Before I actually begin my review, I feel compelled to explain why I purchased Azure Dreams. A friend of mine purchased this odd little game and decided to bring it over one day, about three months after his purchase. I only got to play it for a mere hour, so I decided to ask if I could borrow it. He had been stuck in the game for quite some time and all he wanted to do was finish the game off. However, my persistence finally convinced him to lend it to me.
Oh yes, I forget to mention one thing. My friend lives in Connecticut, three states away, which makes travel either way quite difficult. Also, I usually make it a rule to never lend or borrow anything.
This was meant to show how addictive this ugly little CD is and how desperate I became to continue playing it. Perhaps it was the blocky polygon levels that hooked me. No, it wasn't that. Maybe the horribly translated dialogue convinced me that I needed it. No, it wasn't that either. Had the mindless characters and endless repetitive tasks lured me into that horrid web of addiction? Not a chance. Was it the cute little Pokemon-like monsters? Yes, yes, I think we have the answer!
All across the world, adventurers from every walk of life march across deserts, mountains, and countless perils, all in search of one goal. The town of Monsbaiya, Mecca of all explorers, is a small city built in the shadow of the awe-inspiring Monster Tower. This evil structure is filled with countless monsters and demons that spend their lives guarding the golden treasures within. The money is alluring, but that alone does not make the deadly task worth the risk. These daring men come to collect a treasure that is worth far more than the trinkets and baubles scattered throughout the structure. They have come to hunt the eggs of the very beasts that hunt them. With proper training and care, these eggs will hatch into loving pets and powerful allies that will bring in a small fortune to whoever finds them.
You are Koh, son of Guy, greatest monster hunter of all time. Your father was the only man to ever reach the top floor, but he never returned. It is now time for you to enter the Tower, and should you do well, you shall be able to support your family. Sadly, your sister was born shortly after Guy's disappearance, and now you, your mother, and your sister all live in a small hut in the center of town. You have survived by selling all of your father's familiars, yet things are getting hard. Enter the Tower, enter and find money for your family, culture for your town, and truth for yourself. Enter...
Gameplay is probably the one reason I played this game. Make sure to notice that I said "played" and not enjoyed, because after the first few days, this game held me in almost against my will. If it weren't for my driving curiosity of what was on the next floor, I would have left the game alone. However, this quasi-strategy RPG has a very interesting assortment of critters.
In the town of Monsbaiya, you can talk to the local citizens, buy furniture for your house, buy a weapon at the weapon store (I mean "a weapon" very literally. There is only one sword available here), play some mini games, fund new construction projects in town, or woo some of the local ladies.
The dialogue is a disgrace to the world of Role Playing. Not even Final Fantasy Tactics had this many typos, and I think that there was some attempt at humor in the game, but it was lost in a tsunami of cross-culture differences. The mini games include bowling, barbell catching, whack-a-mole, an odd batting cage, giant chicken racing (No matter what the owner of the track says, those things are definitely not horses), and a casino with an incredible selection of two gambling games! While some of these are utterly worthless, others can give you a huge fortune. Once I mastered the slot machine, I was rolling in dough.
The strangest part of the game is where you get girlfriends. You can get all seven at once without a single complaint from any of them, and yes, they do know about each other! In the save screen, it shows how far you are in the game. Whenever you get a new girl, her head will be hung up on something of a showroom wall. Each of the girls are scantily clad simpletons, and getting them to like you involves either finding an item or picking the right thing to say when given a choice. You are only given two options, and I only made one mistake in the entire game (I love the loading option).
The only competition in the entire town is a rich, blond guy named Ghosh who has no taste in bathing suits whatsoever (Stay away from him at the pool). I was a little disappointed with the dating simulator in the game, considering how easy it was, but that part of the game is only a fraction of the entire thing.
The real game begins inside the Tower. You are allowed five items to bring in. Any pets you bring are included in this count. Like most RPGs, you gain levels with experience, but in a sadistic twist to this concept, you are reverted to level one whenever you leave this dungeon.
Each floor is randomly modeled after one of about 30 different patterns, and the monsters you face are different for each of the 40 floors. Items, weapons, armor, magic balls, money, and eggs are scattered without rhyme or reason on each floor. Even if you find the best equipment in the game, you are unable to climb to the top on your own. Fortunately, you may bring in pets that you found on previous trips to help you, and these little guys don't lose their levels. As you climb upwards, you can find better monsters, because eggs only contain monsters that are on or near the floor you find it at. They each have different abilities with different levels of usefulness, but without familiars, you stand almost no chance of survival.
Battle is almost turn based. Whenever you take a step in one of the eight directions, every enemy in the level takes one step. If you attack an enemy, it'll attack back as every other monster takes a step towards you. This forces you to use some strategy in combat, but after a few hours of it, you'll be able to have the best chance of survival in any battle.
Each floor has an elevator to let you up to the next floor, and if you spend too much time on a floor, it collapses, forcing you to go up a floor. This may not seem bad, but there is a type of enemy that can steal your items, and if you can't kill it by the time the floor collapses, you could lose very valuable items. Each floor has a certain number of invisible traps on it. These range from knockout gas to Rust panels (You will quickly learn to hate Rust panels. These things lower the power and defense of your equipment by one point, although there are some rust resistant items). There are also items called sands that can increase the value and power of your equipment, and without these, the game is impossible.
One annoying feature is saving. You can only save on the elevator between floors, and if you die inside the tower, not only do you lose whatever you brought in, but the game also saves automatically to prevent cheating. This can ruin your file completely, so be careful of this. Yes, the game has many different aspects to it. The monster collecting, however, is the best part of all.
There are over 40 monster types in the game for you to collect. Each one comes with a nice little picture and its own special moves. For each monster that you see, one page in your monster dictionary gets filled with information on the species. Some of the enemies will grow into a new form after reaching a certain level, forcing you to capture and raise these things in order to have a mastered dictionary. As you can tell, this game is almost as addictive as Pokemon and will keep you busy for many weeks before completion. It's a sick, sick ploy to force you to play, and it is responsible for the Gameplay rating of 86%.
Azure Dreams was a visual nightmare. The characters were all fuzzy sprites running across repetitive polygon areas. There is one town in the entire game, and every building is almost exactly like the one before. There are only a handful of citizens, each one as ugly as the rest. The more important characters have their own anime style portraits, but these are nothing special. There were two FMVs that lasted about three seconds each, and although the bizarre backgrounds and tiles within the Tower are truly imaginative, they were also just as badly pixilated as the townspeople were.
The spells were all very similar and belonged on an 8-bit system at best. The enemies were interesting, and some of their attacks impressed me, but not much. You can see what equipment you are wearing, but there aren't many types of gear. I liked a few things in this graphically, but I think it was weak compared to every other game made in the last five years. Graphics get a 47%.
The first time you hear the main song in Azure Dreams, you get something of an Egyptian feeling running through you. The foreign instruments and catchy tune are honestly not bad. However, as a veteran Monster Tower climber, I must warn you that whenever you go into that big building, you will hear nothing but various remakes of that exact same song. It's a two to three hour climb to the top. I think you understand what I'm trying to say.
Aside from the 15 versions of that, each of the girls has a theme song, but most of them are mediocre at best. The sounds were plain enough, but what really annoyed me was the thud of my sword hitting an enemy. I must have heard that sound at least 10,000 times in my life so far. Sound/Music gets a 70%, making this one of Konami's worst sounding games yet.
I have to admit that the story in AD was original enough. You are just trying to feed your family and make a living. I suppose this is the fantasy version of Harvest Moon. Anyway, even with a plot that hasn't been used very often, the delivery was horrible. As I said before, this game was given the worst translation I have ever seen. The characters are hollow and don't add to the main story at all, and even when you find out what happened to your dad, many things are left unexplained. There was only one real reason to play this game, and that was the cute little monsters. Storyline gets a 76% for originality.
Konami has made several decent RPGs in the past, but very few ever reach the USA or Europe. Perhaps the Japanese still feel slightly superior to the rest of the world when it comes to taste in RPGs and thought that this was all we could understand. Squaresoft did for years, so it wouldn't be surprising. In any case, this game was an RPG for beginners that had very few quality aspects to it. Someday, all countries will receive all games, but until then, I will be forced to play all the RPGs that Japan didn't want, hate them, and give them a bad review. I don't like fate. Azure Dreams was weak in every department but more addictive than it should be, and if you play it, you will probably see it eat about 70 hours of your life away in a frenzied daze. Overall, it gets a 74%.
Gameplay - Gotta catch 'em all! 86%
Graphics - As Jay Sherman once said, "It stinks." 47%
Sound/Music - Does each remake legally count as a different song? 70%
Storyline - I've seen worse. 76%
Overall - An opium for the masses. 74%