Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Neugier: A rose tinted retrospect?

Although it looked fairly standard, this could've been a hit on western shores

Now this one really is obscure...

'Neugier Umi to Kaze no Kodo' is a title that will be pretty much unknown to most SNES fans. Released in Japan for the Super Famicom in 1993 by Wolf Team, it's a short (very short actually) action RPG in the mold of Soulblazer, Lagoon and the Ys games.

For some reason this game always has always interested me (funny that Neugier is actually German for 'curiosity'). I first caught sight of it in an old copy of Super Play (issue 10), and it was literally only a few screenshots and a couple of paragraphs about how this neat little Zelda clone would be worth a look once it was given a US release as 'Journey Home: Quest for the Throne'. Something about those pictures really caught my eye though and the game reached out to me as an RPG starved Brit (the fact that it looked like a slightly more basic Zelda III wouldn’t have done it any harm either). For the next few months, I kept a keen eye on all US game releases, eagerly awaiting more news.

To be honest that was pretty much the last I heard of Neugier. The US release had just dropped off the radar (no Internet back in those days meant this happened a lot), and so it was filed away in a dusty part of my brain as another missed opportunity...until earlier this year.

Spurred on by a reborn love for gaming and SNES RPG's in particular, I found myself excitedly searching my ROM collection for old RPG gems, and eventually I happened upon Neugier. Much to my dismay though, there was no English ROM to be found, a quick dig around Google yielded answers.

By all accounts the game did receive an English translation, and subsequently a US release was planned (it even got as far as the box art being produced, which being American, was nob). However the project was scrapped when Sega acquired Renovation Products, and immediately pulled the plug on all Nintendo projects (Renovation were the North American publishing arm for Wolf Team's parent company, Telnet Japan). The west was once again denied a decent RPG, and Sega had once again pissed on my chips.

By the by, the remnants of Wolf Team and Telnet would eventually go on to form tri-Ace and Namco's Tales Studio, who are responsible for behemoths such as the Star Ocean series and the Tales series...from small acorns eh.

Anyways, further Googling brought results that really lifted my spirits, ‘Haeleth’ and ‘RPGOne’, two heroes of the fan translation scene, had hacked the ROM, performed some crazy magic and released their own translated version of the game...HA, in your face Sega!!

After a wee bit of Lunar IPS patch magic I was finally able to play Neugier: Journey Home...it had certainly felt like a journey to me.

So what about the game then?

Well, you play as Duke, the banished son of Count Wein, the ruler of the realm of Neugier. Duke is journeying home amid rumours of pirates and witches wreaking havoc in the place he once resided in. First impressions are that the story does a job but was never designed to worry the RPG aristocracy, but actually, take time to read between the lines slightly and there's more going on here. Very early on in the game, we see innocent people viciously slaughtered, kidnap and a thick veil of deception...not bad for an action RPG. There are also a couple of fairly decent plot twists (for the time) thrown in throughout the journey to keep you interested.

Graphically and sonically, Neugier weighs in at above average for the SNES, falling short of Enix, Square and Capcom standards, but trouncing offerings such as Lagoon, YSIII and Arcus Spirits. And while it is let down badly by it's (criminally) short lifespan, the developers, aware of this, added in a ranking system which dished out a score based on completion time of the game...which does add replay value I guess.

Duke himself is a joy to control and actually reminds me somewhat of a more basic Ark from Terranigma (someone from Quintet obviously played this game). He use the obligatory RPG sword as a main weapon, but he also gains a pretty nifty grappling hook. This is another of Neugier’s standout features, because as well as repelling enemies, it also allows Duke to reach otherwise inaccessible areas of the game and hurl rocks and crates at his enemies. This all action style game play is where Neugier really excels and separates itself from the other games in it’s genre, which are so often mired in mediocrity. Small wonder the ‘Tales of’ games are so well engineered, with such talented staff working on them.

For me, it’s a crying shame that this game never made it to the west in an official capacity, in those days we in the English-speaking world were crying out for solid RPG titles, and very rarely did we receive. It's even fair to say that this game would probably have amassed a pretty decent die-hard fan base (me included), there were enough features to make it stand out amongst rivals at the time and it could hold it's own in most departments. Unfortunately though, it became just another obscure footnote in the annuls of the all conquering SNES, left to toil in the shadows of more elaborate cohorts, it's few supporters being those who discovered the awesome fan translation. This is quite a tragedy in my eyes, as this little game deserved much better.

And so, as I was merrily blasting through the game and thinking to myself "this is ace", I was struck by a quite profound and relevant thought...was this game really as good as I was telling myself? Or was I just caught up in the joy of finally snaring something that had eluded me for 15 long years?

To help answer this, I cast my mind back and tried to predict what the mercurial Super Play and in particular, the mighty Zy Nicholson (RPG overlord) might have made of it all. After much deliberation, I concluded that it probably would have received an above average 65%, with praise for the battle system, character control and possibly music, but a slamming for the longevity and a mild chastising for the graphics for hardly pushing the machine. Overall, a worthy addition to the RPG scene, and that was that.

But I don’t know, for me, on this day…it’s clearly an 8 out of 10 game.

So there we have it, and this brings me neatly on to the final question. Does this viewpoint mean that my glasses are indeed rose tinted?

It appears so...and long may it remain that way.

1 comment:

  1. When I saw "Wolf Team" tagged in your sidebar, I couldn't help but check it out! This is a nice write-up for Neugier... I love the game, but agree that it is way too short. Still, now that it can be had for a pretty low price, I'm okay with that.