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Torneko: The Last Hope (PlayStation) artwork

Torneko: The Last Hope (PlayStation) review


"Whenever I finish an RPG, I usually wait a year before replaying so that I can forget most of the dungeon layouts. You see, knowing where you are and where to go can be kind of boring. “Design,” as some call the tendency toward static maps, is overrated in this genre. This is why I find roguelike dungeon crawlers to be so addicting. No two floors are the same across different playthroughs, and you never you know what awaits you past the next exit. “Torneko: The Last Hope” refines a particular va..."



Whenever I finish an RPG, I usually wait a year before replaying so that I can forget most of the dungeon layouts. You see, knowing where you are and where to go can be kind of boring. “Design,” as some call the tendency toward static maps, is overrated in this genre. This is why I find roguelike dungeon crawlers to be so addicting. No two floors are the same across different playthroughs, and you never you know what awaits you past the next exit. “Torneko: The Last Hope” refines a particular variation of this genre to perfection.

This is just the game for someone who might be curious about trying their hand at a roguelike, but don’t want to find themselves buried ‘neath the complexity of, say, “Nethack.” Chunsoft, who co-developed Torneko with Matrix Software (Alundra), has distilled this style of role-playing game with their “Mystery Dungeon” brand in the same way Enix distilled “Ultima” and “Wizardry” into “Dragon Quest.” There is minimal menu navigation, the menus themselves are simple to read and flip through, and the exploration interface is like a more rigid Zelda.

You are also given ample time to learn the ropes. The original “Torneko’s Adventure” on the Super Famicom had one ten-level tutorial dungeon before thrusting you into the main 99-level dungeon. (No, you didn’t have to do all 99 floors.) In “Last Hope,” you have to complete four dungeons before you even reach one that allows you to bring items inside. Each of these early stages feature specific item drops and enemy types that are designed to accustom you to certain tactics and elements of gameplay. For example, one dungeon features ghosts that like to retreat into solid walls, and you find a lot of Silver Arrows, which can also pass through walls. The stage-specific drops also become crucial in a different way later on.

As in other “Mystery Dungeon” games, you shortly gain access to storage houses where you can stock items procured from your dungeon expeditions, which you can bring with you to stages in the second half of the main campaign. To my experience, this element of preparation is somewhat unique to this series. Most roguelikes emphasize learning through dying and using this new knowledge in the next cycle. Chunsoft does a fine compromise: Newbies get a little bit of the comfort that comes from control, but there’s still random layouts and hard lessons from failure. (Take it from me: +20 equipment isn’t going to save you from poor skills and judgment.)

The real centerpiece of “The Last Hope,” however, is its equipment customization system. RPGs have tried and failed to make something like this, mostly because of a bad interface and ridiculous pre-requisites. In Torneko, combining weapons and shields is as simple as sprinkling toppings on a Pizza. No, really, it is. The system works like this: The weapon/shield you pick first is the base, and it inherits all charges and properties from the second weapon/shield. That’s all there is to it. You first access this mechanic through “melding jars,” pots that combine the traits of whatever items are inserted. Later on, an old face from another “Mystery Dungeon” game opens an establishment where you can meld items without the use of a jar.

Because powerful equipment can inherit charges (or “plusses”) from any other piece of equipment, you’ll feel compelled to backtrack to older dungeons to pick up loot for melding purposes. (Just don’t combine your weapon with a “pick-axe,” or you’ll be sorry.) Likewise, you’ll want to find items with special abilities to add to your uber-equipment, perhaps something that does double-damage to a certain enemy-type or makes you immune to certain attacks/conditions. One can spend hours gathering materials to make the ultimate weapon/shield, and that time will be well invested. The top floor of the final “magic dungeon” features an enemy that could prove daunting to even someone with buffed up +30 equipment.

The save feature in “Last Hope” is very lenient. Unlike “Shiren the Wanderer” or the first “Torneko’s Adventure,” your file isn’t automatically overwritten when you start a dungeon or reach a new floor. If you die and lose your best stuff, you can reset to where you were before you started the dungeon. If that makes the game sounds less than hardcore,... well, it isn’t. Even with the storage house, the melding jar/shop, and the lenient save system, Torneko can still knock you on your ass. This is as much a dungeon crawler for the hardcore as it is for the not-so-core.

Rating: 10/10

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Community review by joseph_valencia (January 21, 2010)

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