It had been peaceful since Torneko returned from the dungeon with the Joy Chest. A special chamber was built so that people could come and hear the joyous melody that played every time the chest was opened. Birds chirped, children sang. Soon after, a mysterious old man was seen exiting the Joy Chamber, muttering under his breath something regarding the Joy Chest. Monsters suddenly started appearing, and ordinary locations inexplicably started morphing into beast-infested dungeons. How was the Joy Chest involved, and who was that old man?
In Enix's Torneko: The Last Hope, it's up to Torneko, the tubby merchant from Dragon Quest IV, to find out exactly what is going on, and to eradicate the monsters. Set on the Dragon Quest timeline between the fourth and fifth installments, Torneko: The Last Hope is a gaiden, or side-story, with no real relevance in the series. That doesn't mean that it's not a blast to control the life of an obese peddler in striped pajamas. And oh, what a crazy life it is.
Torneko is the acting mayor of Torneko Village, where he resides with his wife, Nina, and son, Paulo. Other than Paulo and a few people thrown in for humorous dialogue, the townspeople are pretty much at his command. In the beginning of the game, Torneko is called upon by certain characters from the town that need help with goofy fetch quests. Each quest takes place in a different dungeon, and contains new landscapes and music, as well as enemies. Completing these favors helps each character to open up some kind of shop or service, and sets up the town for everything that one might need.
At first, travel between locations in town occurs by walking to the edge of the screen, which causes a menu that contains the names of other areas to pop up. After all the fetch quests are finished, Torneko is able to walk all over the town map, unrestricted by any boundaries. As a result, previously unreachable places become open.
Koichi Sugiyama composed every song in the soundtrack, which consists mainly of a theme and variation style. Sugiyama uses Torneko's theme from Dragon Quest IV, taking on mode changes, sequences, and just about every other possible variation technique. The result is a brilliant soundtrack that ranges from lighthearted to eerie. Generally, the first few floors of a maze will have great background music that is processed with the PlayStation's sound chip. As Torneko gets deeper and deeper into each dungeon, the theme slightly changes. The music goes from synthesized to fully orchestrated, streaming straight off the game CD. The orchestrated tracks are absolutely amazing; one track even has a vocal melody.
Sound effects are crisp and effective, making full use of high and low frequencies. Ogres hit with a pounding thud and arrows whiz through the air. It would have been nice to have ambient effects, such as wind, but the lack of them isn't something that should bother most people.
In an era where eye candy is so important to a game's success, Torneko: The Last Hope holds onto its roots and excels. From the gorgeous claymation intro to the clay-formed town, the visuals are well done. It's obvious that Enix paid a lot of attention to detail, as the enemies are all well animated, and have a lot of charm. Dungeons use tile sets, but are very unique in their presentation.
Dungeons are where most of the game will be played, so it was essential that Enix included some sort of variety in them. They accomplished this by programming them to randomly generate. Each labyrinth has more than one floor, so you must fight your way to the stairs to progress to each level. While this adds depth to each dungeon and creates a great feeling of dungeon-crawling, it is a bit unrealistic to have stairs in say, a forest.
Traps are scattered everywhere, but can be revealed with the swing of a weapon. If a trap is activated, vibration kicks in very nicely, with each trap causing a different rumble effect. Every few floors, the backgrounds change into something with the same general theme (for instance, a graveyard), but with many graphical changes. A few monsters are palette-swapped, but there are so many different types of baddies that it doesn't get annoying (well, other than some blasted dancing carrots). No one dungeon is ever the same as another, and each one contains different items each time you visit. It's a nice touch, and it keeps the action fresh.
At first, you're not allowed to take any items that you gain into the dungeons; you're required to get by solely on items found in that particular dungeon. However, as you progress in the game, not only do you gain the ability to bring items into mazes, but you are allowed to take more and more items into each maze.
Combat in mazes consists of step-based movements. For every move you make, the monster gets to take a move (or two, depending on its agility). Attacks count as a move, as does equipping and using items. Movement is allowed in any direction; in fact, it's sometimes required to move diagonally to navigate through traps or spikes on the floor. This is good in the sense that you have freedom to move, but bad in the sense that you can be surrounded by eight different enemies at once. That translates into eight attacks on Torneko for every one that he can dish out, which can result in quick (and sometimes slow), gruesome, and painful death. That translates into an insanely high difficulty level.
This is the one area where Torneko: The Last Hope could have had less attention to detail. It seems as if the programmers wanted to make it as difficult on the player as possible. For every great item you get, there's a trap or enemy attack that serves only to get rid of your precious new belonging. For every preparation you can make, the enemies seemingly have a counter-plan. Torneko's level returns to 1 every time he exits a maze, so massive level building is not something that is really beneficial. If you spend too much time building up your statistics on a certain floor, a heavy gust of wind begins blowing and Torneko gets blown clear out of the maze.
The difficulty doesn't stop there. Torneko's a hefty guy, so he gets pretty hungry. It's your job to keep him from getting famished, because he'll lose hit points with every step. You start with 100 belly points, which diminish by steps at a rate determined by the weight of your equipment. At the beginning of each dungeon, you are given one big bread, which restores 100 belly points. Finding enough bread to survive is up to you, though if you're starving, you can always munch on an herb of any kind; they restore a few belly points. Even bread isn't immune to traps, however, as mud can cause it to mold.
Monsters seem smarter than in any previous game. The aforementioned dancing carrots cast a spell on Torneko that causes him to start dancing. This can last up to 5 or 6 turns, which wouldn't be so bad if the carrot wouldn't cast the spell on each of his turns. It's not uncommon to run around for a few minutes, unable to attack, solely because some evil carrot thinks you need to stop eating so many fried veggies. Items can be used on monsters to achieve the same effect that they'd have on Torneko. In fact, enemies can basically do exactly what you do. Some enemies attack other enemies, causing them to level up and become more powerful.
Fighting so many intelligent monsters will wear a person down, so Enix decided to add interrupt spots, where you can temporarily stop the game if you decide that you want to take a break in the middle of a dungeon. Interrupt spots basically save the game and quit, allowing you to load the save at a later time. Of course, it'd be too easy if they just let you continue from that spot after dying, so they took the next step. If you load the interrupted save, the game registers that. If you die, or if you try to reset the game to start back where you interrupted the game, you are sent back to the town without any gold or items.
As if all that wasn't tough enough to remember, there are about 20 other things to factor in. Equipment can be melded, spells can be cast, weapons can be powered up, and you can even choose your class. Once Torneko has fixed the problems with the Joy Chest, he has the ability to choose whether he wants to be a merchant, mage, or warrior. Secrets in dungeons past are opened up, and each class has different abilities. Warriors, for example, can't read spell scrolls, equip rings, or use staves. They must learn skills for their swords and shields in order to survive the increased difficulty of the dungeons. Mages, on the other hand, can only use those items that the warriors could not . Spells can be learned to help power them through each floor.
In order to truly beat the game, you must do all sorts of crazy things that you would never dream of, such as stealing from the shops in dungeons, using the special skills and magic to obtain certain things, and dying in every way possible. Talking to townspeople sheds light on ways to complete all these wacky missions. Once a task is accomplished, it is written in Torneko's adventure log, making it possible to see how many more nutty things need to be done before you can truly call yourself an adventurer. It's features such as this that really make the game.
Torneko: The Last Hope is a frustratingly difficult title that will most likely cause you to lose your patience at least once. However, with its addictive gameplay elements and top-notch soundtrack, it still stands as a marvelous entry into a suddenly crowded field of PlayStation role-playing games. Also, Torneko looks fresh as a viking warrior.