Friday, April 29, 2011

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Star Breaker (1994)

I don't know why I take on these obscure Japanese role-playing games.  Without appropriate language skills, I'm invariably pretty lost as to what's going on, who these people are, where I'm supposed to go and what I'm supposed to do.  But these titles keep sneaking into my collection, and I have to do something with them, so this week we're looking at Star Breaker, a 1994 sci-fi RPG from the obscure publisher RayForce (who also published Startling Odyssey and the PC-FX title Miraculum):

The title menu is pretty non-awe-inspiring, but once we hit the RUN button, the story gets underway with some simple but well-drawn animation.

We are introduced to the game's hero, one Harry Straker, by a screen full of English text.  All of the voiced dialogue is in Japanese, but at least now we know that Harry is 20 years old, has type A blood with a positive Rh factor, and is pretty handy while INFIGHTING WITH LASER BLADE.

This was no doubt a cost-saving measure for the art department, but there are some rather nice digitized space images on view as Major Harry's needle-nosed spacecraft plies the spaceways:

This is all well and good, but of course, some precipitating action must precipitate.  Harry Straker's ship suddenly malfunctions, and he plummets toward the surface of a mysterious planet.  And of course, once he wakes up after the crash-landing, he finds himself in a typical JRPG fantasy kingdom, waking up in an unfamiliar bed while a squat, helmeted guard looks on.

He is visited by an attractive, scantily-clad princess before he's even had time to change his turtleneck; she delivers a message of some apparent import...

Which we can assume (especially as the only route out of the castle is blocked by two strategically-placed, immovable guards) means we will have to speak with the local powers-that-be in order to continue the story.  Ah, yes, here they are:

Of course, we have to round up some resources, making use of the castle's hidden tunnels to find all the treasure chests:

This is all pretty standard stuff, until we discover the castle's underground passageways, leading into a sci-fi setting where our ship is parked until we can repair it, and an alien lord of some sort is prepared to join our party.  He's the hydrocephalic, big-eyed dude standing near another passage-blocking guard.

After we've talked to everyone and rounded up the treasure chests' contents, the alien lord and the princess join our party, the obstreperous guards go on break, and we're ready to go adventuring.  The game engine, surprisingly for a late PC Engine Super CD-ROM title, uses electronic chiptunes for almost all of the in-game music, with just a few orchestral CD-Audio themes for traveling around the world map.

Battles are rendered in the traditional fashion, but are not impressive -- the enemies are colorful and varied, but the sprites are small and the enemy attacks are not animated.  Our heroes display a little more oomph, but there isn't much to watch beyond watching the statistics get whittled away.  Our party seems to level up fairly often and readily during the early going, and hit points are restored whenever that happens, so we don't even have to use many healing spells as the quest gets underway.  And the Japanese menus aren't hard to deal with -- the standard fight, cast spell, use item and flee options are pretty much where you'd expect them to be.

We go out and explore the countryside, kill some random monsters, and discover new towns, where we can replenish and upgrade our supplies, talk to the local townfolk, and go back out to explore and kill some more.

So Star Breaker, aside from its odd fantasy/sci-fi hybrid setting, is pretty standard JRPG fodder.  It's competently executed, but it's such run-of-the-mill stuff that it's hard for a clueless Westerner like me to stay motivated.  The game is playable, but the story isn't easy to follow without Japanese language skills, and so there's not much to do here besides muddle through.

If your Japanese is better than mine, and you are just aching for an obscure JRPG to try out, you could do worse than this one.  You might be able to find Star Breaker for purchase here or here:

Star Breaker PC-Engine SCD

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