Beautiful graphics, but where's the beef?
The graphics are absolutely stunning. In a time where it was practically mandatory for every game to feature glitchy, blocky, choppy 3D as opposed to beautifully-rendered 2D artwork, Albert Odyssey came as a breath of fresh air. Thanks to the 2D supremacy of Sega's 32-bit Saturn, everything is intricately detailed and well-animated. Some of the backdrops even resemble oil paintings with their lush, saturated colors.
The soundtrack is also good, and features a number of memorable tracks, particularly the overworld theme for the first half of the game, and the Airship theme.
For all its beauty, the actual gameplay of Albert Odyssey can be summed up with this simple phrase: "generic Japanese RPG". Practically all the cliche characters are here - the mute young orphan hero, the gruff samurai-esque warrior, the cute & spunky heroines, the effeminate ladies' man (except here he's a bird-man, but that's irrelevant). You have the usual storyline that begins in the hero's humble little village and ends with a battle in the evil lord's dark palace for the fate of the world, with many hours of walking from town to town and talking to NPCs in between. The gameplay is standard RPG fare - get into random encounters, kill monsters, collect gold and experience, level up. The occasional dungeon or boss fight mixes the cycle up a little, but it's still largely the same.
Albert Odyssey also has a few features that are uniquely annoying. The random battles are as frequent as in any of the Final Fantasies or Dragon Warriors, but they begin and end with what seems like an eternity of disc accessing. Working Designs, who localized the game for the US, claims that the load times were even longer in the Japanese version, which is truly stunning.
The gameplay also isn't as deep as in some JRPGs. Whenever your offensive magic users learn a new attack spell, expect it to render all your past spells obsolete. Final Fantasy managed to keep older spells useful by making monsters vulnerable or resistant to certain types of magic, but here you can just select whatever's highest on your spell list. And if that wasn't enough, almost all of your attack spells target multiple creatures, which limits their usefulness against bosses (which is what you typically save your magic points for anyhow). The imbalance doesn't stop there - late in the game, the healer character can only heal one person at a time, and thus almost becomes dead weight as you go up against boss after boss that uses devastating multiple-target attacks. Who can heal everyone at once? Why dragon-samurai Gryzz, the most powerful fighter in your party, of course! Expect to have him waste every single turn on his "heal breath"in the last 1/4 of the game.
Finally, as Working Designs was responsible for the localization, you can expect high-quality packaging and a full-color manual, dialogue that's free of annoying mistranslations or stilted wording, competent voice acting for the few scenes that need it, and some obnoxious pop-culture references and juvenile jokes thrown in seemingly at random. While this doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does some people, it's still annoying.
The Bottom Line
If you've played every other JRPG out there and could go for some beautiful graphics and music but painfully underachieving gameplay, give this a try. Personally, I blame this game for my gradual disenchantment with anime in general and anime-inspired RPGs in particular. But fans of the genre could certainly do worse.