For as long as the Nintendo Wii has been available, it only has one standout title for the RPG genre, Super Paper Mario. Every other category has at least one game that can best represent the system but for RPGs, only a few, like Spectrobes: Origins, can be considered decent by most people or, in the case of Phantom Brave, ports of games that have previously existed on other consoles. Most of the console's role-playing games fall way below average while the absolute best entries are actually re-releases on the Virtual Console. This year could prove to be the year that changes things, though, with some big names in the genre publishing either brand-new games or anticipated sequels, like Monster Hunter Tri, Sakura Wars: Farewell My Love, and Xenoblade. One of the year's first games that hopes to make a name for itself as a standout Wii RPG is Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, a game by Tri-Crescendo who became famous for titles like Baten Kaitos: Origins and Eternal Sonata. For the most part, the game succeeds.
The plot will feel a bit familiar to gamers nowadays, thanks to the glut of titles that tend to depict a postapocalyptic future. You play the role of Seto, a 15-year-old born in a future version of Japan. When your elderly caretaker passes away, you bury him with the knowledge that you are possibly the last human being on Earth. One night, after an encounter with one of the malicious spirits still roaming the world, you discover a note from your caretaker telling you to go east toward the red tower in hopes that you may still find survivors. On your way to the tower, you meet a silver-haired girl who you startle, causing her to run away from you. Filled with insatiable curiosity, you make it your mission to find this silver-haired girl.
Fragile Dreams plays out somewhat like The Legend of Zelda but with a mix of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and some RPG elements. This is an action RPG, so while you can expect actual numbers for your health, abilities growing while you level up, and numbers to appear when you or an enemy get hit, you won't have to fiddle around with menus to initiate an attack. Actions are initiated in real time, and while you can button-mash your way through enemies, timing your presses will make those combos deal more damage.
Almost all of your weapons are of the one-handed variety, though a few of them are two-handed weapons and are usually composed of things that have been left in the field. Weapons range from simple things, like a stick or wooden sword, to golf clubs and spears that have rusted due to weather exposure. It's important to note all of this because your weapons will break and cannot be repaired, so finding multiples of one weapon you like is always a good idea. Your other hand holds a flashlight, which is not only good for seeing in the dark but also exposes enemies and clues. Pointing the list at a direction will often produce a sound, whether it is animals, people or monsters. The volume of the sound indicates how far away you are from the target, and once you get closer, shining the light will expose that target and allow you to fight it.
Any RPG in today's market lives and dies based on the story it tries to tell. For Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, the story is one of the more captivating. Gamers are used to stories of the apocalypse in other RPGs and action games, but you usually need to see other people in refugee camps monsters, or iconic scenery to really get understand what happened after the end of the world. The game still uses some of those criteria, but this is more of a character piece than one about the world. Seto, for example, always talks about how he hates being alone and has made it his mission to find the silver-haired girl just so he can have some company. That feeling of loneliness is brought up time and time again when he meets up with other characters, like a talking personal machine or the kid at the theme park who steals his locket. Without anyone else inhabiting the world except for the few characters you meet, you also start to feel that loneliness, and suddenly, the little things like posters and graffiti on the walls and broken park rides make the world much more believable.
The other characters have their own stories and troubles to deal with, and while they are all interesting, none of them are as touching as the stories of people you never see. Throughout the game, Seto can pick up mystery items that, when viewed at the fire pit save points, tell stories about the previous owners. The stories range from a father seeing his son get married to a girl losing touch with her best friend to a mother trying to get back home to her daughter. While the subject matter differs greatly per item, the common thread is that they all were taken before or after the events of the apocalypse, and they aren't exactly uplifting stories. Like the audio diaries in BioShock, these tales weigh more heavily on the player than the main story, and they serve as an incentive to find every item in the game in order to hear more of the tales.
If there is one major fault with Fragile Dreams, it would have to be with the overall gameplay. This is a broad statement to make, but there are enough elements that, when combined as a whole, justify this claim. For starters, there is no meter for the strength of your weapon. Considering the importance of a functional weapon in combat, the lack of a meter tracking this statistic is puzzling. Worse yet, the durability of each weapon seems to be inconsistent, though it's hard to tell whether or not it's because of stronger enemies. One bamboo sword, for example, can last much longer in battle than another one but without a visible meter, you'll be inclined to carry two or three different weapons simply because you have no idea when one will break.
Another problem that the game has is with its difficulty level. Unless the types of games you play are strictly menu-based RPGs, you'll actually do quite well for yourself until you reach the latter half of the game. You still have to deal with a pretty tedious chase sequence as well as a fetch quest that has you backtracking quite a ways to complete, but overall, you won't really have the opportunity to die or get frustrated with a puzzle before the final few areas. Only the enemies found later on prove to be troublesome enough that bosses will feel easy by comparison. This ease isn't helped by the fact that there seem to be many more save spots than one would expect. This is especially evident early on in the game, where a few areas would have save points in the same room. Since those points heal you completely, you can expect them to be used quite often for more than saving and item identification.
On a similar note, you can only identify items in a save spot, but it isn't consistent enough to not be annoying. For example, you can sometimes pick up an item and immediately identify it as a weapon, provided you found one just like it before. However, that rule doesn't apply to minerals, which immediately get converted into money and take up a good amount of slots in your inventory. Finally, certain areas seem susceptible to enemy and obstacle respawns. While most enemies are easy to defeat, it is maddening to see the same ghost hounds and jellyfish appear over and over again just because you decided to save the game.
For an action RPG, the controls work well enough. The analog stick on the Nunchuk moves your character while the C button makes you crouch and the Z button centers your camera. The Wii Remote handles said camera with the A button to initiate actions and attacks while the B button puts you in a zoomed stationary position, where you can move your head but not your position. The d-pad goes through your inventory of items on hand and gives you a look at what you have in your suitcase, your status in terms of current level, and a hand-drawn map of your surroundings.
Interestingly enough, while going into an inventory menu will cause the game to pause the action around you, there is no proper pause button. Also, while the camera controls work well most of the time, there are still a few instances when the game makes you walk backward while the camera is facing forward (in other words, you see Seto's front instead of back). It doesn't happen too often and never seems to happen in combat, but it has occurred a few times during the review period, so that may be something to watch out for.
Graphically, Fragile Dreams looks great but not perfect. Characters look fine, though their designs may or may not appeal to all tastes, depending on whether or not you like typical anime character designs. With the exception of their turning, which still has them pivot in place while it looks like they want to walk forward, the characters animate smoothly, and their lip movements match up with the dialogue quite well. The same can be said of the monsters as well. They all animate well and have some nice details, but they fail to become interesting until much later in the game. Fighting of against robots and ghostly maidens is interesting, but you have to slog through ghostly jellyfish, crows and ghost legs before you see the more interesting stuff.
The real praise is for the environments. Despite being set in postapocalyptic Japan, the environments do not show a constant stream of grays and browns that a nuclear apocalypse would bring in other games. You will see ravaged environments like an earthquake-torn subway station full of dark brown walls caked with dust, but they are mixed in with grassy plains, breaking dawn and a worn-down theme park that even sports bright colors in a nighttime setting. The variety really makes the game world feel like a victim of human neglect rather than a man-made or natural disaster, and the amount of detail in the environment, despite a few blurry textures when viewed up close, really helps drive this fact into the player's psyche. The graphics get a considerable boost with a 480p 16:9 display to bring it closer to some of the bigger-budget Wii games that look great on an HDTV. Overall, the game is a good choice if you want to show off the Wii's graphical capabilities.
Those who have followed the development studio know that Tri-Crescendo's work actually dates back to the late PSOne days and almost all of the PS2 era, when they helped Tri-Ace do sound work for games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and Valkyrie Profile. It should surprise no one, then, that the sound is another strong point of Fragile Dreams. The music is sparse, only choosing to play during cut scenes or during combat when enemies are around. When it does play, you usually get haunting and sad music coming through your speakers, which is fitting when you consider the plot and situations you encounter. Action-filled orchestral music comes through during fights, but it isn't exactly a sensation-filled set of tunes like you'd find in a game like Final Fantasy.
Sound effects play a much larger role in the game, since you'll be hearing them more than either the voices or music and they come through crystal clear. The use of Dolby Pro Logic II here is excellent, as having the effects go from speaker to speaker makes it more immersing than most games on the system. That sense of immersion is only heightened by the use of the speaker on the Wii Remote, which has its volume fluctuate depending on how far away you are from the creature and if you're facing in the right direction. The use of the Wii Remote speaker is also used on voices in the same manner, again bringing you that much closer to the game world.
Speaking of voices, the voice work in the game is very good. The English dub is handled by lots of professionals in the anime dubbing field, so it comes out better than most English game dubs. The Japanese track is here as well, a trend that has become common in this console generation and very much welcome. The only flaw is that sometimes the voices don't stick to the selected language. For example, some monsters and a few characters will resort to speaking English when the selected language is Japanese. It only occurs with a few creature types, but it is a bit jarring when you hear it for the first time, especially in a game that is clearly set in Japan.
Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon has almost everything going for it in terms of being an excellent RPG. The graphics are some of the best on the Wii so far, and the sound ranks up there among the best from any game on any system. More importantly, both the main story and the anecdotal episodes are emotionally powerful and told well enough that even the most jaded RPG players will care about some aspect of the game's plot. With all of these elements being so well done, it's a shame that the gameplay is so bland overall and filled with odd design choices and practices that have been abandoned for quite some time. If you can easily forgive a few of the game's faults, by all means pick up Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. Despite some flaws, it establishes itself positively as one of the Wii's early standout RPG experiences.
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