Alundra (PlayStation) review
"On the surface, things seemed pretty good in the regions surrounding the quaint village of Inoa. Sure, the fell demon Melzas had been a threat, but he was now trapped in a submerged castle and seemingly out of the picture. "
On the surface, things seemed pretty good in the regions surrounding the quaint village of Inoa. Sure, the fell demon Melzas had been a threat, but he was now trapped in a submerged castle and seemingly out of the picture.
Things wouldn’t be quite so easy for the unfortunate Inoans, though. While Melzas was physically incapable of reasserting his power, he still had a deadly one-two combination that was on the verge of proving too much for mere mortals to overcome. In the material world, a slew of allies, including the sadistic ape-like Murgg, endeavored to release Melzas from his prison. Possibly even more of a threat was posed by the demon himself. While his body was confined to the castle, his mind wasn’t -- allowing him access to the dreams of ordinary townfolk to consume their souls, making them mere pawns in his diabolical plot.
But then, Alundra came. A seemingly unexceptional lad who survived a shipwreck and was rescued by kindly town blacksmith Jess, Alundra possessed a special ability that would make HIM the trump card determining whether Melzas would reign supreme again....or if he’d suffer a defeat so humbling that an eternity of imprisonment underwater would seem heavenly. With the ability to enter the dreams of people, Alundra had the capability to not only attack the forces of Melzas physically, but also save the souls of the people by ridding their dreams of the demon’s horrid influence.
And so begins Alundra, a Playstation adventure by Working Designs that takes the tried-and-true old-school Zelda format and improves on it in nearly every way. Sure, an overhead-view game without tons of bells and whistles might not sound too “next-generation” to most people, and the PS1 didn’t have a great deal of success with Zelda clones (look at Monkey Hero for proof), but this game is pure gold.
Shortly after starting Alundra up, you’ll be treated to a stunning intro -- the sort of thing that raises beads of sweat on the palm of players eagerly anticipating battle. Odds are that will be the last visual thrill you’ll experience until your quest is complete. While the game isn’t ugly, it doesn’t have the gorgeous graphics one expected from Playstation games. Hues of brown, as well as dull shades of green, blue and other colors, dominate Inoa and its surrounding regions -- giving the impression of a barren land that is having the soul sucked out of it. It may fit in with the game's plot, but isn't the sort of thing you’d be sending postcards of to friends and family.
But after enduring the brief opening scene that details the shipwreck that brings Alundra to Inoa and introduces the town’s residents, odds are that such trifling details such as graphics will completely lose importance. Working Designs does such a masterful job of combining challenging, fun gameplay with a perfectly executed story that you’ll be completely immersed in Alundra’s world until you’ve rid it of Melzas’ presence.
At first glance, the gameplay is near-identical to A Link to the Past’s. Using Inoa as a home base, you’ll strike out in search of glory and battles. Dungeons will be found in deserts, swamps, volcanos, mines, caves and other desolate locales. Treasure chests containing money, healing items and other goods are scattered through both the overworld and dungeons. Upgrading your equipment and gaining new abilities will prove to be crucial in your endeavors to advance in the game.
However, as you progress, it won’t take long for differences to be noticed. Shortly after making his appearance in Inoa, Alundra will be called to the bedside of an elderly resident....to enter his dream. While this man’s dream (and others you’ll journey through) aren’t really any different than the game’s other dungeons, it adds to the game’s aura of unpredictability. You’ll soon realize that you have no idea what Alundra will be called upon to do. There is no set formula of going from “Dungeon One” to “Dungeon Two” here -- one minute, you’ll be seeking out the tree fort of the Murgg....the next, you’ll be entering the dream of a deranged young girl to rid her of demonic influence.
Dungeons are a bit different than those in contemporary Zelda games, with a HUGE emphasis on puzzle-solving. I’m not talking about simple tasks like killing all the enemies to get a key or pushing a block to open a door -- some of these puzzles are brutally difficult. For example, in the wintery dream of the hunter Kline, you’ll have to manipulate ice pillars over switches -- keeping in mind that when you push one, it won’t stop until it collides with an obstacle. Then, after enduring the challenges and pitfalls of each dungeon, you’ll find that most bosses are far tougher and more durable than those in most Zelda games. Most bosses are able to absorb dozens of hits before falling, while exhibiting multiple attack patterns, making victory a test of skill, patience and endurance.
All of which could get tiresome after awhile -- if not for the wonderful job of storytelling done by Working Designs. As you play, you’ll realize that only a tiny minority of the Inoa residents are window-dressing. Instead, you’ll be interacting with a number of interesting, multi-dimensional characters that are capable of actually eliciting emotion from players. You’ll meet the tormented Giles, torn between his devotion to his angelic sister and his duty to Ronan, the imposing priest he serves. Then, there is the blacksmith Jess, who treats Alundra as a son, mixing support for your character with concern for his ability to face upcoming trials. Later, you’ll meet the rival dreamwalker Meia, whose haughty exterior masks a sadness created by past tragedies.
As the quest advances, you’ll realize that Alundra is not just fighting to kill Melzas, but also to save the souls of the Inoans -- even though at times it looks like your endeavors will result in catastrophe. You’ll watch your hero FAIL to rid one man of his demon, resulting in his inevitable demise. You see people that you had previously saved fall victim to other forces. You’ll watch Alundra deal with the mistrust of townspeople (namely Ronan and Giles) believing he is the cause of their woes. And you’ll keep fighting, knowing in your heart that only you can restore some degree of normalcy to their lives.
You’ll seek out even the most obscure treasure chests in the most obscure caverns. You’ll trade in artifacts known as Gilded Falcons for useful goods. You’ll wade through dream after dream. You’ll watch seemingly unimportant townfolk suddenly become instrumental pawns in Melzas’ scheme....and you’ll do your utmost to prevent that scheme from coming to fruition. You’ll eventually come face-to-face with Melzas, armed only with the equipment you hold and the trust of those you’ve saved, for the final climactic confrontation. And, after you’ve (hopefully) prevailed, you’ll get to celebrate with Alundra and friends, secure in the realization that you’ve overcome one of the greatest and most epic quests created for the Playstation....or any home system.
Community review by overdrive (June 09, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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