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Rhapsody of Zephyr

Publisher: Softmax, Falcom Developer: Softmax
Reviewer: Lamuness Released: 1998
Gameplay: 100% Control: 100%
Graphics: 100% Sound/Music: 100%
Story: 100% Overall: 100%


I assume that most of you are RPG fans and play a great deal of Japanese Console RPGs. However, I would like to show you something different: A Korean PC RPG.

The game is called The Rhapsody of Zephyr, developed by a Korean company called Softmax. As an introduction of Zephyr, this game is based on Softmax's famous strategy game called Genesis, and serves as a Gaiden (aka side story) to the mainstream Genesis series. Currently, including Zephyr, there are 4 games based on this series, and the fifth one is being made right now. Now I bet you're saying, "I don't know Korean, how can I play this game?" Fear not. For those of you who are literate in Chinese, there is a Chinese version out right now, and for Japanese literate people, Zephyr has become Falcom's first foreign game project. Not only is Falcom translating the game into Japanese, but also redesigning the characters as well as making improvements to the game.

Now, on with the show. Even though Zephyr is a side story to an existing game series, the game provides enough introduction that people will understand what is happening. Zephyr takes place in an 18th century European-like continent called Antaria, where War of Genesis takes place. Zephyr is basically an aristocratic story filled with love, betrayal, vengeance, hatred and sadness.

After the Genesis War, the empire became very weak and the church started becoming dominant. Even so, there were lots of people who were unhappy about the church's selfish and cruel actions. Anti-church rebel groups started to evolve, the most famous of which is called the Zephyr Falcons (hence the title Rhapsody of Zephyr).

The story starts off with the player controlling Roberto de Meditch, the leader of the Zephyr Falcons. Roberto and his brigade attacked a heavily guarded jail in order to free the captives and political prisoners. The last person who Roberto saves from jail is a young man named Cyrano Bernstein, the son of the noble Bernstein family (also the hero of the story). After Cyrano regains his freedom, he recalls what happened 13 years ago...

Thirteen years ago, Cyrano and his fiancée, Mercedes Borgia, the daughter of the head of the Church, Cesare Borgia, were to be engaged in a ceremony. Just as the ceremony was about to begin, the Church police invaded the Bernstein mansion arresting Cyrano for "worshipping the demons" by reading forbidden literature about the Genesis War (which the Church, for some reason, does not want the public to know about). Cyrano was then sent to court, judged by his own future father-in-law, Mercedes' father. During the trial, it was Cyrano's close friend and brother, Reuben, who accused him of the anti-church actions. Cyrano was sentenced to life imprisonment where he was to spend the rest of his life performing slave mining labor.

Within a week after Cyrano's arrest, Mercedes dumped him and married a powerful and rich man named Alfred Prederic. At the underground jail mine, Cyrano wandered to a sealed cave, where he met Deimos, the god of chaos from the Genesis War. They each shared their knowledge and their past, and became really close friends, like father-and-son. However, one day, Cyrano became very sick and was about to die. Deimos, in order to save his life and because he trusts Cyrano, gave his remaining godly power to Cyrano, which made Cyrano feel extremely energetic. At Deimos' last breath, he told Cyrano to find his other source of power, which is sealed at the Island of Tempest inside the sword of darkness - Ashura. Now that Cyrano is freed from jail, he has to travel to Tempest Island to get Ashura, and will later join the Zephyr Falcons, and seek revenge to those who betrayed him 13 years ago.

For those of you who are literature freaks, you may find this plot very similar to the famous French novel The Count of Monte Cristo. In fact, the game is actually based on Dumar's masterpiece, so you can expect the same power in Zephyr's storyline as in Damar's novel. They even use the character of Mercedes in both cases.

What makes Zephyr so attractive is that it is totally different than most other RPGs on the market because it has some very nice and innovative designs. First, battles take place right on the spot, unlike the "background switches" in Final Fantasy. Incorporating FF's Active Time engine, Zephyr turns the battlefield into a chess-grid map where you have to walk near an enemy to attack, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. For those who like Strategy games and RPGs, Zephyr's battle system proves to be a real treat. Due to this battle system, weapons play a major role in this game. There is no armor in RoZ: your main item of defense is your weapon, ranging from guns to swords to spears. Like the characters, weapons have their HP or endurance ability. Once a weapon receives critical damage, if it is not durable enough, it will weaken and possibly break. In addition, even if you manage to keep your weapon from damage, as you use it, eventually it will wear out. There are weapons that are high in power but weak in defense and vice versa. Therefore, it's best to carry a couple of spare weapons with you in battle and change your weapon according to the situation. Otherwise, be prepared to see your beloved and powerful sword shattered into pieces when enemies hit you with some powerful attack. There are also magic spells, skills and limit breaks.

There are many other very nice innovations in Zephyr. First of all, the game is in 3 CDs, each having different music and data in it. The graphics are really, really great, some of the best I've seen. The characters are really detailed, and they don't use elliptical shadows under the characters: shadow angles move depending on location. All animations in the game, major or minor, are very nicely and smoothly done. Lighting, multi-scrolling, and transparency effects are also incorporated and they are beautifully done. There are several 3D cut-scene movies (you may call it FMV if you want) and they are just insane. Battle effects, audio and visual, are well done; you will be astonished by the Ice magic effects.

Music is really good and fits into the game very well. Another nice design is that every store in every town has a different selling price for a particular item, depending on how big the town/village is. So if you know some economics, you should be able to earn money easily based on this principle. Nevertheless, this design makes the game more realistic, unlike most RPGs where a single item costs the same everywhere. Other nice features include multiple dialogues between people (i.e. when you talk to a person they don't say the same dialogue all the time), and plenty of side quests to encounter where you will find your strongest magic spells and weapons.

In a word, The Rhapsody of Zephyr ROCKS. It is highly addictive, and is undoubtedly the *best* Asian PC RPG I have ever played in my entire life. Zephyr has some of the most innovative features I have ever seen, and with a powerful, highly-emotional and in-depth story, excellent gameplay, dead-smooth animations and amazing audio-visual effects, it even exceeds some of the commonly-agreed best RPG titles such as Y's Eternal and, yes, even Final Fantasy 8 (which suffers greatly from plot and control deficiency). If you are literate in either or all of Korean, Chinese, or Japanese definitely get a copy of this game no matter what. I am sure that after playing The Rhapsody of Zephyr, your perspective on RPGs will widen a lot. Don't even think that only the Japanese can make the best games out there.

Lamuness

The battle system is innovative, and the weapon dynamics are a nice twist to the usual RPG standard.

The graphics also shine in this game, enhanced, of course, by better video cards and monitors.







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