Alundra is one of those games I so dearly want to call one of the greatest of all time. It's like if Zelda designers hated children, and wanted them to scratch their heads for hours in a 40 hour game. It's not really that though, actually Alundra's puzzles aren't hard, just obtuse. They are designed in such a way that if you leave one stone unturned, the game will not allow you to progress.
The plot here...well it's hard to say the whole plot. Alundra, a Link-ish boy is on a ship which crashes or something and he washes up in a town. The countless dungeons in the outer world aren't enough because Alundra also visits the dreams of the townspeople, which are also dungeons. These dream dungeons have no special properties or game mechanics, they are just additional dungeons. Considering Alundra takes items from these dreams, yeah. I don't even know anymore.
The game is like Zelda. You attack enemies with weapons, solve puzzles, and progress. The graphics are absolutely beautiful. They are almost pure 2D but the level of detail just makes it work. It looks better than anything that could be rendered in 2D in maybe the SNES era and some of the more fine details of this world are concerning. The harder thing is that Alundra runs and jumps. Sometimes you can't tell what level things are on the pseudo-isometric view, making the gameplay problematic. That, coupled with navigation problems, can make the game annoying. This is a big, long game and finishing it will likely require a guide and dedication.
The puzzles are as you'd expect. Block pushing, block breaking, moving things, secret passages, the works. The game has a number of challenging boss fights which require persistance to get through. You can restore health via gems, and increase your gem meter, but the game is hard. So you go along through these dungeons, exploring, then activating certain things to progress the plot, and move onward. At the start it's not too bad, later on it gets very hard. Right around the sand dungeon, the game becomes a severe challenge, especially since the obtuse puzzles are often nonsensical and there is no real indicator of where you need to go or what you need to do. Even with a guide, it's annoying. The game also changes its rules frequently. In one room, arrows might move you about, but in the next room over, they don't do that at all. This makes puzzle solving a legitimate pain. Couple in keys, the need to talk to certain people, and all kinds of cheap ways to make the game artificially difficult, and the game is a migraine. I can understand that in games like Zelda there are logical and sometimes illogical solutions to puzzles, but with Alundra you are rarely figuring things out and more or less just smashing your head against the wall (Literally and figuratively) until a key falls out or a floor breaks.
That said, the game is still very, very fun. I especially like the music. The music has this whimsical JRPG feel while steel having a westernized element to it, a bit like Wild Arms. The game has that JRPG flavor without the turn based battles or anything of the sort. It's actually pretty refreshing. Renting this game as a kid, I couldn't finish the first dungeon. Today it's naturally a lot easier, but still frustrating.
The combat fares OK. Sometimes fighting enemies is fun, sometimes it's frustrating. About 1/4 of the way through the game it just feels like you're smacking at everything. At least the game gives you a good set of weaponry, swords and chainwhips and stuff. There's even magic though it's barely used. As I said the boss fights can be pretty challenging and epic, and there are a number of them. My biggest problems with Alundra lie in my frustrations with gameplay mechanics. If you're looking for a Zelda-esque game with really charming music and graphics that's high on the challenge factor, give it a try, but don't be surprised when you find out the puzzles are senseless and seem to punish your intelligence more often than reward it.
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