Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
First generation RPGs for next generation systems all share one commonality: lack of substance. In a sad bit of tragedy, NEC Interchannel’s Black Matrix Advanced for Dreamcast offers more depth than all the Evolutions, E.G.G.s and Climax Landers put together. While not breaking any new ground, Black Matrix, originally a Saturn title, is both a solid strategy/RPG genre experience and a good imitator of other series, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and Final Fantasy VIII.
The world of Black Matrix Advanced is split between two factions; masters, people with black, demonic wings, and slaves, those with the white, feathered variety. You play a male slave with one of five attractive female masters. Your first goal is to perform various mundane tasks on a farm. Depending on what job you chose, and if you complete it, a particular statistic will increase. For example, mopping the floor will increase your dexterity, while chopping wood may increase your strength. You can leave at any time, although staying for the duration of the seasons really builds statistics. Once you leave your master’s care, a variety of events unfold, leading up to the revelation that you are, in reality, the messiah for the slaves.
Battles follow a typical Final Fantasy Tactics/Tactics Ogre formula: characters move according to a grid and can choose offensive or defensive measures. Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, there is no job system and no varying classes. A dull spot, though, is the lack of variety in weapons, with the choices being too few and unimaginative. Only a small number of characters have the ability to use magic and most spells are offensive. Magic points tend to run out quickly in the early scenarios, making magic not particularly useful. However, it does become necessary later on.
Once a fight is completed, money, items, rank, blood, and experience points are doled out. You are then prompted to choose which character to level up, after which you can customize their stats. Blood points, gained for every enemy killed, are used for MP and can also be “junctioned,” ala Final Fantasy 8, onto weapons and armor for more power or an additional effect. Money is typically used in towns to purchase weapons and items.
In-game graphics in Black Matrix feature an isometric view with 2D sprites, which is where the game really shows its weakness as a Saturn port. However, when characters are talking, huge anime-style portraits appear, taking up a good half of the screen. Additionally cinema sequences, featuring smooth, beautiful animation, do their part to show off the game’s Dreamcast specific enhancements.
Black Matrix Advanced will most likely never hit the U.S. market. Briefly considered by UFO Interactive, its violent and religious themes were deemed too controversial. The game is available as an import, although much of the story is missed without comprehension of the language. Overall, however, it is an enjoyable experience, even if the influence of other series is quite apparent. If anything, pick it up for the incredible soundtrack, which features a range of tracks from acid jazz to trip-hop beats.