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SummaryBetter than I expected
The GoodBefore I begin the proper review I have to say a couple of things: I played the English version and can only hope that it was true to the original. The second thing is that I dislike JRPG (and you'll get to find out why in the Bad section). My review will be from a non-fan point of a view and the reason I write this in the Good section (apart from it coming first) is because even I have to admit that Bahamut Lagoon is quite good. Surprisingly good.
At it's core the gameplay is a standard JRPG of the SNES era. Party turn based combat with combatants lined up against each other like in a bad dance off. In each round the player chooses their action (attack, defense, magic, etc.) until their opponent drops dead. Nothing new, right? Wrong!
This game is ultimately a strategy game and not the usual turn based hack and slash. Your hero does not act alone - he has a small army of loyal assistants and several pet dragons to do his bidding. The game is broken down to three different environments: Each mission is a map on which your characters and your opponents move in groups (of up to four). Maneuvering in the terrain, with the option of using overland magic and abilities or closing in with your enemy to begin the above mentioned standard combat. In between missions you move around your ship, talk, buy, sell and engage in other standard RPG activities.
These three different environments are blended quite well with actions in one having consequences in another. You want to defeat enemies? You need to have a strong party. But a definition of "strong" can vary - each character belongs to a class and classes have abilities that are shared across the entire party in addition to their personal combat stats and spells. You may be tempted to build a unit of four heavy knights only to find out that their heavy armor makes them crawl slowly through the overland map (not to mention their weakness to magical attacks). You then switch to light knights, but their fast speed comes at the cost of their combat abilities. If you wish to perform well in both the main map and close combat you usually have to blend several different classes in a unit. The terrain itself is crucial to your success - rivers can be frozen to cross them, ice can be melted to drown enemies, forest can be set aflame, fortification and bridges can be destroyed. Each map allows you to utilize your surroundings to your advantage before you engage your enemies in melee.
The second strategical part of the game is dragon training and is accomplished in between missions when the game goes into its RPG mode. Consumable items that you collected through your missions or bought in your ship's shop can be fed to your dragons to change their attributes. Each item can change a certain attribute and since those items can be useful to your heroes, deciding which to feed to your dragons and which save for later adds another dimension to the game. Various combination of certain attribute levels change the dragons' appearance to new and interesting forms. This is just a eye candy, but some special forms have unique powers which are hugely importance to you. Moreover, dragons grant bonuses to the unit to which they are attached in a similar way to character classes, allowing for greater synergy in your units' overall strength. Unlike your regular units, dragons are indirectly controlled - you can choose whether you want it to charge at the enemy, stay close to you or retreat - adding even more variety to your gameplay.
If that wasn't enough, your exploration and conversations in between missions can have effects on your party. You can discover some unique items and characters in between missions if you look at the right places and some conversation options can cost you a crew member.
The BadThe characters. The horrible, horrible characters. In a true JRPG fashion almost all characters are cardboard stereotypes with little or no personality. You have your jingoist friend, a soldier who is compensating for some failure by approaching every problem with bovine stupidity, a fat boy who exists only to be the but of every joke, and a hero who is a maladjusted teenager. But the worst character is by far your love interest, who is also (surprise!) a princess. Her entire personality (if you can call it that) is being an indecisive maiden in distress. This is always tacky and cliche, but this game really breaks new levels of absurdity if you know that she is actually a very powerful unit. As a matter of fact, she can be considered the most powerful unit in the game. It's really baffling how anyone can pay any attention to her emotional drama when the player knows that on the battlefield she solves most problems with a flick of her magic rod. If that wasn't enough, you get to hear all about those pathetic characters in endless, boring conversations. The entire main plot is presented in agonizingly long-winded cutscenes, occasionally with flashbacks. The game mercifully allows you to skip a spoken line, but all in conversations the characters move around - something that can't be skipped. So you end up waiting for a character to go somewhere, strike a dramatic pose (a 8-bit dramatic pose, no less) and wobble back to its place having delivered it dose of boredom.
It's not all bad, though. I found some optional conversations refreshingly different: There is a crew member who slowly become addicted to healing potions to the point when she doesn't get out of bed anymore. Or you have an old mentor figure who develops a creepy obsession for our teenage hero. When compared to all other bland characters, these weird little moments add some relief, but not nearly enough.
Aside from the usually problematic JRPG writing there are also some minor game issues: There are few weapons and armor, and even those are divided by classes, which limits your options when equipping your crew. With so few items your fights will end up rather disappointing.
Speaking of disappointment - the dragons aren't as well implemented as they should be. The game boasts at having dozen of dragon forms, but since they all have no practical use you'll aim only for the few forms that grant special powers. And if that wasn't enough, only three of those forms are truly good and only one of those grants you maximal power. It would have been OK if each dragon had a different way of getting to its master form, but it's the same for everyone - just max most attributes. Sadly the master form has no unique image and your dragon will look exactly like it did in the start of the game, which is highly anti climatic.
Lastly, the difficulty leaves much to be desired. I found the game too easy (mostly because I early developed one of my dragons into its master form which made it immortal) and the option to play at a harder difficulty setting appears only when you finish the game on normal difficulty. Since I had no desire to replay the entire game (which is naturally linear) I have no idea how challenging that setting is. I do know, however, that the game doesn't reward any outstanding effort. You can acquire unique items and feed them to your dragon to get a rare form, but that form is surprisingly weak and in no way correlates to the difficulty of finding the hidden items.