We don't always like being nonplussed

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Will it Flail? Megami Tensei Gaiden: Last Bible II

This is not the short feature I intended to premiere this week, but my father just lost his job of 15 years and helping him's got to be my priority here. So for now, a slightly easier to deal with special feature entitled:

(With apologies to Will it Blend?, probably the best way to advertise a blender I have ever seen)

In Will it Flail? we take a brief look at a JRPG and exactly how difficult it is to play for non-speakers of Japanese, and all the factors that would obstruct you in this goal. Basically I was inspired to do this by Romancing Saga 2, which took forever and I couldn't even finish. So let's do some shorter stuff, and maybe save somebody else from my fate!

Our subject this week is Last Bible 2, a Game Boy Color game I picked up at Electronics Boutique a decade or more ago because I was deep in my import-gaming/otaku phase and it had one of those "Well you can't release THIS in the US!" titles. Though as it turns out, Last Bible 1 WAS released in the US under the title Revelations: The Demon Slayer. It also turns out the series is one of the infinite spinoffs of the long-running (Shin) Megami Tensei series, which I've had minimal contact with despite an abiding interest in JRPGs. Bad, bad Rob. Also, as the randomness of my life would have it, I bought Revelations the week before I picked up LB2. That was a strange case of Deja Vu.

This is our hero Yuri. (But he's a guy, so don't go thinking it's a reference to anything.) He's... out... to kill... a Demon Lord? Or other Big Bad Evil Guy? That's my best guess, and it is the plot of approximately EVERY RPG that is not Mother made before 1997, so it's a fair guess. The whole thing looks and plays- as many 8-bit RPGs do -a lot like Dragon Quest, down to that floaty, disconnected-from-the floor skating movement most characters make as they move. (Also complete with the losing half the money when you die. Argh.)

Menus: The main menu of the game is a pretty simple one:
1)Magic(Pretty self-explanatory)
2)Items (Sub-menu: Use, Equip, Pass, Discard)
3)Sort (Monster management commands; going by Revelations it's: Summon monster, Return monster, Swap monsters, have a monster Leave the party, and change marching order.)
4)Status (Also self-explanatory)
5) System (Save Game, Message Speed)

The Battle Menu looks like this:
1)Fight 2)Talk 3)Run
4)Autofight 5)All(Status) 6)Sort(Summon, Swap, Order)

Equipping things may prove difficult if you don't know some basic Japanese terminology for weapons and armor- there are no helpful icons to let you know what things are.

System: In terms of battle the presentation is similar to the Game Boy Sagas/Final Fantasy Legends, themselves derived from (who else?) Dragon Quest's first-person combat scenes. But that's useful since a Game Boy screen doesn't have a lot of space. The cramped GB screen is also made up for by having multiple enemies represented with numbers on the sprites- in this case, small numbers in the corners that are easy to miss. That was kind of confusing at first, even in English.

What gives this game's battles a unique twist is that there is a monster-collecting mechanic, but you're not just throwing magiscientific miniprison-spheres at adorable little things, no. You hold a lengthy conversation in the form of statements you say yes/no to. So yes, you're essentially interviewing with this demon for the position of its Pokemon Trainer, going through the annoying and condescending "I like stealing from my workplace. Agree/Disagree" format so many job applications use now. Except of course you can't understand the questions here, and when you get it wrong the monster attacks you. Also it's timed, so don't take too long making up your mind.

So basically it's like the nightmares you've probably had about applying for a job. But you can try multiple times, and you can talk/bribe monsters into leaving the party alone if you try, but ultimately if you climb far enough up the dialogue tree, Boom! You've got a new monster. (Though it may cost you- I was out of money when I recruited one, and it joined me in exchange for my only sword. Ack.) The good news is you can also have your monsters talk to the enemy, and you don't have to have the conversation yourself. It doesn't always work, but it's a LOT less frustrating, and a lot quicker.

FAQs: Available and recommended- it's one of those extremely old-school RPGs that doesn't lead you by the nose and you're pretty much free to walk into the wrong place and die or miss that key Plot Coupon and wander around forever. GameFAQs has a couple.

Compatibility: Depending on the release it's an original Game Boy cartridge or a black Game Boy Color cart, so it's one of the most compatible things in the world. Any Gameboy except GB Micro will play it, as will the Super Game Boy and the GameCube's Game Boy Player. Have at it!

Availability: A Google Shopping search brings up a couple game stores with boxed examples of both the original edition and the GBC reissue for $25-40. Honestly? I wouldn't pay that. eBay has some loose examples of the original version below $20, but it's not exactly an in-demand item so you may or may not see a copy up at any given time.

Don't Want to Flail?: There's a fan translation.

Overall: I would not recommend trying to play it completely blind. Fortunately there's an awful lot of options out there for preparation (Revelations, FAQ, translation patch) And whether you want to call it a unique concept for recruiting in an RPG or a bizarre twist on the Pokemon format, it might be worth a look to you. Might want to find Revelations first, though- which is both more common and less expensive on eBay.

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