Perhaps the golden age of the console role playing game was the Super Nintendo days. Besides games like Final Fantasy 2 & 3 and of course Chronotrigger, there were a host of games from other companies. All of them had a fairly similar style both graphically and in terms of gameplay. Graphically, they tended to feature anime style portrait (or stylized ones) for characters, but for moving around and fighting, featured those super-deformed sprites. You know, big head, small everything else. Kinda creepy, but popular in Japan.
When consoles went from 16 bit to 32 bit, and from 2D from 3D, the console RPG changed. The graphics became more realistic, or at least went from sprite based to 3d mesh based. And instead of cutscenes with the little guys moving around themselves and talking with text boxes, there were rendered CGI or animated sequences, complete with speech.
This game hearkens back to the 16 bit days, which may turn some off, but for others, like me, is pure gaming goodness.Gameplay
Gameplay is pretty simple. Basically you simply wander around talking to people. Then generally go to another town or dungeon, fight things, then go back to town and talk to more people. It's pretty much entirely linear, if you try to go where you shouldn't you get a message with directions on where you should go. And important people have a red exclamation point to talk to.
You can have up to 4 characters in your party at a time, but most of the time you will have 2-3. There are no "classes" per se, but some seem to be more melee orientated and some more magic. Each character has their own weapon type to attack with. Avin uses a sword, Mile uses a boomerang (which may sound odd, but they are weapons), others use maces or whips or daggers. Everyone uses the same armor, which simplifies things.
There is a "pet" system, but it's very very minor. Basically a little critter follows you around, and finds potions for you. Occasionally you have to pet it for feed it to keep it happy, but not all that often.
One really nice thing is as you walk around in a place with monsters, you only fight if you run into them. Depending on their strength, they will seek you out or avoid you.
Combat in the US version is turn based. There is some small strategy involved because characters can only move so much a turn, and spells and attacks have limited ranges. But even so, most combats are pretty easy and quick.
The game's interface is slick and polished. For instance, when you use magic to heal your party after a battle, once everyone is healed, the menu will close itself. And it's very easy to get through menus and such. There is also almost no loading whatsoever while you play. Going into combat is pretty much seamless and only on certain occasions when you change screens (like going out of town) will there be a brief "Now Loading" message, which in many cases will disappear before you can actually read it.
However, the control of your little guy is a bit touchy. With the analog stick he can be somewhat wobbly. But you get used to it.Story
You play Avin, a young orphan who grows up in a religious orphanage along with his sister. Then one day someone tries to kidnap his sister, so they are forced to flee. But in the turmoil, they are separated. He then grows up in a small village, and when he turns 17, he goes out into the world along with his friend Mile to try to find his sister.
There's a lot of story here. This is one game in a fairly length series, so the world has a rich detailed history. Avin and company travel all over, meeting new people (who join the party temporarily) and solving problems, and have run ins with recurring villains. All while the plot is slowly revealed.
I found the story quite compelling. There's pretty much all the things you want. Intrigue, romance, betrayal, angst, friendship, mystery, humor (most of which revolves around a young lady stalking Mile). At first I was cringing a bit, because you play Avin when he was a little kid for a bit, and I really don't like games where you play as children that young (10 years old). But that's sort of a prologue, and is quickly over. Once the proper story started, I couldn't put it down, playing well past the time I should have been asleep (and in one case, past sunrise).
I personally found the translation to be quite well done. It reads like regular English, but on occasion there are some spelling mistakes. Or rather, mostly problems with homophones - words that sound alike but are different. Like "Idle" instead of "Idol". But still, there is a whole lot of text in the game and only a handful of mistakes that I noticed.Graphics/Sound
The graphics are wonderful. Although it emulates the feel of the 16 bit SNES rpgs, everything is in 3D (albeit with a fixed camera). Textures are bright and colorful (where appropriate, anyway) and there are some really nice lighting effects. The water is also very snazzy looking. It really looks like an SNES game on steroids.
The sound is generally good, especially the ambient sounds like water, though it's not a whole lot of sound in the game. There's a lot of nice sounding music as well, which there is a lot of.Final Thoughts
This is a wonderful game for everyone that enjoys RPGs for the sake of story and character development (which would be me) and doesn't mind (or enjoys) a retro feel. People looking for action or character customizing will probably find it boring. Similarly, hard core RPGers might be turned off by its linearity, but I liked that because I could play it and not worry about getting a bad ending because I didn't talk to frog #3 in obscure location #2, nor did I need any help of a walk-through to get through the game or look at one out of fear of missing something important.
I was thinking about giving it a 9 out of 10, because while I really loved it, it's not quite perfect. But now that I think about it, I can't remember the time I enjoyed an RPG so much (probably Chrono Trigger). So what the heck, I'm giving it a 10.