scholar, entrenched in the lore of the White Witch, a king who is studying the predictions of the White Witch to stop the sea beast from destroying any more towns, a young swordsman who lost his father to the sea beast and wishes to avenge him... All of this is like Prologue and Chapter 1?

The characters are as deep as they could be for '94 but there's so much personality in them that you can't help but fall in love with them. Unlike the previous two Legend of Heroes games, almost every city has a certain personality to it. There's a certain vibe you feel when being in them. It's as much of a living world as a game from 94 could get. My personal favorite is Dice and Dartu, a bustling casino town and a slum in a marsh next to eachother. While you'd expect there to be sociopolitical commentary, it's more emotional than that. After Roule saves the party's collective asses from getting scammed at the Dice casino, he reveals that the reason he always comes back empty handed is that he literally uses it all on food from Mayor Baron to take to Dartu, in the hopes that they'd plant the lentils and start growing their own food instead of relying on Roule and Dice. After seeing the dance number from a little girl who was happy to see Roule and seeing how glum the whole village was, they head back and run into a Kitara player named Trova. After helping Trova find his kitara, they escort him back to Dartu, where he begins to play a little ditty in the hopes of cheering everyone up and pepping them up to try and change things around.

The string breaks. He has no spare string.

Everyone reverts back into the safety of their depression, feeling even more anxious to try to be happy due to the perceived disaster that ocurred. Intending to fix this, the party heads to Grandma Krowa's house to get some kitara string, after finally procuring it, they find out that even Trova has gone down. After some harsh words to tell him that the people are depending on him, he gives it another shot. The kitara session goes great, the whole village joins together, the children are dancing. The village finally has the strength to try and push onwards to equal or even surpass Dice. It's very touching. You could see it as classist like, it's saying that it's poor people's fault that they're poor, but I choose to read it in a more non-literal manner, it being that it's a metaphor for depression, and as someone struggling with mental illnesses, self doubt, poor self-esteem, deep depression, I'm honestly, honest to god, touched. When we're struggling with mental illnesses we can't let it fester, as we simmer in the safety blanket that is our self-hate. We need the push, the support, from friends, from family, from mental health professionals, to take the step in the right direction and focus on healing, and undoing the damage. To me, that's what the Dartu subplot is about.

So much of the game is like that.

The writing is superb. I have no words, it literally changed the way I think about JRPGs in a good way. Which is why the translation is A Problem.

The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch was an attempt by Namco Bandai to localize the classic's PSP remake and. Oof. There's so many typos, so many cases of poor translation, just, awkward wording and text. It feels machine translated and. That's a disservice to such a beautiful game. It's sadly earned it a negative reputation amongst the Western community along with just how simplistic the plot feels compared to something like Final Fantasy VII which outright goes into deconstructing the genre. A terrible fate for such a phenomenal game, it breaks my heart.

If you ever get the chance, do sit down with the PSP translation (best thing available as of this review) and just go into it and treat the translation as a sort of preliminary translation, try to add flavor to it in your mind, rewording, finding different ways to read a certain sentence. Maybe then you'll be able to get closer to how the true game feels. And if a translation patch ever comes out, by Geofront or whomever. I beg you. From the bottom of my heart. Please play it. You will not regret it. It's not Trails, but it's touching all the same.

Anyway, battles. The game uses a more automated battle system that's somewhat a mix of real time and turn based. You have a Vitality Point counter that goes down the more the characters move and do actions. Once it reaches too low, they have to rest and restore the counter to a decent amount. It's a strange hybrid. The characters have certain presets to select. Automatic, Focus on Attacking, Focus on Defending/Healing and for the spellcasters, Focus on Support Magic. You can also issue commands like, who to aim spells to, who to attack, where to move. It's a bit clunky admittedly, but the repercussions for failure are but a slap on the wrist. You restart just outside of the battle arena, and while you can't progress without defeating the enemy in front of you, just keep trying and you'll eventually make it. Being hands off apart from emergencies is key. Trust in your party.

The Japanese PSP version takes the automation seriously, outright nixing the Vitality Points in favor of constant attacks. However the lack of a mouse makes battles much more of a hassle, the final boss was outright stressful. You start each battle selecting Attack or Defense. You can alter this at any point in the battle by selecting a party member, which brings up a menu with commands. It's a strange Real Time method of battling, and frankly I don't like it. It also uses enemies from the PC version of LoH4??

The American PSP version just uses turn based battles. It simplifies the entire battle system for turn based battles. It's insulting but it's more manageable than the Japanese PSP battle system.

Saturn and PSX also use turn based battles, but I have not played the PSX version, it seems very similar to the PC98 version. Maybe sometime down the line. The Saturn version is its own ordeal, but I'll summarize the battles. Everything feels scripted. The encounters are like set to only appear at a certain point in the game and never again, the enemy variation is of like 4 unique sprites (wolf, monkey, deathcargo (hermit crab type enemy), rat) and recolors until the soldiers of the final dungeon. On top of that, whenever a character is in critical condition they have to speak in text boxes every time and it kills the flow of battle.

Graphics are primo 90s PC aesthetics and I live for them. Very subdued colors, but I enjoy it in this context. It feels cozy, no doubt due to the DOS games I used to play as a kid. PSP has a more low budget appearance to it, due to being a launch title from the second wave of PSP games, it was the first RPG for the console. Many times the sprites will look completely flat against the 3D world which is a further blemish on the PSP port sadly. The Saturn version goes for a more Breath of Fire III inspired look and, it's. The Saturn version has a lot of really stupid redesigns that just look terrible and feel like a parody of the game? Chris and Jurio are alright, they're just a little bit more shojo, but Lodi's long face, Morrison's Bubbles from PPG-ass pigtails, Alf looking a lot more generic, Lap and Morrison flat out looking like gremlins (I kind of dig Lap for this). The only one who was changed for the better was Roule and that's because I think a more well built grandpa type seems less common than a squishy grandpa/grandma type for JRPGs. And also my blatant grandpa fetish, but y'know.

The redesigns and strange decisions like. Having the porno book Jurio reads aboard the Hawktalon be actually readable by the player and having it contain pictures of, not Shirla at least nooooooo, it's Chris like holy shit Hudson, Goose (god tier character btw love the dude) literally jokes at one point he only goes for 18+ year olds when he runs into Chris. Falcom fucking knew better than to do that shit and they've done some weird shit in modern Trails games. The Saturn game literally destroys the game. If you have no context it's alright, but with full context it's just. It's a pale imitation. You're better off playing the Windows version.

So yeah I just went through like 14 paragraphs, without counting the single line paragraphs, telling you why this game is perfect and the best and. Yeah. This game fucking rules. It rules in a different way than like FFVII or Chrono Trigger or the Trails in the Sky trilogy or whichever Persona's hot and hip with the youngsters right now. It might be closer to moon and Undertale really, say what you will about Undertale's approach to morality (i thought it was alright).

Final Rating: ★★★★★ (Win) ★★★★☆ (PSP J) ★★★☆☆ (PSP U) ★☆☆☆☆ (Saturn)

If I could sum it up: Of all the RPGs I have encountered in my travels, this was the most human.

Lunar: Eternal Blue
Release Info

Developer: Game Arts, Studio Alex

Publisher: Game Arts, Working Designs

Release Date:

JP December 22, 1994 (Sega CD version)

US September 15, 1995 (Sega CD version)

A profound game.

The Sega CD wasn't the most popular add-on, in any part of the world, but there were some standout titles for it, the only official English release of Snatcher, arguably Sonic CD, Panic!, Eternal Champions: Challenge from yadda yadda... But a lot of was ports and FMV shovelware. There were a few RPGs for it. One notable one was Lunar: Silver Star, which I plan to do a review on (5/Jun/2021 here). Lunar sold nearly 1:1 with the Sega CD in Japan, known there as the Mega CD. It didn't save the Mega CD especially compared to the PC Engine and Super Famicom, but it was a slight success for Sega.

The idea behind Silver Star was to create a game about a young boy travelling the world spreading democracy, which mutated into a story of good vs. evil, and resulted in one of the most kindhearted games in JRPG history. Eternal Blue takes this kindness even further.

Like the first game, it is a story about descovering the power the kindness of humanity has when it comes to fighting pure evil and a superhuman being discovering love with the help of friends. Lucia is a very Rei Ayanami type character. First being cold and emotionless, but not outright heartless, she soon learns the beauty of Lunar and humanity thanks to the help of Hiro and Ruby, who protect her from Althena's Heroes.

Another theme touched upon is the weakness of humanity. Hiro and Leo are compared by their loyalty, Leo never questioning it until it is too late. Ronfar and Mauri are compared by love, Ronfar choosing to leave her behind out of guilt for not being able to help her, until discovering Zophar has enslaved her due to the Blood of Zophar that he gave her to cure her illness. Jean and Lunn are compared by how they handle power, Jean sees power as a way to stop evil and defend humanity (this isn't conveyed as well, this is more of an interpretation of her actions throughout the game) while Lunn saw power as a way to dominate the weak. Lastly, Lemina and Borgan are compared by ambition, Lemina wishes to restore Vane by restoring the guild, and while that leads her to a path of greed and businesswoman-type attitudes (which is mostly played for laughs), Borgan goes and bismirches Vane by creating a new improved Vane that surpasses the original in magic power to appease Lemina's mother, and forces all who aren't powerful mages into slavery.

All four evil counterparts do resign their ways and work for good in the end, Leo joining your party after LEANING FOREVER a few times to make up for past transgressions, Mauri is healed thanks to Ronfar doing psychic damage by rescuing her id, I guess. Lunn sees that he's surpassed by Jean and learns that power isn't something to be held by a few to oppress others. Lastly, Borgan sees that doing all the things he did for Miria's sake was wrong and chooses to Go Home And Be A Family Man for Miria and Lemina. While the characters are paper thin, there is some feeling of warmth in their small personalities. My favorite characters are personally Lemina and Ronfar.

The gameplay is the same as the first game (I'll go into detail with a Silver Star review), with the addition of a Tactics system where you can quickly choose preset strategies for one turn, which is good for button mashing past small fry battles. I mostly used it for conserving MP by always Attacking.

The only problem with this game apart from slight difficulty spikes, some choice design decisions in the Epilogue messing with its profoundness and an annoying encounter rate... Is the translation. Everyone has heard this before but, Working Designs has some strange, pretty childish quirks in their writing. Their standard writing is pretty average for the time, not phenomenal but does the job. They have a tendency to add unfitting pop culture references to replace pointless NPC chatter which I find dumb, but you could do worse. Then. THEN. There's the edgy humor. Right in Larpa, there is an NPC that contemplates quitting her job and going on welfare, causing a reply from Ruby about wasting her life. In another instance, there is an instance of Ruby calling an NPC the R slur over beating himself bloody on purpose. In another instance, Ronfar makes a quip about "fake girls" grossing him out.

This is downright embarrassing. A phenomenal, beautiful game like this should not have such trash jokes attached to it. It's why despite being able to have fun with Working Designs published games, I always have to append a content warning to them. Working Designs on the whole was pretty unprofessional though with Vic Ireland constantly burning bridges and starting shit so I wouldn't be surprised if a similar mindset is what inspired these jokes, pardon me if I'm going too far. They also have a tendency of screwing up the balancing, in this game's case, awkwardly rebalancing the enemies by hand to give less EXP and Silver and making you pay Magic EXP (formula is (hiro's level)x15) to save. I purposefully used a patch to remove this and restore the Japanese difficulty, much like how I did 7th Saga. I understand this is to combat rentals and supposed "abusers of the game trade-in system", or so he said about Thunder Force V having its Kids mode removed in a Usenet thread which is both dumb and pretty ableist in retrospect, but it feels consumer unfriendly and this catering exclusively to hardcore, challenge junky gamers as well as being outclassed by fresher publishers outbidding them in other games and the constant expenditures in making every release a collector's edition and the constant delays, is a big indication of how they went under.

That thread is really funny feel free to read it for some quality hot takes from both sides, I was on a arguments in Working Designs discussion threads high at the time, they're very funny.

So yeah, in the end, I wholeheartedly recommend it, it's not FF7 levels of a revelation but. It's pretty touching and in the end, for a JRPG that's what matters the most. Just content warning about all the Working Designs grime.

Final Rating: ★★★★★ (SCD, Unworked Designs)

If I could sum it up: "Everyone! Love! And! Peace!" - Selphie Tilmitt (not from this game)

P
PoPoLoCrois Monogatari
Release Info

Developer: epics, G-Artists

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date:

JP July 12, 1996

This is the kind of game that while it's tragic, I'm somewhat glad it wasn't picked up for a stateside release in the 90s because people would absolutely shit on it for being 2D and dismiss it for daring to have a cutesy artstyle instead of edgelord bullshit. If Uchuu Race: Astro Go! Go!, a stylish, if a bit jank and gaudy, racing game in the style of F-Zero, with great character designs by Hideyuki Tanaka of Bust-A-Groove and Super Milk-chan fame (I'd say watch Milk-chan but it's highkey problematic at times haha), was interpreted by Nintendo fucking Power as a mix between F-Zero and the fucking Care Bears (no offense to the Care Bears fandom, like legit, if Muppets twitter is probably the only good twitter subcommunity, which it fucking is, then), I can only imagine the drubbing and talking down this would get because.

This game is very much written like a fairy tale, and it takes absolute advantage of the PlayStation's 2D capabilities to create some stunning artwork and animations instead of using any polygons. And it's aged really well because of it, so much of the art in here is a delight. Even if you can't read the text, at least watching a playthrough for the nice animations and sight gags is very much recommended.

The story of PoPoLoCrois Monogatari (literally The Story of PoPoLoCrois, or The Tale of PoPoLoCrois) has a few parts to it, shall we say. First the background, given to you in the intro (Wild ARMs also does this, incidentally, another Sony backed JRPG). Long, long time ago, there was a small kingdom called PoPoLoCrois. Its loving rulers were King Paulo Pakapuka and the Queen Sania. As their love grew, they soon had their first child, a precious baby named Pietro. Soon, the kingdom was under attack by the evil Ice Devil, who along with his Four Fiends (note: the term used is shitennou, or Four Heavenly Kings, which fits in Japanese lexicon, maou being a common term for villains in JRPGs and shitennou being a common term for a team of four highly powerful rivals to the protagonists of a story), decided to attack PoPoLoCrois, trapping it in an eternal winter, with the kingdom being unable to defend itself.

At a critical moment, a powerful dragon rose to fight off the Ice Devil. For 7 days and 7 nights, the battle raged on, until the dragon managed to defeat the mighty Ice Devil. As a last resort, the Devil took the dragon with him to the World of Darkness, refusing to let it reign victorious over him. At that point, Sania passed out and fell into a deep slumber. 10 years have passed since then. Pietro's 10th birthday was upon us and he has grown into a mischevious if adorable little boy, brimming with energy and love for his kingdom and all its people.

The night of his birthday, after a great party, Pietro laments that the person he most wanted to see was unable to come, his missing mother. Seeing his father scamper on to the nearby tower near his bedroom balcony, he goes down its ivy to follow him. After noticing a strange portrait of a woman, he rises to the highest floor to see his father mutter about how Pietro has grown into a fine young child to a sleeping woman, who looks like the woman in the picture. Confused, he begs his father Paulo for an explanation. "Who is this woman? Who is she, father?!" But he didn't reply. Suddenly, the castle is under attack. The nefarious Evil Mastermind Gami Gami (Gami Gami Devil in the PSP translation, not sure what the translation patch will go with) has bombed the castle with his airships, seeking the treasure of PoPoLoCrois. As Paulo steps in to see what's happening, Gami Gami quickly sprays him with sleeping gas and makes off with his Crown of Wisdom, in the hopes of creating fearful machinery. Pietro tries to stop him, but to no avail, as he is much older, and thus, much stronger.

After the flames are put out and the soldiers finish licking their wounds, dawn breaks. Chancellor Morm is deciding what to do to get back the crown. After a while of pondering, Pietro steps in, literally. The two have a silent discussion, and Morm ends up feeling touched over Pietro choosing to go and retrieve the crown to avenge his sleeping father. He decides to command the youngest and the best (of the ones still available for combat) soldiers to escort him, Don and Gon. However, after Don and Gon head to the Castle Town of PoPoLoCrois, the resting Paulo wakes up and scolds Morm for deciding to send Pietro on such a task at the age of 10, and orders Pietro to stay in the castle. Morm sadly has to comply with this and tells the young prince to go to his room. Pietro then decides to head close to the tower, and he hears a voice calling to him.

The dragon, trapped in the World of Darkness, sees the strength in the child's determination, and bestows Pietro the Dragon Sword, a sword that grows along with its wielder in combat as long as the wielder is pure of heart. Seeing that Pietro isn't completely defenseless and wields the Dragon Sword of all blades, proof that he was chosen by the dragon of yore, Morm allows the young prince to head out to the Castle Town and further to retrieve his father's crown.

After an encounter with a Lesser Demon that scared off Don and Gon, and making a deal with the forest witch Gilda to let her younger sister Narcia aid him as long as she comes back home once they're done, and later on, meeting the White Knight, who had his sword stolen by Gami Gami's goons, in the scrap yard outside of Gami Gami City, Pietro embarks on a small journey to recover the Crown of Wisdom and show the Evil Mastermind Gami Gami who's boss!

But that's not the end of the game. In chapter 2, the main story begins, with Pietro feeling that he's tired of staying in the castle every day and that it is time he proves himself to his father, and try to recover his mother's soul from the World of Darkness, after Gilda, who dropped by the castle on broomsticks along with Narcia, hints that her soul could be in it. Searching for the Book of Darkness, resting on the floating island of Bryonia, the three, and later Gami Gami as well, depart on a journey to recover Sania's soul and stop the Ice Devil and his Four Fiends from wreaking havoc on PoPoLoCrois once again, even reaching the Abode of the Eternal Watchguard, who allows progress into the World of Darkness aboard Mac the Whale for them to speak to the King of Darkness, Dahna.

Battles take place in a sort of Trails in the Sky sort of method, with a mix of movement on tiles through out the arena and turn based battles, but not going entirely into turn based tactics, as characters can walk (or run if they're going for a critical) from one point of the arena to the other if there's nothing in their way and they're placed in opposite ends. There's also a Guts meter that determines the efficacy of a physical attack, draining with each physical attack you do and recharged with defending (防御) or shouting (気合い), shouting usually being more effective as it recharges more, and on top of that encounters are also set in the literal overworld, Chrono Trigger style, so a Falcom fan could imagine this as a sort of inbetween of Gagharv and Trails.

Music is rather nice, Yoshiyuki Sahashi work is excellent, Godrif's spaghetti western vibe feels right at home with the mining town, The Remote Beach has a tribal, percussion-heavy feel that reminds me a bit of Mt. Gagazet, The Nameless Island feels tropical and reggae-ish, Canaricia has an off-tempo, dissonant short loop representing the marsh town's population of kooky magicians, Sword Mountain's small East Asian island village inspired locale meshes well with the instrumentation choice of the song and its steady pace, and the Northern Lands have an ethereal, almost dreamlike feeling to it, matching a world covered in eternal snow. The many reprises of the Pietro's Departure (please listen to this) main theme are also extremely good, with Flight of the Flying Yacht being right on top with it's pan flutes and steel drums making a cheerful song feel even more jolly, which segues perfectly into the first time we hear the Bryonia theme. PoPoLoCrois Castle is also a song that, somehow, makes you feel like you're home. Like this is a song I can imagine playing in my own house, while I like. Go to the toilet. Takinen Village also has a nice steady, slow pace to it similar to Sword Mountain, fitting its humble farming and baker village setting.

Can we talk about how good of a song Pietro's Departure is because holy hot damn its one of the best vocal tracks I have ever heard in a video game along with Resistance Line from Wild ARMs 2, and I'm glad the third game, PoPoLoCrois Monogatari 2 (there's an interquel, don't worry it's on PlayStation 1 too), reprises it as Start of an Adventure (at 0:00, just in case).

Graphics as I said are. They're some high quality pixel art, there's so much character to everyone's animations. It's a game where even the most minute thing has a lot of passion behind it. I'm bad at descriptions, but. There is a part in the early game where you're meant to go to Takinen to head into the Lost Woods. Should you decide to head eastward and try to go to Pasela early... The bridge collapses on you and Pietro falls down into the water. And there's animations for this!!! This entire game has so much love, they even have the NPCs in the game's world update text as you progress through the game, bad news for anyone with "gotta read every NPC dialogue" problems!

On top of all of this, the cutscenes are pure art. They're by Triangle Staff who made stuff like Macross Plus and Serial Experiments Lain (my favorite anime next to Digimon Tamers), and the animation and character is just top notch. There's so much love put into this that they're some of my favorite cutscenes. Ever. Up there with Lunar: Eternal Blue's full on use of the MegaDrive's VDP to its fullest. Worth a watch, if possible.

Now. Where I think is this game's biggest problem, sadly, is the balancing. Combat feels incredibly luck based, with some enemies having the chance to randomly deal a ton of damage and killing you if you don't play it safe, and unlike a game like the Shin Megami Tensei games (or as the mainstream folk like to call it, "Persona 3-5 and the Q spinoffs, guest featuring 'the rest'" /s jk jk), it doesn't feel like it's part of the design of the game, it just feels like it's accidental under balancing. As a result it's one of the hardest JRPGs I've played, especially with the chance that the map design or enemies can just corner you and allow you no chance to run away. And if you fail at running away once, that option is grayed out for the rest of the battle. It's why I don't feel it's the perfect game, but man. If it wasn't for this it'd be right up there.

As of this review there is a translation in progress, previously being done by MatatabiMitsu, now handed over to a private translation group who haven't disclosed their identity, iirc due to real life complications, so maybe expect a translation for this in a few years give or take, considering the amount of text and hacking (the game uses a font from the PSX BIOS and you'd have to literally recode the game to use a custom font so it could properly be edited for English translation, yikes). A port also seems to be in the works with what appears to be a screenshot being released, with the source being unknown? I think it was either from Yousuke Tamori (the creator of PoPoLoCrois)'s social media sites or Sony themselves. Need to ask Keke about that. If either does come out (and if the port comes out, if it's released in English as well), which I hope they do, please give this game a shot, despite its occasional cheap shots. It's worth it, I promise!

As of right now the closest you'll get is the two released English games: PoPoLoCrois: Pietro Ouji no Bouken (Prince Pietro's Adventure), or just PoPoLoCrois in English for the PSP, which summarizes the two Monogatari titles (no PoPoRogue sadly) and adds a new interquel chapter connecting the two iirc? And Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale for the 3DS, an RPG and farm simulation crossover with Story of Seasons, the original owner of the Harvest Moon name, natch. PoPoLoCrois PSP isn't the ideal substitute, very much more shallow with a lot written out, but it's a decent way to hold you over until a proper translation comes out of the first two games, any PoPoLoCrois is good. I also need to watch the anime fuuuuuuuuuuuuck

Final Rating: ★★★★☆

If I could sum it up: I'd definitely read this to my kids if I had any.

W
Wild ARMs 2
Release Info

Developer: Media.Vision, Contrail

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date:

JP September 2, 1999

US May 2, 2000

Are you tired of games that got shat on in the arrival overseas well, oops

Wild ARMs 2 is a strange game. It tries to deal with some profound stuff and it's handled rather interestingly, creating a game that feels a lot more philosophical than Wild ARMs 1 was, which I appreciate a lot. However its translation is a complete trainwreck. No translators are credited in the English credits and I can't exactly blame them? Like. Would you like to have this attatched to your resume?

Wild ARMs 2 is a game about the planet of Filgaia, as the Wild ARMs games are wont to do. It opens with three of the main protags: A young gunman named Ashley Winchester, a mage in training named Lilka Eleniak, and a regretful war hero of the resistance named Brad Evans. Ashley is a new recruit of the military and is deployed in the Withered Ruins to save an abducted child who was taken for ransom. Along the way he makes it to the child and after a distraction attempt gone wrong, he and the captives are chased down by the Sealed Monster Weapon, Kalivos. Choosing to fight off the monster to stall it and help everyone escape instead of destroying the entire structure with a large ARM as his commander intends to, he is resigned to house arrest. His prologue ends with a small monologue (reworded by me).

This is how this long day ended for me as a new recruit...
I did what I thought was right, but in the end it was still a violation of orders.
I mean, I don't think what I did was wrong. No one wants to see anyone get hurt, right?
Despite our same goals, people take such different paths in their journeys...
Why is that? I just don't understand why.
At least, with my sentence, I'll have plenty of time to think it over.

Lilka's prologue is a bit more jokey with her ending up in the remote village of Palace after a Teleport Gem goes awry. She decides to help them out driving away the Boundless Glutton Monster, Olivier. She succeeds and she is sent off with another Teleport Gem, seeing her off, a black cat walks in and someone's shoelaces untie. The young boy she befriended during her stay looks up to the sky and wonders if she'll be alright. However. There is one bit in her prologue where you can sense a bit of melancholy.

There is a flashback sequence where, after proclaiming that magic can do anything, there is a flashback sequence where she finds herself trapped in the Milennium Puzzle, a magic artifact, and calling for her older sister, the Eleniak Witch Girl (a bad translation of The Young Eleniak Sorceress, エレニアックの魔女っ子). Her sister guides her in undoing the seal of the artifact with its switch blocks, the requisite tutorial for the Fire Rod, and in the end, she finds her sis isn't in the other side of the gate of the Puzzle. She explains that she (Lilka's sister) can't leave the gate like this. Her voice fading, she tries to ask Lilka to promise one thing... This segues into Lilka saying that magic can do anything if you use it right. That juxtaposition is key. Later on in the game we find out that Lilka's sister perished in the incident, and she's been destraught ever since.

Brad opens with him on the run from the law. Flashbacks of his past time in war come to him. "Yes, blood did get spilled, but in an era of delusions, if someone doesn't stand up, even more blood will be shed." "We'll blast on through, don't hesitate for a second!" "This can't be! Why did we... No, why did they all die for something like that?!" After finding a lost dog and fending off the Parasite Colony Monster, Gremalkin, to help defend two useless guards, he ends up out of the forest of Greenhell (zone /s) and passes out at the entrance of T'Bok Village. Finding himself in the empty stables and cared for by a young girl, after naming the dog (default name, Rassyu (Rush)), he finds the village being threatened to hand him over or the army will use force. As Brad's being taken away, the girl asks if he's a bad man, but all the leader replies with is "A bad man? No, little lady, you have it all wrong! That man is a 'hero'." His prologue ends with the following monologue:

Maybe it's better this way.
All I know is fighting. If I kept going forward, all I'd find is blood and death.
Some bastard whose only home is on the battlefield... Not many places allow that kind of people in them.
Guess this can be my vacation, then. After all, who needs heroes once the bloodshed's over with?
If peace means a world without heroes, then give me that any day of the week.

As the game continues, there is a theme of uniting the world against a common threat, which escalates throughout the game, starting with you as a small mercenary group owned by a wealthy noble going to defend Filgaia against a terrorist group with admittedly fascist roles, wanting to unite the world under one single rule of fear. This isn't all that it seems, and I won't spoil it because it ties in to another message of the game. The meaning of being a hero. A lot of RPGs like moon or Undertale, deal with the role a hero has in an RPG, the fact that they go around messing with people's homes, killing innocent monsters, but this one talks more about heroes in a general sense. What they represent, if the fruits of their sacrifice is worth being seen as nothing more than the errand boy who solves everyone's dillema by committing ritualistic suicide in the battlefield. How loss affects relationships, such as Lilka filling the void of her sister with an unrequited crush on Ashley. The different philosophies and ethos that encapsulate everyone on Filgaia, nay, this Earth. It's powerful stuff. It feels like something inspired by the life of someone who suffered loss in war, definitely feels more adult in a mature sense, than in a crude sense.

Battles are your standard turn based affair, this time replacing the MP of the first game with FP, starting at an equivalent of your current level and increasing with the physical attacks you do. This means you can spam magic as much as you want, which helps make the game more accessible, but Force abilities, such as summoning, or using Lock On, Mystic or Accelerator, reduce it and you do start back at 0 if you revive from a knock out. Management is not the most important thing, but it's there. Battles can also be avoided in the overworld if you time it right, sometimes you will get red ! speech bubbles that are unavoidable, but if you get a green or white one, you can press a button (O in the English release, possibly X in the JP release, I completely forgot) to interrupt it. Excellent for exploration. Boss monsters also have nice entrances, according to the Wikipedia reference to Ultraman, which as a giant enthusiast, I appreciate. Need to watch ultraman ugh

Music is Michiko Naruke's expertise and she's killing it as usual, banging out banger after banger. Graphics, the character sprites are less charming than Wild ARMs 1's, but they have nicer detail. The mix of 2D and 3D is pretty good, and the cel drawn graphics are even better. The game is also unique in that Disc 1 and 2 feature special Opening and Ending FMVs, by Production I.G, when you load a game, end a game (from the Memory Service statues and people) or finish a disc. These are honestly really charming and make the game feel a lot more like you're watching a hot new episode of your favorite anime, which I appreciated in Evil Zone and I appreciate it here. The Opening tracks are also great, sung by Kaori Asoh, voice actress of Tikal the Echidna and Maria from Kochikame (an early instance of transgender representation for me, far from the best, honestly, but I cherish her and ship her with Ryo-san all the same). Resistance Line is one of my favorite vocal tracks ever, but the first opening, You'll Never Be Alone is really good too. The instrumental versions in the US version also do the originals justice, thankfully.

The biggest issue with the game is the translation. It was thankfully spared from a Working Designs level mess, but, it got something that's just as bad. The translation, a lot of the times feels machine translated, which when keeping in mind someone on r/Falcom compared the Gagharv translations to this and FF7 and literally said "a bit worse than FF7, not as bad as Wild ARMs 2"... Yeah. A lot of the phrases seem machine translated at worst, literally translated at best. Wild ARMs 1 was rough enough, but this feels worse. It's shocking. Along with the lackluster reviews it got in the west (5, 6, 7, which in western videogame journalism, equate to "this game sucks ass"), a lot of people see this as the black sheep in the series and I think that's an unfair punishment for such a title. My hope is for someone, hell even me I'm literally learning Z80 as of this review to practice with Game Boy titles, to try and do a retranslation of the game.

The tagline for this game in Japanese was: "This RPG was born from our passion." And it shows. There's so much heart in here, so much subtext, so much love. I love this game with all my heart and it's a shame that I'm probably in the minority amongst Wild ARMs fans, entirely due to the translation, a fate shared with White Witch! I hate it here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I much prefer this kind of philosophizing to Undertale's "hey what if beating up monsters.... was bad?????" (no offense to that game though). i cry

Final Rating: ★★★★★

If I could sum it up: An underrated masterpiece.