Saiyuki: Journey West - Retroview

Perhaps the Most Unknown RPG of Last Year

By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 4
   Originality 3
   Plot 5
   Localization 4
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

25-35 hours


Saiyuki: Journey West

   Saiyuki: Journey West is a fairly standard TRPG that is taken from the plot of an old Chinese legend. The very basic battles, the lack of an intriguing plot and some seriously drab music hold the game back as one of the good RPGs available on the market. However, the colorful cast of characters and the same simplicity which hinders its status make it an easy to play and easy to enjoy TRPG.

   As Sanzo, who can be male or female, you must journey to the Thunder Temple in India as per order of the divine Lady Kannon. Along the way, you will meet with a lot of strange characters, all of which have the same weird power: they're all Weres, giant monsters sleeping inside seemingly harmless being. Sanzo, as a holy monk, can summon guardians from the heavens to aid him and his strange party along their quest.

   Battles take place on a grid divided in squares, like most TRPGs. Each person's turn is decided according to their speed stat. Some areas are interactive, allowing you to push switches, raise platforms, open chests and destroy certain landmarks, which give some battles a little strategy to them. You can attack, use spells which consume MP, defend or use items. However, you can transform one of your characters into their Wereform. While in this state, each character has higher stats and special abilities, all of which necessitate special powers. At the top of your screen, you have a Were gauge, which depletes itself whenever you change into a Were and use Were abilities. Only one character can transform at a time. To increase that gauge, you must finish battles as quickly as possible. The Were gauge cannot be refilled and goes back to normal at the end of each battle. Of course, you gain EXP every time you successfully hit an enemy. Your Wereforms also gain more abilities as your characters gain levels.

Uneventful battles abound. Zzzzz...
Uneventful battles abound. Zzzzz...  

   You can meet up to 6 guardians along your journey which Sanzo can summon. Each guardian have a special ability which Sanzo can use as much as he wants and they also give the party a little boost of attack, defense, HP etc for the 3 turns they're available. There is one special guardian, called Emperor, which gives a boost to every stat and can be acquire by getting 4 special items during certain battles and completing a side quest.

   Your characters all keep their own weapon for the whole game and they can be sharpened in the smithy, providing you have the dough. They can also equip one suit of armor, one hat and a maximum of 6 accessories. Among these accessories are scrolls, which enable the characters to cast the corresponding spell in battle. Each character is either a fire, life, earth, water, gold or the rare non-elemental type. Each element is strong versus one and weak versus another. Your element level increase as you gain levels and they serve to determine the power of each elemental spell and also which ones you can equip. Towns can range from small to big (although they're all one screen long), and can include a chemist, a weapon shop, a smithy, a dojo and a post. Dojos allow you to do battle against the dojo master and earn special badges. At the post, you can play at a mildly entertaining card game to earn special items or take on jobs to get random encounters and money or material rewards. There are also status ailments and a couple of nice anime cut-scenes.

   For the most part, battles are pretty straightforward. If you have to cream all enemies, you can do so rather quickly and easily, and if you have to kill the boss, simply change your character with the good element into his/her Wereform and get to the guy quickly. Combine with the fact that most battles give you the simple objective to kill everyone or only the boss, and the fact that you can't really customize your guys, aside from what spell they use, and you get easy and predictable fights. As said before, some areas give you interactive environments, which is about the only thing battles have going for them. The interface is good, although it does nothing something. On the world map, you can see statistics for every character, such as how many times they've changed form and the amount of damage they have dealt to enemies so far. You can't wander through towns, and you move along the world map (which looks quite good) going from dot to dot. Sometimes, you'll have to choose between 2 routes, although you can come back to the other one if you're scared of having missed something.

   The music and sound department is where the game hits its lowest point. The battle music is repetitive, sound effects are weak and tasteless and most of the soundtrack is forgettable. The voice acting present in the few anime cut-scenes is acceptable, but the opening "song" is quite lame and annoying. Although not as unbearable as Hoshigami (see my last review), you'll probably have to give your ears a break from time to time. Again, I wasn't able to find the composer's name in the manual which impedes me from giving proper "comments" towards the guy. What a shame.

Good for you!
Good for you!  

   Not much can be seen in Saiyuki that hasn't been done somewhere before. Jobs were in FFT, Summons are pretty much everywhere, and transformations are a common occurrence. After really thinking hard about this topic, I really can't find anything that sets Saiyuki apart, which is really one of the game's main flaw: there is no reason for you to play Saiyuki if you aren't a TRPG buff since it doesn't showcase any innovation for the genre. Plot-wise, you'll get a couple surprises and some character development along the way, which again is more than Hoshigami can say. Once more, you will find out who's really manipulating the country behind the scenes, although everyone's motives seem kind of weak. The fact that I don't remember many events is proof that the story doesn't give a lasting appeal during or after the game has been completed.

While the story itself isn't really strong, the dialogues during key events aren't very impressive either. Given the fact that it was released in late 2001, the game does not match the standards now set by other RPGs. It's not as bland as Legend of Dragoon or as typo-filled as Suikoden 2, but it's not very inspiring either. Characters hardly show any personality and the blame can be placed upon the localization team. It really is sad that game developers don't grant more importance to the script, which to me is one of the key aspects of any good story-driven game. Even though the game clocks in at a reasonable 30 hours or so, the absence of intrigue in the plot, the basic nature of battles and the fact that every battle can be fought the first time around don't help the game's replay value. Personally, it'll be a long time before I pop Saiyuki in my PS2 again, even though I tend to play most games at the very least twice.

Saiyuki is another game which had been available in Japan for quite some time but was localized almost 2 years later. As so, the visuals can be expected to be somewhat dated. However, it is my feeling that Saiyuki's engine was obsolete the day it first came out. Sprites are okay and so are the attack animations. Character portraits are always well drawn, helping us to understand the emotions they're supposed to dictate. Spell effects are quite lame and the fact that you can disable them or set it so you only see them the first time around is a very good idea, especially so since some animations are quite long and visually unattractive. But given that graphics have never been the focus point of TRPGs and since the still anime cut-scenes are very nice, I have to give that aspect an average rating.

: A sign that you're almost through.
A sign that you're almost through.  

To my eyes, Saiyuki only precedes low-quality TRPGs such as Vandal Hearts, Hoshigami and Kartia. In falls short on to many levels and doesn't have anything really going for it. It's still somewhat enjoyable - if you love TRPGs and you can find it cheap somewhere, you can grab it without too much to fear. It fully deserves the lack of attention it got last year as it really doesn't beg for some. Play it or leave it, you won't be any happier or sadder either way.

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