Yeti Trunk is an awesome name for a video game development team. See, there we go, I managed to start on a high note. Wanderlust: Rebirth is an old-school-style action RPG that focuses on teamwork and beating enemies into a pile of dust. It draws influence from all sorts of SNES-era games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link the Past, Secret of Mana, and other similar titles. Unfortunately, this frustrating and boring game falls far short of its SNES inspirations.
The story follows a character you create as he or she enters a combat tournament. Of course, things are not quite as they appear and the hero (along with three companions) is forced on a quest to save the world from an evil sorcerer. The plot doesn’t even try to be original, and even the twists follow a generic RPG formula. Imagine the most typical RPG story and you have an idea of what to expect in Wanderlust: Rebirth. Of course, the story is really just an excuse to go out and kill swarms of enemies, which is does well enough.
The game is broken down into ten chapters, all of which follow the same gameplay formula. To clear each chapter, you traverse a couple of dozen tiny areas. Combat is the primary focus of the game, so almost every area contains at least one group of enemies to fight. You play in a team made up of four characters that are either controlled by other humans in multiplayer or AI in solo. Your character fits one of four different classes: fighter, alchemist, cleric or elementalist. They all play pretty much like you’d expect, but they do have an excellent variety of skills and differences that set them apart. Playing through the game as a melee fighter is a vastly different experience from playing as the fireball-slinging elementalist or healing-expert cleric.
Having said that, the combat is actually rather dull. There are a good variety of enemies in a visual sense, but you tackle them all in the same way: button mash. I played my first game as a fighter and, on normal difficulty, it was simply a matter of running in, spamming powers or regular attacks, and occasionally using “war cry” to draw focus off my team and back to me. It was slightly more interesting as an elementalist the second time around, but spamming the same attack was still ultimately the best strategy. As you fight, little bubbles with “bam,” “pow,” and “whack” float around which, while cute, actually obstruct your vision of the fight. I lost my character among the chaos on many occasions.
Like the monotonous combat, each level is designed in the exact same way. Yes, the visuals differ, but that’s pretty much it. Each level consists of small areas broken up by a world map and some enemies to fight in them. Sometimes there are simple traps to avoid, or, in a couple of rare cases, more dynamic objectives (such as transporting an item through a crumbling cave), but by the end you feel you played the same chapter through ten times. If you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, imagine that without any of the interesting puzzles or equipment to break up the combat. I really didn’t have much fun at any stage during the game.
At the end of each chapter is a boss, but, again, all of them are defeated using nearly identical strategies. Some teleport, some summon smaller monsters to tackle, but, at the end of the day, you simply need to run in there and start whacking. Those that teleport are incredibly frustrating as you try to follow them around the battlefield. Late game, particularly in the final chapter, the difficulty level drastically spikes and serious teamwork is required to emerge victorious. The boss of chapter ten is nearly impossible to solo with AI unless you’ve replayed previous levels over and over and over for extra skill points.
There’s no leveling up in Wanderlust, but the aforementioned skill points are earned at the end of every chapter based on how you play. By killing certain enemies, finishing side quests, not dying and so on, you increase the amount of skill points earned. You can then distribute them to learn new skills and generally become more powerful. This provides excellent replay value, as scoring 100% of points is a difficult task that required good knowledge of each level. There are hidden gold coins in each level too, which is great for players like me who like hidden collectibles. On the flip side, it means that not picking up enough points in early levels can make latter ones mind-bogglingly difficult.
Thankfully, playing online is more fun than solo. In fact, if you’re only planning to play solo, you can safely skip this game entirely. If you are intending to play online, it’s nearly vital you have your own friends to play with. It’s difficult enough to find an open server to play on if you’re on your own, but it’s often frustrating to coordinate with people you don’t know. This issue is hardly exclusive to Wanderlust, but the fast pace of the game means everyone needs to know what they’re doing before the tough fights start. If you die, you only suffer a point penalty and can continue on from where you were. This is quite a nice feature and potentially eliminates the problem of working in a team of mediocre players.
Equipment and chests are scattered throughout the world, but the real item-related interest revolves around crafting. By acquiring blueprints and the necessary materials, you can create an array of weapons, armour and accessories. Farming for materials can be quite addictive if you’re after one of the better weapons in the game, but the whole system is hampered by an absolutely ghastly interface and equally poor controls. On top of that, inventory space is extremely limited, so managing everything can get tough. To create an item you need to locate all the pieces individually in your inventory and then select them, but reused icons make this irritating. General controls are just as alien. Movement is controlled though WASD, but attacks use the arrow keys. It feels incredibly strange to be running forwards with W and then casting a spell with UP. Fortunately, you’ll likely adjust to them after a few levels.
Sound effects are uninspired, and the soundtrack equally so. None of the tunes are bad, but they’re all underwhelming. Worsening the problem is the volume levels; the effects are drastically louder than the background music. Those, at least, can be changed by wrestling with the keyboard-controlled menus. The 2D graphics are quite charming, and obviously take heavy inspiration from The Legend of Zelda series. Environments are generally attractive and varied, notably forests that are overflowing with charm, though a number of other locations suffer from a lack of detail and decoration. Toward the end of the game, many rooms are absolutely filled with bloody and gory (well, for 2D) corpses. It feels kind of strange and out of place, particularly in contrast to the earlier half of the game.
Wanderlust: Rebirth provides a mediocre single-player experience, but a little more enjoyment for groups of friends. It doesn’t excel in any one area, but I can see many people enjoying the fast-paced combat, varied classes, and high replay value – even if the game only takes 2-3 hours to beat. It’s simply a pity that the combat, and the game as a whole, is so repetitive. Wanderlust has few redeeming moments and is ultimately hard to recommend.