Saiyuki: Journey West - Review  

I Theorize "Saiyuki" is Japanese for "Underrated"
by Heath Hindman

30-50 Hours


Rating definitions 

If you live in a rural area, go stick your head outside and take a deep breath. If you live in a large city, which may be polluted, just pretend with me. Mmm, smell that? It's a big breath of what we call "fresh air." That's exactly what tactical RPG lovers feel when playing Saiyuki: Journey West.

Saiyuki is a tactical/strategy RPG that centers around an adolescent named Sanzo or Genjo, depending on whether players should choose the character to be male or female. The main character was found in a basket floating down a river in a way not unlike the Holy Bible's Moses, then adopted by some monks in China. The story kicks off when a goddess named Lady Kannon appears to Sanzo/Genjo and tells him/her to deliver a thunder staff to a sacred temple in India. Kannon then provides a staff to to the hero, the monks bid him you farewell and good luck, and then players take off for a journey West.

Keeping in line with the actual Asian legend the story is based on, the main character soon encounters Son-Goku, who was imprisoned in stone by Buddha after invading heaven. Goku is the first party member who can use a "Were Form" in battle. The Were is the huge beast that certain characters can morph into to bring down all hell on the enemy. One party member can use their Were form at a time, and only for a certain period of time, indicated by an on-screen meter. This restriction may seem like a downer at first, but it should give an idea of just how powerful the Were form is. If players just switched everyone to Were for the whole battle, things would just get unfair. The restriction also adds a nice element of extra strategy, in that players have to decide on who to mutate and when. Making the right choices can often get tough. Does one select the more agile and accurate Were, or the one with powerful fire magic? Having to decide things like this keeps the game interesting for its entire length.
Bland Really? I never pictured THAT guy betraying anyone!

   In another welcome twist, the game's main character is the only one who cannot become a Were. Again, this might not sound so appetizing at first, but that small lacking is more than made up for by his/her ability to summon Guardians. Through the game, the crew will rescue several holy spirits who will agree to help Sanzo/Genjo on the quest. When a Guardian is summoned, it will stick around for a few turns and assist the party in various ways. For example, one Guardian will greatly increase the party's attack power, while another will restore a certain amount of HP after every turn, and so on. Also, every guardian, while being summoned, grants Sanzo/Genjo a special ability. These may be a brutal attack, helpful assist spell, or great healing magic.

   There are only some minor things not to like about Saiyuki. One is that once the main character gets KO'd, the battle is over. This, however, has appeared in number of other tactical RPGs, so Saiyuki can't be charged with major fault for that point. It's a matter of personal preference. Similar to that gripe, there is no way to revive characters once fallen; they just go away. Again, though, this is not exclusive to Saiyuki, and doesn't hurt it much. To make up for the previous flaw, characters can't "die," even if they disappear from battle, thanks to the fact that they are all important to the story. Fallen characters--aside from the main one, of course--will appear on the party list at battle's end, as if nothing bad happened. Finally, the story is mildly entertaining, but sometimes seems to go off track and move at a very slow pace. Those and the outrageous difficulty of the final boss are about the only flaws that detract from the experience, though.
Mature Themes in action I get to invade Heaven? That's too cool.

   Tactical RPGs are not known to have the flashiest graphics around, and are therefore traditionally given some leeway in that department. Saiyuki uses this grace and then some. It's readily apparent that the game didn't have as high a budget as, say, Final Fantasy Tactics, because the characters and backgrounds have a lot of extra grain on them. The spell effects are about what one would expect from a TRPG on the original PlayStation: nothing to write home about, but they don't offend. Sound is on a lower level of worthiness. It's fine at first, but gets old and repetitive fairly early in the game. Saiyuki's music isn't anything people will be adding to their "Game Music" playlists, that's for sure.

   Overall, Saiyuki: Journey West is a surprisingly good, quite underrated game. When considering the fact that it came out when TRPGs were not nearly as common as they are today, it's a small wonder Saiyuki isn't a bit more talked-about than it is. The game's got everything that makes the TRPG sub-genre great, with the flaws not amounting to anything the player can't get over. This game may not be as revolutionary a few certain others, but it's unique and solid enough. Saiyuki comes very highly recommended to tactical RPG fans.

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