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SummaryTears of the Players
The GoodThis sequel to Phantom of Avalanche has a few bright points, though they are drowning in its ocean of flaws. As bad as the combat system is, there are a few interesting elements in it. Each area has its own chi, i.e. element, so attacks based on this element will do more or less damage, respectively. Each party member can also master techniques of different elements ("styles"), and switch them in battles. Learning stronger techniques of the same style requires you to repeatedly achieve perfect results when pressing the three attack buttons. Also, as you get more and more perfect results, you accumulate special points which you can later "unleash" at any time, to significantly increase the damage of your next attack.
Other moderately fun stuff includes item-combination (making your own powerful items from those you can buy in stores) and "trust-building", which is a minigame in a "dating sim" style: you talk to your characters at save points and can make them happy, indifferent, or angry depending on what you choose to tell them.
Character graphics deserve a special mention. The characters in the game certainly look unique and very detailed. Many of them also look pretty ridiculous, if you ask me. But it is obvious the artist has found his own style, no matter how extravagant it is. Sometimes you'll want to continue playing the game just to see how your next party member will look like.
The BadTears of Blood falls flat on its face with its cumbersome, awkwardly executed combat system. For a completely inexplicable reason, they decided to limit every turn to one character. That's right. Instead of assigning commands to your party members, you control only one. You can choose which one, and you can choose another character next turn, but only one character can act in one turn. The other two characters just stand there and do nothing. Strange? You bet, but it doesn't end there. Even though you master stronger moves the more you use a certain style, you always start with the weakest and must go through all four stages to reach the strongest attack in every battle. Why? I understand you should pay some price for the strong attack. So let it drain you in some way or whatever, but why not make it accessible right away? Imagine how terribly long-drawn and repetitive the battles become because of that.
To this, add the totally unnecessary, arcadish action element. You see, when your turn comes, you should press three buttons on your controller so that they fit into a spinning circle. If you fail to hit one of them correctly, you'll miss your attack. Sounds fair? Not really. First, why should you miss the entire attack if you failed to hit only one of the buttons?! But that's not all. If you miss, you also get a penalty to the time elapsed until your next turn, revert back to your weakest attacks, and lose all your trinity points, which are accumulated bonus damage to your next attack. This is utterly ridiculous.
There are many other gameplay-related flaws in the game. You cannot allow yourself to run at all, because if you do, you'll always be ambushed by enemies. The dungeons, however, tend to be fairly long, so you'll have to walk through them instead of running, which adds too many empty hours to an already long game. You'll also have to backtrack a lot and visit the same areas with different parties, which is really annoying and boring. And you'll have to fight all the enemies you meet because you need the experience. You'll be in control of several parties and will have to level up each party member, because you never know which party the game will force you to play. You cannot really choose and build up characters properly, because they come and go much too frequently.
The game is horribly, disastrously linear. More often than not you won't be able to access areas you'd like to explore, be confined to limited town or dungeon-like sections, unable to travel on the world map - even not jumping from dot to dot. Everything is done automatically by the game. There is no sense of exploration at all in Tears of Blood. What's worse is that even the areas you can explore are uninteresting. Dungeons tend to be bland and dull, they lack color and structure. Add to that the backtracking element and you'll get a good recipe for extremely tedious gameplay. In towns, you rarely can do something besides buying equipment or talking to some lonely NPCs. You are unable to enter most of the buildings, they are just standing there as a decoration.
One of the worst aspects of Tears of Blood is its camera. It is fixed, which is automatically a flaw in my book; but even that is not done properly. You are forced to look at the game world from horrendously weird angles. When you begin a battle, you often have no idea where some of your characters are, you also don't see the enemies until they draw near and attack.
The story is not all bad, but lack of warmth in the dialogue seriously hampers the enjoyment and prevents us from being attached to the characters. And, although there are proper cutscenes in the game, a lot of dramatic events and conversations are presented as weird dialogues boxes over totally still backgrounds.