|Genre:||Action RPG, Traditional RPG|
Mimana Iyar Chronicle is an RPG that made me ponder the age old question: "what do I get for my money?" For the $39.99 price of admission here, I got a 16-18 hour RPG (including sidequests) that is only the first chapter in a multi-part saga and that contains many issues I find disagreeable in JRPGs. It's true that there is a bonus soundtrack in CD or MP3 format depending on whether the game is purchased as a UMD or a PSN download, but unfortunately, the music is nothing special. I would be a bit more forgiving if this was a bargain-priced title, but at full price, it is a mere fraction of a game that should have stayed in Japan.
The game stars a jerk named Crais who spends the majority of the game being mean to a bunch of silly girls, then suddenly does an about-face and decides to have a heart. He embarks on a standard, linear quest about finding a bunch of gems, but the girl who sent him on this gem hunt kept saying she couldn't divulge her reasons for it, so I felt zero investment in the quest. I just kept wondering why I should care.
I could manage to care a bit about even the most trite quest if the characters were decent and likable, but Mimana Iyar Chronicle contains one of the most unlikeable casts of characters I've ever had the displeasure of adventuring with. It's likely that some players would eat these characters up and think I'm completely nuts for finding them deplorable rather than adorable, but the fact that I did not much care for any of the characters was especially trying as I played through the game. Crais can periodically choose which of his female companions to have special cutscenes with, and for me, it boiled down to merely choosing who annoyed me the least. This does enhance replay value a bit, since different girls bring out different sides of Crais, but the New Game + mode essentially takes gamers back to square one, so a replay would be just as tedious as the first time was.
The plot also felt like it had an identity crisis. I couldn't decide if it was a truly comedic/parody RPG like Thousand Arms, because despite the harem-anime humor in the game, there were times when it felt like some of the characters and situations took themselves way too seriously. The game ended before it could truly establish its identity, because as I learned after defeating the final boss, this game was only the first chapter in what seems to be a five chapter saga. This chapter did not leave me with a positive first impression, so it will be no skin off my nose if the rest of the Mimana Iyar Chronicle games stay in Japan.
The one shining point in the game was Aksys's excellent localization. The text was free of technical errors, flowed nicely, and had lots of personality. In spite of myself, I chuckled at the pervy humor that was liberally sprinkled throughout the game, and every once in a while, a character would spout a really witty line. The above-average localization is far better than what this game deserves.
The battle system could have been a shining point, based as it is on early versions of the Tales series' real-time, side-scrolling Enhanced Linear Motion Battle System, but unfortunately it is not. It feels noticeably choppy, and has spotty collision detection and targeting, which means that Crais sometimes registers more misses than hits when engaging monsters. Players manually control Crais, and AI controls the rest of the party members, but no matter what parameters you set each character's AI to, they're all a little shy on brains in battle. One of my biggest pet peeves with battle systems like this is when an incompetent AI requires me to babysit characters so that they don't blow themselves up. The Tales series' Linear Motion Battle System is one of my favorite RPG battle systems and Mimana Iyar Chronicle's variation of that system is a third-rate knockoff.
Another aspect of battles that I disliked is how the developers handled escaping. When the escape option is selected, a 100 digit countdown timer appears, forcing you to wait for what seems like an eternity until the game allows you to escape. The countdown drops quickly against weaker enemies, but painfully slowly when you're faced with stronger foes. By the time the escape timer runs out, either your weakened party will have been completely destroyed, or your healthy party will have killed the enemy.
Further aggravating matters, the random encounter rate can be annoyingly high, and enemy repellent items are ineffective and only last for 3 seconds. The only effective way to reduce the encounter rate is to explore hostile places with the circle button pressed so that Crais walks through the dungeon rather than running. One might think that walking would slow down progress in the game, but it actually makes later dungeons, like the frustrating Forest of Souls, more bearable to navigate.
Poor dungeon design is a sore point in this game. Dungeons are certainly very lengthy and mazelike, but often require a lot of backtracking, and because they're so boring and bland to look at, exploration is a maddening chore. The one positive aspect is that dungeons have blue recovery markers at their starting and middle points, and pink ones within spitting distance from a boss. Since the game allows players to save anywhere outside of battle, the colored indicators are a good reminder system.
The fact that the game is not graphically intensive, but there are intrusively long load times both before and after battles, even though I played the PSN download version. I'd imagine the load times may be even worse on the UMD. I have seen plenty of PSP games that were much prettier and still did not have such frequent and lengthy load times.
As if it weren't enough that the random encounter rate, loading times, and time spent dungeon crawling are all more than you'd hope, but the balancing in the game is off as well. This is a game where normal, garden variety random encounters can flatten your party in the first stages of the game, battles in the middle stages are pretty easy, and then the final dungeon massively spikes the difficulty again. In early dungeons, even if I plowed through hordes of normal enemies, bosses would mercilessly pound me into the ground. In the middle dungeons, I could get away with minimal grinding and still defeat bosses with little threat of dying. Then the last dungeon spanked me like a naughty child. Even with my party's levels close to this installment's level 50 cap, the final boss was still one of the cheapest final bosses I recall facing in recent memory. No matter how much grinding and strategizing I did, no matter how much skill I employed, defeating the final boss was purely a matter of luck. I thought we left this kind of balance issue back in the 8-bit generation, but apparently not. Poor balancing is one retro trend that needs to be left in the past.
In terms of aesthetics, the game looks and sounds uninspired. I already mentioned the boring-looking dungeons, but this carries over to the generic town design and character art as well. The anime cutscenes and battle sprites are the best looking parts of the game, but are not enough to offset the overall lack of personality or flair. It's equally lacking in terms of sound. Music is played in towns, in battles, and on the overland, but that's it. Dungeons are completely silent, except for the final dungeon, which is rotten since players spend more time in dungeons than anywhere else. The sheer dearth of music makes the game feel even more deflated than it already is, and what little music you do hear is forgettable, generic, and simply not very good. The one positive aspect to the sound is the respectable voice acting. The actors do surprisingly well with a hackneyed storyline and it is clear that they've done this kind of hokey anime and RPG material before.
In case I need to make it any more clear, I did not like Mimana Iyar Chronicles at all. In fact, my first thought after completing it was, "Man, this game is stupid." It was short, and only a fraction of a larger saga, but it was still a chore to play, and it felt longer and more laborious than many RPGs that are three to five times its length. With so many high-quality mainstream and indie titles on the gaming landscape this season, PSP RPG players would be best advised to skip Mimana Iyar Chronicle in favor of something better like Valkyria Chronicles 2 or Hexyz Force.