Noir Yeux Noire - Staff Review  

Look For The Girl With The Sun In Her Eyes
by Michael Baker

20-40 Hours
+ Well-designed dungeon floorplans.
+ Over fifty spells available.
+ Quick and easy battle system.
- Very diffuse plot and story elements.
- Travel times ignore basic geography.
- Villain barely seen at all.
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   Any successful game company will always have one or two flagship series that are constantly in production to please the fanbase. For Gust, that series is Atelier. However, in the late 90s the folks at Gust hadn't quite realized that yet. Many new and different games were made in that decade in an attempt to expand the scope of the company and secure a larger fanbase. And so, in 1999 a game called Kuroi Hitomi Noir, or Noir Yeux Noire, arrived on the PlayStation.

   Noir is not an Atelier title, but it definitely resembles one with its pseudo-European setting, spunky heroine, graphical style, and many of its gameplay quirks. Even the soundtrack strongly resembles that other series, being the work of Gust's number one composer, Daisuke Achiwa. Noir is different from Atelier in one major respect: it's not a meister game. It's a monster collection game.

   The game starts when Noir and her best friend Destin explore a local cave, only to accidentally release a devil imprisoned within. Her friend is turned into a statue, and Noir is commanded by the goddess of the earth to seek out the great magics needed to beat the devil back into submission. To do this, she must travel, explore, and provide for herself by any means possible. One of these means is monster collection. Monsters provide convenient allies, as human characters only join rarely and for short periods. They can be sold for cash or upgraded with items. Best of all, they act as meat-shields for Noir as she works her way around the kingdom.

   There is one area where Noir's relation to the Atelier games is really obvious. The heroine can take jobs at pubs in any town in exchange for cash. These jobs can be simple deliveries, providing escort to travelers between towns, eliminating rowdy monsters, or just doing the dishes if one is really strapped for cash. Dishwashing and laundry-hanging jobs also come with mini-games attached. There's also a battle tournament that rewards points redeemable for rarer items. The main point is to become strong enough to defeat the devil, which means Noir needs to purchase spells from magic shops to arm herself and then explore the seven ancient ruins of the land to find the sealed magics.

Caption These boots were made for walking.

   These ruins are sprawling complexes filled with monsters, but surprisingly they have no boss encounters or puzzles. They are simply long and twisty. An overlay map fills in as Noir explores, making navigation not too difficult, except when the map itself obscures the view. The overall complexity and structure of each dungeon varies considerably, so while the environmental graphics are fairly generic the individual levels manage to have a unique character.

   Towns exist mainly as places to shop and occasionally meet people. Some towns have item shops where Noir can have mystery items assessed while others have magic shops where she can buy spells and sell monsters. No town has both features, and the player may have to travel quite a ways before being able to identify inventory items. The mapmakers kept things simple, with only a handful of routes and no alternatives or shortcuts, even if the way between two locations might seem much shorter if only Noir could cut through a patch of forest. Instead, much time is wasted simply traveling along the map.

Caption Giving them the old what-for.

   Time isn't particularly of the essence here. Noir has a calendar, same as the Atelier games, and also a six-year time limit before the bad ending kicks in, but it's possible to defeat the devil and get the good ending before the end of the third year.

   Plenty of NPCs exist in this game, but for the most part they are independent of the story. Only one character is integral to the plot, with one other providing a little help at the beginning. The other half-dozen or so characters have their own stories, which may or may not be revealed over the course of a playthrough. These interactions are sporadic and far between, with none of the loose cohesion of character plots found in later Gust titles. While unconfirmed, there is always the possibility that this game has multiple non-bad endings, however.

   Combat in Noir follows the Active Time Battle model, with each enemy and ally taking a turn as soon as its time bar has filled. Hit points and magic also take the form of bars in combat. The maximum amount in each bar is capped, and more bars are laid over in successive colors as the point totals increase. Capturing monsters is simple. When an enemy's health is low enough, a flashing GET sign appearns by its health bar. The lower the health, the faster it flashes, and the more likely that Noir's capture ability will work. It's a simple and workable system.

Caption Dare to go a-delving.

   Actually, "simple and workable" just about sums up this game. Its sprite graphics are barely a step up from the SNES days, but they look alright. The battle system requires some thought in terms of spell choice, but is otherwise very easy to deal with. The dungeons have floorplans that are believable and well thought-out, but have no extra frills. The soundtrack, with its frequent use of fast-paced piano motifs, is perhaps the standout feature of the game, but only if one is already a fan of Gust's game music. Noir's biggest failure is its inability to form a cohesive plot around its scattered cast of characters, but the central story and gameplay are enough to carry the player through.

   While it's nice to see Gust being creative and trying new things, I must admit that this isn't the company's best work. Even so, Noir Yeux Noire is enjoyable as an excuse to explore and beat up monsters. Anyone interested in the company's history should check it out, but otherwise it's no big deal. It's just a pleasant way to pass some time.

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