ATB is the way to put an end to dirty insinuations
The GoodCosmic Fantasy 4-1
(I really don't want to type the pompous full title) is the first part of the grand finale of a rather obscure and niche Japanese RPG series, whose quirky charm granted it a special place in the hearts of some fans. The series' overarching story makes every installment essential; despite this game's serious drawbacks, it is still a part of the large picture, and there are many things it does extraordinary well.
The graphical leap of quality is instantly noticeable. Visually, this game is a proper swan song of the aging console; it squeezes the last ounces of power from the old machine. Cosmic Fantasy 4-1
better than the previous game
. In fact, all Cosmic Fantasy
games before this one looked pretty drab; but Cosmic Fantasy 4-1
is just short of gorgeous. The environments are lush, vibrant, colorful, and much more detailed than in its predecessor. It's a pleasure to explore the game's world, with its dungeons stealing the show. They are varied and full of atmosphere; even the least exciting type of a hostile area known to me, a forest maze, oozes mysterious charm in this game.
But these dungeons are more than just eye candy: they are decidedly more interesting to explore than the mazes of the previous games. Traps, pits, switches, and other assorted obstacles make dungeon exploration thrilling. I've read reviews criticizing precisely this aspect of the game; I suppose it is a matter of taste, but I want my dungeons tricky
. I don't want to run in a straight line or explore mazes where each step is safe; I want to feel the danger. I also want to explore hidden areas to get treasure, and Cosmic Fantasy 4-1
carefully preserves this essential aspect of dungeon-crawling: there is something to find everywhere, and you feel rewarded for your curiosity and patience.
As much as I loved the previous games, I always found their gameplay deficient in many ways, perhaps even simplistic. The third game was a big improvement, but it is only here that they finally nailed it. The gameplay in Cosmic Fantasy 4-1
is more involving, balanced, and expertly crafted than in the earlier games. Without deviating from the "old school" recipe, it has traditional simple leveling and gradual linear ability-learning; but it executes this conservative formula very well. Enemies have become smarter, and balance between physical attacks and magic is better than ever before.
The game adds an ATB-like bar to the battles, similar to those of Final Fantasy
games, with the important distinction that the game pauses when you scroll through menus. What is cool about this system is that speed plays a much bigger role than usually. Being able to see when your character can act adds tactical depth to combat. The real-time element is less noticeable than in Final Fantasy
games, but it is still there, implemented in a slightly different way: the game won't select characters for you (unless you set the whole battle on auto), and you'll have to cycle through them, selecting an action just when a character's bar is full; the game doesn't pause during this time, and enemies will attack if it takes you too long to do that. In fact, there are two
bars for each character, the second obviously taking longer to fill up, but opening more powerful attacks and spells. Once you get a party, the advantages of this system are clearly displayed: it's a great mix of old-fashioned turn-based mechanics and real-time spice.
All other gameplay-related aspects are executed with a similar competence: walking speed can be set to very fast; enemy encounter rate is adequate (if slightly on the frequent side); weapons, armor, and accessories are plentiful and varied.
The music deserves a special mention: the melodies are extremely catchy in their typical Japanese naivety. Town, dungeon, world map, and battle music compositions are just perfect, the town music being particularly endearing.
Naturally, the series' trademark anime cutscenes can be found in this installment as well. Even though I'd prefer to see more of them, those that are there are beautiful. The erotic element is more noticeable in this installment than ever before; when done right, it can be quite charming. Fans of sexually provocative scenes will be certainly more delighted with this Cosmic Fantasy
than with any of its predecessors. This is, however, not always a good thing - which smoothly leads us into the "Bad" section.
There is a reason why Cosmic Fantasy 4-1
is the least beloved installment of the series. They were obviously testing the new engine here, and probably decided that the best stuff should be saved for the second chapter
. As a result, a lot of things feel half-baked and neglected in this game.
The most obvious disappointment is the story, which hearkens back to the days of the first installment, without the emotional drama of the second game
or the plot twists of the third. The villains deteriorate into boring, cliche demonic types, and the whole thing is over too quickly. Of course, one could argue that this game is just a first part. Indeed, nowadays nobody would be surprised by a paltry story ending with a "To Be Continued" slapped on its meagre back; but in those days, people expected an epic, emotional RPG from such a game, and sadly, Cosmic Fantasy 4-1
falls short of that.
The story also lacks the usual warmth typical of the series. I didn't quite like the game's unpleasant change of tone. The series always had "naughty" scenes, but here, they are positively raunchy. Particularly disturbing is the lewd attitude towards Saya, culminating in a scene that depicts a monster attempting to rape her (thankfully, it doesn't go beyond the attempt). Some of the eroticism in the game is still sweet; but I'd much prefer to see romantic scenes between Yuu and Saya than falling victim to images catering to Japanese perverts. I don't want it to sound worse than it is - even the aforementioned scene has its merits (if we disregard the disturbing erotic connotations, it is quite capable of conveying fear and anger towards the attacker). But much of the series' innocence has been lost here.
Who on Earth came up with the idea of starting the game with a digital comic? Never mind the fact that, with rare exceptions, those games are boring as hell; but why stick it on top of an RPG? You are forced to repeatedly select verb commands, looking at things and talking to people you won't ever see again. After the digital comic, you travel to another planet, where you spend the actual game; what was the point of lengthening it with useless, painfully obtained info? I'm also fairly positive they spent a lot of disc space on this comic, which results in a reduced amount of anime cutscenes during the game. There are still quite a few, but this is a needless sacrifice nevertheless.
The gameplay doesn't really kick in before you get party members, which unfortunately takes a while. You'll have to visit several towns, explore three dungeons, and fight two or three bosses before people finally begin to join you. The problem is that the new system makes solo battles even more tedious and unrewarding than they are already. Why invent a good system only to show its only disadvantage right away?
The Bottom Line
I can see why many fans of the series dislike the first chapter of Cosmic Fantasy 4
. Humdrum story, slow beginning, and dubious Saya-related fan service tarnish the reputation of the series. These negative aspects made many fans overlook what the game did right. Despite my warmer feelings towards the previous installments, I can't ignore the fact that Chapter 1
has vastly improved gameplay, dungeon design, and visuals. After the dull initial stretch the game goes full-speed with its new combat system, and humor and emotions return - on a smaller scale than before, but still very much in the spirit of the series.