Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
With the year 2004 nearing its final hour, one can’t help but reminisce back to the good ol’ days of RPG past: The great RPGs of yesteryear that you know these young’uns will never play and your aging systems that will no longer play your old favorites. As you ponder this, your thoughts may wander off to the major RPG series back then that you never got to play. For me, that series was Tengai Makyo (Far East of Eden).
While I did get a chance to play the last game of the series (Tengai Makyo 4 for the Sega Saturn), TM1-3 were strictly PC Engine (TG16) games, a system that I didn’t own. Thus, when Red Company announced that they were going to remake both TM2 and 3 and release them on the PS2 and GC, I got quite excited.
For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of Tengai Makyo, it is a game based off of a series of books on Japanese mythology written by a *fictional* American author, by the name of P.H. Chada. This quirky game is to be expected from Red Company, who would go on to develop Sakura Taisen and make millions of ryo… err, I mean yen. In other words, this is a VERY ****ed up game world that we’re dealing with. You can expect to encounter every cliché about Japan here, plus many, many puns that you’d need at least a B.A. in Japanese Culture to fully understand… which explains why the series never made it stateside.
So, how is the remake? Well, it’s pretty much what you would expect. For avid importers that remember the Sakura Taisen remakes for the DC, you know exactly what I mean. Of course, the graphical changes are a lot more substantial this time around, but that doesn’t change the fact that the game still looks like something out of the days of the Saturn, which doesn’t do much to impress after being used to games such as Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga. The main problem with TM2 is that, while the 2d designs look decent enough, when the camera is zoomed out, it all looks like a mess. You can manually zoom back in of course, but that would mean that you could see only 1/4 of the screen and you’d have to re-zoom every time you switched screens. What’s worse is that the battle animations for the monsters are still in the early 90’s era of the original. I count only 3 main animations for each monster, and while I do like the anime feel the game exudes, the graphics get dull very quickly.
What’s worse is the animation of the player characters during battles, or should I say, the lack thereof. MT2 employs the old first person battle scenes made popular by the Dragon Quest/Warrior and Phantasy Star series, but there is a serious lack of animation on the part of both the PCs and NPCs alike. All the characters have very basic animations that all look the same, and the spells all look like something out of a first gen PS1 game.
Well… what about the battles, then?
I’d be willing to forgive how dated the battle system looks if it offered some depth, but all MT2 offers is very standard fare. There are a multitude of spells to be cast, but the vast majority of them fall under the “useless” category. The game shows a lot of innovation when it comes to spells such as summoning Doppelgangers and special abilities such as Deathmatch, but the player will doubtlessly find most of the battles way too easy to actually go through the trouble of using the directional pad. The lack of any animations for these spells and abilities is also a huge blow. It’s a good thing there’s a way to speed up battles in the game or else I doubt I would’ve stayed awake to actually beat the game.
Is the battle music nice, at least?
The music in TM2 doesn’t seem to have changed much since its original released in 1992. It gets the job done, but the vast majority of the pieces are quite forgettable, and what’s worse, tend to be very short and grating on the ears after the first 100 times you listen to it. This is topped by sound effects that were only serviceable a decade ago, which resulted in me trying to listen to other things while playing the game.
But who cares about the battles and music, right? It’s the story and the characters that matter!
It is here that I do have to give TM2 its due. While the story itself is very run-of-the-mill (save the world by killing the 7 vines of darkness), TM2 succeeds in an area that most RPGs fail at: The game world.
The world of Jipang is what any Western conception of ancient Japan would be… with an anime twist. Not only does TM2 feature one of the few instances of an oriental game world, it does so with the wit and humor shown in other RED Company games. Jipang is filled with references to Japanese history, historical figures, places… even mythological figures such as Jiraia, Orochimaru, and Tsunade (Naruto fans, anyone?) Much of this is possible due to the immense size of the game world. TM2 features about a dozen different countries, populated with 7-8 towns/cities each. It is this scale that sets this game apart from others.
The characters that are original to TM2 really stand out as well. From the incredibly stupid Mantoh who mistakes urine for beer to the fallen healer who went berserk and decimated her own village, TM2 is filled with characters that are unconventional in every way, aside from the “Hero” main character.
So how does it stand overall?
To be fair, the anime-ish designs do complement the game world rather well. There is also a fair amount of voice acting and animated scenes that add to this feel, but unfortunately the animated sequences feel rather dated. While the movies are done in very high resolution, the animation itself and the number of colors used in these scenes betray its humble origins.
Tengai Makyo II is sure to please the old fans of the series and anyone who is looking for a more traditional RPG experience. The game itself provides a solid 30-35 hours of gameplay, which is a bit longer than most RPGs nowadays. It’s too bad a great deal of this gameplay is due to mindless dungeon slash and hack.
Nevertheless, I’m sure that the Japanese-fluent importers will get a lot of bang for their buck from this game, so give it a shot! If there’s one thing TM2 has going for it, it’s the lower-than-average price of 4980 yen, putting it squarely in the “hey that’s not insanely overpriced like most Japanese things” category.