Item Getter - Import Retroview  

Getting On With It
by Michael Baker

20-40 Hours
+ Good base story
+ Strong item synth system
- Very abrupt ending
- No need for most items
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Back in 2008, Japandemonium had its look at 5pb. and Genterprises's Item Getter, complete with a semi-comprehensible Engrish blurb. All things considered — between the blurb, the era, and the very Western naming scheme for all the characters — it was reasonable to think that this game might make it to foreign markets. It never did, however, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Item Getter does some things very well, but it's still an uneven experience.

   The story starts with a theme that was very common in manga and games of its decade: OOPArts. "Out of place artifacts" were a frequent maguffin, and this game made its OOPArts very out of place indeed, as it begins with the announced discovery of ancient ruins apparently proving the existence of a human civilization on Earth over 150 million years ago. While the skeptics are numerous, there is a surprising amount of evidence in favor of the Affilian civilization. Piquet, son of the archaeologist behind the momentous discovery, is far more interested in whatever Dad's been hiding in the workshop, however. He and his friends sneak in to discover the Tribault, a bathysphere-like contraption that is obviously meant to be ridden in. Piquet and his friends Ritt and Ellis clamber in and accidentally set it off. After much noise and tumbling, the Tribault settles to a stop and the young trio find themselves in a very different place indeed: the Kingdom of Affilia.

   Faster than you can say "A Connecticut Yankee," Piquet et Co. get themselves arrested, then paroled, and finally (with a bit of cheating) convince everyone that they are the holy magicians whose coming was foretold a thousand years ago. Way back then, an evil wizard named Jack Magnacoste almost destroyed the kingdom, only to be stopped by the original holy magician. Since it's impossible to keep a bad dark lord down forever, omens are popping up all over which predict Magnacoste's imminent return. The king is willing to accept Piquet as the new holy magician because the people all need a symbol they can get behind, but as the three friends are completely ignorant of the kingdom and its native magics, they are immediately enrolled in the royal academy in the hope that they can learn fast.

Never call the Captain of the Guard a second-rate RenFaire reject.

   Item Getter's primary sub-genre is gakuen-mono, or school-life drama and shenanigans, and for most of the story that's the dominant theme. There are ongoing subplots based around the sleeping sickness now plaguing the land as well as the need to find the necessary parts to repair the Tribault, but the main focus for most of the intermediary chapters are specific classmates at the academy and their life stories. Some of it is trope-tastic, and some of it is actually sort of sweet, but the ending is unnecessarily short and unsatisfying, without proper emotional closure for several plot threads including a promising romantic subplot. A lot more could have been done here, even beyond the timey-wimey foolishness that's slowly revealed over the course of the game.

   For gameplay, Item Getter lives up to its name, because practically every plot point eventually devolves to "Piquet must find Item X for someone" — often multiple times per chapter. Combat is interesting in that monsters actively avoid magicians. The only way to get hurt is to get in the way of a spooked beastie as it tries to run off. Holding down the left shoulder button traps the target temporarily in a magic circle, while the player draws runes on the touch screen. There are four elemental runes used to extract up to three items from any given monster. Generally, a monster will actively hate one of these runes and break free if it is used, but the others will work just fine.

   There are also a handful of boss battles against members of the Alpha Council, a consortium composed of several diverse species, none of whom particularly like mankind, that supports the return of the evil Magnacoste. These battles require longer sequences of runes, mostly to get around the built-in limitations in the magic script which prevent magicians from attacking each other. If the player makes a mistake or runs out of time for that turn, then Piquet gets hurt. Otherwise, it's quite possible to get through the entire battle unscathed. The biggest danger comes from holding the L button too long, because the game may refuse to acknowledge that writing mode is on if the player does not release it during the spell confirmation text.

   The Affilian language has twenty-six runes and ten numerals, all more-or-less mapped to the Latin alphabet. As mentioned above, four of these are used to attack (or rather, extract) and get items from monsters. A few others can be used to affect walking speed, trap monsters, heal Piquet, or warp to the kingdom map. The only problem here is that the game doesn't actually spell out what the player can do with much of this functionality. Even in the combat tutorial, it only mentions two attack runes, which thankfully work on a majority of the game's limited bestiary. In order to learn about any of the other spells, the player will need to consult the in-game grimoire and read each entry individually. This more than anything really pushes up the game's reading level, and it is sure to be a point of frustration to some.

Easy as <i>feoh-ur-thorn-aes-radu-keun</i>! Easy as feoh-ur-thorn-aes-radu-keun!

   The runes also play a role in Item Getter's alchemical synthesis system. This is the primary engine for game advancement, and it's far more in-depth than it has any right to be. Most chapters require Piquet to synthesize at least two items to advance the story, and there are also chapter-specific side quests which may also require him to make stuff. New recipes are regularly available for purchase, or the player can attempt to make something from scratch. This second option is harder than it sounds, as Piquet and the player have to guess their way through the correct sequence of runes to make the spell work, and just one misstep results in cauliflower. Given cash constraints and variable item availability throughout the game, a better save/load function would have gone a long way to easing the pain of semi-mandatory save-scumming.

   Aside from making new things, Piquet can also break down items into their components or give an item a boost in quality. Either option requires reagents from the academy school which, if not too expensive, are still a punch to the wallet for all the use these two functions see throughout the game. The breakdown process is straightforward and useful for getting new recipes and certain ingredients, but the upgrading process has issues. Many items have a quality ranking of one to five stars, but the different quality levels count as distinct and separate items and cannot be substituted for one another in recipes or side quests. The upgrading process tends to boost an item up two (or even three) stars at a time unless the player is really slow at drawing runes (and thus runs a greater risk of failure). This has the unfortunate consequence that it is easily possible to overshoot the mark, using up a rare one-star item and making it impossible to fulfill the side quest. There's simply no way to control the outcome of an item quality upgrade to the degree necessary, and no way to decrease quality even though it would have been quite useful.

   Because of the whole upgrade element, Item Getter's inventory list is bloated, with a round thousand items available. This is far more than is necessary, as only healing items and a handful of tools ever see actual use in gameplay, and the plot-related items bring the total up to perhaps a hundred. The list is reasonably well organized, with everything placed logically and with index tabs to jump between sections, but it strongly feels like the developers took an intricate crafting system intended for another game entirely and jammed it onto a story that didn't really need it. There is even an option to create player-original items, sprite editing and all, with the intent of encouraging trade between players over the DS wireless connection. Unfortunately, this leads back to the issue with most items not doing anything, and compounds it with the fact that not a lot of people ever bought this game in the first place.

   The art direction in Item Getter stands out as being anime-inspired, but not necessarily anime-styled. There's something subtly off about the character and set designs that makes them not quite jive with the video game art styles that I am familiar with. This is especially evident in the big splash art panels for major scenes, which often feel flat from a lack of color shading, as well as with the posing of characters in non-standard angles and perspectives. It certainly gives the game a distinctive look, at the very least, but it feels rough and unfinished.

Way too many items gotten. Way too many items gotten.

   Most of the actual game graphics consist of 3D-modeled sprites on a pre-rendered backdrop, which works well most of the time. The biggest issue here is variety. Piquet will be traversing the same four or five screens of any given zone quite frequently, and to put it simply this game could have done with larger areas to run through and more monsters to encounter. Even with its limited bestiary, Item Getter boasts an impressive number of palette-swaps and re-skins, and yet also has a few beasts that only show up in specific corners at specific times of day. More variety across the board would have been preferable, but restricting unique but otherwise anodyne creature designs to very specific circumstances just underlines how unnecessary and bland the general monster population can feel.

   The music suffices, so the main item to discuss for sound is the voice acting. There's a surprising amount of it, with lines for every named character in most major scenes. It leans heavily on character archetypes and anime tropes to carry any sense of personality, but that's part and parcel with the entire presentation. The VA cast is still a major point in the game's favor, to the point that it played a large role in Item Getter's early advertising campaign circa 2008-9.

   Item Getter is a game that is never quite sure of what it wants to be. Is it an action RPG? An item synthesis game? A schoolyard adventure? The developers certainly took elements of all three, but perhaps at the expense of traits that make those genres successful. There's not nearly enough action among its too-short levels. There's never much need to mess with the alchemy system, at least not to its fullest extent, and even less to use the fruit of those labors. And the most interesting parts of the drama get truncated or lopped off in favor of rushed timey-wimey shenanigans at the end. It's an unfortunate example of disergy in action, as the game is far less than the sum of its own parts.

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