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Alundra 2
Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Matrix Games
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
The original Alundra consisted entirely of hand-drawn 2D graphics. Alundra 2 is real-time rendered 3D, both characters and locations. And that's about as similar as the games ever get, really. At first, the 3D engine used in Alundra 2 is more annoying than useful, but then you find that turning the camera so that you're always jumping either left or right is an extreme boon to gameplay, and you actually start to like the irate bugger. Most areas let you have the angle in any of the eight cardinal and mid-cardinal directions, and you can get a Compass early in the game that's really only useful if you're trying to remember which side of a pit has a little ledge to land on. Sure, there are some pretty serious clipping issues, but that's almost to be expected. The characters themselves, with the noted exception of Flint's shield, rarely clip through anything, but you'll find yourself looking inside the Vast Black of buildings on more than one occasion. Because the game is entirely 3D instead of 2D, the jumping puzzles are a good bit more intricate than in the first game, and the graphics not quite as detailed. But they're not terrible, either.

Alundra 2 goes the route of Metal Gear Solid (although not with nearly as much panache) in using the in-game engine for all of the cutscenes. This would be great for consistency, except that every time the voice acting kicks in, the game has to go to a 'Now Loading' screen, and when it bounces back to the normal walk-around-and-use-text-boxes mode, it goes back to the damned Load screen. It gets annoying after a while, but I found myself daydreaming during the load times anyway.

One thing I must say I really like about Alundra 2 is the style of the 'android' characters. The little turning crank in their backs looks almost comical at first, but gets more sinister as the game progresses. And seeing a cat transform into an evil fire-breathing Sphinx-like attack demon is always very cool.

The sound effects are decent, with sword swipes and booms and whatnot. The music is decent, if unmemorable -- I played the game for almost ten hours today, but I couldn't tell you a note from a single song in it. The voice acting is typical over-the-top American style, nowhere near the quality of Metal Gear Solid, but nowhere near Resident Evil either. Thankfully, Flint doesn't speak, as most American game publishers have this thing about using whiny 14-year-old boys with a chip on their shoulder for every teenaged male. (See Grandia for a good example of this.) He does the Chrono-style nods and shakes, which makes him a bit more endearing.

Er, well, remember Alundra? The island being controlled by a demon that was attacking through dreams? Well, er, forget all that. Alundra 2 has nothing to do with the first one, other than that the main characters are prone to shipwrecks and the games themselves share the same name. I'm not sure what kind of marketing ploy this was -- Alundra was a Working Designs product, which almost by definition tends to be niche.

Thankfully, the gameplay itself is there, or at least enough there for you to enjoy it. You're Flint, a pirate hunter who pissed off the current regime one too many times and is now wanted dead or alive. Along the way, you join up with the Princess, whose father has been effectively ousted by the Evil Dudes(tm), and she conscripts you to save the kingdom. Alundra 2is full of cliched plots. You have the purple-haired female leader of the pirates (nee Final Fantasy V), the evil magician who slavishly follows the will of the top guys... to a point (nee Final Fantasy VI and many others), and you've got damned annoying puzzles (nee the first Alundra... okay, so there are -some- similarities). But it's all damned fun, if unoriginal. I remember the first time I entered the ship that crashes at the beginning of the game, post-impact, and the rooms that I had been in were at a 90 degree angle. Simple, yet very effective.

The game is not perfect, however. It touts mini-games, and some of these (such as the cart ride) are reminiscent of that damned level in Battletoads that no one ever got through. It's nowhere near as hard, but it's still something of a pain in the ass. Thankfully, you can always start back at a 'checkpoint' if you die in a mini-game, so you don't have to start all over. The mini-games themselves are really nothing special, but they do break up the neverending puzzles.

Another problem I had with it was the fact that magic didn't show up until considerable hours into the game, and even after that you only had one type of magic for quite a while. But these aren't damning issues, and the game is still fine without them. Additionally, Activision has done a bang-up job of translating the game, keeping it both as true to the Japanese and pleasantly American at the same time. It's not Working Designs, but it's close, and certainly much closer than any of Square's recent efforts.

Don't let them fool you. If you'd like to keep your sanity, play the game on 'Easy.' The enemies will stomp all over your dead carcass if you play it in Normal. Even Easy is a bitch, but that's mainly because of the puzzles more than the combat (although a few bosses ate my lunch for a few rounds before I figured out the trick.) Thankfully, the boss fights aren't anywhere near as interminable as they were in the first Alundra. You'll find yourself throwing the controller down because of a few of the later puzzles, but you can tough it out. And the jumps aren't as unforgiving as they were in the first Alundra. Honest.

Game Mechanics:
Once you understand how it works, the game's controls are very tight. Use Dual Shock, if only because diagonals are easier to deal with on it than with the D-Pad. The mixed theme struck me as odd, however. It's ostensibly a kid's game, despite the Teen rating, as the humor will show, but the method of turning people into 'androids' is painful even to me, if only because of its techno-magic schtick.

I'm not going to say Alundra 2 is the gods' gift to gamers. It's not. But it's a damned pleasant little diversion, and I recommend it as a rental at least, and maybe even a purchase if this sort of game's your thing. Chances are, you won't be disappointed.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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