Tengai Makyou Zero - Reader Retroview  

Where Was Eden Again?
by JuMeSyn

~25 hours


Rating definitions 

   Tengai Makyou (aka Far East of Eden) is one of those RPG series that has never come across the Pacific. For a series created on the Turbo-Grafx 16 it has managed quite a lengthy span of titles, with at least one on every major companyís system in Japan. The Super Famicomís iteration, Tengai Makyou Zero, is an interesting title with a few unique features that make it well-worth playing. The game will be harder than some to comprehend without a grasp of Hiragana in addition to Katakana, however.

   Story is not the strong suit of Tengai Makyou Zero. The brother of a king, goaded into killing his kingly brother by the evil demon Ninigi, is promptly taken over by the demon. After this the player assumes the role of Higan, a scion of the Fire clan who promptly comes into conflict with the underlings of Ninigi spreading pain and torment throughout Jipang. The base story was rather clichť in 1995 and isnít any better now, but as a Tengai Makyou title there is a zany undercurrent to make things more interesting than a quick summary makes clear. An example would be the ruler of the Dog country, who appears to be a cyborg tiger with a gigantic cat robot named Super Maniking III.

   Combat takes place in a style similar to many 16-bit RPGs, with random turn-based battling. The playerís three characters are in the foreground, the enemy further back. Fortunately turn order is strictly determined by agility; there will be no random turn issuances here. There are a few quirks to the standard system: magic is not learned by gaining levels, instead the player must poke around to find oddball hermits who will teach a new spell (usually after doing something odd). There are also skills usable by individual characters only, which may or may not require magic points to use. Skills are often more powerful than a basic attack and also more powerful than magic, but some come with a price: they require two turns to use. These skills can also suck HP instead of MP. Magic has individual spells and MP-intensive combinations of the four elements to better target specific weaknesses.

   Battling takes a little while to get accustomed to without a good grasp of Japanese, because quite a bit of Kanji and Hiragana are used without much Katakana to fall back upon. Trial and error is the best way to figure out whatís going on. Shops are nice and streamlined for player convenience, though equipping newly purchased items requires leaving the shop menu and entering into the main status menu. Sorting out the accessories is also somewhat time-consuming because each character can equip a weapon, armor, and four accessories which leads to quite a bit of fiddling about with equipment.

   Visually Zero looks pretty damn nice, with the spell animations in particular being quite impressive. Outside of battle there is a definite Eastern influence to the town architecture, which is distinctive. Aside from bosses enemies do not move, but since Final Fantasy VI lacked moving enemies at all this is not a low point. Another plus is the lack of palette-swapping for enemies when there is a nice variety of foes to face throughout the game. Another interesting point is that the first four kingdoms to be freed from evil, once this is accomplished, change drastically Ė the difference is starkest with the Crane and Turtle kingdoms, which alter from desert and heavily forested to something else.

   On the aural front Zero turns in a star performance. Most of the music was composed by Toshiyuki Sasagawa, with a few compositions by Kouhei Tanaka and Aya Tanaka. The music is distinct and has enough variety to make all of it pretty worthwhile. As with the architecture, there is an Eastern influence to much of the music that makes it more distinctly memorable. The sound effects get the job done, even if enemy attacks connecting sound rather like two pieces of wood colliding.

   Challenge is not light in Tengai Makyou Zero. Random enemies are usually faster than the playerís party, thus hitting hard first thing. Missing attacks seems to be more prevalent than usual, which can lead to unkind utterances from the player if two characters miss in a row. Bosses require attention to be paid in full, thanks to their powerful attacks. Making things harder is the healing difficulty; unless I didnít find it, there is no group-healing spell or skill. Revival of the dead in battle is also a pain because there are no skills or spells I found to enable it, though a very expensive item late in the game does make it possible.

   Replay is interesting in this title, for it does something unique at the time and still unusual. There is a battery embedded in the cartridge that keeps track of time in the real world, and at certain dates and times various things can be done that are impossible at any other time. I happened to be playing on April 29, when a festival occurred in a town that only takes place for a few days and then stops until next year. The main quest can probably be completed in a shade under 25 hours but this feature makes the game conceivably last much longer.

   There is apparently a translated ROM of Tengai Makyou Zero out in the wilds of the internet, and that could conceivably make the title a bit easier. Even without a translation, the game is interesting enough to warrant a recommendation. It is quite enjoyable for the most part save when a boss eviscerates the heedless player. Seekers of a challenge-free game should stay away however.

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