In media, the term ‘Sophomore Slump’ is often used to describe something, whether it be a book, a film, or a video game, that just couldn’t live up to the success or quality of its predecessor. Alundra 2: A New Legend Begins was just this. When it came out, fans of the first game were expecting huge things. This was because the first Alundra was a masterpiece, a glimmering gem in the action-adventure genre, with its only flaw, for some, being that perhaps it was a little bit too hard (just a little). But what fans of this top-down sprite-based puzzler got was something that, despite being similar in vein, just seemed too much of a leap in another direction. Die-hard fans of the original weren’t too pleased.
The first strike against Alundra 2 was the jump into a fully 3D environment, moving away from the simplistic sprites that gave the original its charm. This was perhaps adopted in an attempt to provide Sony’s PlayStation with an answer to the Nintendo 64’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The second strike would probably be that the game had absolutely nothing to do with the character Alundra, or the incredibly dark plot of the first game, in fact, Alundra 2 was much more light-hearted in comparison. Perhaps if the game had not been marketed under the Alundra name, it may have been more appreciated by gamers? I guess we’ll never know, but what I can let you know about however, is why this game is worth your time.
The story of Alundra 2 is definitely one that I enjoy, it is simplistic and charming, while maintaining an element of seriousness when it needs to. The game takes place in the Kingdom of Varuna, where the power hungry Baron Diaz has overthrown the king and replaced him with a wooden puppet. He then recruited the former palace wizard Mephisto to help him steal the Kingdom’s long hidden treasures. Mephisto uses magical wind-up keys to turn humans and animals into mindless, violent machines. You play as Flint, a famed pirate hunter, wanted for treason against the Baron’s new regime. Together with the King’s daughter, Alexia, Flint must fight against the Baron and Mephisto to put things right again.
Along the way you encounter many interesting and quirky characters, such as the comical pirate Zeppo, his son Albert and his daughter Ruby.
The Kingdom of Varuna is huge with towns and routes that are colourful and vibrant, while its dungeons are dark and menacing. The Kingdom seems exist in a steampunk-like world, with a lot of complex machines casting a striking contrast to the simplicity of the humble towns. The game gets creative with ideas and often pushes them so over the top that you can’t help but crack a smile. There is literally a dungeon situated in the stomach of a mechanical whale.
The graphics are very impressive for an original PlayStation game, and have a very ‘anime’ feel to them. But the anime feeling doesn’t just stop with the graphics, I’d even go as far as to say that even the cutscenes and humour of Alundra 2 would find themselves right at home in an anime. Perhaps it is because of the pirates, but to me, Alundra 2 feels a lot like One Piece in its presentation. In fact, there is something that Alundra 2 and One Piece share in common, but I shall get to that shortly.
The gameplay itself controls similarly to the first Alundra game, so in that sense you could probably say that it controls just like a The Legend Of Zelda game too, as the controls are very similar, as well as some of the things you can do. You slash grass for money or life, you open chests, solve puzzles, cast spells, you know the drill. The gameplay isn’t exactly innovative, but it is still enjoyable. Flint can be moved in all directions, and the camera can be manually rotated 360 degrees with the bumpers (not the right analog stick unfortunately). The controls are very smooth and as long as you aren’t too hasty and take your time, you shouldn’t make too many mistakes or die easily. You see, I myself would say that Alundra 2 is a fairly easy game, control wise. It is simple to pick up and play and get back into where you last left off. What isn’t simple however, and what does in fact make the game difficult, are the puzzles. The creators obviously wanted to go for something along the lines of the first game, although they toned it down a little. Well, when I say a little, they probably toned it down a lot, as I found the first Alundra game to be borderline impossible in places, and I completed Alundra 2, so that says quite a bit. That isn’t to say Alundra 2 doesn’t have its fair share of brain twisters in the puzzle department, with the hardest puzzles not only requiring at least 110% of your brainpower but also challenge your in-game coordination as well. There is one in the final dungeon that even had my Granddad standing down (yes, my Granddad plays video games!) and he completed the original Alundra.
Although some of the boss battles can be over fairly quickly, some can be hard as nails. One, where you fight an anthropomorphic cheetah thing called Blood Fang, had me cussing like a sailor for about an hour or so. But like most traditional bosses, as long as you get their pattern down, you can waste them with a bit of good old fashioned perseverance.
Another criminally under appreciated aspect of this game is its music. Not only is the music incredibly well composed, but it fits so well to what is happening on screen that you just have to wonder how Kōhei Tanaka – who has composed music for One Piece (see I told you Alundra 2 and One Piece had something in common!) – managed to pull it off so masterfully. Characters have their own little motifs to accompany their personalities, the themes of towns are relaxing, to make you feel like you’re cosy and safe, while the intense dungeon environments have unsettling songs riddled with mystery and danger. Check out the song ‘Quiet Town’ below, it’s just too perfect.
Also worth a mention in the sound department is the voice acting, which is fantastic. At the time, the quality of voice acting in video games was somewhat of a hit or miss. Alundra 2 definitely got it right; the voices are believable and suited to their characters, something some modern games and even anime series fail to do right! A lot of the dialogue is pretty hilarious, especially between pirates Zeppo, Ruby and Albert, who just always seem to get caught up in the middle of the commotion.
This game is a huge source of nostalgia for me, which is perhaps why it holds a permanent space in my heart, but as I have gotten older and more critical of games, no amount of nit-picking can hold this one down in my eyes. The game has so many areas in which it shines: smooth controls, fantastic music, challenging puzzles and don’t forget that incredible storyline with loveable, memorable characters. Some people might say that this game was just made to cash in on the success of the first one, and while that may be true, I feel, just by playing it, that the team behind this overlooked gem definitely put their heart and soul into creating it. Who said that there was some kind of unwritten rule that all sequels must suck by default? Alundra 2 breaks that tradition and then some!
Check out my website Alt:Mag for more underrated games, as well as articles about anime, movies and much more!