Released in a period where Final Fantasy VII had achieved worldwide fame, 2D role-playing games had seemed a thing of the past. If you were a PlayStation owner, Albert Odyssey would have come off as some kind of geeky fantasy movie played on the Sci-Fi channel. Saturn owners, on the other hand, had only this title to look forward to, as Lunar: Silver Star Story was consistently pushed back each time the release date drew close. Playing in fear, surrounded by those awful cretins who played that “evil RPG series with numerous sequels”, Saturn RPGers were immersed in a vibrant, colorful, not to mention amusing world.
A picture is worth a thousand words… you’re sure to have heard this many a time. If anything, Albert Odyssey was a 2D gamer’s delight, full of lush, colorful landscapes, and wonderfully detailed houses full of plants, pots, bookshelves, and cabinets sporting amazing open/close features. Character sprites are fairly large and animated decently. The towns spread throughout the land each have their own distinct looks and architectural styles, still looking great amidst the 3D titles of today’s RPGs. The color palette definitely takes advantage of 32-bit hardware, and there’s not a polygon in sight.
Battle graphics are a mixed bag, as the sprites are animated fairly, but are smaller as compared to what you see when walking around town or in dungeons. The lack of animation when an enemy is affected by a status attack (read: sleep, poison, etc.) comes off as annoying. Rare is the being who can sleep with their eyes open and their limbs in constant motion.
Spell effects range from pure ugliness, such as flame petal, which looks like a heap of red, orange, and purple mixed together with 3 whole frames of animation, to pure graphic delight, such as Atomic Flare, which literally performs an impressive looking solar flare effect.
The overworld is displayed through something similar to the mode 7 effects used in the flight scenes in Secret of Mana. However, it is not done effectively on the Saturn, as the movement is choppy and ugly. Some have said that this game was originally meant to be a Super Nintendo game, and it certainly shows, if you look strictly at the overworld.
If this game excels in any department, it’s truly in sound effects and music. There is a plethora of sound effects used, anywhere from merely opening cabinets, to birds chirping in the forest. During battles, monsters and characters both vocally cry out upon being physically injured, the best clips playing when the characters in the party die (note: Eka’s shriek is reason enough to make your party commit suicide, if you’re a sicko like I am). Actual spoken dialogue is limited to the introduction, the narrator at the end of chapter 1, and two small lines from Lulu.
Musically, the game is simply amazing. A fair number of tracks are orchestrated, played straight off of the CD during gameplay, crystal clear and rich in composition. The majority of the game’s musical score is performed by the Saturn’s own sound chip, and amazingly enough, it almost holds up as well as the orchestrated tracks in terms of quality. The 1st overworld theme ranks as one of the best pieces of music of all time.
The story of Albert Odyssey is a pretty simple one, if not TOO simple, at that. In chapter 1, Pike’s town gets razed, and Laia, a harpy (Albert Odyssey’s harpies are human-like people with wings, not the monster variety you may be used to) rescues him, raising him for several years. A sorcerer by the name of Belnard happens to drop by one day, and Laia ends up being turned to stone, leaving Pike with the quest to rectify the problem. Hardly the type of story situation that hasn’t been done before.
So, what’s with the decent score, if the story isn’t anything to jump at? Well, sometimes the storyteller can make a bad story seem great, just as a lousy storyteller can turn a great story into a yawn fest. If anything, Albert Odyssey’s writing is arguably some of Working Designs’ best to date, featuring a mixture of delightful humor, friendly characters that interact well, and no grammatical/spelling errors in sight.
Possibly the worst part of Albert Odyssey is its gameplay. Encounter rates in Albert Odyssey are higher than your average RPG, and coupled with the load time to get into battles themselves, it hurts the experience. Load time into and out of a battle averages around 6 seconds, which compared to some games out now is not too bad, but the flaw in Albert Odyssey is that you stare at a black screen for most of these seconds, with no music or anything to distract you, making you notice the load time more in this game.
The battles themselves are nothing exciting anyway, as Albert Odyssey uses a rather simple battle system, with good guys on the right, and bad guys on the left. Running on the classic turn-based system, characters and enemies move in order based on their agility, and if anything, this gets boring, fast, as a good number of these battles can be won by just jamming the C button, without even looking at the screen. There is no tactical combat, so all spells and attacks either attack one target, or the entire group, and there is no character placement which leaves a lot to be desired.
Dungeons all have a fair layout, not being mindlessly convoluted, with exception to the final dungeon of the game, which is, if anything, a complete nightmare. With save points only at the beginning and end of the final dungeon, frustration factor is extremely high. Save points are scattered in various places throughout the game, and it is nothing short of annoying when you’ve played an hour of the game, and have to shut it off without saving due to whatever comes up in real life (assuming you have one to begin with).
Boasting around 20 hours of gameplay, if you don’t rush through things as fast as you can, Albert Odyssey is a fairly enjoyable game the first time through. There are three “side quests” in the game, and there’s lots of witty dialogue to read, but there’s nothing in the game that makes you really want to replay it. Albert Odyssey doesn’t cover new ground, and relies on a formula that’s been done before, but does again what’s been done quite well. It stands as one of the better, amidst the few that are on the system, RPGs on the Sega Saturn. If you do not own a Saturn, it certainly isn’t reason enough to buy one, but if you do own one and haven’t played this game, it is definitely worth picking up.