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Beyond the Beyond (PlayStation) artwork

Beyond the Beyond (PlayStation) review

"I can say without a hint of malice that I've always liked the towns in such 16-bit titles, and that they are present in full force in Beyond the Beyond. Each town does look different from the next. Years later, there is the slim possibility you'll find yourself remember your first trip through that one town at night, or the descent into the volcano, or that pyramid I mentioned before."

There is a natural phenomenon in this world known as the steaming pile of dog poo. Flies love it. People hate it. There is also a natural phenomenon we know fondly as the first role-playing game to hit a new console. Generally speaking, flies love it and people hate it. At this point, I hope you're wondering why I'm referencing dog crap in a review for Beyond the Beyond, the first true role-playing title to hit the Sony Playstation. Are the two somehow related? Or do I perhaps have a fetish for manure? Read on.

When you begin the epic adventure that is Beyond the Beyond, it's best to do so with an open mind. There's a lot to soak in. Before we get too far into what already is shaping up to be a splendid review, though, I think it's time I cleared the air about one thing: this is not a role-playing game for virgins. It's for those of us who have been around the block a few times, those of us who the RPG police watch closely. In short, it's for role-playing sluts. I say that in the nicest possible way.

See, Beyond the Beyond is about as easy as bungee jumping off a chair. You're going to be challenged numerous times, you're going to gnash your teeth, and quite possibly you're going to curse the gods before you help Finn and his little dragon Steiner save the world from impending doom.

The earliest true example of this is somewhat typical of the whole project. You're wandering through a desert pyramid, feeling quite pleased that you figured out where to find that next obstacle. And then you suddenly realize that you're hopelessly lost in a maze of switches and monsters. It's at this point that some gamers will burst into tears. See, the monsters in this game are downright fiendish. They eat adventurers like you with a spot of tea and some crumpets. Not only that, but they swarm around you like 12-year-old girls around N'Sync. Every few steps and it's another romantic interlude with some fanged beast. By the time you recover from battle, you're probably wondering where the hell you were going, what switch you've tripped, what switch you haven't, and possibly even whether or not you can sneak back to town to restore your health and save your progress.

This challenge continues throughout the game. Be prepared for puzzles that will test not only your patience, but also your ingenuity. Bear witness to the grandest of challenges. Marvel at the developer's ingenuity. While it's true that developer Camelot is responsible for gems such as Shining Force 2, none of those past endeavors can hold a candle to the puzzles in this game. Whether you're moving a statue so it rests on a switch or moving a block so it can bathe in sunlight, you'll never stop marveling over the depth and originality that fills this title to its very brim.

I dare not stop there, for there's more to the game than just this insane gameplay. Consider for a minute the graphics. While it's true that some Super Nintendo games such as Final Fantasy III have a much more impressive visual style, we must recall that Beyond the Beyond was developed at the end of an age where gameplay mattered more in a game than visuals. And it shows. The exceptionally good news about all of this is that if you're in love with the visual style, you can honestly say that graphics do not matter to you. And, happily, this same visual style was used later in Golden Sun for the Game Boy Advance, albeit in slightly improved form.

To be fairer than most disillusioned fools who review this game, there is a definite charm to the sprites that occupy the world that is Beyond the Beyond. They still have that cute cartoon look to them that was so popularized in the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games that obviously inspired the art direction here. I can say without a hint of malice that I've always liked the towns in such 16-bit titles, and that they are present in full force in Beyond the Beyond. Each town does look different from the next. Years later, there is the slim possibility you'll find yourself remembering your first trip through that one town at night, or the descent into the volcano, or that pyramid I mentioned before.

The sound complements this nicely. There are drums. And strings. And piano. And sometimes they're in the same song! Need I say more? While Beethoven wouldn't have been proud of this score, I think it's safe to say Carrot Top would be or, barring that, my two-year-old niece.

So far, I've discussed how challenging this game is, how gorgeous it looks, and how blissful you're likely to find the sound. Am I forgetting something? Not at all! Next it's time to look at the story.

Here we learn the true devotion the game's developers had to this project. You see, story isn't a side thought. It's actually integrated into the gameplay itself. Early on, you'll be excited to learn that the developers employed the rather revolutionary concept of a multi-character party. If your jaw hasn't dropped yet, wait until you hear the next part: for a large portion of the game's opening areas, one of your characters is suffering from a curse that is draining the very life out of his body. It's eerie stuff, made better by the fact that in every battle, you have to keep the guy's health up so he doesn't die. You'll constantly buying potions at each town, searching for that antidote, and sending wishes for long life and good health at Beyond the Beyond's scenario planner. I can't think of another game that shows this innovation. Can you?

Another way the story intertwines with gameplay is evidenced in Finn's ability to summon a dragon. At first, your familiar is a little fellow the burps sparks. By the end of the game, he's a monstrous lollipop that spews magma like it's a Taco Bell burrito coming out the wrong way. What fun you'll have watching your enemies writhe in agony...and die! Even this dragon affects the story greatly, though, and so I shall fall silent on the topic and leave you to discover the wonders for yourself.

And there are plenty of wonders to discover, you must realize, for this is a game you will not complete in less than 10 hours. I can virtually guarantee it. In fact, you may not finish it at all! And even if you do, have you gone to the optional dungeon? If not, I highly recommend it. You can win another wimpy sword.

So it is that I come to the end of this review, and still I haven't justified my decision to begin this review with the reference to dog dung. For that I do apologize. As a means of redeeming myself, let me say this: Beyond the Beyond is without doubt better than a steaming pile of dog dung. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is!

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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 18, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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