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Megami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible II (Game Boy Color) artwork

Megami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible II (Game Boy Color) review

"This is one of those Japanese RPGs that defines the term "under the radar", but hopefully a new (fan) translation will change all that. It was first released in 1993 on the Gameboy and ported to the GBC in 1999, but with few changes, besides the improved colours. Initially there is nothing much of note, just nondescript towns and townspeople, a world map that uses cones for mountains and blue squares to represent towns, and dungeons that are short and mostly uninspired in design. However, if you..."

This is one of those Japanese RPGs that defines the term "under the radar", but hopefully a new (fan) translation will change all that. It was first released in 1993 on the Gameboy and ported to the GBC in 1999, but with few changes, besides the improved colours. Initially there is nothing much of note, just nondescript towns and townspeople, a world map that uses cones for mountains and blue squares to represent towns, and dungeons that are short and mostly uninspired in design. However, if you look past the surface you'll find a rich, multi-layered experience with amazing depth of gameplay, a huge cast of imaginative and beautifully depicted potential allies, engaging music and a simple, yet heartfelt tale of humans versus beasts, that has some faint echoes of a grander vision of harmony.

Despite the title, there's no Bible, although there are two other games in this Megami Tensei Gaiden series. However, the beginning of the story might strike a few familiar chords. 2000 years ago the fifth planet "fell" after an indecisive war between beasts and humans. Both groups re-located to the third planet and gradually lost their magical powers, called Gaia. Since those times humans had lived separately from beasts and feared the return of the king of beasts, Gryas, to such an extent, that when the birth of a reincarnated Gryas was foretold, the human king had all babies killed. (That's about the only possible connection to the Bible, aside from the fact that you have 12 team members and 12 items in your inventory). As you might expect, the hero of the game, Yuri, was saved from this fate, and, though a human, was raised in a safe place by talking beasts.

Fifteen years later, Yuri sets out from his home cave to find out more about the world, prompted by some recent activity in the local town, and by the urgings of his close friend, Larsa, who was also raised by beasts. It seems that another conflict between beasts and humans is on the horizon. Trouble is brewing, and you might have a role to play. Time to rescue the downtrodden, protect the weak, and resist evil! This might not be the most original concept, but it really doesn't matter, since you won't be playing this game for the sake of the story.

The real attraction of LB 2 is how you recruit allies, and this is much easier than you might expect. Right from the start, you can talk to any monster enemy that you (randomly) encounter along the way. When a battle begins you're faced with one or two enemies, who might be in groups of up to 3, and you can select "Talk" from the battle menu and choose to speak to one of them. Then, a conversation begins, and if you choose the correct responses, the enemy might propose to join you. If you don't want it to, then you can ask for cash, or an item. Yes, in this game enemies will PAY you to leave them alone!

Of course, you can decide to fight, and this has some nice options as well. if you've a strong team, then you can decide to Auto battle and everyone will simply use physical attacks and keep going until you win (or rarely) lose. Even if you do lose, you don't really lose at all, since you're just returned to the last inn you visited, and everyone is fully healed with all your money, items and progress intact. In case you're thinking that the game doesn't sound very challenging, well, you'd be partly right. It doesn't punish you for mistakes, although some battles can be very tough if you don't have the right balance of allies. In one town, I suddenly ran into some very powerful foes, who would not respond to my charming chat. They punished me for even attempting to talk, pummeling my team with spells of confusion. Everyone started hitting themselves or each other, and we were quickly wiped out.

Fortunately, that doesn't happen often, and you can plan your excursions by watching the phases of the moon. This is another device familiar to players of SMT games and it's used well here. There's a day counter on your menu screen that counts through the month and phases of the moon. When the moon is dark, monsters are weaker and more amiable, and when it's full, they are more aggressive and won't talk. Stroll around the world map when the moon is dark and you find that monsters initiate the talking. There you are, all geared up for battle against a Troll and a Serpent, or a Pixie and Ork, when they start chatting you up. Do you like beasts? Sure. Are you going to kill us? Sure. Can we be friends? Anytime cutie. One common pick-up line is: have we met before? You bet. (Even if we hadn't.)

Each time you add a new beast to your team you can choose whether to place it in storage, in effect, to bench it, or add it to your active group of 6. You can only carry 12 in total, and since 6 of these places are automatically reserved for your human allies, this can mean that you soon have to make some tough decisions about who to keep and who to throw away. At least, you would, if you didn't also have another intriguing and utterly addictive option. This is what makes Last Bible 2 so compelling, and it's the option to fuse two beasts to produce a new one.

At first, you can only do this at one town, but later you find an ally who has a Fusion spell and you can fuse anywhere at all. You select two beasts and then can check out what the result will be BEFORE you act to make the fusion. This takes you to a series of new menu pages with lovely detailed portraits of each beast together with all its stats and spells. Sadly, there is no way to keep a tally of which beasts you've found, as there is no library or in-game record.

Beasts don't level up, and they remain with the same attributes for as long as you choose to keep them. It might seem odd that they don't gain any experience from battles, but in fact this is a helpful feature, since experience points are divided between the human allies, and for much of the game you only have two or three of these. Your human allies gain new spells as they level up, and each one has a unique set, so that by the end of the game, when you'll finally have a full team to work with, you should have a wide enough range to cope with anything, even without beasts.

Although the humans follow their own trajectory, coming and going from the team at regular intervals, (which can feel a little disconcerting, especially when they turn up for a couple of battles, upsetting your carefully planned beast team: they cannot be benched even if you might want to do that) your beasts are faithful and will always be there for you. At least, until you decide to fuse them or drop them from the team. And what beasts! There are over 150 different ones to find, recruit, fuse and use. Some can use equipment, some can't, and they have a wide range of spells, anything from healing poison to a spell that revives someone with full health, as well as the usual range of Agi (fire), Bufu (ice), Zanma (wind) and Jiora (electricity) attack spells.

Yes, this is a proper SMT game and the translators have done justice to that by using names that will be familiar to gamers. There is the oft dreaded Mudo, instant death spell, which can spell disaster for the unwary, although it won't wipe out the whole team, but you have to be extra careful since there is no option to revive anyone during a battle. I guess this is partly so that you are force to utilise the range of allies. You can swap beasts in and out of the active party during a battle, and even change the order your fighters. This is a neat idea, as, although you don't see the team during a battle, just viewing the enemies, and the order of action is dependent on agility, your foes will generally target the first and second places, so you can arrange things so your strongest characters are at the front and they can also guard any other team member.

Battles are so much fun, with so much going on and so many choices to be made. Do I start a chat, auto battle, swap in an ally and use it to talk to a beast, or make use of its elemental strengths and ability to heal from some magic? After a battle, do I test out some new recruits and see what weird and wonderful allies I might create? There are even more options than these, since there are eggs that can be found in some secret well hidden places, and these can be hatched into beasts, or you might trigger a mutation when fusing, or discover some beasts that you didn't even know existed. (Lucifer! for example) You can collect bones and bring a golem to life, or leave a beast at a training school where it might gain levels. Though, it might decide it's had enough of you and run away!

Coping with unpredictable beast behaviour and having to watch out for the influence of the moon is fine, but there is something that's totally predictable which isn't fine at all The major drawback to this game is that, although the menus are excellent, clear and detailed, the interaction with them isn't. You cannot see all allies' equipment at once and have to select each in turn, and then you end up having to move stuff around, from one to another, when your inventory fills up. To do this, you have to select a character, select the item inventory, select to trade, select someone else, select an item and then, move the item. If the recipient has a full inventory (which you can't see unless you actively choose to do so on a different menu screen,) then you'll have to start all over again. This kind of thing also occurs when shopping, and you're not told exactly who can equip what (trial and error when it comes to equipping beasts). The system works perfectly well, just that it takes time to implement and a fair degree of patience to get the most out of it.

Despite occasional frustration with the slowness of menu navigation, I had a blast playing LB2. The balance of the game is great, since you are restricted in which enemies will talk to you or can be fused, by your level. Not high enough and you get short changed. This gives you a constant incentive to fight for experience, as well recruit new beasts to see what better and bigger ones you can fuse. Even after the end of the game, there are more good things to find. You can continue playing, find some well hidden beasts that are only accessible post game, and discover better and more powerful fusions. I spent probably twice as long playing around with fusions as I did with the main story, and found myself totally addicted. FES and Persona 4 are gathering dust, and I'm off to recruit the boss!


threetimes's avatar
Community review by threetimes (July 21, 2009)

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zippdementia posted July 22, 2009:

This review, in a word, is long. If I were to add another word to that, it would be "too" long. It took me several attempts to actually make my way through this, and that doesn't do you any favours.

However, you have some good things going on here. Your voice is pleasant and easy to follow and you've choosen a nicely obscure and interesting title to review. You just need to get some focus here. For instance, your opening paragraphs about a fan translation could be cut down a lot, while you should keep pretty much everything you say about the battles and the conversations.
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threetimes posted July 23, 2009:

Yeah, I agree. It is too long. I had a shorter version and then kept thinking of more things I wanted to say, and well...said it! Thanks for reading it anyway.
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psychopenguin posted July 26, 2009:

No I would not say it's 'too long'. It's an old obscure RPG with limited information. The more, the merrier.
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aschultz posted July 26, 2009:

If we can remove length and keep the information the same, that's a good thing. In fact, the reader may be more willing to digest the information he gets. Sentences like the following can be pared down:

There was one town where I suddenly ran into some very powerful foes, that would not respond to my charming chat, and they punished me for even attempting to talk by pummeling my team with spells of confusion, so everyone started hitting themselves or each other, and their super powerful attacks quickly wiped us out.

It's fun to read on its own, but too many of it can bog down an otherwise informative review. Brevity without loss of information is tough to achieve, but I think it's doable here. It's hard not to add a little more, then a little more, with a game you really like. But unless you really have it together, the review can sag a bit. This review does, but it still has a lot going for it.
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psychopenguin posted July 26, 2009:

Maybe so, but in the case of an old obscure RPG, I could see the benefit of a longer review. It's always easier to narrow down as opposed to adding on.
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zippdementia posted July 27, 2009:

And in this case, I thought it could've used more narrowing down.

Wow, you really like following me around as a no-man these days. Don't expect a big paycheck.
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psychopenguin posted July 27, 2009:

Are you clueless or just a joke account?
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threetimes posted July 27, 2009:

Er, what? :O

Thanks for the feedback guys. aschulz: I've cut out a couple of paragraphs, and the second one felt pretty redundant anyway. And yes, Psycho_Penguin: I thought that a more detailed account of the game was in order, since it's not something anyone is going to be familiar with. However I think that's right about the dangers of the review sagging and the reader losing interest if it's too lengthy. And given that the concept of demon recruiting and fusing is familiar to anyone who has played an SMT game, I could have taken that into account.

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JANUS2 posted July 27, 2009:

Psycho Penguin was talking to Zipp.

Anyway, I spotted a typo:
"It doesn't punish you for mistakes, although some battles cane be very tough if you don't have the right balance of allies."

I didn't read the first version of this review. The edited version is still long, but I actually didn't realise quite how long (it weighs in at a whopping 10KB!). The reason this didn't bother me too much is that it's a lively, enjoyable review to read. It also has a clear focus despite the mass of information being relayed. I think your enthusiasm for the game probably helped. I know I've found that if I'm only half-interested in a game or don't know exactly what to say then my writing can drift and get caught up in tangents.
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aschultz posted July 27, 2009:

Threetimes--first things first, I like the improvements. I have a general rule I've established for myself recently: If I write a review of 10K or more, I look to cut it by 15%. It feels good to write, and it should, if you know the game.

I think PP's comment about RPGs allowing the longest writing is generally right. However, I think the more worthwhile ideas you have, the harder it gets to cut down. It's tough to look for overlap or how to combine them into new ideas--but then again, in a review where you discuss a game that allows hybridization/synergy of two monsters into one, it makes sense for art to mimic gaming (two demons/sentences can merge to one more powerful one.) If it's not emotionally easy, it's a sign you're taking 2 good ideas against each other, or trying to merge them.

The only problem with fixing one thing in a review, though, is that smaller things pop up. On rereading, I'd be more interested in reading in the introductory paragraph why Last Bible II is not like the Bible, and what it does so well. Your statement about it starting slowly gets in the way of the general enthusiasm of the review. I'd also put the "under the radar" statement near the end, mentioning that at the end, saying, "I'm glad this got a translation, because it shouldn't be so far under the radar." Then the first sentence should be a more specific introduction to the game.

Also, there's still stuff like "The background to the story introduces the game" and that's the sort of thing to hunt down to get that 15% cut that doesn't remove information.

Hope you don't mind the additional criticism, but I think this review is really worth it. It makes me interested in a game I had no clue about.
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JANUS2 posted July 27, 2009:

Actually, I thought the introduction was quite good. I liked the contrast between the idea of it being unknown and fairly ordinary in a superficial sense but actually being a rewarding experience for those who delve deeper. Thinking about it, this angle is what interested me in the review. If it had opened with a tangent about the bible I would have probably stopped reading.
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aschultz posted July 27, 2009:

Hmm...I can see what you mean. I'm not advocating a tangent as in the 2nd paragraph, but my immediate reaction is, "okay, this game has the word 'Bible' in the name so what's up with that?"

I don't necessarily think it's a tangent to say "It establishes its own alternate-Biblical mythology and beast alchemy that helps it depart from the usual..." or something like that. The reference feels dropped in there, and the observation about twelves is a good one, but it just doesn't add to the flow. It may be tricky not to go off on a tangent there, but I think with what threetimes knows about the game, something more relevant and specific can be there, that would really grab me. I have to admit I only read this review in-depth because its critique topic popped up, and after the first couple paragraphs went slowly, it picked up.

I can see what you mean, though. It's tough to judge what people will find interesting all around, and at the same time, the writer wants to establish his own voice. You have to take your chances. I'd be interested what other people would think about mentioning Bible stuff in the first paragraph, and if it might be a bit over general.

That I'm having to describe something tricky to improve the review is an oblique compliment, though.
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threetimes posted July 27, 2009:

I cut the second paragraph out after the comments about length and that explained a little of the series and that it's a Megami Tensei gaiden game. The start of what is now the second paragraph does sound awkward, though I like the introduction the way it is. Thanks for the heads up on that typo, I'll deal with that and the other thing when I've finished arguing about that Mana Khemia review. ;)

I appreciate the feedback, especially as this is the first review of the game in English and I'd like to think it will encourage some new players!
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JANUS2 posted July 27, 2009:

Another thing you need to do is change your forum avatar to ANYTHING that isn't the default picture.
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zippdementia posted July 27, 2009:

Yeah the default picture is one of the most hideous things I've seen in my life.
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aschultz posted July 27, 2009:

I'd say you can maybe take part of a screenshot from this game, then post it to the avatar list(click on the avatar) and then change to that.

You may need to ask for permission to post avatars, but that shouldn't be a problem.

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