Elminage Original can best be thought of as a poor man’s Etrian Odyssey. All the typical first-person dungeon crawling elements are alive and present in this PSP exclusive, which means the game’s lengthy adventure will consist of lots of time navigating labyrinths, clicking through layers of texts and doling out more attacks than can be accurately counted. In truth, Elminage Original has all the things it needs, but never does anything remarkable with them. That’s the most disconcerting part of the experience: the game wants to impress, but never quite gets there.
Elminage Original is heavy on the text in terms of both menus and story, though it seems to greatly lack the latter. Meaning to say the story here is existent, but only barely. Essentially it goes something like: there’s a party of adventurers that set out to recover some important rings in order to trammel a group of evil sorceress broads from wreaking havoc on the land. It’s all rather ho hum and painfully cliché. In fact, proclaiming that Elminage’s story is boring may be the year’s biggest understatement. UFO Interactive’s squalid, and seemingly downright lazy, localization simply compounds the issue, and makes it all the more intolerable. Only so many typos and misspellings can be endured before the experience feels indescribably bush-league.
This becomes frustrating because of how much time is spent reading. This game is riddled with text, given the nature of the genre, so be fully aware now that there’s a menu for just about everything. That’s where the bulk of the gameplay lie – in a bunch of screens that involve clicking and selecting stuff. In terms of selecting though, there’s plenty of that to do here. Firstly, all the game’s heroes and adventurers will either be picked or created by the player. There are a handful of races to choose from, along with plethora of classes that include their own unique abilities and skills, providing a relatively customizable experience. In this regard, Elminage highly excels because the sheer number of options it offers up is exceptional, but never to the point of being too much or overwhelming.
What can be somewhat overpowering is how the game begins. After a barebones tutorial, it’s off to a load of menus with no clear direction as to where to go. Some may enjoy this non-directive approach; however it comes off as a bit much when there are so many other nuances to breathe in and process. Once acclimated though, there’s a whole town to explore before venturing off into the wilds. Inns, shops, taverns and castles are just some of the locales to visit. Once they have been scoured, it’ll be off to a quick talk with the king, who essentially acts as the commencement of the adventure. From there, it’s time to dungeon crawl and kill things — lots of things.
This is the game’s strongest selling point — the core mechanics are tried and true. Developer Starfish SD hasn’t strayed too far from what they know to work, thus what’s present won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has played a first-person dungeon crawler in the last two decades. Nevertheless, what is there is solid and completely proficient, and even fun at times! The traditional, turn-based combat system is tactical and rewarding; however the difficulty spikes are insane. Their inability to be predicted is all the more maddening because it’s entirely possible to blow through a series of battles only to stumble upon one random encounter that leaves you lifeless and spiritually broken in the matter of two turns. What’s more is the fact that it can be very easy to stagger upon one of these ridiculously powerful enemies in navigating each of the game’s massive dungeons. While exploring these lairs can be exciting in itself, especially considering the dungeon’s map is a blank slate upon arrival, they can also drone on if a good sense of direction and wit isn’t used to traverse them.
What’s not as cheerful is the bland art style and lackluster graphics which range from average to bad, and occasionally worse. Let it be known that the art direction is one of the game’s most disappointing aspects; it’s just so damn unimaginative and not at all interesting in concept or execution. The game’s audio and soundtrack is equally devoid of inspiration, making long journeys feel even longer and more unbearable thanks to a lack of sensory stimulation. To drop the proverbial ball in this area is a giant letdown bearing in mind how much presentation values matter in a game of this kind.
Elminage Original is a wholly unoriginal game in almost every aspect. It’s perfectly competent in its gameplay, yet less than capable and enthralling in so many other ways that are significant. Graphical and audio limitations aside, the sloppy localization alone makes this RPG feel second-rate and unworthy of a gamer’s time, unless they have an affinity for the genre. Regardless, fifteen dollars is a lot to ask of people when your title doesn’t respect itself enough to even provide its customer a complete and polished experience. Think hard on this purchase if it’s fighting for your pocketbook.
Platform: PSP (PSN)