Gamestyle Archive intro: we’re back in September 2001 with a rather unusual RPG from Japan that arrived on the PS2 complete with guitar. Written by JJ.
If the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 have one thing in common it’s the fact that both machines have had to wait too long for a decent RPG. So far the PS2 offerings have been fairly poor (Summoner, Eternal Ring, Evergrace) but this didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Ephemeral Fantasia with its typical Japanese touches. Konami have been one of the biggest and best supporters of the PS2, offering some quality releases such as Z.O.E., Ring of Red and plenty more to come before Christmas including Silent Hill 2. Ephemeral Fantasia has probably sneaked out onto the retail shelves unnoticed by the masses but Gamestyle is going to that right.
The story is set on the island of Pandule, a paradise island that is cut off from the rest of the world. Xelpherpolis the leader of Pandule intends to marry Princess Loreille and wishes the famous composer (Mouse) to write a song for the event. As main hero of the story, Mouse has a unique character and a secret life as a thief. If that wasn’t enough his guitar is called Pattimo and it can talk as well. Soon after arriving on the island you notice that not everything is what it seems, no one ever leaves the island and why does the Princess want to marry Xelpherpolis when you are madly in love with her? Then there is the remote side of the island, which no one is allowed to visit and what about this demon reactor in the palace grounds?
It soon turns out that Xelpherpolis is using marriage to the Princess to gain power and control over Pandule. Once this is achieved he will use a time bending spell to suck the life out of every inhabitant on the island or so he thinks. As with many recent games in this genre the game and story don’t really kick in until a couple of hours of solid playing. When you first start the town seems dead, even the houses are empty with few items to collect or examine. You will stop and wonder what exactly you are meant to be doing, especially if you are experienced in Final Fantasy, which can be a fairly linear experience. You will not encounter a battle until you leave the town for the beach to view the first ceremony and this is at least over an hour away from the beginning.
The interaction, plot and character development is sadly lacking in this crucial phase and will be enough to put most gamers off. The laid-back approach brought back memories of Grandia II but at least the Dreamcast game had some direction in the opening moments. Ephemeral Fantasia does its best in the beginning to set out the situation and characters but the atmosphere is sadly lacking. As you would expect from Konami the presentation is first class, we’re not talking Final Fantasy standards but nevertheless a great deal of thought has been put into the character designs and locations. As with most games in this genre, battle systems and figures are very much to the forefront of everything. What Ephemeral Fantasia does is introduce some new and refreshing refinements as well as elements that only a Japanese developer could conceive.
The game like Zelda Majora’s Mask utilises a time loop further into the game, along the lines of Groundhog Day but unlike Zelda isn’t a daunting experience. When the loop is involved you have 5 days to achieve certain aims and recruit new members to your cause, with the goals clearly defined its far easier here. Of course if you miss the opportunity you can wait until the next loop to complete your task or acquire that particular item. At times this can be frustrating but as with Zelda, it does provide great scope to try things out. Whereas many RPG’s are fairly linear and you have little control over the plot, Ephemeral Fantasia has many key decisions, which you have to make; each affecting the path you take.
Of course with any RPG there are drawbacks and one of the main problems with Ephemeral Fantasia is its insistence of random battles. This makes a short journey of moving to another town an immense and time-consuming undertaking. Adding the time loop into account and unlike other RPG’s, here you are very much competing against the clock. While you have three camera angles on offer at all times, including battle sequences, these could have been chosen better. The top down view is perhaps the best but as with WDL Thundertanks, this reduces your 128bit game to an overhead 16bit version. The inclusion of a guitar, which is playable if you imported the Konami Bemani guitar peripheral for the playstation, is an oddity.
The game options do not allow you to practice playing using the guitar or controller at all. So when the first opportunity arises to whip out your guitar and strum a few chords, it’s very much a non-event. It is however an opportunity missed, as the chance to relieve the tension and introduce some musical interaction into an RPG is a novel concept and with a bit more planning could have been good fun. Perhaps if I had imported the guitar the feature would have made more sense but how many punters will own such an item? Even though the guitar fails to improve matters the range of mini-games throughout should compensate any player. Simple games included in the main story provide a welcome distraction and in most Final Fantasies can be highly addictive and worthwhile.
Ephemeral Fantasia includes dominoes and a drinking competition amongst its many mini-games. The sexist jokes directed at Rummy are scattered throughout the game and may provide a humorous distraction to some. I found them a curious inclusion and put it down to the Japanese origins of the game, others may find them offensive but I hope not. The game graphically is a solid enough effort but certainly is only just above average for what has been seen on the system so far. I applaud the cut scenes using the game engine and not full-blown FMV used by Final Fantasy as it keeps the story moving forward without distraction.
The audio is effective but not the loud, emotional and composed efforts we’ve seen of late from Skies of Arcadia or Grandia II. Ephemeral Fantasia does not use audio speech and instead keeps tradition with the text based option, the preferred method of the Gamestyle team. Character animation could have been improved and every door has the same sound effect but overlooking this it’s a good effort. I also discovered that it was possible to play the game using the Sony Remote Control although this is not intended to be the case. The controller is still the best option as you cannot press two buttons at the same time on the remote but I found it nice enough nevertheless.
If you are looking for an RPG to invest sometime in, take advantage of Ephemeral Fantasia as it’s the best example so far on the PS2. It is not the easiest adventure I have undertaken but once past the slow opening stages the story, games and characters come to the forefront. An unexpected and enjoyable game if you give it a chance.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10