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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (430)

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Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5
Immortals: Fenyx Rising 4.5/5
Boot Hill Bounties 4/5
Pathfinder: Kingmaker 2/5
Borderlands 3 4/5
Horizon: Zero Dawn 3.5/5
World of Final Fantasy 4/5
ReCore 3/5
I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5
The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5
Tyranny 3.5/5
Pine 2/5

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Treasure of the Rudras ( Rudra no Hihou )   Super Nintendo (SNES) 

The Beginning of the End for Squaresoft    2/5 stars

In 1996, Squaresoft released their final SNES game: “Treasure of the Rudras” (“ToR”). Sadly, the company’s North American and European divisions had already moved onto the greener pastures of the PlayStation 1, leaving Western gamers to wonder at what could have been during the few moments they weren’t feverishly building hype for the upcoming release of “Final Fantasy 7.” Nearly a decade later, between 2003 and 2006, the incredible fanslators and hackers of the Aeon Genesis team did what Square neglected to do and released a fully translated patch for Square’s SNES swansong. Unfortunately for those who spent the better part of a decade pining for SNES-style Square to return in the face of increasingly cinematic and, quite frankly, poor PS1 RPGs, Aeon Genesis’ fanslation of “ToR” didn’t reveal the company’s last SNES game to be Squaresoft’s final glory, but instead Squaresoft’s first step down the road to ruin.

“ToR” is a very attractive game. Released on a platform that didn’t really do polygons at all, Squaresoft stuck with 2D sprite-based graphics, and really amped them up beyond anything they’d ever done before. Character sprites are large, organic-looking, and detailed when compared to the more formulaic sprites used in ‘Final Fantasy’ games. On top of that, both characters and enemies have loads of little animations and movements, which is far more impressive than even previous high water marks like “Final Fantasy 6” (which used static enemy images) and “Chrono Trigger.” Environments are likewise impressively detailed, with plenty of layering. The only real step-backwards visually is the almost complete lack of Mode-7 visuals while traveling. Of course, this is largely a result of the game’s incredibly linear nature that never really gives the player the option of freely traveling the world.

Like the visuals, the audio is quite impressive. While composer Ryuji Sasai wasn’t quite able to hit the incredibly high bars set by Uematsu and Mitsuda in Square’s more well-known and beloved games, he did a good enough job of emulating the ‘Square OST Style’ that the soundtrack, which boasts 58 discrete tunes, didn’t sound like the work of a second-stringer.

Technically, “ToR” is what one would expect from a SNES game. It just works, it doesn’t crash, and if there are any bugs, they’re the type of thing a dedicated bug hunter would have to uncover, rather than things that get in the players’ faces and ruin the overall experience.

“ToR” was, however, written by Squaresoft second-stringers and co-directed by the rather quirky Keita Amemiya – a TV director best known for the hammy ‘Kamen Rider’ super sentai franchise – which shows in every aspect of the game’s story. While the world mythology in “ToR” is based largely on Hindu mythology, the execution, dialog, character development (or rather, complete lack thereof), plot, and overall narrative are an absolute drag. This isn’t Aeon Genesis’ fault: They made an excellent fanslation of a game that many at the time thought would be impossible to localize even officially due to its magic system (more on that later). Aeon Genesis just had incredibly poor material to work with.

“ToR” follows the semi-intertwined stories of four characters: Sion, a knight whose sole driving goal is to become the strongest; Surlent, a foppish archaeologist who is trying to uncover the secrets of the past, despite the fact that everyone in the world, down to the lowliest NPC already seems to know them; Riza, a tomboyish redheaded girl from a small village who is beaten over the head with her status as ‘Chosen One’ at every opportunity; and Dune, a one-dimensional thief/treasure-hunter who seems to be tacked-onto the game’s narrative as an afterthought. Each of these four characters gets their own scenario in a manner similar to the scenarios in “Dragon Quest 4” or “Live A Live,” but with the option to hop between Sion, Surlent, and Riza from the loading screen, with Dune’s scenario serving as an epilogue that only becomes available once the other three scenarios have been played all the way through.

“ToR” takes place in a world covered by pollution. This world is razed clean of all (well, most) intelligent life every 4000 years in an event known as the Great Cycle. “ToR” opens 16 days away from the end of the current Great Cycle, in which humans are the dominant species, and our four heroes (as well as 10 extra companions divided up among them) set out to stop the end of the world in their own way. Sion, in his quest to be the strongest, wants to beat down a cult that worships the incoming god of destruction – the titular Rudra – in an attempt to stop the Rudra’s coming. Surlent ends up encountering the Rudra (proving Sion’s activities utterly pointless) as his archaeological investigations lead him to the deepest and most mysterious locations in the world. Riza, meanwhile, plays Captain Planet and travels around the world activating ancient machinery designed by the Danans (the first intelligent race wiped out by the Rudra 20,000 years ago) to clean-up the polluted planet, which they apparently foresaw in their Danan Prophecies, which every schoolchild must learn, as every NPC loves to talk about them, despite the fact that nobody, not even any kings or governments, seem willing to do anything.

The titular Rudras are destroyer gods that come for each intelligent species on the planet in a cycle, but what of the titular Treasures? These are magical Jade gemstones that exist as parts of the previous four Rudras’ fossilized bodies, and which, by contrived/unexplained circumstanced, find their way into the bodies of the four main heroes, granting them more power than an ordinary human… or so it would seem, as the Jades don’t really seem to do a whole lot more than act as McGuffins.

Ultimately, “ToR’s” story is an incoherent mish-mash of environmentalism, racism, and deicide that never really goes anywhere, features a completely one-dimensional cast with zero character development, is riddled with plot holes, and ends on a big ugly cliffhanger. It was a struggle to sit through it for roughly 40 hours.

“ToR’s” lead designer, Akitoshi Kawazu, worked on early ‘Final Fantasy’ titles, and his lack of creativity really shows in “ToR’s” gameplay. “ToR” is a bog standard – and I mean BOG in the boggiest sense – turn-based RPG. Up to four characters can be in the party at once (and no scenario provides more than three companions for the lead anyway), they can be in the front row (for melee) or the back row (for ranged/casters), and every character has access to the same basic commands: Attack, Magic, Item, Defend, and Escape. And that’s it. “ToR’s” characters are not only bland and one dimensional from a story perspective, but also from a gameplay perspective, as none of them have unique skills or abilities to differentiate themselves from the pack. Sure, each character does have a specific role, and the weapons and armor they can equip only help to pideonhole them into said role, but that’s the extent of the differences between characters.

“ToR” tries to prop up its extremely bland and uninspired gameplay with its magic system. The Mantra system allows the player to input text to create spells. Throughout the game, the player learns the basic ins-and-outs of Mantra crafting, from the words for elements to prefix/suffix/affix words that change the base words in specific ways. Enemies also typically cast Mantra-based spells, allowing the player to write down the magic words used against them and bring that particular magic into play themselves, like an amped-up version of Strago’s Blue Magic from “Final Fantasy 6.” The player must enscribe Mantras in their spellbook outside of battle, however, and the Mantra book doesn’t have nearly enough pages to record all of the specific elemental spells a player might want to have on hand. The Mantra system was the original reason “ToR” didn’t get localized, as Square seemed afraid of tackling the task of transforming the original Katakana into the Latin alphabet, yet Aeon Genesis managed the task splendidly, even including the huge number of ‘rule-breaking’ Mantras that result from inputting certain English words.

Elements play huge role in “ToR’s” battles. Most elements have an opposite: Fire/Water, Thunder/Wind, Light/Dark (though for some reason Earth and Void do not), and using an element against a target with the opposite element causes it to do significantly more damage. Likewise, using an element against a target of the same element causes it to do significantly less damage. Nearly every boss battle in the game revolves around knowing the boss’ elemental defense and elemental attack, then equipping the party with elemental-aligned armor and weapons to match their defense to the enemy’s attack and make the party’s offense the opposite of the enemy’s defense. This type of preparation is, naturally, entirely reliant on either trial-and-error (fight the boss, get wasted by an elemental spell, reload and fight the boss again better prepared) or a strategy guide, which is incredibly poor design. In general, I never found casting elemental attack spells to be particularly useful, as they simply drain MP at a ridiculous rate. Instead, I found that loading my spellbook with buff and debuff spells was the way to easy victory (the Mantra that allows a character to score automatic critical hits for a few turns is OP). It also bears mentioning that, because elemental alignment is far more important than a few points in attack or defense, it is essential for players to hoard their old, ‘obsolete’ weapons and armor in the event they come upon a boss that requires specific elemental alignments that the ‘best’ current weapons and armor don’t provide.

Yes, “ToR” does provide some decent opportunities to strategize for players who enjoy that type of thing (read: RPG fans), but ultimately overreliance on ‘predict the element’ for boss battles, the lack of individual spellbooks for each character, and tedious random encounters with enemies that have too damn much health make “ToR” an uninteresting chore to play. Not even the ability to craft Mantra spells from magic words (or discover hidden magic words via trial-and-error) is enough to save this game from itself.

The fact that we in the West were spared the agony of playing “Treasure of the Rudras” on our SNESes was a not-so-obvious mercy. It spared us the sadness of seeing Squaresoft fail for a few more years, allowing us to live in a delusional world where every Square game was “Final Fantasy 6” or “Chrono Trigger.” “Treasure of the Rudras” doesn’t live up to either of those classics, as neither the pleasing presentation nor the novel Mantra magic system can prop-up the atrocious story, one-dimensional characters, and bland combat.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 1/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 2/5



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