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Posted on Sep 29th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Alundra, PS1, PSX, PlayStation, RPG, Adventure

Alundra is a game that I think I would have really liked as a kid.  Unfortunately, I don't recall ever hearing about this game at the time, so I must have never crossed paths with it through friends, magazines, or rental stores.  It is usually labeled as either an action-RPG and/or a Zelda clone, and, being a huge fan of both of these types of games, this seems like a title that would have been right up my alley.  I have owned a copy for a few years, and it has been on my mind for a while as something I should really get around to playing, so I've finally decided to pop the disc in and see how it holds up. 

An action-adventure/action-RPG title for the Sony PlayStation, Alundra is the first game to be developed by Matrix Software.  It was released in April '97 in Japan by Sony, December '97 in North America by Working Designs, and finally June '98 in Europe by the now defunct Psygnosis, at the time a subsidiary of Sony.  The game was met with positive critical reception but was likely overshadowed by Final Fantasy VII which was released only a few months prior in North America.

The story of Alundra begins with our titular main hero aboard a ship known as the Klark, where he has a dream in which he is told that he must save the villagers of Inoa from a demon named Melzas.  The Klark is then suddenly caught in a large storm, the ship is destroyed, and Alundra is found washed up on the shore of Inoa by one of the villagers.  Shortly after arriving in Inoa, it is discovered that Alundra is a Dreamwalker and must attempt to help the villagers who are being haunted by disturbing, and sometimes fatal, nightmares.  Melzas is of course the cause of the villagers' troubles, and it is up to Alundra to destroy him once and for all and restore peace to the land.

The dialog can be a bit corny at times, but overall it's well done.

Being more complex than what many have come to expect from this genre, the story and characters of Alundra are well done and keep the game interesting.  While it can be fairly predictable overall, there are still quite a few unique ideas at play, which helps keep the game's story from feeling derivative.  The characters you encounter in Inoa all have distinct personalities, and you almost feel as though you are getting to know these people to an extent.  They also have many interesting things to say, as opposed to just repeating uninteresting stock lines like in many other games, and the townsfolk will all have different lines of relevant dialog after an important story event takes place.

Alundra tackles many mature themes rarely scene in video games at the time, such as depression, religion, and death.  Many of the villagers of Inoa die throughout the course of the game, and while they are primarily supporting characters, it can be shocking to see the innocent villagers killed or murdered.  Religion is also an important focus for the story, with an overzealous priest's misplaced faith being the primary source of the evil that plagues Inoa.  There is even a short scene where a young girl watches her mother being burned at the stake as a punishment for heresy.  While the overall presentation feels more in line with other more lighthearted adventure games of the time, Alundra's darker story and themes are a welcome departure from the norm.

Inoa isn't exactly a cheery place.

The gameplay is reminiscent of classic Legend of Zelda games and includes similar gameplay elements, such as combat, puzzle-solving, and even a decent amount of platforming.  Combat is pretty typical action-RPG/hack & slash fair, with a large assortment of different enemies for you to cut down.  There isn't much weapon variety; however, each weapon feels like it has a unique purpose due to their applications outside of combat.  There are also a few different magic spells in the game, but magic power is extremely limited, so I very rarely found myself using magic and usually saved it for boss fights.  Personally, I found combat to be fairly unremarkable as a whole.  It is not bad by any means, but because enemies typically get knocked back by your attacks and have a relatively longer recovery period than in other comparable games, combat seems to lack a satisfying flow.  Since there is no leveling system or experience points in the game, there is also less incentive to kill enemies.  As a result, I often found myself running past enemies instead of killing everything in my path, which is a stark contrast to how I normally play these types of games.

The boss fights in Alundra are a highlight of the game.  Most bosses are challenging but always feel fair.  All of these encounters feel very unique with only one fight being a recycled version of an earlier battle.  These fights often took me to my limits, requiring me to make use of most of the restorative items I had stockpiled to that point.  While I did find some of the bosses to be fairly easy, the more difficult ones were a joy to fight.  They were challenging to the point that they were thrilling and intense, but not so challenging that they became frustrating, and as a result they were incredibly satisfying to take down.  My biggest gripe with the boss fights is that the later bosses require far too many hits to defeat, so they basically just become longwinded endurance rounds.

Boss fights are unique and varied.

The platforming on the other hand proved to be frustrating more often than fun.  The problem with the platforming isn't so much related to level design, controls, or anything like that, it has more to do with the perspective from which the game is shown.  Depth perception and scale are constant concerns when attempting any platforming in Alundra, and it is near impossible to gauge if you will be able to make certain jumps without attempting them first.  Since this is a 2D game trying to emulate a 3D space, it can be difficult to tell if certain platforms are above, below, adjacent to, in front of, or behind whatever platform you are currently standing on.  This can lead to a considerable amount of trial-and-error, which will also lead to a fair bit of backtracking if you're dealing with platforms high in the air.

Puzzle-solving is also a large gameplay aspect of Alundra.  Dungeons are filled to the brim with a healthy variety of differing headscratchers to test your wit.  Many of these are well done and serve as a great challenge to the player.  However, there were more than a few puzzles that I felt were unfairly constructed, being too obtuse to figure out without the use of a guide or just relying too heavily on trial-and-error.  Some puzzle elements, namely the floor switches that Alundra must jump on to activate, are also overused and become tiresome to deal with late in the game.  Overall, the puzzles are a good addition to the game, but they can become repetitive and feel a bit unintuitive at times.  Be sure to have a guide handy if you're impatient.

A good example of a puzzle room.

Exploration is an important key element in Alundra.  Thorough players will be rewarded with various items that will help them throughout their quest.  There are a large number of Life Vessels (think heart containers in Zelda) scattered throughout the land, and also many Gilded Falcons to find, which can be traded in about halfway through the game to earn some helpful rewards.  Key items, locations, and even secrets will usually be hinted at by villagers, so speaking to everyone often can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction if you are stumped.  There are also signposts scattered throughout the world, and these are very helpful for pointing you in the right direction of important locations.  Defeating enemies, opening chests, and cutting down bushes (yes, just like in Zelda) will also net you quite a bit of money, known as Gilders in Alundra, however there isn't much to spend your hard-earned cash.  There are two shops in the game, and, aside from a couple of upgrades that you will likely purchase very early on, their inventory is limited to restorative items, and the game is very generous in doling these out anyway.

The score for Alundra was composed by Kohei Tanaka, who has mostly worked on anime and Japanese movies throughout his career, but has also done a fair amount of scoring for video games, working on titles such as Paladin's Quest for the SNES and Gravity Rush for the Vita.  The soundtrack for Alundra is well done, comprised of a large variety of good tracks that fit each environment and scene appropriately.  Most of the individual tracks are also fairly long, so most of the music won't end up becoming repetitive over time.  A couple of the tracks in the later dungeons felt uninspired and quickly started to grate on my nerves, but overall Alundra contains a quality soundtrack that many people will enjoy.

Kohei Tanaka even makes a cameo appearance in the game!

In an era when most games were making the jump to 3D polygons, Alundra stands out from the pack by using traditional 2D hand-drawn sprites.  The result is a game that has aged gracefully and looks just as good today as it did upon release.  Character models and environments look great and are highly detailed.  There is a large variety of unique environments in the game, which helps distinguish one area from another and helps make new areas feel fresh.  My only real complaint with the game graphically is that the color palette is primarily made up of earth tones rather than vibrant colors, which can lead to a somewhat drab appearance, but overall the game looks great. 

Alundra is a good game that I definitely enjoyed overall, but there are a few issues that would prevent me from giving this game a wholehearted recommendation.  While the flaws that the game has aren't gamebreaking in their own right, they do combine to drag the overall experience down a bit.  It is also longer than it really needs to be, clocking in at approximately 30 hours for a single playthrough, so it will likely wear out its welcome before you reach the end.  I was really invested in this game for a good chunk of my playthrough, but unfortunately the final third started to become a slog.  I truly believe that if the game's length was in the 15-20 hour range and some of the rougher edges had been smoothed out, Alundra would be remembered fondly as an all-time classic for the PlayStation, rather than relegated to its under-the-radar hidden gem status.  However, many people will likely appreciate Alundra's darker tone when compared to other similar games' more lighthearted approach, and if you have the patience and are up to the challenge, Alundra can be a great and rewarding experience that is well worth checking out.  Alundra's price point on the secondary market seems to be on the rise, with complete copies going for anywhere from $50-$100 on eBay.  It is also available via the PlayStation Network through the PSone Classics service.

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The timing of this review was nice. Matrix Software came from Climax, and I just talked about Dark Savior from them.

I've been wanting the first Alundra for years, and I finally got the second one from Santa.
@SirPsycho:  Yep, I noticed that from your review.  I'm still looking for a copy of Dark Savior myself.  After playing Alundra, I'm definitely curious to try out Dark Savior, as well as Landstalker and Lady Stalker.
Really liked this article.  I remember very little about this game (for some reason), and haven't played it in a coon's age, likely because of my engrossment in Final Fantasy VII.  I do remember the packaging, which was probably my first "premium" game, and definitely my first Working Designs game.  I don't know why, but I never really linked it with the Zelda series, for whatever reason, but I really want to play it now.  I think it might be time to crack out that copy and give it a play.
I really wanted to like this game... I played it all the way through, and ended up selling it. Can't really put my finger on what I didn't like though.
I've never heard of this game until I checked out one of those "hidden gems" lists. Being an action/RPG lover, I bought it with high hopes. I haven't finished it (I got stuck about 3 hours in). It's okay. However, I feel like if I played it in the 90's, I would think it's one of the greatest games ever.
The price of this game, like many PS1 RPGs, has skyrocketed recently.  I bought it for under $20 a few months ago and saw it for $60 a few days ago....  I'll probably grab Alundra 2 while it's still low.  Nice write-up Disposed. Looking forward to playing this one.
This series has always been on my radar but I've never actually played it more than a couple hours when I was a kid. I didn't get into it then, but think I'd like to give it another go now. Working Designs was one of my favorite localization studios and I really like the art style. At some point I ended up with a copy of Alundra 2 but haven't seen a copy of the first in a while. Eventually I'll get a copy and give it another chance, or give the digital copy a go.

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