Friday, October 23, 2009

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Efera & Jiliora - The Emblem From Darkness

Once again, we venture into Japanese territory with nary a Ya Ta! in our vocabulary, as we take a look at Efera & Jiliora -- The Emblem from Darkness, published by Brain Grey in 1991.  It's an action RPG, a minor title in the PC-Engine library that was never released for the Western Turbografx-16.

Import emulation aside:  I ran Efera & Jiliora from the original Japanese CD, using the Magic Engine PC-Engine emulator.  Japanese HuCards don't work on the US TurboGrafx-16, and obviously there's no easy way to plug them into a PC, but PC-Engine CD-ROM games work just fine in the TurboDuo or a PC CD/DVD drive.

The game opens with a fairly lengthy cutscene -- it runs on the original PC Engine CD-ROM technology, not the later Super CD-ROM card with additional buffer RAM, so the graphics are small and there's not a lot of animation.  The style reminds me of the Sierra 3-D adventure games, with tiny but expressive characters; these scenes also feature quality voice acting, which enhances the story telling considerably.

The game seems to be set in the classical era of Greco-Roman history and mythology.  Storywise, it's a pretty dark setup -- one character dies from an encounter with the forces of nastiness, and during the burial another character commits suicide by slitting his own throat, complete with spurting blood.

Thus, in the grand RPG tradition, our heroines are spurred on a mission to defeat the evil influence.  The game can be played as Efera or Jiliora by a single player, with co-op play for two.

There isn't a lot of difference between the warriors - each has a very short-range attack and can use the same items, but they do have different special abilities.  Efera can heal herself with magic, essentially trading magic points for hit points, but magic points are easier to replenish with items found in the wilderness, making her a better character for novices.  Jiliora has an aggressive dash move that costs one hit point and damages enemies considerably, but tends to leave her back exposed to attack on the other side.  I spent most of my playtime as Efera.

The gameplay is action-oriented and "borrows" heavily from Falcom's classic Ys series -- the music has a similar feel, and there are RPG elements like hit points, attack and defense ratings, leveling up with experience, potions and gold pieces. 

Like the Ys games, enemies constantly respawn, providing a steady supply of XP fodder; unlike Ys, however, the player has to actively attack, but the character's range isn't any broader than that of Adol's swordtip.  It's necessary to move toward enemies, or wait for them to approach, then hit the button at just the right moment to deal damage rather than receive it.  It isn't easy to pull off, and I died a lot in my first few attempts.

I got the hang of combat eventually, but the map design still made for a frustrating experience -- most plants and large areas of foliage are deadly, and a lot of the challenge involves simply walking from one place to another without stepping on or in something green and losing hit points.  And even the weakest enemies are very good at coming from around tight corners, moving fast on the diagonal and doing damage before an attack can be brought to bear at the proper angle.


There are items to find and people to talk to in caves and rooms, and the game checkpoints when exiting these locations, allowing the player to continue from that point and character condition, making the difficulty a little more bearable.  But healing potions are rare, and not very effective given the rate at which damage accumulates, so character health tends to steadily deteriorate as each new checkpoint is reached. 

Fortunately, like most RPGs, there are villages conveniently situated between the dangerous areas, where players can heal, restock equipment and converse with the residents.

One surprising "feature" I discovered is that, unlike most RPGs, the game allows the player to kill random people in the villages -- but retribution from the locals swiftly follows, so it's not a good idea.  Given that the "continue conversation" button is the same as the "attack" button, it's critical not to click through such exchanges too haphazardly.

Efera & Jiliora isn't a terrible game, but it is generic, and it borrows too much from predecessors that have done the same thing better.  In the end, I didn't spend a lot of time playing this one, primarily because my nonexistent Japanese skills kept me from understanding details of the plot that might have made things more interesting.  But I could probably have muddled through if the game were less difficult --Efera & Jiliora isn't hard to play because of the language barrier, necessarily; it's just hard to play.

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