Alundra 2 is the follow-up to Working Designs' most recent well-received action RPG for the Playstation. The sequel, however, is brought to us by fledgling RPG publisher Activision. Although many RPG fans feared that Alundra 2's translation would fare more poorly in the hands of an inexperienced RPG publisher, they'll be pleasantly surprised to find that it's actually one of the game's biggest strengths. Unfortunately, nearly everything else about Alundra 2 leaves a lot to be desired, and the action RPG turns out to be one of the Playstation's weakest in the genre.
As Alundra 2 begins, troubled times have befallen the kingdom of Varuna. Radcliff and Jeehan, the swordsmen who served as Varuna's guardians, have both mysteriously disappeared. In their absence, the evil Baron Diaz, with the aid of sinister court sorcerer Mephisto, has captured and imprisoned the benevolent king, replacing him with a wooden puppet. Diaz and Mephisto now rule Varuna from behind the scenes, and they have even allied themselves with Varuna's pirates, long the scourge of the kingdom even during the king's rule.
Varuna's last hope lies with Flint, a youth who has quickly earned himself a reputation as the most prolific pirate hunter in the kingdom. Because the pirates are now in league with the ruling body of Varuna, Flint is obviously out of work. To make things worse, Diaz views Flint as one of the few existing threats to his reign, so he has branded Flint as the most wanted criminal in the land.
So, as Flint, it's up to the player to untangle the web of deceit woven by Diaz and Mephisto. Like just about every other one of its individual facets, Alundra 2's storyline is noticeably lackluster. From an event-based standpoint, Alundra 2 fails to generate interest throughout its entire length; the plot lacks excitement and uses some of the more trite cliches found in RPGs. For example, much of the game is spent with the goal of saving Alexia, Varuna's princess.
Character development is minimal as well, but the characters do exhibit some personality. For example, Ruby, the daughter of one of the key pirate characters, talks and acts like a typical teenage girl, and Albert, the pirate's son, is your stereotypical computer geek-type character.
On the positive side, Activision follows up Guardian's Crusade, their stellar RPG localization debut, with another strong effort in the translation department. The Alundra 2 text does a great job of avoiding spelling and grammatical errors. In addition, the dialogue flows pretty well, and it contains a good amount of personality, though not quite as much as that of Guardian's Crusade (partially due to the fact that none of Alundra 2's characters have as much personality as Nehani, the sassy fairy sidekick from GC).
An interesting note about Alundra 2's plot is that unlike the dark, sobering storyline of the first Alundra, it contains many moments of mirth. Although none of the humor is side splitting, it does give the game a light-hearted feel, which helps distract the player from the fact that the rest of the story is pretty uneventful.
Alundra 2 relies mostly on tried-and-true overhead action RPG gameplay mechanics. Flint runs and jumps through the environment fighting enemies with his sword and conversing with people in the many towns of Varuna. Magic can be used to aid you against enemies and to help solve puzzles as well. New attack moves can be learned as the game progresses. Items can be found by hacking down or sliding through bushes.
Like many action RPGs, Alundra 2 doesn't use an experience point system. Instead, Flint's hit points and magic points are increased whenever a boss is defeated, and, to a lesser degree, through certain finite items sold in some shops. Flint's attack strength and defense power are increased solely through the acquisition of stronger equipment.
Although Alundra 2's gameplay mechanics are executed reasonably well, its layout ends up bogging it down a lot. Like the first Alundra, puzzles are a focus of the gameplay. Alundra 2's puzzles prove to be a nuisance, however. First of all, there's way too many of them. The ubiquitous placement of these conundrums slows the flow of gameplay down to a crawl throughout most of the game's length. In addition, even though the puzzles generally don't take too much time to reason out, they take a long time to physically solve, requiring lightning-quick timing, ridiculously precise jumps, and a lot of running around back and forth.
Alundra 2 also comes up a bit short in the control department. Flint can move in 8 directions, and his pace can be increased to a run by depressing the dash button. The camera can be rotated in 45-degree increments, and it can be placed in 3 different viewpoints. Flint's sword attack is responsive, though a bit limited in lateral range. However, control is noticeably sluggish, especially with the dash button depressed, and Flint often gets caught on objects in the background. Also, Flint is a weak jumper, and the jump control is unresponsive on top of that. These control flaws make puzzles that require precision extremely irritating to complete.
Visuals are yet another weakness of Alundra 2. Unlike the first Alundra, which featured 2D sprite-based graphics, just about everything in Alundra 2 is completely polygonal. And unfortunately, the polygonal graphics don't look good at all. Characters and enemies are blocky and severely lack detail, especially up close. The backgrounds are significantly better, but they still rank average at best when compared to other RPGs. Spell effects are passable, but not impressive. The animation of characters and enemies is done reasonably well, but it doesn't stand out.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the visuals is the many cut scenes that help tell Alundra 2's storyline. Instead of CG movies or anime, the programmers at Contrail have elected to use cut scenes generated by the in-game polygon engine. As anyone can guess from the subpar in-game graphics, these cut scenes turn out disastrously. All of the close-up blockiness and lack of detail from the in-game scenes is here, but to an even greater degree, and on top of that, the characters animate pretty clumsily.
Alundra 2's sound department also proves to be one of its weaker points. Sound effects are mostly feeble; few of them establish any presence at all. In addition, many of the sound effects are downright annoying, most notably the girly-man scream Flint lets out every time he takes damage from an enemy. The soundtrack is similar; there's nothing memorable about most of it, and a good deal of it is quite irritating.
The sound does have one positive: the voice acting. Alundra 2's voice talent is expressive, and it is significantly better than most of the acting that you'll hear in English games. The aforementioned Ruby and Albert both have voices that fit their personalities perfectly, and most of the others are equally well done.
Alundra 2 has a few strong points, but overall, it's an overwhelmingly subpar action RPG. Because it has nearly nothing in common with the first Alundra, from storyline to presentation, I can't recommend it even to fans of the first.