CIMA: The Enemy
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Neverland Co.
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 11/17/03
Japan N/A

Graphics: 80%
Sound: 75%
Gameplay: 65%
Control: 70%
Story: 75%
Overall: 70%
Reviews Grading Scale
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Here we see a screenshot displaying 90% of all gameplay.
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Well, get used to deep dungeons.
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No, trust me kid, y'don't.
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One of the many confusing subscreens in the game.
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Damian Thomas
CIMA: The Enemy
Damian Thomas

Aside from their Harvest Moon series, Natsume hasn't been having much luck with its handheld titles. Both of their Lufia portable games were mediocre at best, and unfortunately their latest foray, CIMA: The Enemy isn't much better. Conceived of as a three part epic, the title fell far from the greatness its creator imagined.

The premise is simple. You are Ark, newest recruit to the Gate Guardians. Along with your rival, Ivy, your mission is to protect civilians from the mysterious entities known as CIMA. CIMA are wily monsters that open portals into this world and attack hapless people, stick them in dungeons, and feed off their hope as they try to escape.

Things have been pretty quiet lately, but recently, the Gate Guardians have been developing a new type of majesty to fight the CIMA. Majesties are stones infused with special powers, allowing people to shape them into items using fusion techniques.

As Ark, Ivy, and their mentor, Jester, accompany a group of pioneers into the frontier lands to settle a new town, their train is suddenly sucked into the CIMA dimension, and the whole group is forced to traverse dungeon after dungeon to escape. At the same time, Ark and Ivy have to put aside their mutual rivalry to protect the pioneers from danger and rather incompetent badguys.

While there are some elements about the story that are big-picture, such as finding out the secret behind the CIMA and the Majesties (it's not all that big, trust me), most of the story is focused on the personal relationships between the main characters and the villagers. Unfortunately, none of the characters are all that deep or interesting, and most of the character conflicts just wind up being irrational and irritating, especially when it comes to Ark and Ivy. This is a shame, too, since a great deal of the gameplay is based on your relationship with the other characters. Fortunately, the dialogue was bearable, which I did not expect.

The main focus of the gameplay revolves around getting through the dungeons; more specifically, of getting the villagers through the dungeons. This is a great idea for a mini-game, but Natsume wound up making an entire title out of it. Each dungeon level requires you to get all the villagers from point A to point B, while not getting hit by monsters, traps, or miscellaneous dangers. You do this by selecting said villager, or group of villagers, and selecting the spot at which you want them to end up. Meanwhile, you have to hold off the monsters so they don't get at the villagers. This usually involves sitting yourself at a choke point and just pressing B repeatedly, killing monsters as they come out of the generators, while the villager takes his or her sweet time using a very bad pathfinding algorithm to get to where he or she is going. The result is a lot of tedium, broken by short fits of activity. This game would be a lot better if the pathfinding algorithm was better, but thanks to the isolinear nature of the dungeons, the characters go "straight" when the should be going diagonally, hence the very prominent problem of villagers getting stuck on walls.

While protecting the villagers generally isn't too difficult, you have to protect them a lot in order to get them to like you. Most villagers don't like you to start off with. By letting them see you fight CIMA, they begin to think better of you. Now, why should you care?

In one word: Services. The villagers can provide services for your character, most often in the form of item creation using Majesties. As you kill enemies you pick up gems called Majesties, and certain Majesties can be combined in certain amounts by certain villagers to create certain items. This is certainly important. It is also certifiably annoying. Standing around killing enemies at generators to protect villagers is boring enough, but having to keep doing it just to get these gems borders on the mind-numbing. Add to that the need to build up a trust level with the villagers, and the whole process just becomes absurd. It'd be nice if you could avoid having to create items in most cases, but you really need them.

At the end of each level is a boss CIMA who unleashes a big baddie or two on you. These bosses are tough, but you have unlimited chances to kill them, and once you discover their pattern, they become ridiculously simple. Not much to sing about here.

Speaking of singing, the music in CIMA is strictly mediocre. The GBA is capable of producing some excellent compositions, it's just that none of them exist in this game. And when you think of all the time you have to spend killing things in the dungeons, those tunes get really old, really fast.

On the graphics front, CIMA actually does pretty well. I really did enjoy the character artwork in the game, and the sprites, while done in a super-deformed style, were very reminiscent of the original Harvest Moon for SNES. There are no impressive special effects, but everything, aside from some of the monster designs, is pretty good. The dungeon designs are not extremely inspired, however, and add another layer of boredom to a game which needs no more.

Finally, we come to the control scheme, and I have to say that CIMA can't figure out what that scheme is. Fighting is easy; in fact, the hit detection is such that most enemies can't even get near you before you chop them to bits. Item selection, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. The little item menu is not convenient, and maneuvering on the item subscreen is a major pain. Moving villagers is also a bit annoying until you get the hang of it. Still, aside from the fighting, none of the controls are intuitive.

I like Natsume as a company; they try, they really do. CIMA aspired to be a real game, but unfortunately it just didn't make it there. If the next Lufia game includes a CIMA-esque mini-game, I'd probably think highly of it, but it just doesn't stand on its own this way. With boring gameplay and poor controls, CIMA is definitely the enemy.


© 2003 Neverland Co., Natsume. All Rights Reserved.

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