The fetch quest is one of the oldest and most time-honored elements of the RPG. Whether you have to save the king's daughter from imminent death or help a janitor find his lucky mop, there's nothing quite as refreshingly clichéd as a hunt for a useless item. Some people love 'em. Some people hate 'em. Everyone's seen 'em. However, what would happen if a game developer built an RPG entirely out of fetch quests? Stormfront Studios, Inc. had the guts to find out, and The Legend of Alon D'ar was what they came up with. Unfortunately, much like a 48-egg omelet, this game teaches us that there can be too much of a good thing. Here's my review.
Chandar is not the friendliest of places. Ever since the planet blew up, the four races that call the floating remains home have been more or less at peace, but wars have broken out from time to time between the Kemarran warrior women and the Orin chauvinistic pigs, and let's not forget the feuds between the Dagani frog fighters and the Sarojin reptilian magi. Of course, most of the time the different societies are willing to set aside their differences and live in harmony, with only the occasional monster outbreak ruining the tranquility.
On one fateful day in the small town of Hollow Grange, a young Orin by the name of Jarik awoke from a terrifying nightmare. In it he saw a being of pure evil sucking away at the lifeblood of the planet, the Wyrd, to build up its own dark power. Being quite shaken up, he rushed outside to visit the village oracle, only to stumble upon a raiding party of Dagani warriors! Face to face with one of the amphibians, he instinctively judo-chopped it to death, only to see it transform into a disgusting Changeling beast. In its death spasms it coughed out a stone with a strange sigil upon it, and after touching the stone a strange scar was burned into Jarik's hands.
Now, with his village destroyed, his race nearly at war with the Dagani, and a horrible dermatological problem without modern medicine, Jarik faces a foggy future. Armed with only a salvaged dagger and his wits, he has to face an army of twisted chameleon beings and the chaos they inflict upon the world. No wonder he's prematurely gray…
The Legend of Alon D'ar is a very unique game; at first glance it looks fairly complex for an action RPG, but it quickly becomes a button masher after the first few minutes of gameplay. You control Jarik and his party from behind as he wanders through the massive world of Chandar, collecting collectable items and smiting smitable enemies that cross your path. Getting anywhere at all requires spending PP (proficiency points) to improve your weapon or magic skills, and it all sounds like a peachy game at first. You couldn't be more wrong.
Let's start out by clearing up one thing - the world of Chandar is a smidgen on the huge side. Granted, the entire game altogether isn't that big, but the entire game is one area. Considering that the box brags that you can walk across hundreds of square miles of game environments, that's saying quite a bit. The only spots where load times ever come up are when using Sarojin spikes, structures found along the way that let you teleport from area to area. Still, quantity over quality is never a good thing, and when this world was being designed, it seems like Stormfront Studios skimped on the details.
The world is divided into several areas like forest, jungle, plain, desert, etc. Each place has its own unique look that is easily identified, but each one is also extremely repetitive. You usually walk along paths with occasional twists and turns placed along them, and decorating the areas are different objects for each area. Say you're in the forest world of Palash. You'll see trees and temple ruins placed all over, as well as grasses and other decorative objects, but that's pretty much it. Compared to the competition of the time, Chandar is a very bland world.
You can walk around for about five minutes in some areas without coming across something you can easily recognize, and the fact that many paths look the same in both directions makes it unusually easy to get turned around. Even worse are the maze-like areas such as the swamps. If they had included a mapping option in the game, it would have been much more bearable. Fortunately, the game is amazingly linear, and for most of the game, trying to explore an area that you don't have to go to will be met with a quick "wrong way" message from one of your allies. That and the occasional marker trail are your only hopes of finding your way, unless you count an extremely useless compass that you'll soon learn to ignore.
Breaking up the monotony of your quest are enemies. These appear in set locations usually, but there are some areas with random battles. Once combat begins, your characters are allowed to use any of the nine available items they have equipped in battle, be it a potion, weapon, or magical focal item. After choosing your action, you then choose a target and the character acts out his command.
If you chose to use a weapon, your character will walk up to the enemy and slash, bash, or chop it, depending on which weapon type you're using (unless you have a long range weapon). If you chose to use a magical focal item, you'll first choose your spell and then cast it at the target at the cost of some MEP (just think of it as MP). Choosing an item just uses the item. However, if you chose physical or magical combat, you won't be very effective unless you are skilled in your method of warfare.
I'll explain weapons first. Say you are equipped with a Katar, a kind of dagger. You manage to kill a few enemies and have earned 1000 PP. You can go to your skill menu between battles, choose the Dagger Weapon Skill list, and you'll be given the option to increase your Attack Speed with the weapon. After spending some points here, you can greatly decrease the time between attacks in battle. Each different weapon type has its own skill you can improve, such as Damage for swords and Accuracy for bows.
Next up, there's magic. You can only use magic by having a Magical Focal Item, and each item only allows you to use one kind of magic. For instance, you find an Orb of Healing. This will allow you to cast the White magic spell Heal. There are also a bunch of other elements of magic to gain access to, but White is by far the most useful. By going to the White Magic Skill list, you can pump points into your Heal spell to improve the amount of HP it recharges, as well as a few other aspects of the spell.
While every weapon and magic class begins with only one skill each, you can get new skills by finding Safe Haven totems. At these points, you can access a menu that allows you to buy extra skills with gold. For instance, you could buy a Damage skill for your dagger class abilities or a new White spell like Healing Mist. Only by getting all of the skills for a certain weapon or magic can you become very effective with it, and each skill has six levels of proficiency. Getting a perfect six in all of the skills for a weapon or spell also gets you another added bonus…
Anyway, back to the actual battle. You choose your choice of attack, your guy attacks, and then you wait until your character's action bar empties out. This can take anywhere from one second to nearly half a minute, depending on your Speed proficiency and the weapon's natural Recharge rating. Anyway, you recharge, and you get to choose your next attack. And then you do it again. And again. And again. While this can be said for many games, most players will probably spend their points improving one weapon to perfection instead of slowly improving all of their skills.
This means that you'll start finding battles, which consist of you mashing the X button repeatedly until all of your guys or all of the enemies are dead, and the fact that targeting different enemies and picking different weapons takes up too much time doesn't help either. These battles are all real time, so the only real strategy you need is to make your thumb as much of a blur as possible. There's also a 2-player mode available letting a second player control half of your characters in battle. It's just as boring, but at least you get more thumb rest.
The fact of the matter is that you'll probably just wind up picking some Weapon Skill, pumping all of your PP into it, and smashing your way through the game since you don't gain access to magic until after you've already started training in weapons. Also, the fact that magic takes much longer to recharge for nearly the same amount of damage makes it seem almost worthless, with the only exception being White magic.
White magic lets you cast most of the game's curative spells, some of which can cure all of your characters by a huge chunk of life if you just pump some PP into them. The most useful of these spells, Healing Mist, costs 20 MEP and cures 100-700 HP to all of your characters. Considering that your characters will have several hundred MEP by the time they reach this point, and several thousand by the end of the game, you can easily keep one of your characters repeatedly casting this and remain absolutely invincible for much of the game, and that's without magic-restoring items which you usually find after most battles.
When not battling, you find yourself doing what this game does best (or at least most): pointless fetch quests. As you wander the world, people will ask you to do things for them such as gathering acorns, gathering journal pages, gathering eggs, or, in rare occasions, killing an enemy… and bringing back an item from it as proof. In short, almost every task set out for you in the game is to go hunt down the junk that is littered throughout the vast, vast world and return it to either advance the plot or get a rather useless bonus in return.
These items are usually not that well hidden, but if you miss one while walking through an area, you'll find yourself with 29 out of 30 of them and not feeling like going back to find that one item. Also, the later battles tend to drag on a bit, making it even less worthwhile.
Fortunately, the required quests are usually a bit better and help move the plot along well enough by activating real time cut scenes every so often. The entire game is lacking when it comes to detail and looks more like a cleaned-up PlayStation title than a 2001 PS2 game. There are occasional issues when it comes to texturing such as warped walls, but there wasn't a single speck of pop up in the entire game. When you realize how big these areas are, you'll see how impressive that really is.
Sadly, the character and enemy design wasn't quite so admirable. While the major cast of six or so characters have some decent movements, especially for combat, and fair lip synching to the voice acting, there are only about a dozen or so other characters and they all look like they just had textures pasted onto them. Even worse are the enemies. Most are just cheesy humanoids (although there are a few creative ones) and there are only ten or so without palette swapping, twenty with.
The story is pretty cut-and-dry RPG material, and bears a striking resemblance to that of Volition's Summoner (in fact, a lot of the game seems familiar to Summoner). As long as you're not expecting anything more than the usual "chosen warrior facing an evil world-threatening power," you'll be fine. Aside from that, there was also a speck of a love story in there that didn't get anywhere and an ending that brought tears to my eyes. Not the good kind of emotional tears; just the "pity for the game's makers" kind.
Surprisingly, the sound track really stands out though. It's not any more unique than the usual RPG collection of tunes, but this percussion-heavy set is unusually well composed, captures the moods of the various realms perfectly, and had me humming for hours afterwards. There's even a good bit of variety with several songs for each area and even a good set of battle songs. Definitely the best aspect of the game, the soundtrack just might be worth hunting down if it's to your tastes.
Sound effects were pretty weak though. I can hardly remember any of the weapon sound effects, but I do remember with painful clarity the battle cries. When an enemy gets the chance to attack roughly 30 times per battle, once every second, and each time it gets to screech out its little attack sound, you get closer and closer to hitting the mute button or stabbing yourself in the eardrums. Fortunately, few enemies ever attack that quickly, and it's not until near the end of the game that you find weapons that fast. Aside from that, there's nothing to mention about the audio except for the voice acting.
There are only a handful of characters that speak at all, but they do it fairly well. They even managed to include a few jokes for Tahir the violent amphibian. The only real issues that came up would be that all the parts seem a bit overacted and that the lines run together from time to time. Other than that, it helps add personality to the characters quite well… except for Jarik. His voice actor just got on my nerves for some reason.
Finally, we have the controls. While the camera controls are above average, there are problems in most other sections. The battle system could have been much better if the menu system used were clearer. The way they have it set up, it's too inefficient to change weapons mid battle to convince you not to simply button mash, and even changing targets seems to make no sense.
Also, when choosing targets for spells, your characters usually overlap each other. It's frustrating when you waste spells healing an uninjured character when your frogman is getting smashed to pieces. Aside from that, my only whining would be the lack of vehicles (it's a big world; they needed an airship) and the fact that you can't control where you go until you've gotten halfway through the game.
Considering the other great games that came out at roughly the same time, it's not surprising that the Legend of Alon D'ar didn't get that much coverage. Still, the fact that most people missed out on it isn't that big of a loss. With only a few enjoyable sections spread out through about thirty hours of gameplay, the game can only be called average at best, and average has never been that good at taking on two new systems coming out at once, not to mention Solid Snake. Never take on the mullet man.