Alundra 2


   When Working Designs released the original Alundra two years ago, it became a fan favorite thanks to its polished 2D gameplay, insidiously clever puzzles, and an endearing cast of characters brought to life by Working Designs' trademark translation and dubbing. While it offered little that hadn't been seen before, the painstaking attention to detail, both in control and design, was enough a melioration for such a lack of originality to be overlooked. The title served as an excellent example of the importance of refined gameplay over more superficial aspects, and for this it enjoyed critical accolades as well as mild commercial success.

   So what the hell happened? All of the things that Alundra did right, Alundra 2 does wrong. In fairness, the thinking behind Alundra 2 is sound: offer gamers more of the action-oriented swordplay and mind-boggling puzzles present in the first title, this time in 3D with a healthy dose of mini-games tossed into the mix. After all, the PlayStation has historically seen a comparatively small number of action RPGs, and if everything that made Alundra such a joy to play could have been successfully transplanted into the third dimension, gamers may have had an excellent title on their hands. Unfortunately, Alundra 2 fails miserably in everything that it attempts to do, resulting in what is easily the most frustrating, insufferable game in ages.

Alundra 2
The overworld map

   Should you be so unfortunate as to somehow wind up with this title in your possession, one of the first things that you'll notice upon popping in the disc are the graphics. To be pointed, they are absolutely horrid. Three years ago, visuals such as these would have been passable at best; the game could easily be confused with most first-generation PlayStation titles. The character models are on the lowest end of the spectrum as far as polygon count is concerned, the textures are bland and pixelated, and seams between polygons are clearly visible. Additionally, where the original title showcased gorgeously hand-drawn animation for its opening cinema and cutscenes, Alundra 2's theatric segments are generated using the horrendous in-game engine. The result are cutscenes that are so ugly and jittery you'll be thankful that the developers had the foresight of allowing them to be skipped past by the press of the start button.

   And as though to ensure that neither of the title's sensory aspects outshine the other, the audio perfectly matches suit. The droning, repetitive tunes are enough to make most reach for the volume button or fumble around for the CD player remote within minutes. And should that not be what it takes to faze you, the various enemy vocalizations give the impression that each and every one was selected after rigorous focus group testing to determine the most grating and obnoxious sounds falling within the range of human hearing.

Alundra 2
Once again there are plenty of cash-bearing shrubs just waiting to be hacked down

   Of course, Alundra 2 could have still emerged as a solid title had its superficial shortcomings been offset by adequate gameplay, so it's a shame that this is inarguably the area in which Alundra 2 stumbles the hardest of all. The two key components are the battle system and the puzzle-solving, and each are managed so atrociously it makes it difficult to believe that both games in the series come from the same developer. First off, the puzzles are about as insipid and uninspired as they come. Variations on the hackneyed tasks of pressing switches and moving blocks into place are the order of the day. Now, were it left at that, the game would merely be uninteresting. However, even these exercises become insanely frustrating thanks to shoddy mechanics that cause blocks to react in a way that feels entirely random and unpredictable. Often you'll resort to pushing or firing magical spells about in a general direction until fortune is on your side and things fall into place; hardly the precision control to be expected from a game of this type. Similarly, the control of your character, Flint, is so floaty and imprecise that making the majority of the game's many jumps boils down more to a matter of luck than of actual skill.

   Where the poor control manifests itself most blatantly is in the battle system. The control is extremely slow and unresponsive -- when taking a swing, there's a lapse that occurs to accommodate the painfully drawn-out animation that accompanies. Time and time again you'll be hit when you attempt to get the jump on a foe, only to have it attack as Flint brings his sword down. Once hit, Flint is sent flailing to the ground where only after another ridiculously slow animation is it possible to attack once more. Furthermore, this malediction extends to the enemies themselves; once you've landed a successful blow, you must stand and wait for the adversary to again rise to its feet. Should your timing be too soon, your attack harmlessly passes through it, leaving you a sitting duck as Flint recovers from his swing. And yes, that too requires waiting for the completion of yet another glacial animation, and by this point the baddy is up and ready to make you suffer. While it's possible to acquire new attacks by collecting puzzle pieces and trading them to a master swordsman in exchange for his training, these serve only to compensate for Flint's lethargy by allowing a few follow-up jabs. When power-ups and learned attacks exist simply to make a battle system playable, something is seriously wrong.

Alundra 2
Getting eaten alive by a giant orange shark would probably be more fun than playing this game

   On the RPG side, Alundra 2 again falters. The storyline is as run-of-the-mill as can be imagined; just as an example, you even end up saving a princess. And while there have been plenty of excellent titles built around less-than-inspired plotlines, these have had charming and involving characters to counteract. Again, this is not the case with Alundra 2. The entire cast is made up of unoriginal gaming stereotypes made worse by horrible character design. Certain characters, such as Albert, are so simplistic it leads one to wonder if the artist had simply become lazy or if the graphical engine just couldn't handle any better -- and neither is an acceptable explanation. If there's one positive thing that can be said for this game, the voice acting, while nothing fantastic, is appropriately hammy and each voice fits the character it portrays.

   In the end, the finest voice acting on earth couldn't have saved Alundra 2 from itself. Had any of these elements clicked into place, the title may have been bearable. As it stands, this game couldn't be any worse if every disc were individually doused in a sludge teeming with Pasteurella Pestis -- avoid it as though such were the case.

Review by Drew Cosner, GIA.
Alundra 2
Developer Contrail
Publisher Activision
(Official Site)
Genre Action RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  11.18.99
 Spring '00
Alundra 2 US changes
75 screenshots
Elemental spirits / 4 monster designs / Another scene
Box art