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Piece of Wonder
Platform: PC
Publisher: Hirameki International
Developer: studio crossfire
Genre: Adventure
Format: CD-ROM, Download
Released: US 01/21/07 (download only), 02/28/07
Japan 02/28/02
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 83%
Sound: 83%
Gameplay: 89%
Control: 90%
Story: 83%
Overall: 84%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Love adventure...
 
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...Plus Strategy RPG.
 
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They go together like...
 
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Chocolate and peanut butter.
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Neal Chandran
Piece of Wonder
03/07/07
Neal Chandran

The Sakura Taisen series of video games has quite a cult following among RPG importers. The combination of love adventure and strategy-RPG in that series seems to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. However, the games in that series never left Japan and the importers like it fine that way. After all, the Sakura Taisen games are very Japanese in the dialogue, wordplay, cultural mannerisms, and myriad other aspects of the storylines. There are many words and phrases in the Japanese language that cannot be translated into English, and attempts to do so present the danger of undermining the effectiveness of the storylines.

So what does all that have to do with studio crossfire's Piece of Wonder? Well, Piece of Wonder is probably the closest thing US gamers can get to Sakura Taisen in English. Sakura Taisen fans would easily write off Piece of Wonder as a lame pretender to the throne, but for those of us non-importers who never got to have the Sakura Taisen experience, we can finally get a small taste of what Sakura Taisen fans have been gushing about for years. And though Piece of Wonder will not please the discerning palates of Sakura Taisen fans, I still found the game fun and entertaining.

The introductory segment of the game takes place in a hospital style room at a research laboratory in future Japan. A mostly human woman with decidedly non-human features such as red eyes and elven ears is pregnant and her husband is fretting nervously. The rain outside has a soothing effect on the woman and subsequently the man as well. But this tender scene is short lived, because now this once demure woman has now transformed into some kind of demonic bloodthirsty creature. The man basically shows his throat to the monster's razor-like claws, but she leaps over him and crashes out the window. Bewildered as to why she didn't kill him, the man, along with a couple of others from the lab, head outside to find the woman back in her demure, more human form soothed by the rain. The crisis averted, everyone heads back into the building.

Cut now to the main era of the game, where a junior high school girl decides to test out a homemade stun-stick to wake up her sleepyhead neighbor. The girl is Amane Saionji, the granddaughter of eccentric inventor Tetsuzou Saionji and childhood friend of Kazuya Fuwa, the sleepyhead neighbor and the protagonist of the game. Kazuya and Amane have grown up together as kids and are now in the same classroom of their school. This is good for Kazuya, because while he slumbers through class, Amane is there to wake him up before the lunch bell so he can get first dibs on the good cafeteria food.

The day is going normally enough until two new girls enter Kazuya's life. One is an elementary school girl named Shoko, who Kazuya saves from a molester and who Amane met a few days prior. Shoko is a rather lonely girl who desperately desires to make friends and who winds up adopting Kazuya as her "big brother." The other mystery girl is an android named Raki whose ruse is that of Amane's younger twin sister who just came back from studying overseas. She claims to be programmed as a maid android, but Kazuya finds that claim suspect.

In any case, the story follows the hijinks of these three kids until one night they are attacked by a pair of creatures similar to the lady in the introductory sequence. Raki calls these creatures 'Evolutions.' We later learn that some humans are predisposed with this ability to evolve and that this demonic awakening is caused by some unknown trigger. However, these Evolutions are unstable and, once fully evolved, they lose their human minds and become akin to dangerous wild animals. There are only two things that can stand up to the Evolutions: the battle android Raki, and special Saionji bracelets that halt evolution (allowing the person to retain his or her humanity and control his or her powers). During the encounter, Kazuya is nearly killed, but has an awakening. Turns out, he's an Evolution too and the bracelet allows him to retain his humanity.

The character-driven storyline is enjoyable and pretty easy to follow. The text reads smoothly (albeit with a few stray technical errors) and the characters are likable. You mostly play the game from Kazuya's point of view, but the game occasionally shifts perspective and shows things from other characters' points of view. Though the storyline is not as deep or intricate as those of Ever 17, Exodus Guilty, or Phantom of Inferno, it's not bad and strikes a good balance between dramatic and fun.

Although the point of view occasionally shifts in the game, all decisions the gamer makes occur while playing as Kazuya. The decisions Kazuya makes influence whether he'll follow Amane's, Shoko's, or Raki's path to completion. Normally, this is where the gameplay begins and ends with a visual novel; but Piece of Wonder goes a step further and incorporates Strategy RPG style battles in the game. As you proceed through the story, you will encounter enemies and be thrust into battles. Battles work like any turn-based SRPG battle system. During the player's turn, you move your characters around a tile-based battlefield like chess pieces and have them either attack, defend, or use special boosted skills. Once you've completed your turn, it's the enemy's turn. The battles are not needlessly complex and I found them rather fun. Bear in mind, I'm not much of an SRPG fan, so the simpler nature of the battles and very intuitive interface using the mouse suited me very well. The battles would probably be rather easy for SRPG veterans, but some of the later battles in Raki's path did pose some challenge for me. Shoko's and Amane's paths were much easier. Just be warned that any items you get in a battle do not carry over to the next one, so use them or lose them.

A single playthrough can be completed in less than 10 hours; however, with three different girls with whom to get endings, total play time is decent for a visual novel, especially since completing all paths will give you a fuller picture of the storyline than completing just one. In addition, after completing all three girls' paths, an alternate non-interactive (and somewhat confusing) storyline opens up when you start a new game. The ability to save any time outside of battles and fast forward over story segments you have seen before aid replayability. Those expecting a Nippon Ichi or Tactics Ogre style SRPG will certainly be disappointed, but Piece of Wonder is a visual novel with SRPG elements, not an SRPG with visual novel elements.

The graphics are what I would expect. The visual novel segments feature anime portraits of characters over still backdrops. The backdrops are bright and colorful. The character portraits are appealing, if somewhat simplistic in design. The battles feature 2D isometric 16-bit style graphics utilizing sprite based characters and maps. Neither the sprites nor the backdrops are anything remarkable to look at, but they get the job done. Your characters and major bosses have more detailed sprites while regular enemies are represented by different colored triangles. The camera is panned somewhat far away from the action and zooming in makes everything quite pixelated. The music is also of the "decent but unremarkable" variety. The music during the visual novel segments is catchy synth-based anime music and fits the intended scenes well, but there is nothing that that compels me to want to buy the soundtrack. However, those themes fare much better compared to the battle themes, which I found rather boring. The battle themes sounded like washed out electronica music with no clear melodies and little punch. Battle themes, in my opinion, should have some punch to them and be melodic enough that repeated listens won't grate on the player. I'm going to sound like a broken record here when I say that the voice acting (in its original Japanese form) is solid if unremarkable. It's the kind of anime voice acting I expect, and though it is good, there was nothing there that really made it seem as if the voice actors really went above and beyond the call of duty.

All things said and done, Piece of Wonder is a worthwhile title for RPG fans who wish to try out visual novels, but may have been put off by the normally passive nature of the genre. The game offers an enjoyable story with multiple endings, along with a decent SRPG style battle engine. As mentioned earlier, this game is probably the closest thing US gamers will get to a Sakura Taisen game: and though it's not Sakura Taisen, it is decent in its own right. I certainly had fun with this game and hope that Hirameki sees fit to localize other, perhaps better, games like this in the future.



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© 2007 studio crossfire, Hirameki International. All Rights Reserved.


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