IMPORT QUEST #1

Import Quest #1

‘Import Quest’ is a feature exclusive to segasaturn.co.uk in which the wealth of Sega Saturn’s Japanese library will be explored. The feature is an attempt at encouraging people to try out the plethora of hidden gems in the JP library. The feature is a casual look at said titles and therefore is not to be taken as a review as it is merely a compilation of my thoughts of any games I discuss, however, in some features I may choose to talk about more specific areas of a game. 

Hello and welcome to the first edition of ‘Import Quest’ in which I explore the Saturn’s untapped gold mine of obscure wonders. In this particular edition I will be looking at some of the more unnoticed RPG’s that have been published on the Saturn. I chose RPG’s as I felt it is an often ignored genre for those importing as Role Playing Games are often plagued with text making the games almost unplayable to those who lack the prowess to read Japanese.

This means one of two things. Firstly is that RPG’s often go at rather economical prices due to people having little to no concernment in buying a game they cannot play (Understandable but not always true.) Secondly it means that there is a mass of overlooked classics. That said there are a few games that maintain a cult status such as Vandal Hearts and Grandia but I’d be equivocating if I credited this recognition to the Saturn ports as it is undoubtedly thanks to the arguably inferior (yet translated) ports found on the Playstation. I digress, however, as this is all simple musing and rambling due to the fact that I intend to give the limelight to some of the more underrated experiences on the Saturn. The first of which is an interesting title called ‘Arcana Strikes’:

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Arcana Strikes: Singleplayer – RPG – RED

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This particular title is debatably the most obscure of the duo I will be scrutinizing. Arcana Strikes is an oddity that was created by what I had believed to be a rather esoteric company called Red however upon research they have created many recognisable games such as Sakura Taisen or weirdly enough.

Arcana (Which incidentally has no relation to the SNES RPG ‘Arcana’) at its core a turn based RPG that makes use a very familiar format that seems to have borrowed rather generously from the concept of Pokemon and given that it was released a year after Pokemon it’s reasonable to assume some minor plagiarism may have been the case (Don’t take it as gospel as I have no proof). What I mean by the previous statement is that the game involves capturing various different monsters that you will use to help you fight and capture more monsters, whilst the overall goal of the game is to get to the end there is also an unwritten one that entails the player collecting all of said creatures… (Sound similar?) Whilst this is all rampant speculation it is worth noting since I felt it was fairly interesting. And despite the fact there is a plethora of sub-par Pokemon clones I genuinely believe that Arcana is unique enough that it is worth giving a go and given that it will not leave a dent in your pocket I think it’s a safe bet.

The aforementioned uniqueness comes in to play when you first encounter a battle in the game. Despite the fact that your monsters have their own levelling up system and the ability to evolve these monsters manifest themselves as cards in a deck. Now this may lead people to bring up the ‘Pokemon Trading Card Game’ however, Arcana’s battle system plays in an extraordinarily different way. It’s battle system is so unique and intricate that it would be incredibly hard to describe such as system in plain text so I will give you a basic overview of the system; At the beginning of the fight you will be handed an assortment of cards that are taken from your deck (which of course is fully editable) and these cards could be a variety of card types. The most useful cards are the monster cards as they are used to attack your enemy, other types include recovery items, magic cards and status ailment cards. The battle area consists of 3 spaces: the middle space will have you the main character (And in the enemy’s case it will have the enemy you are supposed to kill). In essence you have to try attack and defend by putting monster cards to the left or your right and they will attack every turn. The enemy can also place monster cards and therefore the battle comes down to trying to kill the smaller monsters at the left or right so you can attack the main enemy. Unlike Pokemon you are allowed to place as many monsters as you like during a fight (Only a max of two can be on the battle area at a time) and this means that battles will last much longer as a result. Please note that this description of the battle system is only scrapping the barrel of how it works and only explains it at a basic level, this battle system is so brilliantly complex it is almost impossible to describe without giving a visual aid.

The battle system is by far one of the biggest selling points of this game as it is both a completely unique idea and allows for a lot of intense battles that are very fun to engage in. And you may be thinking that the game is unplayable due to language barriers to which I reply rather simply “Nope”. And the reason for this is due to the fact that all menus in this game are in full English. Due to the linear nature of the game it is seamless to play even to someone who can’t read a lick of English.

However, do not get too excited as there are a few problems with the game. The first of which is the fact that the story is NOT in English therefore if you are looking for an engaging tale of epic proportions then this game is not for you… luckily we can shed a little light on this situation due to youtuber ‘Vysethedetermined2’ who has translated the story section of the manual:

“The boy was looking at the sky, watching the the clouds drift by slowly changing their shape as he always does when he decides to head to the marketplace as usual. As he was walking around the market looking for food, he decided there was nothing he wanted when an old lady showed up in front of him as he tried to leave. He tried to analyze the suspicious woman’s face but it was hidden beneath her deep hood, preventing him from seeing clearly. The woman commented to the boy, complimenting him on his beautiful eyes, and unveils a deck of old tarot cards, slightly worn and battered by the sands of time. Softly and slowly, the old woman clasped the boy’s hand and says “You should listen to the voice of the cards… if you rub them, God can hear the wishes of its master and answer their call. I can stare straight into your heart and see your importance…”. Before the boy could even inquire as to the meaning of the old woman’s words, she disappeared, almost as if she was a phantom or dream… only the Tarot Cards were left.

Later that night, before retiring for the day while sitting beneath the shining full moon, he was looking at the individual cards he recieved from the old woman. Various pictures and people were drawn on the cards, and they were both mysterious and beautiful. The next day, the boy was anxious about the old woman’s words as they echoed through his mind… “You should listen to the voice of the cards… if you rub them, God can hear the wishes of its master and answer their call…”, and thought he would consider her words. The boy rubbed various cards, but they did not talk back to him no matter how hard he strained his ears to listen. However, he then noticed one final card with nothing drawn on it. As he stared, the old woman’s voice seemed to come out of thin air, reverberating in his mind. “I’ve stared straight into your heart, believing in your importance, your purpose…” At this point, he quietly concentrated on the blank card. Suddenly, dazzling light began to overflow from the mysterious tarot and the boy lost consciousness. When he awoke, he discovers he was led to “Arcana”, the world of the cards.”

Overall the game is actually reasonably addictive if not a little on the repetitive side due to a lack of variety in dungeons that is compensated for in the fantastic battle system. The game also sports nice solid visuals that whilst not groundbreaking per-se they do hold a certain charm. All-in-all I’d have to recommend the game to anyone that is interested in RPG’s and is looking for a fun inexpensive game that is surprisingly lengthy due to having over 300 cards to collect.

The next title (And final for now is) the fantastic ‘Terra Phantastica’:

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Terra Phantastica: Singleplayer – RPG – Sega
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Now I realize I may have shown my cards early by stating that Terra Phantastica is fantastic and that is primarily due to the fact that this game is so criminally underrated that I want to be blunt about its brilliance. Terra Phantastica is a Tactical RPG that could be compared to the likes of games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. At first glance it looks like a very typical if not stellar grid based tactical RPG game. However, as soon as you go into the attack phase of the game you realize that the game does indeed have its own identity and it just so happens to be a bloody stellar one!

What identity you may ask? Why it takes up the identity of being a turn based battle in which you have the player (You) as the commander and your several troops who you will command to attack the enemy who also has a commander and troops. This particular phase is actually very similar to the later released Saturn game Dragon Force except instead of giving real time commands like in dragon force it employs a turn based structure. It is similar in a variety of ways such as giving the player the ability to change formations and even simple things like magic attacks specific to each commander. Now, these similarities are no coincidence as it appears Terra Phantastica was worked on by the same team that worked on Dragon Force this also explains the games very similar aesthetics. The fantastic thing about this is that it makes the game extremely easy to recommend to those who enjoyed Dragon Force as the game is almost like a variance of the Dragon Force that has a focus on the RPG element of the game unlike Dragon Force which I’d argue leans more in favor of strategy gameplay rather than an RPG format

That particular point is especially evident when it comes to the structuring of Terra Phantastica as the game employs the very simple yet widely used structuring where you will go in the simple order of Story > Battle > Equipment Screen. Some may argue that this leads to repetition however, like many tactical RPG’s most notably Fire Emblem this particular structure works a treat as the battle systems are so fleshed out and fun to use that the various scenarios and increasing challenges should prove entertaining throughout the whole game without the game needing to stoop to filler content. As stated several times the battle system is very, VERY good as it leads to engaging and lengthy battles that will require your attention to secure victory and due to the permanent character deaths it adds an extra layer of challenge for those who refuse to let any character perish such as myself.

As with ‘Arcana Strikes’ this game is sadly, not perfect. And by that I mean the game is extremely brilliant with amazing visuals tight gameplay and is overall a very polished product. However, as this game is exclusive to Japan it ends up falling prey to the problem of translation… Sadly there is NO translation of the games story whatsoever which sucks as the story presumably will be very good considering the whole game is spectacular. The only segment of the game that I could find a translation of was the menus in an outdated GameFAQ that for some reason mainly incomplete, however, it is recommended as it means you can understand all of the menus with ease without any awkward trial and error you may encounter in some other Saturn games that have not got translated menus.

In fact Terra Phantastica is one of the reasons I created ‘Import Quest’ as I wanted to garner interest to some of the more forgotten titles in the Saturn’s vast array of gaming bliss. And perhaps I created this particular article with a slight agenda as I want to take the time to plea to any Japanese speaking person to translate this game. I mean it. I really would love to see such a wonderful game get the translation it deserves and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this. I ask anyone who enjoyed Dragon Force to check this out as it is essentially a more RPG orientated version of Dragon Force and given its extraordinarily cheap price on places such as ebay you really have no excuse if you have the means to import games!

So…  I hope this first edition of Import Quest has got you salivating for more, if not I at least hope is was an interesting read that informed you of two RPG’s you may have glanced over before. It sure was a journey (And by that I mean a lot of text) I hope you enjoyed this article and be sure to comment giving thoughts or at least acknowledgment that you read it so I know if there is any demand for more of my extended rambling about semi-obscure games!

Boxart Images taken from www.segagagadomain.com

Other image credit: www.kimimistuff.tumblr.com

                             www.gametronik.com

www.gameFAQs.com

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