Alundra 2: A New Legend Begins

I think I paid about a tenner for this one on eBay purely on recognition of the name as one I’d owned before. Turns out I actually owned the first one originally which I gather is the better of the two but, name aside, they are pretty unrelated. I probably paid over the odds, actually, but it’s a nice clean copy and we already know I have a problem with impulse buys. These days I try and get around this by keeping a beautifully maintained excel sheet with tabs for each console and a list of games owned and games wanted with researched average selling prices on eBay. Keeps me busy and means I can tell at a glance if I’m getting a good deal. That said, while I remember owning it, I’m not convinced I ever played it. It’s a sort of 3D platformer/action rpg/puzzle game, and this is a genre I don’t have much history with. I have a load of Zelda in my collection to play, for example, but it’s not something I encountered much when I was younger largely because I was not a Nintendo-baby. (I was a Sega geek first and swiftly converted to Sony.)

01 Cover shot

I set this up to load before I go pottering about to make tea and settle down. This is a habit I’ve gotten into as some games give me trailers and intros which I like and otherwise skip straight past. The intro to this one gets me all excited: A kingdom fallen, an imposter (okay, a wooden dummy) on the throne, and who is the nation’s only hope? The young Princess Alexia! Yessss! I think. A female protagonist! Yeah. No. It then goes on to tell me how Alexia has set out to track down a famed pirate-hunter, Flint, who she believes is the nation’s only hope. (Boo hiss.)

So basically instead of playing a princess (which on reflection might be a blessing in disguise — this ain’t no Suikoden), I get to play an oft-favoured trope as a young orphan boy out to get revenge for the death of his parents. Or something. Maybe he’s actually not out for revenge, but he looks mean enough. This is me:

02 Protagonist

Look at that grumpy face!

So, with illusions swiftly shattered I boot up and start playing. My tale begins with me ninjing (totally a word) aboard an airship run by cute little robots with turning keys in their backs. Wait… did I say cute? I meant creepy. And here I encounter some more cut n paste characters. We have a pirate, complete with eyepatch, bandana and hook-replacement for a hand; said pirate has a son and daughter. The daughter is a foot-stampy airheaded blonde who don’t take shit from no one and delivers all her lines at a pitch that would make dogs weep — later you even witness a bit of domestic violence which seems to always go worse for him than her — and the son is a scrawny little bespectacled nerd who <3s science and gets regarded by the other two as, well, a nerd. You’re really bowling me over with your originality here, Activison…

03 The terrible twins

I have to say, this game nearly fails me at the first hurdle. (Or I fail it, if you prefer.) I manage to die twice in the first ten minutes at the same boss battle. The controls are less precise than I’d like and the boss battles (having by the time of writing this played a fair few) seem overly frustrating. As with many games of this ilk, the trick is patience and trial and error. Work out the weak spot or sweet spot to hit and then dodge and dive your way around the screen waiting for appropriate moments to strike. So having wasted half an hour on the prologue and feeling like a clumsy idiot, I nearly put it down and move onto Broken Sword (which is next up on my list). Instead I resolve to give it one last shot, make some more tea and go at it again, and this time I prevail.

At this point, the game actually takes me by surprise. It makes me feel something. As the ship starts to go down over the ocean and you’re flung into the sea, you land close by a peaceful whale basking near the surface. And then a skyful of broken ship parts including a huge steampunk key (akin to the little turning keys in the backs of the robot pilots) fall down after you and with a wail of distress (genuinely no pun intended) this animal sinks into the depths of the ocean with a great piece of metal lodged into its back. I don’t like this game, I think. And then this happens:

04 Steampunk animalbots

Formerly-inoffensive humble whale grows mechanical parts, gains a narwhal horn and jet propulsion, and re-emerges like some super-powered creepy-unnerving borg drone. Turns out this game is darker than I was going to give it credit for.

Intrigued I play on and it isn’t long before I am tracked down by the aforementioned Princess in Pink who turns out to be a petulant little madam if ever I met one. (Even her jousting close helmet is hot pink.) And just in case we were under any illusions about her role in the game, we get a slow-mo feet-to-fringe twirl with some idle dalliance on her impossibly long legs.

05 Slow mo princess

Seriously — side by side my protagonist’s eyes come about level with her waist.

So, serendipitous as this meeting is (they never explain quite how she found me in this poky little village where I was being rehabilitated after half-drowning, being attacked by a borg-whale and washing up on the shore) I am at least given the illusion of choice with regard to how I’d like to proceed:

06 The illusion of choice

Piss off Princess, go and find a champion your own size to hide behind.

…which is not, obviously, the answer I give. So off we go adventuring together.

I learn that bushes are like piñatas and that if you whack ’em, sometimes money falls out. This almost makes up for the lack of loot in this game. (Nowt but herbs and puzzle pieces from here to eternity.) I also get to practise my platforming and puzzle-solving skills with spike pits and movable blocks and giant red buttons and the like. And I get introduced to the game map which, I have to say, is actually pretty adorable.

07 Maps

The soundtrack for this game is, sadly, not great. It’s not terrible and it’s not intrusive, but I think I have been spoilt by so many really good game soundtracks that I pay much closer attention to it these days. Every so often, though, a few bars remind me of something from Nobuo Uematsu’s FFVIII score and I guess they were more or less contemporaries, both released around the 1999 mark.

The power behind the big bad in this game is a little yoda-like fellow called Mephisto who is the one responsible for the magic/science that animates the robot-drone-steampunk-borg things. He, too, has been taking his style guide from many an evil genius before him, and when I meet him, he’s sporting a billowy cape and a pet kitty-cat which he strokes sinisterly at me while we talk (despite the fact we’re out in the middle of the desert somewhere).

08 Blofeld

And half of me is like Aww. Kitty. And half of me is like Whatever, Blofeld. But once again I’m caught off-guard at another bout of unexpected animal abuse as the green goblin plucks a key out from under his cape and stabs little Kitty Fantastico in the spine with it. This is my face —> O_O

09 Kitty fantastico

And kitty morphs into a giant mutant-panther for another rather frustrating boss fight.

In some ways, I find this game very disarming. The script and the voice acting are hammy, the colours garishly bright and the majority of the interactions quite pantomimey and childish, but the story itself, like the best kind of fairytale, is quite dark and quite good. Much of the humour is very visual and in a very Whedon-like style, there’s liberal use of awkward pauses and wordless exchanges of looks and it communicates much more successfully on these terms than it does with dialogue.

Then again, sometimes it just likes to make me cringe:

11 Set upon by hoodlums

Hoodlums!

Even the side quests are… interesting:

12 Sidequests

It seems there’s actually about 20-25 hours of gameplay here and I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished it up. But, I also haven’t died. (Again.)

I’ve put the game down about five hours in surprised at how happily I’ve been carrying on despite our rough start. At this point I am platformed out for a bit but I did discover that idle friendly fire is at least acknowledged in this game, (seems Alexia isn’t too impressed when you break urns of water over her head) and that my high-speed ducking, dodging and jumping button-mashing dexterity ain’t what it used to be.:

15 Sass

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