Alundra is a special game in many ways. The game was released in North America by Working Designs in 1997. At the time I wasn’t really into Action RPGs, so I paid no attention to the game. Unfortunately, Working Designs released a limited amount of copies of the game which at least by my estimation sold fairly quickly. By the year 2000 the game was very hard to find unless you went on Ebay.
It was in that year that I first started looking for the game at local EBs. I read numerous of reviews from Spanish, and English video games magazines praising the game as a masterpiece. I spent almost three years looking for the game until I finally found it. The journey I had to undertake in order to get my hands on this game was incredible.
I skipped college, and with less than half a gas tank on my car, I went to uncharted territory. It took me two hours of driving to get to the closest EB to the area where I lived that actually had the game.
It was a tough trip, there was a rainstorm, and I got lost because I had never been to that particular town. But because of my determination to experience this classic first-hand, I managed to get to the store, and acquire it.
So was the incredibly difficult trip worth the game? Absolutely. (In fact, we took another look at the game more recently in our weekly Throwback Bit Thursday article: Alundra, More Than Just a Zelda Clone
Alundra the Dreamwalker
To start, it has to be said that Alundra is in many ways; a Zelda rip off. But there is nothing wrong with taking many aspects of Zelda, and making them better. That is exactly what Alundra does. In many ways it out performs Zelda, in fact I dare say, that this game is vastly superior to any two-dimensional Zelda.
For starters the story puts any of the Zelda story lines to shame, while at the same time managing to outdo many other more traditional RPGs. I used to have the notion that due to the dungeon crawling, and collecting item nature of Action RPGs, that it was nearly impossible to have a good story line in said genre.
Alundra slapped that notion silly with its brilliant storytelling. The basic goal in Alundra is to collect seven crests to be able to fight the evil Melzas.
This basic story had been done a few times before in Zelda games. In those titles you collected gems, medallions, masks, tri-force shards etc. in order to reach the final boss. However, unlike Zelda, Alundra makes you feel like you are part of a truly sinister tale.
Melzas is not the Stereotypical Action RPG villian. He has clear reasons for being evil, unlike Ganondorf (at least in early Zelda entries), but I will go into detail on that later.
Alundra is an Elven boy from the tribe of Elna. He can get inside people’s dreams, and change their outcome. He has a dream instructing him to make a journey to the village of Inoa. Thus your quest starts with Alundra on a ship that is heading to Inoa.
From there Alundra will eventually reach the village, which is going through some rough times as the villagers are dying in their sleep as they dream. This is where Alundra’s dream entering, and walking abilities come into play. From that point forwards you will witness death, corruption, religious issues, love and other common themes in Japanese RPGs.
The one problem I always had with Zelda games was that the storylines were just too vague and predictable (The series improved in that regard starting with N64 iterations). Alundra fixes those issues because it features a plot that is mature, and extremely unpredictable.
At the beginning of the game the story gives you the sense that you are only saving individual people, and not the world. This is one of the key points of the plot. As you play you never really feel the urge to save the world because simply no one knows what is causing the nightmares. It is a mystery that you, in the role of Alundra must solve.
What you know though, is that people need your help and that you must enter their dreams in order to save them. So, unconsciously, I became attached to the villagers because I felt like I was truly living amongst them, helping them.
As you progress through the game the story takes you to different dungeons to collect the crests. When you go into dungeons to collect these crests the sole motivation isn’t to reach the final boss like in most Action RPGS, unlike other action RPGs Alundra’s plot always gives you a powerful reason to enter each dungeon other than usual to get powerful enough to face the villian (last boss) yada, yada.
Alundra’s plot is dark, there is a lot of death going on, and you always have the “who will be next?” question on the back of your mind. There are many things going on in the story at once, and yet the plot never even for one-second becomes confusing. The translation, which is one of, if not the best I have seen, played a huge part in this.
Every character, even the ones who had small roles, had an unique personality, and something interesting to say. There are four letter curse words, and slang used in the text. I often laughed at some of the humorous lines from NPCs (Non Player Characters). The game is just that brilliant; it has humor when it needs it while managing to keep the sad depressing tone going strong at the same time. Oh! And there is also a love story going on with Meia that is simple yet incredibly believable by the game’s end.
The ending itself is very satisfying, but leaves plenty of room for a sequel. (Note: There is an Alundra 2 on the market, but that game has nothing to do with the original, and its utter crap. Some key members that developed Alundra left Matrix (developer) so they didn’t work on Alundra 2 which is part of the reason why that game stumbled, and its storyline is totally different.)
As far as the main character is concerned, much of him is a mystery. His past is never known. The only thing you ever get to know about his background is that he is from the tribe of Elna. However, his past is not truly important because, even if it was told it would have no effect on the story. Which brings us to another strong point of the plot; it doesn’t waste time by adding unnecessary sub plots that have nothing to do with the main plot.
The Narration tells every thing it needs to tell to get you involved, and to keep you playing for more. It’s good that we don’t know anything about the main characters personality, or background, because it allows us to Role play him perfectly as we can draw our own conclusions of how he came to be who he is.
Finally all the other villagers have separate issues, and as I stated before, personalities which are realistic, and interesting. I felt sad everytime one of them died. It’s not that they had long scripts, it’s just that they all had something interesting to say. Even if some of them only had two lines of speech per day, whatever they said in those two lines gave them more life and more importance than the 50 pages worth of text that a lot of main characters in other RPGs have.
In short I have never played an RPG in which characters with so little to say, said enough to make them seem like such an important part of the game world and the story as a whole.
The Villain is not really involved in much of the story, and there is a reason for it. He is, in fact, everywhere in the story if you pay attention to the plot, but his physical presence isn’t present in a tangible form until the very end.
However, he is developed in such a way that it didn’t matter to me if he wasn’t directly interacting with Alundra. The villain was a real menace, and one of the better villains in RPG history.
Tough as nails!
Alundra is not a kids game. This is an incredibly hard RPG that makes any Zelda, and any Action RPG (Not named Dark Souls) for that matter look like child’s play. The exploration and dungeon crawling features are reminiscent of the two dimensional Zeldas.
In your arsenal you have, a sword, an Iron flail, a hunters bow, and fire and ice wands etc. Plus you can find some hidden weapons throughout the world too. In Zelda you collect hearts for life, in Alundra you collect Life vessels which can be found while exploring the over world map, and inside of the dungeons. You can also collect magic seeds to use magic spells.
There are plenty of health items that you can use from your inventory. It’s all very similar to Zelda, in fact you can use bombs too. So what is different from Zelda you say? Well, you can jump by pressing X. This adds a new dimension to the exploration side of the game, and a new twist to some puzzles. This also makes the game harder…way harder.
Some puzzles require you jump from platform to platform in a certain amount of time, failure to do so would cause Alundra to fall, and have to start all over again. I especially remember one instance in which I had to jump across switches before they fell down. I had to repeat it like 20 times to get it right. So while there are many advantages to being able to jump at will. The disadvantages are – that to me – it seems that jumping wasn’t meant for two-dimensional, 3/4 viewpoint RPGs.
In some occasions I found some jumping puzzles down right frustrating. Not only do you have to figure out what to do but once you figure out what to do, you have to figure out how to do it, and then do it. Unfortunately the ‘doing it’ part is usually the hardest.
Some puzzles that don’t even involve much physical movement are incredibly tough. You can spend an hour just thinking in how to move some pillars inside one room in the right order, and direction just so they can be placed on top of a switch. These are the puzzles where the game shines. These puzzles are tough to solve, but once solved, the satisfaction is unparalleled. On some occasions I would call myself a genius -out loud- as I played.
The world map in this game is HUGE, perhaps bigger than any other two dimensional RPG before it. I haven’t found all the secrets yet because of this, and because there are many, many hidden caves, and dungeons waiting to be uncovered. The main dungeons themselves are huge including the ones that are traversed when you enter someone’s dream. In fact, for the most part, the dream dungeons are the toughest, with the exception of the very last dungeon of the game (that castle is tough!).
To get a concept of how huge the game is, realize this; in one section of the game, going through the Murgg woods to be exact. I found myself wandering for three hours trying to navigate my way to the Murgg tree. That perhaps was the most frustrating part of the game for me, and it was all thanks to the 2-D graphics. I couldn’t find my way through a cave because I couldn’t see a pathway through a wall. I finally managed to beat that part when I stumbled, and accidentally went into what seemed like a wall, to find my way out of the woods.
The scope of this game should not be underestimated, its bigger than any action RPG I have played (Take the endless oceans of Wind Waker out, and Alundra kicks its butt in scope). The excellence of its dungeon layouts, over world design and just clean polished gameplay mechanics are only surpassed by Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
The only knock on the gameplay in those areas are the sometimes frustrating puzzles, control breaking platform jumping sessions, and very minor confusions in key areas due to the 2-D graphics. Other than that, the game is flawless in its execution.
A Worthy Challenge
Moving onto the battles. All the bosses are tough; some of the latter bosses require constant repetition to find key weakness, and patterns to exploit in order to defeat them. The only complaint I have, is with that wretched last boss battle which consists in two tough fights, and a third one which is ultra hard.
You have to fight them one after the other with out a chance to save, or replenish your healing items. What this means is, that you have to die like ten (or more) times to finally figure out how to fight the first two fights almost perfectly so you have enough healing items for the non forgiving third boss.
The third last boss is a tough bastard. Make one tiny mistake and you will either die on the act or take heavy damage. To beat that last boss you have to be fast on your fingers and have almost perfect timing to: Evade, run, jump, hit the boss on head with the sword once, run back, evade, run some more, hide, and repeat for 30 minutes until – if you are almost perfect and manage to survive – the boss finally goes down. Keep in mind the “almost perfect” because you will have to be just that.
The last boss attacks you with six different attacks from all sides. This can turn off a lot of gamers especially if they are the unlucky bastards that fought tooth and nail for 29 minutes only to die, and have to start all over again. This game is enjoyable if you are a very skill full, and patient player, if you are not then you will have to become one.
Overall save that last battle all the bosses are excellent, and after you have beaten those three last bosses once, they will become much easier the second time around.
The only thing that really puts this game’s gameplay a notch below Ocarina’s is the lack of mini- games, and side-quests. All you pretty much get to do in Alundra besides playing through the plot is collecting guilded falcons and life vessels. But since the game came out before Ocarina then the lack of mini games is excusable.
A 2-D Graphical Power House!
This game is a two dimensional masterpiece, I dare you to find a 2-D RPG that is better looking. The character sprites are large and well animated. The over world is varied with lakes, rivers, water falls, deserts, snow (in a dream), forests, beaches etc. In other words; any locale imaginable.
The houses, and the village of Inoa all look authentic even today 2019. The excellence in its visuals was enough to make me believe that I was in that world. The bosses were beautifully designed some are huge, and well animated. The architecture in some of the buildings was a sight to behold too.
Inoa village at nighttime has that magical feel of the Kokiri forest in Ocarina of Time, complete with the fireflies. If there is any graphical flaw in the game, is that the graphics are more on the dark side, rather than on the bright side of things color palette wise.
Some areas felt like they needed brighter colors. But that is just nit picking because maybe the graphics look like that to help the dark mood of the story. In short you will be hard pressed to find a better-looking 2-D game.
A Mixed Bag
Music wise Alundra is tough to rate. There are some compositions that are brilliant right up there with Nintendo’s Koji Kondo’s best (The Legend of Zelda’s composer). One example is the over world theme (which is pretty much the game’s theme). Another one is the sad song that plays when some dies, and lastly the brilliant and I mean brilliant song that plays when the anime scenes are playing at the ending.
It must also be added that some of the boss’s songs are truly menacing. However, as you can see by my list you get like five truly great tunes, and then the rest ranges from good to average. This was a situation that really never became a problem, because the music got the job done when needed.
Kohei Tanaka is a good composer who has his moments of brilliance during the game but most of the time he sinks into average land. He is not the most consistent man.
The sound effects are well done though especially for a 1997 2-D game, you hear anything from creeks, and waterfalls, to the smallest sounds such as footsteps, birds chirping, and roosters. Some insects can be heard at nighttime in Inoa too.
Alundra is a RARE Classic!
The debate is open as to which Action RPG is the best of all time. To me Ocarina takes the crown simply because it does everything Alundra does in full 3-D glory, plus it’s much easier, and there is simply much more stuff to do (Side quests, mini-games etc.).
Some players short on patience, and – regrettably – brains department might find it impossible to play simply because they will get frustrated with the game’s brilliant puzzles, and tough battles. RPG fans looking for a challenge need not look any further for this is your game.
Alundra is simply a jewel, and it might as well be the best 2-D action-RPG of all time. It undisputedly the greatest Action-RPG in any system that isn’t made by Nintendo. If any one believes Alundra is greater than Ocarina then I have no quarrel with that for the game is truly a Masterpiece. Shame on Matrix for not coming out with a true sequel.
Gameplay: 9.5 — The best puzzles I have ever seen in an RPG, period. Frustrating at times, but brilliantly designed nonetheless. Misses perfect mark, thanks to the ULTRA hard last boss, and some frustrating platforming segments.
Graphics: 9.5 — The best 2-D graphics in an Action RPG.
Music: 9.0 — Good enough to match Zelda’s. But not good enough to compete with some of Square’s heavy hitters which is nothing to be ashamed of.
Story: 9.5 — This game rules all action RPGs in this department, and many traditional ones too.
Addictiveness: 9.0 — If you are a completist it will keep you playing until you find everything.
Overall: 10.0 — The second best Action RPG of all time behind Ocarina of Time.