"I enjoyed it more than my critique would indicate."
Episode 2 of Sherman3D's Phantasy Star-esque series, Alpha Kimori, picks up exactly where the first episode left off and introduces a host of new characters, locations and plot twists. The plot thus far goes a little something like this: After having their realities shattered upon seeing the sinister political machinations afoot in Bidari, Kimorians (Bidarians enhanced by Ki crystals) Rick, Vanessa, and elder Evlar, along with Jinrian princess Yuki, awaken to their true potential and are now on the lam after a heated battle with the Machiavellian high elder of Bidari. But just when they thought they were in the clear, the party is attacked by a Jinrian elder with Machiavellian plans of his own.
Not only do Jinri and Bidari have a bone to pick with our heroes, but we are also introduced to various underground splinter factions who reject both Bidarian and Jinrian ideals, sometimes with open hostility. With everything the heroes ever knew going topsy-turvy, tensions run high and in-fighting (particularly between Rick and Yuki) leads to a party split. In one of the first dungeons, a frustrated Rick storms off with a desperate Evlar chasing him. Yuki and Vanessa don't have much time to think about this, because they're captured by one of the aforementioned splinter groups. Basically, the story in episode two is about each fraction of the party encountering different splinter groups, coming together for a showdown, and reluctantly resolving their differences just in time for the villains to create more insidious chaos in preparation for the third, and final, episode.
The story is fine and I appreciated the expanded world building, but I felt like I was being rushed through it. Many events happen without the proper time to ponder afterward. In addition, characters sometimes have abrupt about-faces in their thoughts and actions throughout this episode, making their developments uneven and inconsistent. There are also some plot points toward the end that feel like they came out of left field, but they probably make sense in the grander scheme of things. In a nutshell, episode 2's story feels like a stew in which all the right ingredients were thrown in, but the flavors still needed time to coalesce and really marry. It does set a lot for episode 3, though, and despite all I've said, I'm still quite invested in the story and characters and want to know what happens next.
Gameplay is where some notable adjustments are present compared to episode 1. The most significant addition is that many NPCs now offer a plethora of mini-games to play as fun little distractions. All the mini-games are pretty good, but my personal favorite is the mini-game that resembles Diner Dash. Another big plus is that battles now have an escape option. This was one of my biggest complaints in the first episode and I'm glad to see it was addressed.
Otherwise, it's the same old Alpha Kimori gameplay, warts and all. For example, the visible enemies are usually easy to avoid, despite their vast numbers, but there are some areas where, due to plot circumstances, enemies chase you down and often gang up on you. Generally, enemies don't exist in puzzle dungeons, but their presence in one puzzle dungeon was unwelcome due to the slippery block pushing. I am still not particularly fond of inconveniences like hoofing back to a dungeon's entrance after completion or being unable to skip previously explored hostile areas on the overworld when backtracking, so their presence is somewhat unfortunate. Luckily, the game doesn't require extensive grinding, but there is one boss battle that, to me, seemed a tad cheap and more reliant on luck than skill. I still made it through the game's 8.5 duration, despite all this, because it's counterbalanced by other traits like atmosphere.
The graphics and music are relatively unchanged, which is fine since this is definitely one of the more professional-looking and aesthetically polished RPG Maker games I've seen. Episode 2 uses an upgraded version of the Vocaloid software, so the vocal theme in the title screen sounds much clearer. Otherwise, the soundtrack is still the good Phantasy Star II-inspired music I enjoyed the first time around. The character and enemy sprites remind me a lot of an evolved 16-bit Phantasy Star game and many environments would not be out of place in an SNES Lufia or Mana game. The characters visit more locations and face different types of enemies this time, so there's a good variety to the graphics. There are some typical anime design choices such as large bustlines and exposed midriffs on the females, but that's to be expected I guess. I prefer my female warriors clad in proper armor and not booty shorts and bra-tops, but that's my personal bias.
During battles, the flashy graphics preceding heroes' magic and special attacks feel shorter than before, which is definitely welcome since those are used far more often than standard attacks. However, those with old computers may experience some slowdown, especially with the lengthy battle animations for bosses' special attacks. These special attacks are visually stunning, but may run a bit long for some gamers' tastes. An option to turn off battle animations would be fantastic to speed battles along; either that or show the full animation the first time and switch to a condensed animation for subsequent uses.
All things said and done, I still enjoyed my time with Alpha Kimori Episode 2 despite my gameplay grievances. As with episode 1, I enjoyed it more than my critique would indicate. Despite having design traits that I normally dislike in RPGs, the atmosphere, story, and characters still have me invested. I look forward to Episode 3 and hope all the plot points presented in the prior two epsides will be satisfyingly resolved.