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InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Art, Frontier Groove
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 01/23/07
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 70%
Sound: 45%
Gameplay: 65%
Control: 70%
Story: 45%
Overall: 55%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Mercury bubble blast! Oh wait, wrong series.
 
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Which way to the Three Bears' house? I want porridge.
 
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How about an InuYasha RPG that doesn't suck?
 
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THIS IS SPARTA!!!!!
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Neal Chandran
InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel
09/10/08
Neal Chandran

Mary Sue-ism is a term that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. For those who are not, a Mary Sue is a fictional character who's basically a Little Miss Perfect with zero flaws who exists purely for an author's wish-fulfillment fantasies. Many fanfic (short for "fan fiction") writers are notorious for creating Mary Sue versions of themselves in their stories. Mary Sue-ism makes most readers want to wretch, both because of the way the authors push how perfect and wonderful the Mary Sue is and because of how much said upstart takes the spotlight away from the more established, and often cooler, characters.

I bring up Mary Sue-ism because it is the insult added to the injury that is InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel for the Nintendo DS. This RPG is lacking in the gameplay, graphics and music departments, and instead of playing the game as one of the main characters of the series, players are thrust into the shoes of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American exchange student named Janis who has just moved to Japan. Janis lived in Japan for a few years when she was younger and thus speaks fluent Japanese; she also seems to always say the right things. The boys all drool over her beauty and awesomeness. Oh, and if that doesn't beat all, she harbors the latent mystical power of a beautiful and beloved Japanese maiden from the past who possessed godlike powers. Yes, not only is Janis a Mary Sue but she's a descendent of Mary Sues. Like most Mary Sues, Janis is an entirely unnecessary character in the InuYasha universe who takes the spotlight away from the established characters and makes the game seem more like a bad fanfic than anything else.

For those less familiar with InuYasha, it is an anime and manga series by Rumiko Takahashi, who is also known for other widely popular anime and manga series like Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, and Ranma 1/2. The series follows the adventures of a modern day Japanese high school girl named Kagome Higurashi who finds herself unwittingly transported to a fantasy version of medieval Japan, where she and a half-demon boy named Inuyasha search for fragments of the legendary Shikon jewel and make friends and enemies along the way. The game's plot takes place well into the series, but it is not canon and is easy to follow, though at least a cursory knowledge of InuYasha is a definite requirement.

In the game's plot, Janis is attacked by a demon while visiting Kagome's family shrine in modern day Japan, is transported to medieval Japan by a mysterious man named Monk Sen, meets Kagome & company, fuses with an odd Shikon jewel shard that releases her latent powers, and thus begins the quest to find the god Datara, who is the only one that can extract the Shikon shard from Janis. Throughout the quest, obligatory villains pop up to make sure Janis' journey isn't smooth sailing. These villains are given little screen time and almost no motivation to be there. Even Naraku, a major villain in the InuYasha mythos, gets little time in the spotlight. It's a pretty ho-hum plot to begin with, but what really tears it is the piss-poor writing. The scant dialogue is completely wooden and often awkwardly written. There are times when it makes no sense and/or contains spelling errors. Even amateur fanfic writers can create better dialogue than this. Major characters such as Miroku, Sango, Shippo, and even Kagome and Inuyasha are mere shells of themselves and receive minimal dialogue and development. It is a shame that these established characters are relegated to playing second fiddle to some two-bit upstart Mary Sue.

If that isn't bad enough, plot direction is also extremely vague. Sometimes you're told what to do but not where to go. Sometimes you're told where to go but not how to get there or what to do. The most frustrating times, though, are when you're told nothing at all and are left to wander aimlessly trying to guess where to go and what to do next. This happens too often. The vague plot direction also leads to moments where events just suddenly happen without any sort of rhyme or reason. I know the InuYasha anime and manga aren't exactly paragons of literature, but the writing and storylines therein are certainly better than the sorry excuse of a story in this game.

InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel's story is pretty bad, but the music may even be worse. Never before has a video game soundtrack made me cringe like this. The music consists primarily of compositions in a Japanese classical style, but the high-pitched and often screechy synthesized instrumentation grates like nails scratching a chalkboard. The compositions themselves are either boring and forgettable or just plain dissonant. The sound effects are quite primitive and there are no voice clips. I know the DS does not have the world's greatest sound chip, but it is certainly capable of better audio than this. I've heard Game Boy Advance and even Game Boy Color games with far nicer audio.

Gameplay is tried and true RPG gameplay, with some classic and some not-so-classic flaws. The game consists of the standard town-overland-dungeon, lather-rinse-repeat format of classic RPGs. The towns are small and the dungeons are linear. Unlike more modern RPGs that have point-and-click overlands or no overlands at all, InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel has a vast and explorable overland, just like the classic 8 and 16-bit RPGs of generations past. The game has an obligatory day-night cycle where during a new moon, Inuyasha becomes fully human and cannot use his powerful demon attacks until the moon phases changes again. The moon phase remains stagnant in dungeons, so there are no worries about Inuyasha becoming a weakling right before a boss battle. Walking is the default speed and a button must be held down to dash. True, that's what was done in the 16-bit days, but having dash as the default speed is a standard convenience in modern RPGs. In addition, walking is pretty slow and although dashing is not much faster, it is still a more desirable speed. The game can be completed in about 10 hours, but it feels artificially lengthened.

The standard turn-based battle engine featuring a six member battle party is intuitive and easy to use, and battles play out at a reasonable pace. The battle engine has a cool feature where during an enemy's turn, timed button presses can make up to two of the other characters cover the target character, which is great when a low HP character is targeted. These timed button presses can also be used when a character is doing a normal attack to allow up to two other characters to strike as well for a combo. But where there is good, there is bad as well. For one thing, engaging the escape command during a character's turn only allows that individual character to escape rather than the entire party. Because of this, escaping battles is cumbersome and can often lead to a Game Over before everyone has run away. Another issue is that the characters start out with all their special moves already, save for Janis who learns all her moves after some early plot events. Since EP (Energy Points used for special attacks) regenerate rapidly as you walk, there is little penalty in spamming special moves to win battles quickly. You'll likely have to do that, since enemy parties are often large and they hit hard. There are also no upgradeable weapons or armor in the game, so the only reason to fight is to raise characters' HP through levelling up and to earn money.

It does not help that the random encounter rate is often ridiculously high. Like the vintage 8-bit and 16-bit RPGs of yore, InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel will thrust you into a random battle every 5 to 10 steps. Between the high random encounter rate, the frustrating escape mechanics, and the lack of motivation to fight, gamers are forced to fight lots of battles with minimal reward. The frequency of battles also makes the dungeons seem much longer and more tedious than they really should be. Oh, and if this doesn't kick you in the butt enough, saving can only be done on the overland. You can't save in towns or in dungeons. I've said this before in many reviews and I'll say it again: this is unacceptable to me. A handheld RPG should accomodate gaming on the go and therefore allow the user to save any time and anywhere he or she wants. Limited saving opportunities have no place in handheld RPGs.

Menus can be cumbersome to navigate and the twiddly interface makes simple tasks like using a healing herb on a party member or just keeping track of character stats more frustrating than they need to be. I'm also not fond of the fact that each character can only hold a limited number of items rather than the more streamlined pooled inventory used in most RPGs. The menu screen has a reddish colored background with a very busy design that not only induces eyestrain but makes any text or icons over it difficult to read. The busy bluish background in the dialogue boxes makes that text difficult to read. To compound readability issues, the text can often be rather small, particularly during battles. Really, is a clean and simple interface with large, easy-to-read text too much to ask for, especially given the small screens on handheld gaming devices?

The rest of the graphics aren't as painful to look at as the interface graphics, but the classic 2D visuals are far from impressive. With DS RPGs, I do tend to prefer clean 2D graphics over mushy 3D graphics, but a little extra flair and punch in the visuals would make the game's environments more vibrant. This game's graphics would not be out of place in a Game Boy Advance RPG. The towns and dungeons are cleanly drawn and rendered, but the environments themselves are blandly designed without much flair or detailing. The overland, though expansive and clean-looking, also looks quite static and surprisingly lifeless despite the greenery. Flowing, or at least textured, water in the streams and rivers, for example, would have been a nice touch to add life to the overland. The 16-bit sprites look all right, but are small, have few animations, and lack detail. They also look the same both in and out of battle. The battle animations are nothing to write home about, though the animations for special attacks are reasonably elaborate. Clean but plain would be the most succinct way to describe the graphics.

InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel is a dud. It could have been a decent RPG, but it has too many flaws to ignore. The game is an insult to InuYasha fans, an insult to the InuYasha source material, and even an insult to InuYasha fanfic writers. The one silver lining is that the game marks the first and last appearance of Janis in InuYasha so she will never be canon in any way. If you want a decent DS RPG based on a popular anime or manga series set in a fantasy version of medieval Japan, then pick up the far superior Naruto: Path of the Ninja instead.



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