Ephemeral Fantasia


   The first clue that Ephemeral Fantasia might not be very good comes right in the opening credits: top billing goes to Riku Sanjo, the story writer. Not the game's producer or director or battle coordinator or what-have-you, merely the story writer. The second clue is when you discover that Riku Sanjo can't write a story very well.

 I must!  I must!  I must increase my bust!
Witty repartee

   Mouse, the lead character of Ephemeral Fantasia, is a first in traditional RPGs: a mute hero who manages to come off as an annoying, hateful twit. In an inexplicable move on KCEJ's part, Mouse has no dialogue but characters carry on conversations with him anyway, reacting to words that players are not allowed to read and must guess for themselves. Many of these phantom dialogues paint Mouse as a pathological liar, as in the exchange wherein he attempts to convince a random townsperson that the village is under attack by dragons. Inferred dialogue aside, the callow and vapid look on his face combined with his true objective as a scam artist put him amongst the least engaging RPG heroes the genre has seen.

   The supporting cast fares no better. Mouse's talking guitar Pattimo is meant to act as comic relief, but comes off as inane and boorish. Rummy, the castle guard, is defined by her ample bust and her freakish obsession with her duty to show Mouse around the castle. Loreille, the "captivating" princess, is so frigid it's difficult to understand why anyone would instantly fall in love with her, let alone the shiftless and disinterested Mouse. And so on.

Xelpherpolis, Humperdinck.  Humperdinck, Xelpherpolis.
Xelph ... hee hee ... Xelpherpo ... hahahaha

   The game's story is at least decent, or would be if it wasn't hamstrung by so many unlikable characters. Mouse arrives on Pandule as a wandering musician hired by Xelpherpolis, the amusingly-named ruler of the island. His job is to play at Xelpherpolis' upcoming wedding to Loreille, the island's princess. What he discovers on the wedding day, however, is that Xelpherpolis is only using Loreille for her hidden powers so that he can keep the entire island repeating the same week over and over. Mouse resolves to break the island's spell and make a hefty sum in the process.

   If the game was fun to play, it might make up for the dreary and irritating characters, but it isn't. Rarely does the game find a middle ground in any aspect of the gameplay. The exploration camera is adjustable so that it's either too high, making Mouse look like a dot, or too low, making it difficult to tell where you're going.

   Worse is the execution of the ill-considered time lapse system, which the exploration portions of the game revolve around. Sometimes there's no point in running around trying to keep appointments, since you'll simply be whisked away to the proper location when the appointed time draws near, and sometimes you'll have to put the effort in if you want to see the cutscene. What makes this difficult is that the game fails to distinguish between the two types of events, so that just when you're sure you don't actually have to traipse all over town, you find that you've missed an important sequence.

 Wide open spaces

   However, even when you try, frequently your destination is either too far away or the town layout is too confusing to reach the appointment. The city of Pandule is filled with so many random elevation shifts, bridges, walkways, barricades, and gates that the map wouldn't be very helpful even if it was complete. And, frustratingly, it is not complete--each scrap of the town map you find shows only a small portion of the town, leaving you to fend for yourself in the mysterious uncharted shadowlands of a major metropolitan area. Getting lost in some areas leaves you to fight the game's ugly, boring random battles until you find your way back out again. Each new flaw in the game builds upon the last to form a daisy chain of awfulness that never seems to end.

   The graphics are passable, though at times they seem like a first-generation Dreamcast game or even a particularly well-textured PSone title; it suffers considerably in comparison to other current PS2 games. The one bright spot, and appropriately so for a game about a wandering minstrel is the music, which successfully conveys the slightly-too-peaceful aura of the time-looped township.

   Ephemeral Fantasia has the distinction of being the PS2's first traditional RPG in America, in much the same way that Quest 64 had that honor on the N64. Avoid it just as carefully.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Ephemeral Fantasia
Developer KCEJ
Publisher Konami
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium DVD-ROM (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation 2
Release Date  Summer 2000
E3: More on Ephermeral Fantasia
24 screenshots
3 scenes
North American box art