Now I'll admit it, I absolutely loathed the Sega Genesis when it was in it's prime, I grew up on Atari and Nintendo. My hate towards Sega even continued to grow during the lifetime of Sega's 32-bit Saturn console, my friend purchased this console and I was forced to watch him play it often, after a while I started playing it, but even though my feelings towards Sega were slowly changing I would never even come close to admitting this. I could no longer deny my love for the Sega Saturn after I bought one of my own, and to this day the Saturn is the only console that I think truly deserves to be called "underrated. Sega's Saturn had entertaining games that span across every possible genre, therefore making it the perfect console for anybody, but two games especially stand out to me; one is Dragon Force while the other is called Albert Odysee: The Legend Of Eldean. These were games that really made the Sega Saturn worth it for me, and both were published by the same publisher. Albert Odyssey especially holds a special place in my heart as one of the most unique RPGs I've played, and it is certainly one of the most charming at that. It saddens me to no end to think of all the so called RPG fans that missed out on this incredibly engaging title.
I'm sure that the majority of gamers will have heard of Albert Odyssey for the first time in this review. It just wasn't a mass market appeal type of game when it was released, and games like Final Fantasy VII surely didn't help this game in the market at all. The fact that this title was released only on the Sega Saturn during the peak of the Playstation era aided mainstream in overlooking this quirky Japanese RPG. Working Designs has a hard time publishing games into mainstream, but I believe this is because of their lack of television advertisements and their 100% advertisement method through magazines and inside of game stores. Thinking back through the years, I have only seen one advertisement for this game total, and it was inside of an Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine years and years ago, before the game was even released.
The game begins in a mysterious fashion, with a burning village and a young couple planning their escape from the goblin infested area with their very young baby. As they attempt to escape, they are confronted by goblins, and after a battle where the father defends his wife and son using a strange talking sword, they are killed with only baby Pike permitted to live. This young child is spotted by a beautiful harpy who decides to take him into her village. Off she flies with the baby, and the only memento Pike has left of his parents, the talking dagger known as Cirrus.
Years pass and Pike has grown into a teenager. The only problem is that he doesn't fit in with the rest of the teenagers in the harpy village, as they are sprouting wings and flying around, but all he has are his two feet. Luckily for Pike, he has support in the form of his harpy sister Laia who seems to be the point of affection for every male in the village. Things turn sour in Pike's peaceful world when the village's magic crystal is stolen by an evil man riding a gigantic dragon, and upon departing, he turns Laia into stone. With this, Pike sets out with the village's armor, and his father's magical sword to find a way to bring Laia back from her stone prison.
This may sound typical, even expected as far as RPGs go, but the sheer charm and the Working Designs magic really make this title shine through. This world is one of magic, wizards and warriors, in fact, you'll never know what kind of a creature you'll stumble across, each with character seeping from the dialogue. In most RPGs, speaking with each individual villager is often a chore, given the lack of humor in most cases, but Working Designs gave each of these NPCs interesting dialogue, to say the least. In how many RPGs will you hear the term "a hotty plus"? Working Designs did an excellent job of adding humorous character to the storyline, and they did so in good taste and in instances which don't take away from serious revelations in the storyline. The world Albert Odyssey takes place in is definitely interesting. You've got everything from dragon men to bird men, and there are plenty of mysteries that you will need to solve throughout this long quest.
The storyline in Albert Odysee never goes beyond a normal person's comprehension levels, so unlike in your typical modern Final Fantasy, you shouldn't have many lingering questions on what happened in the game. Pike is a typical main character he never speaks outside of your query answers to the in game questions. This does get slightly annoying at times because you don't really get a crisp grasp on Pike's character as much as you do with the others. This is the area in which speechless main characters can take a bit away from an RPG's storyline, but in this case, I would have to say that the AAA quality dialogue and witty humor more than make up for it in this game.
Albert Odysee is very standard for a turn based, random encounter RPG in the gameplay department. So if it's so standard, than what makes it stand out? I would say the polish, and overall feel for the game personally. The random encounters do tend to get a little annoying after a while, especially while in the heart of any of the game's dungeons, but it does not take much to overlook this. Often times encounters happen too often, and at times the enemies can be extremely difficult to beat, so it becomes frustrating after a while to play this game without taking a break here and there. This is one of the main reasons I cannot play this game for hours and hours at a time.
Like a lot of the aspects of this game, combat is pretty simple to learn and understand. Commands are displayed through icons, and don't even require an explanation becuase the developer made things easy by also using text to inform you of what a highlighted command will do. Basically from the fight menu you do everything necessary in a battle, everything from attacking to casting a spell is very simple. The game could have been improved slightly by adding something a little more complex, like combination attacks which I think would have worked very well for this game.
Gaining levels in Albert Odysee is based upon another tried and true method. By defeating enemies, your characters recieve experience points, which in turn, allow them to level up and learn new magic spells. Unlike a lot of modern RPGs, this game can become extremely difficult if you do not take the proper time to build up your characters. In very few RPGs do I usually have to fight a boss again and again because I continue losing, but Albert Odysee definitely got me down more than once. Thankfully once you recieve the way cool airship, you can find places that are exceptionally good for earning experience points and finding new items.
The spell system is interesting. Basically your characters learn magic through gaining levels, and these characters are mostly individual in this area. The problem with this is that there are only around 6 characters that join your party in the entire game, and so you won't find hundreds of spells, but the diversity amongst each character's magical powers makes for some pretty interesting fighting choices. Unlike most rpgs, Albert Odyssey allows you to carry 5 fighters in your party at once; large numbers used to be common until rpgs "modernized", and I find the larger parties much, much more interesting than the common 3 person group set by modern standards to fit in most of the newer RPGs. Another interesting aspect about the characters is the fact that you never get to choose who you carry in your group. More often than not, characters will have certain advantages over each other in RPGs, or you may miss out on some story elements by not using specific characters when given the choice. Thankfully you won't miss out on these in Albert Odyssey because the party is always set by the game's storyline, with very little changes in it throughout the course of this fantastic story.
As with any RPG that takes place in a large world, you'll need a means of traveling from point A to point B. In the traditional system of travel, the game's world is displayed through a world map. You simply travel around on the land, and can enter structures (villages, caves, etc.) by walking into the icons that represent these places geographically. Most of the time you will need to listen to directions from the villagers to find out which direction to head next in order to progress the storyline, and often you will need to speak with every single villager to trigger specific events that are also required to progress in the game. This can often become troublesome, so it's best to try to write down which directions to go. On my first trip through the game I found myself getting lost often, as things do get a little confusing at times.
You may be wondering by now if there is even anything that makes Albert Odyssey stand out. If I had to pick just one thing, not even counting the excellent translation, and great story telling method, I would pick the world that it takes place in. The people behind this game really had an imagination, though the world ever so slightly reminds me of that in Chrono Trigger to be honest, but with a much more magical, and spanning approach. This world is full of mystery and magic; don't be surprised if you find yourself immersed in the world because of the valleygirl fairy, the self centered half beast, or the land of the dragon men. There are few games that can achieve this level of charm (look to the lunar series), and so this game should be treasured if you can even get your hands on it at all.
Graphics, Sound, Control
As far as appearances go, Albert Odyssey is like the girl next door, pretty yet humble. The game uses no polygons, but this is probably the best thing it has going for itself. Not only is this game beautiful, but it is noticeable that care was present while this game's beautiful world was being constructed in it's glory. The world in Albert Odyssey a colorful one, full of vibrant greens and blues on the world map, yet inside the villages, the lush browns take dominance. The character models were also carefully constructed, with certain features accentuated, and sometimes exaggerated for effect. I would actually go so far as to say that this is the most visually appealing 2-Dimensional RPG that I have laid my eyes on, especially the appearance of everything while in battle.
Even with the stimulating graphics, I'd have to say that the best thing this game has going for it presentation-wise is it's music. This music is amongst the best music I've ever heard in a video game before (eat that Nobuo Uematsu). I found that the music worked well in inspiring me to feel specific ways during certain areas of the game where it seems the creators wanted you to feel involved in the intense storyline, and this works well to all extent that I have played. As far as music goes, my two favorite songs are the harpy village theme, and the boss battle track.
Control is fairly simple, though I don't like either of the standard Saturn control pads. The camera perspective in this game is your typical 3/4 overhead view, yet you can direct Pike to walk diagonal, which is unlike most 2-Dimensional RPG games, but this works pretty well in the game, given that the Saturn Pad wasn't exactly the most snug fit, and the directional pad has messed up my thumb more than once from this game alone. Menus are very non bulky, so you should be able to easily figure out how to do what without having to resort to the manual. During battles is a little different though, and navigating the menu may take a few minutes of practice actually before you can get it right and timely.
If you've got a dusty (or clean) Saturn just laying around, and are looking for an engaging RPG that seemed to skip out on the Playstation era, then this would be a perfect choice for you. Albert Odyssey is one of the most charming, involving, and just plain fun RPGs to come from the 32-bit era.
Overall Rating: 9.2
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