Friday, August 29, 2014

Cartridge 5: Elfaria (エルファリア)

Name: Elfaria (エルファリア)
Type: Fantasy RPG
Available Languages: Japanese

Today’s blog post is going to be an interesting one, if only because it is going to be a bit different from the norm. The game that I’m looking at, Elfaria, was a game recommended to me by my friend Julian Hill over at the excellent SNES blog Boxed Pixels. We decided to both go into this game cold, me being able to read Japanese and him not, to see what each of us got out of it. So if you haven’t had a chance yet, make sure you head over to his blog to check out his post on Elfaria when you’re done with this one. It’s sure to be a very different take than mine. With that said, it’s time to take a gander at another Super Famicom RPG.

So apparently this is the story of Elfaria, the land that has been blessed by Ra. After reaching the start screen, you can wait to watch a rather interesting cut scene, which shows both character introductions and gameplay hints. After doing that, it’s time to start the game proper. A cut scene occurs, which informs us that a long, long time in the past there was a kingdom of elves. The elves controlled the ‘power of Ra’ that built up in their holy land the ‘spring of Ra’. ‘Ra’ is the source of life and magical power. Far, far in the past there was an era called the ‘Magic War’. Elves and people were in conflict, the ‘spring of Ra’ dried up, and the land fell into ruin.

The elf elder meets up with a woman called Eruru. He has had a bad dream about the destruction of the world. Someone was using the power of something or someone called Eruza-do. The scene switches to a castle, where King Jyozeru states that General Shi-raru has begun a coup d’état in Mu-rania. Jyozeru says that Elfaria will save Mu-rania and sends Darugan to handle it. On the battlefield while fighting the monsters, General Darugan performs a face heel turn and attacks his former allies. He says that the era of Elfaria has come to an end and that the era of Mu-rania is beginning. The remaining soldiers run off, realizing that the general has betrayed them. A few more scenes flash by, and the game informs us that fifteen years have passed. We have reached the in game title screen: A Fantastic Theater Elfaria the Isle of the Blest.

We are introduced to what are clearly our antagonists, who are led by Shi-raru, an ax wielding giant who could squish anyone else on the screen like bugs. The traitor Darugan is at his side. Shi-raru is in the midst of sending out his grunts to take control of places called Foresuchina and Kana-na. One of Shi-raru’s underlings, Zo-ra, is exchanging items called the ‘symbol of water’ and the ‘symbol of fire’. This will make the Ra in the water country of Kana-na become chaotic and cause the country to overflow with monsters.

We finally catch up with the main character, Pain, who is reading a large tablet. It tells him not to throw Ra out of order lest monsters be born, the land die, and the world be destroyed. It appears that this is an ancient legend in Elfaria and that it is possibly coming to pass now. Pain, being the hero, wants to do something about it. Music starts playing, distracting him from his musings. He is confronted by the strange woman that we got several glimpses of in the opening sequence, accompanied by her critter companion. She knows who Pain is, but he doesn’t know her at all. If you recall, her name is Eruru, and apparently she’s been waiting a long time for this day. She tells Pain that it’s time for him to go on a journey to gather the four symbols. Pain is rather startled the he is the one who is needed to collect the symbols of the holy land, but he seems prepared to roll with it. As we already know from the opening sequence, the symbols are being switched around in order to mess with the natural flow of things in the world, so we need to fix this as soon as possible. Stopping this will staunch the flow of monsters, which can only be a good thing. Eruru gives Pain an elf orb called the ‘Blue Gem’. It can be used to calm the ‘holy land of water’. She says that the four symbols will surely give power to you and your future allies as well. Eruru tells you to do your best and then tells Papi, the little pink creature that accompanies her, that it’s time to leave. Knowing no more about this strange woman than we did before, she leaves.

Pain returns home, where we meet Razeru. She knows that he has been to the elven monument again, which seems rather obsessive of Pain to me. Heroes. Considering that there are monsters in the village nearby, Razeru finds Pain’s excursions rather dangerous. Pain ignores her and addresses the man with the epic hair who is also in the room. This is Professor Uppara-. He shows him the elf orb, which Uppara- is way too hyper about. When Pain tells the professor that he got the orb from a girl, Razeru is not amused. Ignoring her yet again, Pain tells Uppara- that he is going on a journey. The professor decides to join him, as it has been a while since he has used his magic. Razeru decides to go too, because she can use magic, and because she’s worried about Uppara-. I’m sure Pain doesn’t factor into her decision at all. As if by magic, a swordsman named Ji-n shows up at the door looking for Pain. He works for the king of Kana-na, and has heard that Pain has been investigating a way to fight the monsters from the people in the village. Wow, word travels fast in these parts. It appears that the king of Kana-na ran to the village next to this one and was captured. It looks like Ji-n needs Pain’s help to rescue him. So with that, Pain begins his journey, and with a full party no less!

This game is certainly different from your average turn-based RPG fare. You don’t gain experience or money from battles, and only level up at boss fights. You do, however, get equipment not only from chests, but from item drops in random encounters. You can meld different weapons, armor, and items to one of five slots in each character’s melding menu in order to raise their stats.

The battles play out mostly automatically, with the commands at the bottom of the screen depending entirely on your party members. Your original party commands consist of Off, Dwn, Luk, and Ice. Off turns off your magic. Dwn is a stat lowering spell that can be used against your enemies. Luk is a stat raising spell that can be used on your party members. Ice is an offensive spell. Party members also have other abilities. Razeru, for example, is a good healer. The only control you have during battle is moving your cursor over one of these four commands in order to direct the game towards which spell you would prefer for the characters to use and hope for the best. I’ve read that A button mashing will speed up spell use, but I haven’t personally found this to be the case. It seems to me that it is really up to the AI in the end, unfortunately.

The character designs are extremely interesting, if you like really stylized visuals. If memory serves, they are what drew Julian to the game originally and they are unique enough that I knew immediately what game he was talking about even though I had never played it. Some of the music is rather nice, I must admit, until you’ve been listening to it on loop for several hours. In the cut scene that runs off of the start menu, when you see a skeleton of kaijyuu proportions being attacked, the old-school music brought a broad grin to my face. Call me a colossal nerd if you like (you’d be right), but I liked it. The game itself doesn’t look horrendous, with detailed sprites and bright colors, but if you’re looking for eye candy, this isn’t the game for you. The mapping is quite bad, to be honest. I’ve seen better work done by amateurs on RPG Tsukuru. To quote Julian, “The villages look shocking.” Considering the amount of time that you spend in towns in this game, that’s quite a problem.

To be honest, this game is way too random for me. The melding system aside, I still feel like I have little control over the outcome of the battles. I’m an RPG gamer, which means that I thrive on control. Therefore, random encounters quickly become an exercise in pain for me, particularly if I don’t get a decent item drop afterwards. I quickly decided that Julian and I were on the same page in regards to Elfaria, his opinions of the game quickly moving from “Shoddy shoddy shoddy.” to “I have demoted it from ‘okay’ to pretty terrible.” to “How did enough people buy this to justify a sequel!?” All the hope for this game was quickly gone. The thought of someone playing Elfaria as their first JRPG, let alone using it to judge an entire genre, terrifies me. As this is a joint post, I will quote Julian yet again by saying, “‘Elfaria’ would not be considered the game to persuade Westerners that JRPGs are accessible, exciting and beautiful. Even with an English fan translation, I doubt that this game would ever be the adventure of choice for a player who had access to anything Square or Enix published in the 16 bit era.” Truer words were never spoken. So in closing, while I relish the experience of playing something different from the norm, and talking about it with a good friend of mine, I must admit that I can only recommend Elfaria to the most patient and stalwart of gamers. Scratch that, I really can’t recommend it to anybody.

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma

No comments:

Post a Comment