The one of whom Legends are sung. Sadly only good for big VN fans…but check into the alternate versions…there’s a good plot here, bogged down in average gameplay.
All right, this is one of the reviews I’ve been wanting to do for a while. This game, Utawarerumono, also known as “The one of whom legends are sung”, is a pretty nice Visual Novel, with a decent fanbase. It wasn’t insanely successful, but it got a rerelease on the PS2, so it was at least profitable. It even had an anime, which has been on my list of things to watch. The anime also had an english release, and it has enough of a fanbase to complain about mistakes in translation. But, I wonder if this game is as good as its reputation considers, or if it’s rather overrated like many things?
The first thing to point out with this game is the graphics. Like all Visual Novels with a large budget, they’re quite good. Higurashi is one of the few exceptions I’ve seen. All the characters are clear, with some nice different pictures to show off the emotion, and beautifully drawn CGs for special scenes. There’s enough different portraits to show off emotion, though the amount is actually relatively on the low side, now that I think of it. Portraits are recycled, though there are some fun ones. One character who is normally calm gets a hilarious looking ‘angry’ portrait.
The game also has sprites for the battle portions, which each look nice, with each character standing out. Admitedly, any nameless soldiers suffer from SERIOUS reused sprites, and basic infantry is comprised entirely of palette swaps with different weapons, though each enemy that actually has a name looks unique.
The sound is nice, and well developed. I’ll admit, not all the songs were incredibly memorable, but those few I did remember were nice. The ‘lullaby’ song is especially beautiful. I confess, the game wasn’t that much less fun when I had to listen to it muted, but there were a few songs that I wanted to pause and listen to, so the game has at least above average sound, and certainly doesn’t fail at it. The sound effects are good, with much of the dialogue scenes punctured by the sounds of things happening, and the clash of swords being common in battle.
It’s the story that’s the center of any visual novel, even one such as this, with strategy elements. And, well, the story for this one is actually best divided into two. The first is the basic scripting, the way the story is written, the individual dialogue between the characters, and such. And that is exceptional. It’s not up to Higurashi’s deepness and richness, but it comes close in hilarity. While the characters are not deep, they all have at least two dimensions, and they bounce off each other quite well. Seeing them interact is a pleasure, and any scene that just has them goofing off is guaranteed to bring in some smiles. Each character has a unique personality, and some even have a few secrets, though not the things that keep them from staying in the same place in the ever-growing collection of beauties the hero has found. And, yes, this is a Hentai game, so yes, you do have sex with them. There’s actually surprisingly little sex compared to the overall gameplay time, however, and in the PS2 version, the scenes were removed. There’s no real loss, though the sex scenes do fit into the story well, and each character has a reason for what they do. And even some of the sex scenes are just hilarious. There’s also some real drama to some of the scenes, which helps in that the player has plenty of time to grow attached to the girls.
Unfortunately, there are two halves to the story. While the scripting is good, the plot is actually terrible. The way the game slowly reveals the secrets, the information about those secrets, and how the episodes that move things forward are paced. This is put together in a complete failure, second only to Racoon City. This game actually gets credit, there is a good plot buried in there. Unfortunately, the actual main plot, of the hero’s mysterious search for his identity, the figure who opposes him, the one manipulating things behind the scenes. That’s all in the last hour. It’s set up, and hangs in the air, with no real progress being made until the very end. The large majority of plot reveals consists of focusing on beating up a bunch of evil warlords, who are all one-dimensional villains. While there are some slow reveals about the hero’s past, most of them are just small tidbits, not worth the time given, until they finally explain everything in one huge burst.
At least one dramatic scene actually falls COMPLETELY flat because of this, with the villain making mysterious vague threats, and people willing to sacrifice their lives to prevent the fate he promises on an innocent. But, um…we don’t know WHAT fate he’s promising! Heck, it’s not even made exactly clear that this fate is horrific. In fact, it’s quite possible to interpret the eventual fate of the character he was threatening, as in fact what he was going to do. Which makes a death to prevent this sadly senseless, and kills the drama of that death. It would have been a good scene, and a good dramatic death, too…if there was just more set-up! And later scenes establishing the villain’s goals are genuinely dramatic.
This is also an interesting visual novel, in that it has a real battle system. It’s similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, or Tactics Ogre, with a series of small units on an isometric grid, who attack nearby enemies. Characters level up, and the player can increase whichever stat is needed. Unfortunately, characters do not get special skills, and there are only two archers in the entire party, and only two characters can use magic. These characters are introduced much later in the game. What’s worse, is that the magic and archery tends to do far less damage then just having one of the main attackers rush and slash. Generally, there is only one necessary strategy. Get in range, slash, repeat forever. You have a healer, so knowing when to retreat and heal is useful, but not really insanely important. It’s only crucial for the hero, Hakuoro, who cannot die. If Hakuoro dies, the game is over. So don’t let Hakuoro die. Stat growth suffers the same problem. Combos, which has a neat system, are actually nigh useless, due to a huge drop in damage in the last few hits. While the characters can get a nice killer special…it requires far, far too many points. I generally had no problem with just pumping everything I had into attack, though perhaps maxing out the ‘Tech’ stat, so as to enable that killer special, and then pumping everything into attack could work. Characters have different point costs, and the stats they aren’t supposed to gain are ridiculously high. There are no repeatable battles outside the main missions, so there’s a limited amount of XP to go around. While there are plenty of main battles, it still means each char has an optimal build. And the final two battles are ridiculously brutal, to the point that it can seem unwinnable. The sheer lack of strategy is an utter failure for a tactics-based game, and while I never found the battle system precisely boring, it certainly isn’t fun, and I honestly can’t say it’s got any good points.
This game has some promise from a story angle, and even the gameplay system, with some minor tweaks, could work. However, it doesn’t have those tweaks. An, the story is barred in terrible pacing. All in all, I can’t recommend this game, but I will give it a 2/5. If you’re a big fan of Visual Novels and such, it’s worth a pick-up. Unfortunately, it has to be imported (Or torrented), but there is a fan patch, so those who only speak English can play it. There is a PS2 version, though sadly without the translation patch, and it makes some HUGE improvements in gameplay, removing just about all the things I complain about. It adds specials, extra battles, and some other tweaks, which make it MUCH more strategic. Unfortunately, it’s only available if you speak Japanese. There is also an anime, which presents the story in 26 episodes, and which I strongly recommend. The change in medium really helps improve the story, and there’s a good story buried under there. I could easily watch 26 episodes of the cast of this show just goofing off. Heck, I could watch 52 episodes of them just goofing off. Adding in a plot is just gravy. Still, as a Visual Novel, I give it a 2/5. But check out other works in the franchise, it’s still a worthy cause.