Gameplay, Story and Value:
Alundra tells the story of, well, Alundra, an Elvish boy who finds himself shipwrecked in a village of people plagued by dreams. As luck would have, Alundra has the ability to infiltrate peoples’ dreams and save them from whatever it is that’s tormenting them. It’s through the dreams of others, as well as your own, that you learn of a reborn threat, set on destroying the world! Since it’s your face on the box, it’s up to you to stop it!
Along the way you’ll meet kindly blacksmiths, righteous surfer brahs, self-righteous religious zealots, frantic researchers and a host of other characters, both in and out of various dream worlds.
On paper this all sounds pretty fantastic, especially when combined with some of the darker elements of the game’s story. In execution, I don’t know, it never clicked for me. I never found myself wanting to know what happens next, or wanting to better understand the characters. Part of this may very well have to do with the game’s apparent inability to naturally direct the player. There are a few examples of this from the time I played, but the most glaring was an incident involving a cave in at the mines. I was standing at a man’s bedside when suddenly the earth shakes and villagers come barging in to announce the mine has collapsed! I’m told we need to help, so I dart out of the house to see everyone looking north, to the mines, menacing “Bad Stuff Is Afoot” music rolling in the background. One would assume this is where you rush to the mine to help, right?
Well one would assume wrong, as it was only after wandering around the woods for a good 20 minutes that I realized what I was actually supposed to was go to the mayor’s house to check on someone who got hurt during the cave in. Apparently, he was carried from the mines to the village in the time it took me to go from the bedroom to the front door… Yes, you can argue that I should have talked to everybody standing around because Video Games, but it was the game’s directive narrative that led me to make the choices I made there.
Gameplay in Alundra pretty middle of the road. I can’t really say it’s great thanks to a couple of control quirks (dashing is overly cumbersome) but it doesn’t really fail at any level either. Combat never feels exciting, but it’s serviceable, and all the buttons and actions generally make sense. You’ll tackle dungeons both in the waking world as well as the dream world, and they tend to lean more towards logic and problem solving than combat.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The 2D art style in Alundra works very well, and it has aged pleasantly as a result. It’s pretty well established at this point that I love sprite-based games, especially as consoles become more advanced and are able to do more with them. That said, while Alundra is visual fine it’s not particularly exciting. Everything feels very generic and almost even bland at times. I generally love games published by Working Designs as they’re often very fun both visually and in the sound department, but Alundra disappoints in that regard. It doesn’t look bad by any stretch, just not as good as it could have. Even the anime intro feels hobbled together, and is a bit of a let down.
Equally unfortunate is the sound and music department. Now, again, there’s nothing horribly wrong here, but when I think Working Design I think games like Lunar and Dragon Force, full of fun voice acting and great scores, and that’s not really present here. The music is fine, there’s no voice acting but the sound effects are… fine…
Everything is fine.
At the very least Working Design turned in a great localization of the game, as they’re known to do. The writing is cohesive and fun, and helps bring the characters to life, even if I didn’t find them too interesting to begin with.
Fun / Afterthoughts:
I’m having a hard time putting it into words, but for some reason this game just didn’t come together for me. From the get go I felt like I was just going through the motions with this one. The characters were uninteresting, the setting was boring, the story wasn’t engaging. I never felt the drive to move forward and even when I started to get into the action portions of the game, again, I just wasn’t compelled to progress.
Waaaaayyyyy back when I played through Final Fantasy Adventure I knocked it for being too derivative of Legend of Zelda. I can’t quite say the same about this game, as it manages to have its own identity, but the negative feelings I have towards Alundra feel very similar.
I feel like I’m in a bit of a holding pattern with PS1 games, unable to commit to any of them. Breath of Fire III got boring, as did Star Ocean. I was hoping Alundra would break that, but it wasn’t meant to be.