Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean Review (Sega Saturn, 1997)
Albert Odyssey was a little known strategy RPG series left in Japan on the Super Famicom. Like many games of it’s kind it was never localized, that is, until the third installment. Albert Odyssey Gaiden was released exclusively for the Sega Saturn, and was picked up for translation by the much loved company Working Designs. Like many of their other releases it had a low print run making it quite rare and frequently sought after. Back then I couldn’t get enough RPGs, and in the age of 3D graphics it’s sprite based engine was hugely appealing. Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean went on to become one of my most beloved games of all time. Fresh off a recent play through I’m here to discuss if it holds up. Buckle up because this one is a long story. Let’s take a look.
Long after the exploits of the legendary hero Albert the world is in dire need of a new hero. Monsters and other baddies are on attack throughout the land. The game begins in a town set ablaze by roaming goblins. This is the village of Karnait. A young mother and father attempt to escape the destruction (equipped with a magical talking sword named Cirrus) to save their young child. Unfortunately their efforts are futile, and only the boy survives thanks to their dagger’s magic. He is left for dead, but is soon rescued by a harpy woman named Laia. Despite distrust between her kind and humans she takes the young boy (who is named Pike) back to her village and raises him like one of her own. The magical, sentient sword Cirrus is brought along with him.
Many years later Pike is a teenager with his own set of troubles. He’s the only one of his age in the village who has not grown wings and is viewed as a sort of outcast by many of the harpy folk. Things change one day when an evil sorcerer arrives at the Harpy Village riding on the back of a dragon. He steals their magical crystal (which protects the forest) and turns Pike and Laia to stone. Our hero is saved by the magic of his sword, but soon learns the only way to save the girl is by leaving the humble burg and traveling out into the world. I really like how small the story starts but the way it progresses feels quite natural. As to be expected the scenario expands to saving the entire world, but in some really interesting ways.
What makes this title unique for its time is the fact that it was released when everything else was rendered in 3D. Albert Odyssey is strictly two dimensional. It uses the classic overhead angle outside of battle and the traditional side view for the combat sequences. Everything from the characters to the backgrounds are all rendered with sprites. Spell effects in battle, and some background elements use polygons but these are few and far between. Most of the time Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean looks like something that could have been rendered on the SNES. This makes sense because it started out as a Super Famicom title. The classic approach is one of the game’s biggest strengths.
Gameplay here is very traditional. Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean is a classically styled role playing game. You explore a world map with random enemy encounters that whisk you away to a separate screen. Here you take turns inputting commands for your characters. These include the classic attack, defend, run, item and special moves of course. I really like the interface here. Each action is represented by an icon but there’s no guesswork involved with this. All damage is calculated numerically with the numbers splashing out of the characters/enemies on which it was inflicted. It’s pretty basic. Bear in mind that’s where most of the charm comes in. There are no gimmicks and few bells or whistles. Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean is a classic role playing game start to finish.
What is really nice is the fact that your party can contain up to five characters. The game doesn’t throw any curveballs your way. Once you get the fifth member of your team the composition changes only once in the quest. Each warrior has very distinct and well outlined roles in battle. Pike is primarily a fighter with some support magic, and even offensive spells later on. Eka is the token healer. She’s unique in that she’s also one of the more powerful physical fighters. Gryzz is mostly offensive but has the only special move in the entire game that heals the entire party. Amon is fast, but weaker physically than the front line. Kia is very fragile with low hit points, defense and attack, but she makes up for it with the most powerful magic. You’ve also got buff/debuff spells to give you a nudge in battle.
While I do really like Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean it is not without its issues. First of all the battles move at a relatively slow pace. The animations are detailed, so after inputting a command it can take several seconds to watch it carried out. This is true for both the party and enemies. An option to simplify these would have been nice, but I was never bothered too much. The encounter rate is also very high. In some cases you’ll take only a few steps inside dungeons before another fight breaks out. This rate seems toned down on the world map which is nice, but it can be a bit trying at times. The dungeons themselves are somewhat poorly designed. Most of them lack any kind of gimmick to make exploration fun, and there are too many dead ends and multiple paths.
The game’s biggest flaw however are it’s unbalanced difficulty and length. Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean starts off very easy but one of the early dungeons is absolutely brutal. This comes at a time when healing items cost a premium in the shops. After this it goes back to being a cakewalk for a while but later on the boss characters get a significant boost. Most of these are not overly threatening but they have far too much hit points. Boss encounters in an RPG should not take a half hour to complete, yet, in the second half of the game almost all of them do. It’s easy to make a mistake that leads to your entire party being wiped out. Thanks to most dungeons not featuring save points this means you’ll have to slog through them all over again. It feels like padding for an otherwise short RPG.
It’s also worth noting that the translation is very over the top. Let me rephrase that. The translation in Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean is the craziest one in Working Designs’ history. Normally I’m a big fan of their brand of humor but it’s a little much here. Everything from references to bodily functions to pop culture references is fair game. There’s also a ton of innuendo which I can’t imagine was in the original Japanese release. If I’m honest it’s just too much here. This can distract from the main story and toward the end I found myself rolling my eyes. What’s crazy is the fact that Victor Ireland, the old president of the company, has even stated that the dialogue was toned down significantly from the first draft. It’s difficult to imagine that. It doesn’t ruin the game by any means but they should have shown some restraint.
Despite looking at times like a 16-bit title, Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean has absolutely beautiful graphics. These hold up exceptionally well for their time. The character sprites animate nicely and are very colorful. They’re also full of detail. My only complaint is that inside battle they look cheesy, and the idle animations are strange to say the least. Some of the characters almost appear to be dancing when standing still. The enemy designs are also wonderful and full of character. A lot of them are palette swapped versions of each other but this isn’t a big issue. The backgrounds are the highlight. Outside of battle the world is vibrant and colorful with a ton of detail. The fantasy anime style shines, and the game has a very distinct artistic vision. The battle backdrops are just as good and even feature animations. This game is very easy on the eyes.
Even better is the music. Most of it is in midi format but takes advantage of the hardware well. The town themes are some of the best the genre has ever seen. The city of Gadel’s music in particular is haunting and will stick with you long after you’ve turned the game off. There are even several redbook tracks that are fantastically composed. Each rendition of the world map music (especially with the airship) is downright amazing and feels like a classical sonnet. The instrumentation is absolutely wonderful. In my opinion the only weak track is the standard battle theme. It’s high tempo and fun, but hardly memorable. It does however represent the game’s off-brand of humor well. My only real complaint is with the voice work. In the story sequences it’s wonderful. Inside of battle however the grunts and cries just don’t fit the action.
Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean is an extraordinary game. It sticks to the classic RPG conventions, but it does them very well. Despite the issues I mentioned earlier it’s still highly playable and an absolute blast. The story is absolutely bittersweet and despite it’s simple nature is one of my favorite in the entire genre. This is even in spite of the crazy translation from Working Designs. Unfortunately Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean has not been..
* This article was originally published here
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