Japanese developer Red has established a history of creating excellent games with a quirky sense of humor. From the Bonk's Adventure games on the TurboGrafx-16, to the assorted Tengai Makyo games, to the spectacular Sakura Taisen games on the Saturn, gamers have almost always been treated to a quality gaming experience when the name Red is involved in the development of a title. Thousand Arms is Red's first US-released RPG for the Playstation, and it upholds the fine standards that the talented developer has established.
In Thousand Arms, you play as Meis, the only son of the Triumph family. The Triumphs rule over the town of Kant, and, despite their reputation of being moderately perverted, are well known and respected for their skills as master blacksmiths. At the beginning of the game, an evil army called the Dark Acolytes, en route to taking over the world, attacks Kant. Meis' father, in an attempt to avoid casualties, orders the town to be evacuated rather than trying to make a stand and defend the town. During the evacuation, Meis stops to check out a girl, and subsequently is trampled to unconsciousness by the panicked townspeople fleeing the area.
When Meis awakens, he discovers that the attack has ended, but the town is completely abandoned. Miraculously, Meis has managed to escape serious bodily harm during the chaos. At a loss for what to do, Meis decides to head over to Boyzby, the capital.
Upon arriving in Boyzby, Meis immediately encounters a girl being mugged by several thugs. Being the ladies' man that he is, Meis immediately jumps into the fray and attempts to help out. However, his sword breaks on his first swing, and he is once again pummeled into unconsciousness by the thugs.
When Meis wakes up again, he finds himself in a bed in the house of the girl he tried to save. She introduces herself as Sodina, and also introduces her brother, Jyabil (who, incidentally, saved both of them from the thugs). As it turns out, Jyabil is a master blacksmith, and the now-directionless Meis can really use someone to apprentice under. So, after a short quest to prove his mettle, Jyabil takes Meis under his wing. From there, Meis begins to learn the many secrets of becoming a master blacksmith.
Thousand Arms incorporates a lot of tried-and-true elements from past RPGs into its gameplay. The standard RPG layout is present, with distinct world maps, area maps, and battle screens. The randomly-encountered battles are turn-based, with the turns generated in real time (though monsters do wait for you to peruse your menus before attacking). Spells and items can be used in combat, and monsters can be summoned to severely damage your enemies as well.
However, there are some major differences between Thousand Arms' gameplay and that of most other RPGs. The most important of these is dating. Provided that you have enough MP to spend on a date (MP can be obtained through battles or by searching around in towns), you can go on dates with any of the female characters in your party in any town that contains a goddess statue.
On a date, the girl you are out with will ask you a series of questions. For each one of these questions, you get to choose between one of 2 possible answers. Your answers will determine the mood of the girl, whether your intimacy level with her goes up or not, and how long that particular date lasts. The dating sequences are a ton of fun, and some of the question and answer responses are hilarious (I especially like when Sodina asks me if I'd ever eat Rocky Mountain oysters).
Aside from the obvious fun factor, the dating sequences are helpful for the purposes of becoming stronger in the game. In Thousand Arms, you don't buy new weapons; as a blacksmith, you forge your current weapons to make them stronger. In addition, you don't randomly learn spells; they have to be forged into your weapons for you to use them. The catch is, you have to forge your weapons with a girl. Having a high intimacy level with the girl allows you to forge better spells into your weapon as well as make your weapon stronger in terms of its attack strength.
As great as the dating sequences are, they're not perfect. Some of the question and answer responses match up really poorly. In addition, dating sim veterans may find the dating sequences in Thousand Arms to be overtly simplified. They really are more for fun than anything else, though.
Mini-games are present in Thousand Arms, and prove to be a fun diversion. You can also use an in-game camera to take pictures with the female characters in the game; a girl's mood will affect her appearance in the picture. The camera is especially fun for those who like the art in Thousand Arms.
Thousand Arms' biggest gameplay weakness is its battle system. The battle system is innovative, but unfortunately the innovation is for the worse. In Thousand Arms, you can take up to 3 of your party members into combat at once. However, only the lead character in your party (you can designate who this is outside of combat) is directly involved in the combat. The other party members that you bring into combat can only cheer you on (increasing your attributes), taunt the enemy (decreasing their attributes), and heal you with spells and items. To make things fair, enemies can also support each other, though they rarely do so.
The only time when a supporting character in your party can be directly involved in combat is if your lead character is removed from combat (either through defeat or the player's choice). This is the case for enemy parties, too, and as a result, battles with multiple enemies tend to drag on and get very boring. Time complaints aside, it's just annoying to not be able to have your supporting characters directly involved in combat. And speaking of time complaints, a relatively minor weakness of Thousand Arms is that even at the fastest message speed, the text rolls along pretty slowly.
Thousand Arms is excellent in the control department, too. Although the game is mostly displayed from an isometric viewpoint, the control scheme is standard. In addition, your party's 8-way movement responds extremely well to the control pad in both towns and dungeons, though the response quality drops off a bit on the world map. The camera can be manually rotated in most towns and on the world map, but you're at the mercy of the computer's camera control (which, incidentally, is excellent) in the dungeons. Thousand Arms also features the same dash/walk reversal as Square's Final Fantasy VIII in that you push a button to slow your party down rather than speed them up in terms of their movement through the area maps.
Control does have one key flaw, and this is due to the fact that when you search for items or talk to people, you not only have to be adjacent to them, you have to be facing them directly. Therefore, your positioning has to be pretty precise for you to be successful at these activities. Unfortunately, your characters are a bit over-responsive when you try to make small movements in the area maps, so it's often difficult to carry these activities out.
Despite the goofy-looking superdeformed sprites that represent your characters, Thousand Arms is perhaps at its strongest in the visual department. The area maps are all polygonal, and they look spectacular. In my opinion, as far as RPGs go, only Game Arts' Grandia rivals the texture detail in Thousand Arms' polygonal backgrounds. The colors used are plentiful and very appealing, too. The camera movement in the area maps is impressively smooth.
In the side-view battles, characters and enemies alike are represented by hand-drawn 2D sprites. These sprites are not superdeformed; rather, they are drawn with a distinctive anime style, and look great, despite some mild pixilation. They also animate quite fluidly and are very colorful. The spell effects and summons are also impressive, though not quite up to the standards of Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy VIII.
The character art and designs in Thousand Arms are among the best that I've seen in a US Playstation RPG. The characters are relatively original in their appearance, and look great. The female characters are especially appealing, giving you more incentive to go on dates with them.
Like the recently reviewed Star Ocean: The Second Story, Thousand Arms' biggest graphical weakness is in its polygonal world map. The world map is much less detailed in its polygon textures than the area maps are, and there are far fewer colors, too. In addition, the scrolling on the world map is noticeably more choppy than that of the area maps.
Although the event-based parts of Thousand Arms' plot are unspectacular, I enjoyed the storyline because of the characters. Character development is solid, and, like Working Designs' Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, each of the characters in your party, as well as many of the villains, is instilled with a distinct and likeable personality. The dating scenes also do a good job of giving you a little bit more insight to the personalities of your female party members.
As for Atlus' translation, my feelings are somewhat mixed. In my opinion, Atlus has established themselves alongside Working Designs and Crave as one of the top three translation companies in terms of dialogue quality in RPGs. Therefore, my expectations for Atlus' translations are very high. In the dialogue that occurs during major events and during the dating scenes, my lofty expectations are fully met by the translation. The dialogue flows extremely well, avoids spelling and grammatical errors, and is full of personality.
On the other hand, most of the rest of the dialogue doesn't fare nearly as well. The dialogue that occurs when you talk to townspeople is full of spelling and grammatical errors, and it doesn't flow smoothly, either. In addition, pop culture references are quite common among townspeople and are sometimes way too blatant.
Humor is one thing that isn't in short supply when you talk to the townspeople, though. Perversion is by no means limited to just the Triumph family in Thousand Arms. Dirty jokes and thinly veiled innuendo are quite commonplace in the your conversations with the locals (I swear that one guy asked me if I had a sausage and nuts).
Sound is another department that Thousand Arms experiences success in. The sound effects are solid, but nothing to write home about. Ditto the soundtrack; other than the brilliant opening vocal theme (sung in Japanese!), the soundtrack is pleasant to listen to, but utterly unmemorable.
However, the voice acting is absolutely spectacular. Thousand Arms features the best voice acting I've heard in a US-released game since Hudson's Ys I and II for the TurboGrafx-16, surpassing even the excellent voices in Konami's Metal Gear Solid and the aforementioned Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. The spoken dialogue is emotionally expressive and carries a natural flow, and the voices all fit their characters' personalities perfectly. The dubbing is right on, too.
Although Thousand Arms isn't overwhelmingly strong in any one of its individual facets, it's a well-balanced game that ranks as one of the best RPGs that the US Playstation has to offer. Its innovative dating system adds a ton of fun to its strong gameplay, and it's a game that I recommend heartily to all RPG fans.
Reviewer's note: This review is based on a reviewable copy of Thousand Arms that Atlus sent to the press. Be aware that the version of the game that hits retail stores may have some differences from the version of the game described in this review.