Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean - Staff Retroview  

Albert's Good Time
by Bryan Boulette

30-35 Hours


Rating definitions 

   A village is attacked by monsters, its inhabitants brutally slaughtered and its homes set ablaze. The sole survivor is a tiny little infant, orphaned in the attacks despite his slain father's best attempts to defend his family with an ancient sword. Much later, a harpy -- a human woman with powerful feathered wings -- arrives and finds the boy and child alone and abandoned. It is a mystery how the baby survived, but she does not question that, simply bringing them back to her own village, to raise the child.

   They say children borne from such tragedies often grow to face violent futures, and so it is with the boy Pike, who grows up ostracized as a wingless harpy. He has a deep connection to the sword, and when trouble seems to find him again, in the form of a wickedly cruel dragon-riding man, Pike must take up that sword and defend the only family he has left.

How droll How droll

   So begins Albert Odyssey: The Legend of Eldean, one of the more noteworthy RPGs for the Sega Saturn. The game's history is almost as troubled as that of hero Pike: the third game in a series of Super Nintendo RPGs that had never set foot outside of Japan, Albert Odyssey seemed an unlikely game from the start to receive an American localization. Those odds hardly improved when the game was punted from the SNES, for which it was originally intended, and instead released onto the troubled Saturn. But, if you'll forgive me straining this metaphor for all its worth, Working Designs swooped in like an unlikely harpy to carry the game across the Pacific to an American audience.

   Albert Odyssey is a flawed game, but one which is a lot of fun at the same time. The sense of fun is due in no small part to Working Designs' superb localization. Their wacky style humor is immediately apparent in Albert Odyssey to anyone familiar with the other games they did during that era: characters and townspeople constantly crack denigrating and inane jokes, they break the fourth wall, and they approach the dooms of the world with a general unseriousness. Cliches are many, and they're ridiculed accordingly. The result is a light-hearted, constantly funny story that rarely fails to amuse. The key is to not expect deep characterization or a complex story, but merely to enjoy the fun ride.

   But the story isn't without problems. Some characters are introduced, seeming to be important, but are then just dropped mysteriously, never to play a role in the plot again. The story is a bit unstructured, and sometimes fails to flow properly. Moreover, about midway through the game, the story suddenly shifts course entirely, making for a very disjointed experience. I don't fault Working Designs for these flaws, as they aren't things that a better localization could have fixed. But regardless, they are flaws, and they do distract one's ability to enjoy the great dialog.

Shocking Shocking

   The gameplay isn't quite downright bland, but it isn't very exciting, either. For the most part, dungeons are very straightforward affairs, requiring little thinking. Battles are the standard, down the line: select a move for each character from the attack, magic, defend, and item options; each character and enemy will then perform their move according to speed; then, repeat. As characters level up, they gain better stats and new spells. There isn't anything original in this battle system, but at the same time, there's nothing actively offensive or annoying about it, either (with one exception, which I'll cover in a moment). It's just very traditional and very average.

   So what's that exception, you might ask? Load times. It's almost unthinkable for the loading issues experienced by an SNES cum Saturn game, and it's very similar to the problems notably afflicting the Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger PSX ports. Before every battle, there's a delay of several seconds. The delays add up over the course of the game, and they're highly annoying. Working Designs, to their credit, tried to resolve the issue before the game's release, but they were unsuccessful at eliminating them completely. That's unfortunate, because it's definitely a negative for the game's otherwise sterling speed and control. By contrast, the menu is easily navigable, and the character control is the best -- they're responsive when moving across maps, and they move quickly.

   The graphics are either good, or bad... depending upon how one looks at it. For the Super Nintendo game Albert Odyssey was originally intended to be, they're outstanding; but for a Saturn game, which Albert Odyssey actually wound up as, they're a good bit below the standard. Everything is in 2D, with bright, colorful backgrounds and great looking sprites -- very large ones, I might add, which allowed for a much greater sense of detail and distinctiveness. For a 2D, sprite-based game, then, Albert Odyssey looks wonderful. Unfortunately, the comparisons are inevitable to games like Shining the Holy Ark, Shining Force III, and Dragon Force, each of which did a lot more with their graphics, utilizing the system's capabilities to greater depths. Albert Odyssey thus suffers a bit in that regard -- but if you enjoy the type of graphical style it offers, it holds up very well, even years later.

   The music, on the other hand, is a much different story, and one area where Albert Odyssey never disappoints. This isn't just old style RPG music, but very well done old style RPG music. Furthermore, it's made even better by the fact that Albert Odyssey fully utilized the Saturn's fantastic sound capabilities. Each song sounded crisp, clear, and melodic, and the Saturn's superior sound system allowed for much more instrumentation than was doable on the SNES. Years after playing the game, a number of its more powerful songs had still stuck with me, which is a testament to how well composer Naoki Kadaka did in creating a unique sound.

   The replayability is limited only by how much enjoyment one derives from the constant laughs in the dialog. There aren't any major side-quests or optional dungeons to speak of. Certainly things of that sort would've made the idea of playing through the game multiple times more enticing. But in the end, it comes down to enjoying the journey taken by a funny, likable, and familiar cast of characters; even on second viewing, that journey doesn't become trite or boring.

   If it seems like I've highlighted a lot of problems with the game, and it's true, there are quite a few. That being said, Albert Odyssey still manages to endear itself to the gamer, a classic example of the sum being greater than their parts simply through the fun and old school style it presents. It's not a great RPG, but nevertheless, an enjoyable one. I'd never recommend getting a Saturn just to play Albert Odyssey, but if you get one to play one of the system's better RPGs, you'll find this a worthwhile grab in the process.

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