Sword of Etheria.
I've actually been planning to review this wonderful, obscure gem of a game for weeks, after seeing someone play it (and then shortly after playing it myself) back in November. It's a game I had never come across before, one of the small hoard of Playstation 2 games that Reecey, who does guest posts for this blog, now sleeps on, and it didn't take long for it to seize both our interests, not least because the opening section has three of the main characters assume Garo-esque armoured forms and engage in Super Sentai-esque team attack. Beautiful.
It was also never released in the US, and although that makes me look upon it a little more favourably anyway, I'm slightly confused as to why. It's a hack and slash RPG, which are always at least moderately popular, on the most successful and popular console in history, and it was made and published by Konami before they looked too deep into the pachinko machines and were driven mad by what they saw. Konami has an American branch, they would have been perfectly able to publish it themselves.
Not to mention, it has an American voice cast. I pegged Johnny Yong Bosch's ever recognisable tones right off the bat, just to start.
|Graphically, it looks like what it is: A 2005 low-budget PS2 game.|
Anyway, set in a world under the thumb of mysterious and powerful gods, Sword of Etheria follows Fiel, a young man whose village is attacked by an envoy of the gods, Almira, former member of the elite group OZ. With the gods' minions taking away children, Fiel - who discovers that he has powers similar to Almira's - frees Almira from her brainwashing and sets off to rescue his sister, Dorothy, and the other children. Along the way, they free Leon, one of Almira's comrades, come into conflict with members of the new OZ, and face off against the gods.
In many ways, it's a fairly typical hack and slash RPG with a focus on air-juggling, not unlike Kingdom Hearts. You have your regular attacks, attacks meant to knock enemies forward and into the air, attacks meant to knock them upwards, dodge and block mechanics, and so on and so forth. The place where the gameplay differs is mostly in how you charge your special attacks - you have a focus meter, charged by having Fiel, Leon, and Almira toss enemies between them like a game of monster volleyball. The longer an enemy remains up in the air, the more the meter charges, allowing Fiel to perform a special move and, at further levels of charge, combination moves with either one or both of his party members.
The combination attacks, incidentally, are really cool, and you'll want to try and get all of them. In total, there are about six that can be accessed in the main game (although you'll only get five in any one playthrough), and a few more in unlockable extra modes.
|Look at this lovely promotional art, though.|
There's also the standard Japanese Action Game Grading System, which I hate. I will never like that - I hated it in Devil May Cry, and I hate it everywhere else, always, forever.
The story is also fairly typical, and while it's always intriguing, it plays out in a mostly predictable fashion: The gods are evil, they want to get their hands on an old creation of theirs with great power, and so on and so forth. The big twist comes in the late game, where evil shadow spiders appear and are revealed to be ancient enemies of the gods, old creations of theirs from another world who drove them away and have been hunting them down - and even that is a twist we've probably all seen before.
But, as with the gameplay, there is a spin on it, that being that the story can play out in multiple different ways, winding towards one conclusion. Having high affection with Leon or Almira will change how they react to Fiel, and change which one gets to be your party member during the 'we've all been separated' phase of the plot; which member of New OZ you defeat first in a three-on-two battle with them will change which order you fight them as lone bosses later, and which one also ends up in your party for a spell.
|Serioiusly, it's so pretty.|
They're small touches, really, but they add considerable replay value to the game as a whole, especially as while they're only minor touches to the story, they do drastically change gameplay for long periods of the game.
Also fun were the constant tokusatsu references. The writers were clearly fans, with several of the enemies based on Showa-era Kamen Rider monsters, and the various members of OZ all essentially forming a Super Sentai team as filtered through Kamen Rider. The Wizard of Oz references were also a lot of fun, not least because they were references to the book rather than the film, which you almost never see.
|The landscapes actually don't look bad in gameplay.|
All in all, this is a game I actually really like - it's not the most original and innovative game, sure, but it knows what it wants to do and it does it very well. I'd like to see a sequel, but that will obviously never happen, since Konami is now terrible. Possibly we'll get a Sword of Etheria pachinko machine for us to hit the lever(!!) on.