Tengai Makyou III: Namida - Staff Retroview  

The Trail of Tears
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
60-80 Hours
+ Engaging, dynamic combat
+ Well-developed, immense world of Jipang
+ Resplendent orchestral soundtrack
- Not an easy import without Japanese knowledge
- Learning magic can be time-consuming
- Not as loony as Tengai Makyou IV
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   How can it be that Tengai Makyou: The 4th Apocalypse was released before Tengai Makyou III: Namida — George Lucas didn't have anything to do with it, right? Actually, Tengai Makyou III was being developed for the PC-FX in 1995, but once that console died a quick death the project was delayed for years, until it finally surfaced on the PS2 in 2005. Its roots in the mid-90s help explain why Tengai Makyou III uses a lot of gameplay elements that had become uncommon by the middle years of the PS2, and its frequent silliness is nothing compared to the fourth game's completely ludicrous exploration of American history. Taken solely as a game instead of a comedy routine, however, Namida is quite successful, and worthy of a wider audience.

   Namida's story takes place, like most Tengai Makyou titles, in a bizarre place called Jipang. Namida is its eponymous main character, and his life story evinces such standard RPG characteristics as having washed up on a beach with no memory of his prior life years ago, and is now living in a peaceful village at the game's start. Following the tradition of peaceful villages in the beginning of RPGs, evil arrives to tear up the place. Ichimotsu is the name of the body-possessing creep who shatters the idyll, and he is but the first of the many antagonists who control the separate continents of Jipang.

   In broad strokes, the plot of Namida wasn't innovative even in its original 1995 time frame. What makes things interesting is not the overall narrative but the development given to each antagonist. Ichimotsu, Shanne, Idaten, Nigi, Taojiriosu, Taori, and Madara each get plenty of screen time to demonstrate their own particular brand of nefarious behavior, though their ostensible leader Zeku doesn't get quite as much to do. The protagonists get their fair share of attention also, though Namida himself remains mute throughout. The party eventually fills up to nine members, and while a couple of them are one-dimensional, all are distinct and memorable, with Namida's adoptive sister Ichiyo getting the most development.

   The lunacy of the fourth game in the series is not replicated here. That's not to say Namida is completely serious, but its goofiness is muted by the standards of the Saturn game. In any other series a character dressed like a villain from the 60's Batman show, or a recurring series villain giving a five minute monologue before battle, would be outlandishly bizarre. In the crazy world of Tengai Makyou, they're relatively staid, at least compared to villains carving their faces onto Mt. Rushmore and meeting the aspirant Broadway player Norma Jean.

The days of wandering around a gigantic world map are BACK! The days of wandering around a gigantic world map are BACK!

   Namida's world is composed of multiple continents, each of which the player will traverse by foot in the way of free-roaming RPGs before story considerations drove developers to increase linearity. Each continent achieves a distinct look and feel, some of which is due to the unique activities of its resident villain. The enormous expanse of the game's world can become daunting when fetch quests that mandate traipsing back and forth are assigned, but at least items to teleport the party are available. The size of the environments is definitely time-consuming, but the result is a planet that players will be able to explore to its fullest.

   While wandering around the enormous world, players will encounter the old RPG standby of random battles. Namida's combat immediately distinguishes itself from other turn-based systems by the sheer number of opponents typically on display. Encounters with enemies that number in the single digits are less common than showdowns with over a score of antagonists, and the usual method of attacking one enemy at a time would be horribly inadequate to meet these hordes. Namida's physical attack setup is fortunately equal to the task, and selecting any antagonist for an assault will strike its neighbors too, raising the possibility of exterminating multiple foes with each blow. Physical attacks work differently from other games in another aspect, which is that each weapon has an inherent number of blows it may launch per turn, and that number is rarely limited to one.

   Aside from straightforward physical strikes, each character can equip a quartet of skills to use, which take the place of standard strikes. These skills are character-specific, and become accessible via a gauge that rises when hits are landed by both the character and enemies. If the gauge is allowed to fill to its maximum of ten slots, characters can pull off a powerful special move, and these special moves can actually be linked in a combo without using the turns of others. New skills and special moves are learned through repeated use of the existing techniques in battle, up to a number which the game conveniently shows in the menu. As an incentive for getting characters to use every move in their repertoire, this is a good one.

   Magic in Namida also goes against the usual standards. Spells having areas of effect makes sense given the agglomerations of enemies that confront the protagonists, but the means of learning those spells involves quite a bit of busywork. While traveling around the sizable world, various odd houses occupied by strange beings called Tengu will be found. These beings will each bequeath a magic scroll, which can then be equipped by any character. The scrolls come with a number, and once a character has used the spell that number of times, it is learned and can be used at any time, along with a reduced MP cost and increased effectiveness. The trade-off for this customization is that many later spells require seventy five, or even one hundred, uses to learn. The system is still quite addictive and worth pursing even with the substantial time commitment.

This is actually a small enemy group by the standards of this game. This is actually a small enemy group by the standards of this game.

   Aside from basic attacks, Namida includes a host of options that aren't seen consistently in turn-based combat. The ability to change equipment, skills, and magic scrolls at any time is remarkably helpful. Borrowing from Final Fantasy X, the game also allows the swapping of the current party with reserve members at any time. The random battles may occasionally become annoyingly frequent, but combat is entertaining enough to make that malady less disruptive than in many games.

   Purchasing items is something of a mixed bag. Stores display the effects of new equipment and items, certainly, but only when they're in the shop window. When the player attempts to sell things, the statistic effects of equipment aren't presented. One oddity of Namida is the sheer number of stores present, with some locales having five or six, each with a different stock. This makes shopping quite a bit more time-consuming than it would be in most other games.

   Namida is, sadly, not the type of game that can be easily attempted without a comprehension of some of the Japanese language. Relatively little Katakana is displayed onscreen, and even an understanding of Hiragana is insufficient to tackle this title, so knowing at least a few Kanji is mandatory. Recognizing the language is helpful in solving the few puzzles that are present, especially one that tests the ability to read with a short time limit in effect. The single FAQ present is immeasurably useful, but it still requires some knowledge of the language.

   Finishing Tengai Makyou III requires a substantial time commitment, one that passes seventy hours at minimum. The trip will also not be particularly easy, especially when no means of reviving the dead in battle can be obtained until comparatively late in the game. Bosses are foes to take seriously, and regular enemies are quite capable of deploying nasty abilities of their own to cause severe pain. Gaining plenty of levels helps a little, but enemy attacks are strong enough to remain dangerous even at a theoretically unassailable position. The game is certainly not unbeatable, but taking the opposition seriously is essential.

Ichimotsu will bedevil you for quite awhile, get used to that schnozz. Ichimotsu will bedevil you for quite awhile, get used to that schnozz.

   Namida's visuals do not press the PlayStation 2 very hard with their technical prowess, but are nonetheless quite absorbing. An enormous variety of enemies awaits, with relatively little of the palette-swapping endemic to RPG hordes. Battle animations are fast, fluid and frequent, while outside of combat the detail used to depict the varied parts of Jipang is easy to appreciate. The game does have a somewhat lopsided use of its cutscenes using the in-game character models, back-loading them towards the end, but the usual graphics are definitely up to the job.

   Perhaps it is fitting that a Tengai Makyou game would enhance its bizarre nature by using a Sarah Brightman song for its opening theme. This is not to decry the song itself, which is quite pretty, merely to point out how incongruous it is to have such a Japanese game with an English theme. Brightman's opening theme manages to fit rather well with the rest of Kazuhiko Katoh's score, which sounds superb and uses a full orchestra for a number of tracks. The music is varied and always suits the action well, along with sounding good outside the game, the mark of an excellent score.

   Tengai Makyou III features quite a bit of voice acting, though it's a trifle disappointing that only most of the plot developments feature it, instead of all. There are a few iffy performances, but mostly the actors give it their all. The voice acting is very helpful in giving life to the characters onscreen, and its generally good quality ensures a pleasant listen.

   Tengai Makyou III: Namida requires a great commitment from any potential player. The game is not particularly friendly to those without Japanese knowledge, and it will devour a significant chunk of time. Anyone not bothered by those aspects should most definitely investigate Red Entertainment's addictive creation, as it demonstrates the fundamentally enjoyable games that lie beneath the wacky exterior of this series. With a plethora of potential imports for the PS2, this one deserves to be remembered as an experience definitely worth having.

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