Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road - Staff Review  

You Can Never Return Home
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

Less Than 20 Hours
+ Stunning visuals.
+ Strong soundtrack.
+ Bittersweet story and tearjerking ending.
- Battle system is a snore.
- Controlling Dorothy can be a tad slippery.
- Toto's tricks do nothing.
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   Lyman Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz was one of my all-time favourite books as a child. Although there have been several novels in the Oz series, L. Frank Baum's books were the stories that started the majestic Land of Magic, and he brought to life one of the most unlikely heroines to ever grace literature a young, strong-willed girl named Dorothy, who ends up in the Land of Magic after her house in Kansas is lifted off the ground by a disastrous tornado. When Dorothy arrives in Oz, she is greeted by many unknown faces. Scared, Dorothy's only wish is to go back home to Kansas. This story is the one many of us grew up with, and Media Vision's version of Oz or Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road does draw from the original Oz tale, but also stars a new cast of characters and some unlikely twists for those who may have never read the books or only saw the 1939 film.

   If gamers who enjoyed the original Oz story are looking for an RPG adaptation, chances are Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is not that. Although the story begins the same, with Dorothy's house being whisked away to the Land of Magic, that is one of the only things that has remained true to the original Oz story. With Dorothy's house damaged, she is stranded on the yellow brick road. However, upon her arrival she meets the Wizard of Oz, who tells Dorothy that if she completes the task of destroying the Four Witches of Seasons, he will grant her wish and return her back to Kansas. As Dorothy travels along the yellow brick road, she meets her three companions: the brainless Strawman, the cowardly Lion, and the heartless Tin Man.

   The story is presented in the form of a storybook, which means that characters' dialogue is written in the form of a novel. The only characters with spoken dialogue in the game are Oz and the witches, while Dorothy and her companions only speak during the storybook sequences, and it does enhance their world, and the dialogue presented in the story is very emotional, even if the main plot itself isn't as strong as it could be. The characters are people the player can relate to and the story is charming and touching, making the game a very bittersweet experience.

   Charming as the game's story is, one cannot say the same thing for the battle system, which is an absolute snore. Presented in a first person perspective, the game uses a ratio system. Each of the main characters correlates to a different ratio: Dorothy and Strawman are both one point, the Lion two points, and the Tin Man is three points. The ratio to attack must add up to four points. For example players could have Tin Man attack once, with Dorothy also attacking and that would equal four points. You have could have a round in which Strawman attacks for four turns in one round. How you set up your party for each round determines how much damage can be done and how many enemies you can attack. The game also makes suggestions for first time RPG players, though the suggestions are stupid and often unnecessary. For example, Tin Man is at full health and Dorothy decides in the suggestion to heal Tin Man; if Strawman is near death, he'll choose to attack rather than heal himself. Players will find themselves constantly changing the suggested formation because because the suggestions the game provides are often more hindering than helpful.

Dorothy has discovered the art of torch lighting. Dorothy has discovered the art of torch lighting.

   Since the battle system is set in first-person, the only thing the player sees is the target. Battle animations are bland, and considering how colourful the game is, do not enhance the gameplay whatsoever. Players can also only learn spells by beating Father Dragon and his relatives in each of the seasons. Spells in the game look bland, and are mostly reduced to sparklers flickering on the screen, or the screen tinting to a different colour. However, battles proceed fairly quickly, mainly because each of the main characters have weaknesses that they can exploit as they fight enemies: Dorothy is strong against ghosts, Strawman against jellyfish, Lion against shelled-types, and Tin Man against plants. Remembering these weaknesses allows combat to end quickly, and leveling up is a breeze as a result.

   One of Oz's most unique features is that the game is completely controlled using the stylus, and Media Vision has incorporated a trackball system which is how the player moves Dorothy through each of the dungeons. How fast the player flicks the trackball determines how fast Dorothy can run. This can be really handy if players want to evade enemies when their party is running low on health. Also, because there is a lot of backtracking in each of the dungeons, it makes running back and forth between areas fairly quick and painless. There is a lot of backtracking in Oz, but this is mainly because this is how many of the puzzles are solved. The trackball can feel a tad slippery at times, and if you spin it too quickly, you are more likely to run into enemies, or have your stylus move slightly off the trackball and onto some other part of the screen.

   The interface is crisp and clear in Oz. It is very easy to navigate items, check character statuses, and also change equipment. Equipment can be found throughout the maps, though the best equipment is bought from the Wizard of Oz. The world map is also simple to navigate. Players can return to Oz to shop and regain health, buy and sell items, or move directly from dungeon to dungeon. Money is sometimes tricky to obtain as coins are either found in chests, scattered in dungeons or are dropped by enemies. Enemies won't always drop coins and players will have to micro-manage their funds, as equipment is not cheap.

   Besides the menu and the trackball there is also a third button with Toto marked on it. When standing next to signs or chests, pushing this button will allow Dorothy to interact with them. Since the game has a lot of backtracking, it is important that players mark the signs accordingly so they can navigate all the areas they've been to with an x, and ones which they have yet to explore with either a question mark or circle. Dorothy also will encounter elements who will become her friends and guardians, and they too will help Dorothy solve puzzles and open pathways that would be otherwise inaccessible. When this button is not in use, players can press it and Dorothy will stop running and pet her beloved dog Toto. Too bad Toto does absolutely nothing except bark and be a good boy.

Navigating the Yellow Brick Road. Navigating the Yellow Brick Road.

   One of Oz's biggest strengths is its visuals. Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road might easily be the most visually stunning RPG on the DS, with graphics that are on par with Matrix Software's Final Fantasy III and IV remakes. Every environment is rich with colour which adds a lot to Oz's visual charm. Character models also look smooth and are full of detail. Enemies are also very unique and full of personality. The visuals do not make Oz the zany place that it should be, but since the game is all about seasons, each area has its own visual style that it shows off. The visuals are stunning, and there are not too many 3D RPGs that look as clean as Oz does.

   Oz's other main strength lies in its soundtrack. There is a song for every area, and each track is strong enough to stand out on its own. Many of the tracks encompass themes of zaniness and insanity because Oz is an absurd world and the soundtrack should make the player feel as though she has stepped into the world of a madman. However, balancing out the insanity of the battle and boss themes, many of the dungeon themes are calm and serene and attempt to bring players into each of the moods that the seasons invoke. The music is pleasant and perfectly suitable when attached to the game's visual prowess. Sound effects are also spot on, and befitting to what is occurring in battle and in the story.

   Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a fairly short game that can be completed in twenty hours depending on how much backtracking the player does. The game also provides a very mild difficulty as regular battles are a snap to complete. While boss fights provide a modest challenge, they can be more frustrating and cheap if anything. This RPG certainly provides a casual gameplay experience and was built more for those who have little to no experience with the genre. Hardcore RPGs fans will likely find no challenge, and will probably be disappointed in its simplicity. Personally I enjoyed the simplicity of Oz, and didn't mind that the only difficulty came from boss battles.

   As I stated back in my Run to the Sun impression, Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road will not be for everyone. The game attempts to do a lot of unique things in its interaction and combat; some of it works, and some of it doesn't. However, it's unfair to say that Oz isn't an enjoyable experience, because it's an incredibly touching game with stunning visuals and music to back up the experience. It's a shame that the battle system is as simplistic as it is, because the game has so much going for it, including a great plot twist, fantastic art direction and an ending that is a real tearjerker. Traveling down the yellow brick road can sometimes be a scary thing, but there really is no place like Oz.

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