Shortly after Final Fantasy VII made its splash on the Playstation, Matrix Software, a subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment, developed Alundra, which many proclaimed to be a Zelda killer and one of the best action RPGs to appear on the system, localized by Working Designs the same year as its Japanese release in 1997. I unfortunately didn’t experience such a game given its flaws, such as a mediocre battle system, some really irritating puzzles, and a neglected storyline.

Alundra, to begin, bears a battle system most any Zelda game would feature, with the title hero gaining a few weapons and tools to help him battle the enemy. As he receives weapon upgrades, he does gain charge attacks, though most, I noticed, were fairly ineffective and not very helpful. As with the Zelda games, Alundra doesn’t gain experience from killing enemies, only the occasional bit of money and life-recovering doohickey. Speaking of life, Alundra increases his life and magic meters from finding special items spread throughout the world. Yes, he has magic, as well, although I found little use for it, especially given that I could only find two meager upgrades to his MP meter. The boss fights aren’t particularly special or very strategic, either, mostly requiring the player to track a boss’s pattern, keep up with it, and attack when able to. In the end, the battle system doesn’t do a great job in separating Alundra from other ARPGs, and is mediocre at best.

What’s frightening, though, is that combat is actually a pretty decent diversion from the utter hell of solving Alundra’s many puzzles, some of which are close to impossible if you don’t use a guide of some sort. There are a few decent ones, though, but the ability to jump opens the window to some pretty lousy jumping puzzles that require near-perfect reflexes on part of the player. The placement of save points throughout the game is also quite horrendous, with the player at times needing to go for well over an hour without being able to save. Alundra also lacks maps of any sort, often forcing the player to waste time figuring out where to go next in the world or in a dungeon. The game also leaves players in the dark about the sidequests, such as the collection of Gilded Falcons, which just sit in their inventory, daring them to guess what the devil they’re there for. The rest of the menus aren’t bad, though, with everything compacted onto two screens. Still, interaction could’ve definitely been better.

Alundra, more or less, is a generic Zelda clone, with one of the only real nods towards creativity being the protagonist’s ability to walk into dreams.

Alundra, of course, is the game’s protagonist, sailing on a ship that eventually wrecks ashore in a land where the town of Inoa suffers from an evil named Melzas that haunts the dreams of the populace, and, given his ability to walk into dreams, Alundra sees through their problems and travels across the land in the bargain to explore dungeons, solve puzzles, and defeat a few random nemeses. The plot, while more dramatic than your typical Zelda story, really takes a backseat to the endless traveling of the world and dungeon crawling, and does involve many seemingly random fetch quests, some involving walking into dreams. Character development, except maybe in case of Alundra’s female equivalent, Meia, is also largely neglected. In the end, Alundra features yet another RPG plot with some nice ideas but weak execution.

Much of the music, though, is actually pretty nice, such as the themes of Inoa and its surroundings, not to mention the victory theme when Alundra defeats a boss, and while the dungeon tracks aren’t as strong, and a bit repetitive, they do help enhance the mood of the game, and overall, this is one place where the game where doesn’t fall entirely flat on its face.

The 2-D graphics are nice, as well, with wholly believable scenery and decently proportioned character sprites, though they only face four directions. There wasn’t a whole lot of recycling of character and monster sprites as far as I saw, and the few anime cutscenes are nice, as well, though the fact that Alundra’s a redhead in the anime but a blonde within the game is a bit maddening. Still, Alundra does look pretty good, and is very much on par with the best-looking RPGs of the previous generation.

While the combat aspect of Alundra isn’t too hard, the puzzles can be maddening at times, making the game a bit on the evil side of difficult overall. Still, the title isn’t too long, taking anywhere from twenty to thirty hours to complete.

Despite the ovation it received from many upon its release, I found Alundra to be hardly the pinnacle of gaming it was hyped to be. It’s better than some of Matrix Software’s other offerings, such as Dual Hearts on the Playstation 2, and I’m certain Alundra’s own sequel, but it’s pretty difficult to recommend nonetheless, unless you can find it at a discount price—and, of course, like puzzles.

The Good:
+Good graphics and music.
+Decent localization.

The Bad:
-Generic battle system.
-Puzzles can be taxing.
-No dungeon maps.
-Poor direction on how to advance.
-Paper-thin plot.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 4/10
Story: 3/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 2/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 5/10

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