Tsugunai: Atonement

Publisher: Atlus Developer: Cattle Call
Reviewer: The Darkrider Released: 11/29/01
Gameplay: 70% Control: N/A
Graphics: 70% Sound/Music: 70%
Story: 60% Overall: 68%

There are occasions when a game is released at a time that inhibits any potential success. There are games that get such mediocre reviews that they are almost totally ignored by the general public. There are games that try to be innovative but end up falling flat due to poor execution. And then there are games like Tsugunai, which suffers from all of the above.

Tsugunai had the misfortune of being released around the same time as the phenomenon known as Final Fantasy X. As such, it seemed to go unnoticed by both the general public and the ďhardcoreĒ RPG player. In all honesty, though, this game probably wouldnít have succeeded even if it had been released during the midst of an RPG drought. The lukewarm reviews this game has gotten across the board are warranted: this game is average in every aspect.

Story: 60%

The main character is a run-of-the-mill mercenary that goes by the name Reise. He is hired to recover a sacred object known as the Treasure Orb. I wouldnít think it would be that sacred with such a generic name! He is successful in his mission, but divine retribution soon comes down upon the foolish mortal. The scene soon shifts to a monastery where Reiseís body lay motionless... but his spirit stands above it! As punishment for his theft the God of Light has sundered Reiseís soul from his body. There is only one way Reise can get his body back: he must possess the people of the nearby village and heal the sadness in their hearts.

If there is anything remotely innovative about this game, it is the whole possession concept. You possess and control the villagers who have sadness in their hearts. Your one goal is to accomplish a task that frees their hearts from the chains of despair that have such a hold on them.

Unfortunately, this is where the majority of the problems with the storyline occur. True, you get to control a variety of living beings who each have different agendas. This adds a good bit of diversity to the mix. However, the result of this is that there isnít a really strong central plot. Actually, I would go so far as to say that there isnít a central plot whatsoever. What you do have is a slew of sub-par ďmini-plotsĒ. The game tries to tie things together at the end, but it fails miserably. Overall, this game has one of the most boring storylines Iíve ever sat through.

Sound/Music: 70%

One of the reasons I was so anxious to get this game was for the music. More specifically, I bought the game for the composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, the musical genius that composed the awe-inspiring OSTs of games such as Xenogears and Chrono Trigger. My feelings on the music can be summed up in one word: disappointing. Mitsudaís love for Celtic music is well documented; it has had a major influence on many of his more recent works, but this was a bit much. Every single song on this game had a Celtic feel to it. Thatís not necessarily a bad thing if youíre into that sort of music, however I am not. I prefer a soundtrack with a lot of variety to it. These songs sound so similar to one another that they just became one big blur in my mind. In my opinion, this is Mitsudaís worst work to date. He redeemed himself in my eyes with the Xenosaga OST, but thatís a whole different issue.

Graphics: 70%

Thereís normally one good way to tell what characters in an RPG have a major role: see what they are wearing! The more outlandish the outfit, the bigger the role. However, Tsugunaiís characters donít really follow that general rule. Yeah, they do dress a bit differently than their peers, but they dress in a normal fashion. What does this have to do with anything, you ask? The majority of the graphics in this game are grounded firmly in reality. There isnít a lot of really fantastical thought here, with the exception of the monsters. You wonít find any Final Fantasy X-like pastels here: the hues in this game are very somber. Browns, greys, and dark greens are the dominant colors. This really adds to the realism by making you feel like you are in an old medieval village. I think the tradeoff between a smooth, vibrant look and a grittier, more realistic style really works...to an extent.

Itís one thing for the town to be somewhat drab and dreary, but I wouldnít think that every single area in the game would necessarily have to be so dull. This is the only game I can think of that makes a grassy field look lifeless right in the middle of spring! Variety is the spice of life, as they say here in America: that saying must not have crossed over to Japan! The dull, muted colors in the town were acceptable, but it should have been balanced out somewhat by the other areas in the game.

Gameplay: 70%

The meat of any RPG is its combat system. After all, you typically do more fighting than anything else. If the combat system has issues, then odds are you arenít going to like the game very much. Tsugunaiís combat system is okay at first, but will really get on your nerves after a short while. Tell me, are you a fan of the timed attacks popularized by games such as Super Mario RPG? If you play this game, then you had better be! You donít time your attacks on this game, though: you time your blocking. If you donít learn the ropes of blocking then you will die... quickly. The enemies in this game are tough and will show you no mercy.

A good bit of thought went into the creation of the block system. There are four separate types of blocking actions:

Normal: The easiest to time and it reduces the most damage.
Strage: It doesnít reduce damage as much as Normal, but it gives more Strage points, which Iíll cover shortly.
Counter: It doesnít reduce damage very much, but it allows you to counterattack.
Back Step: You can totally dodge the attack, but it takes 25% of your Strage Meter.

So whatís a Strage Meter? You could say itís Tsugunaiís version of the Limit Break. With each successful block (with the exception of Back Step) a meter builds up. When it gets full, you can unleash a Strage Attack. Like most everything combat related in this game, you have to time it. The better your timing, the more powerful the attack.

At first, I had no problems with the blocking system. Then the enemies started getting harder and harder. Finally, normal enemies started being strong enough to kill me with four or five hits. Combine this with the fact that there is no inn or temple or any other healing place and you have a very frustrating situation. If you get hurt, the only thing that will save you is your magic or items.

Speaking of magic, I liked the way you go about getting spells in this game. I suppose the magic system has more in common with Final Fantasy VII than any other game. Throughout the game you will find items known as Magic Stones. These Stones can be refined into Runes. In order to use the Runes you must insert them into a magical amulet. If you manage to completely fill an amulet with Runes, then you are able to summon the guardian sealed within the amulet.

Thatís not as easy as it sounds, though. An amulet will only hold so many Runes. Also, you have to take the size and shapes of the Runes into consideration: you can refine the most lethal, death-dealing Rune on the game but it wonít do you any good if you canít place it anywhere. This adds a bit of strategy to the combat system.

The thing is, the guardians suck up your MP like a leech. And, as mentioned above, there isnít a place where you can lay down some cash and recover. The only way to replenish your magic is to use items. Did I mention that items are fairly expensive? You have to ration out your magic usage to assure that youíll have enough when you really need it. Prepare yourself for some major frustration if you decide to play this game.

Overall: 68%

Tsugunai is a game that really could have been a contender. It had a lot of potential with the ideas it tried to present, but in the end it comes far short of greatness. It was a solid game, but it wasnít completely worth the time and money I invested in it. As far as PS2 RPGs go, this game falls right in the middle of the pack.

The Darkrider

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