The AIRS - Staff Retroview  

The Little Tappler That Couldn't
by Michael Baker

20-40 Hours
+ Combat is actually pretty fun.
+ There's tons of Tappler types to fight...
- ...just not a lot of variety to upgrade to.
- Music is a good insomnia cure.
- Doesn't make best use of calendar time.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Sky. The firmament. The wide, blue yonder. This is the space sans horizon that pulls at the mind and lifts the soul. Within so expansive a space we find The AIRS, a game that tried so hard to fly, only to crash so much harder.

   The world of The AIRS is a wide sphere of sky divided roughly into four layers, within which hang a dozen or more little islands. All traffic in this world is by personal aircraft, or Tappler. Every ten years the Panther Company holds a massive race-slash-treasure hunt called the Cannonball. Tappler pilots from across the skies sign up, and the cast list resembles both the race's cinematic namesake and (even moreso) Hannah-Barbera's Whacky Races. It's a grueling, dangerous event that took the life of the protagonist's dad many years ago. For each leg of the race, the teams must locate one of the elusive Sky Fish and then arrive safely at the next check point. There's a time limit of one week for each part, plus a few days of downtime between stretches.

   Which leads to problem number one: time management. The player actually has too much time on his hands in this game. Most legs of the race can be finished in a day or less, taking into account villainous attempts to sidetrack the heroes. This means that a lot of time is spent just flying aimlessly, trolling for enemies, or spending the day in bed. All plot events, major and minor, occur within a very exact schedule on the calendar, even if that means the player is spinning his propellers pointlessly for days on end. If ever a game needed more sidequests, this one does.

   As for the pure joy of flight... well, it's not all it's cracked up to be. The flight controls work well enough, but the scenery is limited. The so-called "continents" are barely big enough to be considered islands, and in any case they're merely points to visit. There is no aeronautic exploration of the landmasses here; instead, it's just sky, sky, and more sky. The leisurely cruising speed of the average Tappler means that this RPG is less Star Fox and more Driving Miss Daisy. The travel music is nice, but it's so mellow that between it and the slow pacing the player may start to feel drowsy after a while.

Fire a warning shot across her nose, not up it! Fire a warning shot across her nose, not up it!

   Aerial combat is more interesting, though thankfully it does not require actual aerobatics from the player. Instead, it's purely turn-based, with the Hero, Heroine, and Mascot each taking a turn at the guns against the enemy Tappler. The Hero is the pilot, and has several evasive skills up his sleeve. The Heroine is the navigator, and has skills that boost stats. She can also hurl invective at the enemy, which is surprisingly effective. The squirrelly Mascot has all the repair skills, backed by a seemingly endless supply of duct tape. All three of them can handle the main guns, but only the Hero and Heroine can use the special armaments that charge up over the course of battle.

   Armaments are just one of the customizable aspects to the player's Tappler, and can be quite versatile. Depending on the build, a Tappler can have weapons mounted on the wings, tail, or roof, though rarely all at once. In addition to various attack elements, they can inflict status ailments like frostbite, paralysis, and myopia. Every Tappler has four major sections to target, and the strengths and weaknesses of each vary depending on the model of aircraft. Taking out the canopy is enough to defeat an enemy or lose a battle, but wrecking all four sections gets greater rewards.

   Upgrading and experimenting with the Tappler would be the best part of this game if there were more options available. As it is, refitting and maintenance costs provide the main reasons for a player to take to the skies in this game.

The sort of multiracial cast that makes Akira Toriyama proud. The sort of multiracial cast that makes Akira Toriyama proud.

   The AIRS is a game that's full of ideas, but the application falls flat. The skills list is impressively creative, but it's poorly documented with no way to tell in-game what some skills do. Likewise, the game's characters love to trade in secrets, rumors, and information, to the point that it becomes a secondary economy, but success as an information broker is hit-or-miss. It's possible to never get access to useful but non-critical data, which in at least one region severely limits one's ability to upgrade.

   With a moderate kanji level and generally low text speed, The AIRS is pretty easy on the importer eyes. However, its odd pacing and focus on information gathering make it very important that the player understand what is being said most of the time. Few resources exist on the Internet to help one out, so anyone who decides to try this one should be prepared for some linguistic turbulence. The payoff is not nearly worth the effort.

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