Thursday, June 7, 2012

Impressions: Alcahest (SFC)

Received: May 22nd, 2012 / Written: June 7th, 2012
Year: 1993 | Developed by: HAL Laboratory | Published by: SquareSoft | [ O ]

9/14/13 Update: Click here to read my current thoughts on it
Alcahest for the Super Famicom is quite an interesting experience, and it almost blows my mind that it was never released overseas.  All I knew prior to playing the game was that it was an action-oriented RPG with a limited amount of lives, had several stages, and that you could continue your progress through password, that's it.  But when I began to experience it, boy was I in for a surprise.

Golden dragon: friend or foe?
The last of HAL's two RPGs (their first one being the turn-based Arcana) was my very first Super Famicom cartridge, and I'm very glad I got to play it, for it turned out to be really fun.  The gameplay is very solid, and throughout the experience you would meet different guardians and partners that would help aid you in your quest, each with varied magic and special powers (as long as you had enough magic and special orbs).  Depending on which guardian attribute you chose, if you held down the attack button until the bar is flashing, then you'll amass a different and potent sword attack (if you let go early, the sword attack will still occur, it just won't be as powerful).  The locations are detailed and wonderful to look at (that rain effect during one of the early segments of the third stage, while simple, is so mesmerizing), and several of them are pretty fascinating (one even takes place in space; I'm serious).  Each stage has a different set of items that you have to find and use in order to progress a little forward; for example, in the cavern of the first stage you have to find a pair of boots in order to walk on lava.  The areas are fun to explore, the enemy roster is interesting, and some of the bosses even have two forms.  Even though I couldn't understand what was going on due to all the Japanese dialogue, I felt like I was in another world entirely and it really had me glued in, plus there were several moments that were intense which truly shocked me.  And even if the experience was Japanese, this RPG is surprisingly straightforward considering its genre, and there weren't any "Yes or No" situations nor moments when I had to make a choice through the dialogue, so I didn't have a hard time progressing because of that.  The boss battles are fun, and a lot of the areas are atmospheric in feel and are quite nice.  I should also mention that Alcahest's score, composed by famed Jun Ishikawa, is that good, for there's a wide range of themes all throughout.  Also, you don't see many RPGs that have actual knights riding on horseback, and there are few scenes where that happens, which I have to say is very neat.

Now, with all that said, there are a few reservations I have with the game.  As great as the gameplay is, it could benefit from slightly more responsive dashing controls, for sometimes if you tap to a certain direction sometimes it'll respond and sometimes it won't.  Entering the password can take a bit of time, for you have to be real accurate with certain Japanese characters (my advice: take a snapshot of the password, bit by bit).  As epic as the final boss encounter with Alcahest is (apparently, from what I researched, this is one of those games where it is named after the main villain), it can be a tad time-consuming to take him down without losing a life.  The game's also rather short for an A-RPG, as it can take approximately three to four hours to beat, and it's a shame really, because it's a very, very fun game.  In some aspects, Alcahest is a better game than Arcana is (though that says a lot considering how I feel about the latter), and the ending to this game is far more superior and much more rewarding than that of Arcana's, which was crap.  Out of the four difficulty settings (yes, there are difficulty settings in an A-RPG, hard to grasp!) I've only beaten Easy and Normal, and what gives this game replay value is that depending on which difficulty setting you play under you'll start out with lesser lives, which luckily can be earned by reaching a specific score (Easy starts with 8 lives, Normal 5, Hard 3, and Pro zilch).  When I turned on Alcahest on for the first time on May 31st after I bought the Retro Duo system, I knew I was in for a wild ride, plus it opened the doorway to new possibilites (I can import FC and SFC games now, which has me excited).  I'll admit that while I wish I could comprehend what was happening in the game dialogue-wise, it didn't detract from my enjoyment one bit (I also like how the character portraits would appear if a key character or villain was speaking).  I really enjoyed it, and I couldn't have chosen a better first SFC experience in cartridge format.  In the end, I was very impressed with HAL's attempt at crafting an A-RPG.

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