--------AN ARCHER, A FREAKY LOOKING BRO, AND A PRINCESS--------
Let me tell you what the deal is. In a world far away and separate from our own lies a gargantuan edifice that resides in a once peaceful country known as Castle Milandra (or Milandora as stated on the spine of the box). It is here that this game tells the classic tale of two lovers who undergo a series of unfortunate events. A young man is to be wed to the lovely Precilla when a devious warlock of sorts by the name of Shairock conjures up a wicked plot. You see, Shairock and his demonic spy (seen in the intro as a enchanted raven) have been watching the two from atop Castle Milandra when Shairock hears a rumor that Precilla has a precious gemstone in her possession known as the Water Crystal. Its power is so great that it's rumored to contain enough sacred water to span ten thousand nautical miles and lay waste to at least ten countries. Shairock wishes to harness this power for his own selfish desires and so he eventually kidnaps Precilla so he can begin analyzing and probing her to discover the secret. Obviously, your little Romeo has to go and save her.
Shairock sends three of his most trusted henchmen to lead you astray and to stop you in your tracks. The first is Mephisto, a group of monkeys who are perhaps the most lowly but loyal underlings of the three. They are like the "brains" of the outfit and help Shairock because they would sacrifice their lives for him, not to mention that they are fans of Precilla anyway. The second is Jiruber, whom is in charge of coordinating most of Shairock's schemes. However, due to his strange nature, it's unclear if he's friend or foe. The last is Gaa, who is referred to as the "Golem" of the team. He has no brains, but he's got brawn in spades. To be quite honest, he won't really pose a threat to you in the game, and neither will the Mephisto group. In fact, if you're skilled enough, you can get Gaa to join your team at random at a certain point. Anyway, there's only one problem with Shairock and his team... he underestimates your hero's power of the heart. Your hero has the unusual "Kiryoku-Seimei" ability, or the power to give life to others using his own life energy. It's with this power that he will bring the statues of warriors in Castle Milandra to life and have his own team of heroes who will fight to the top of the castle to save the damsel in distress. At first glance, this game made me think of Edgar Allen Poe with its dark introduction and if Ed did inspire the creators in the slightest, I wouldn't be surprised.
--------A VISUAL FEAST FOR THE TORTURED SOUL--------
At first glance, Milandra looks like a game that would charm any RPG lover for the SNES. If it looks that way to you, that's probably because Milandra IS visually stunning. Why do I have to say that? Well, it might sound crazy but there are games that look good, but when you actually play them...well, they don't look so good. Milandra is one of those games. The characters look decent in and of themselves, but what you don't see is the superb and fluid character and enemy animations. Even when Zukeeya does her little dance standing in place, she looks good doing it. Her hair swings fluidly, the flaps on her "dress" flow with her movement as though they were made of water (if you call panties, a bra, and a few floating flaps a dress) and when she casts magic, she shakes her hands in a frenzy.
Zukeeya isn't the only person that looks good though; many enemies are the same. Fight a large dragon that rotates his head and spews fire breath, clash swords with a Dragon Knight and watch him set his sword on fire and glow red from the fiery embers on his sword, watch water fountains spray water, watch worms wiggle and squirm, cast a snowstorm spell, bang magical drums to temporarily power-up the physical attack of you and your allies, rain mighty lightning bolts on the wicked...need I say more?...wow, it's all good stuff. The music, while somewhat limited in number, is also nicely composed and fits the dark atmosphere. Monsters have different death cries as worms squeal and harpies make the agonizing shriek of a woman in peril. Sooner or later though, the gameplay mechanics settle in...
--------STATUES, ZOMBIES, OR BOTH?--------
When you start the game, you must name your character (who has no default name) and you can choose three different ways to start the game; With 10 more hearts or "Kiryoku-Seimei" points, 1000 gold pieces, or with five additional points to your attack stat. By choosing 10 more hearts, you also get the option to rename Precilla for some strange reason, though she does have a default name, so it isn't really necessary. Honestly though, the heart points are really the most important thing to have...why? Life and death is based on Kiryoku-Seimei. You see, you will meet statues of people and they are broken into classes; Warrior, Monk (mage and fighter), Priest, Wizard, Knight, and Thief. These classes specialize in wearing different equipment and specialize in different abilities (I should point out that thieves can't steal, but are good at disarming traps). The main character is an Archer and can't change his class. Some characters can wear up to four pieces of equipment (weapon, shield, two accessories).
There are a number of characters to choose from, but the game will only have six statues for you to choose. There are actually more than six characters, which means that the characters are somewhat random and you may have to restart the game to get the characters you like. For example, there are two mage type characters; Storow and Zukeeya. Storow is a powerful 77 year old magician who is highly skilled in using magic and comes at a high level when you make him join. Zukeeya is a sexy 17 year old dancer who is skilled at using basic magic, but with training, she will eventually be on Storow's level. Because Storow is highly skilled, he costs more life energy to recruit than Zukeeya. You can recruit up to three characters for a party of four people, which is pretty interesting, especially for an SNES rogue-style RPG. However, the game has some problematic A.I which can make controlling the characters very tedious.
While the game provides you with options to give your partners specific commands such as to "Go all out!" or "Wait for me here...", your partners don't listen very well. Your healer, knowing he or she isn't too great at melee combat, will run off away from the rest of your group to fight enemies that they are no match for, or the wizard might run off to pick up an item; Even if you left it there because it had little use, or you had no room for it. Another annoying as hell thing is something that should have easily been avoided...the dungeons are just way too narrow. Because of this, your character will "think" they can't fit in a hallway and will continue to run left and right in the previous room! Thankfully, this game can still be somewhat playable since you can manually command each character...BUT bear in mind, you must command EACH AND EVERY step that they take, which can make the game move at an almost unforgiving pace. What's the point of having preset A.I commands to make characters standby or go all out if they are going to screw around all the time? You might as well command zombies!...who knows, maybe they are zombies...
--------WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY BE WRONG?--------
Of course, nice visuals and respectable sound had to come at a price (at least in this game), and it's not just the A.I...besides the flawed artificial intelligence that I spoke of earlier, Milandra is probably one of the hardest RPGs EVER. I've played many rogue-style RPGs and difficultly is one of the things I like about them (Diablo, I'm going to beat that "hell" difficulty whenever I get off my lazy a$$), but due to the A.I, the things you may have hated about some rogue-style games seems three times as bad. I'm used to traps in the dungeons, but Milandra has far more traps than I'm used to seeing. Seriously, there are traps in some rigged as hell locations and the traps are damn near everywhere. Of course, your allies might walk all over them without parental supervision AKA manual control (Kids I tell ya). Also, there appears to be no way to redo a dungeon to train your characters when things get too difficult. The upside is that your characters don't revert back to level 1 like Koh did in Azure Dreams, but the enemies (especially near the end) start becoming absolutely absurd. Fighting Dragon Knights is bad enough...how about fighting a DRAGON BARON? Those bad boys can hit anywhere from 150-250 damage, depending on their mood (actually, it depends if they do a critical hit or not).
To give you an idea how insane that is, most characters at the end of the game don't even have 150 HP, so basically, they tend to kill in one hit. The resurrection method in the game is also pretty brutal; remember your hearts? Say you recruit Storow, who costs 30 hearts...well, it cost half of that to revive him if he dies. When you don't have enough hearts to revive the hero, it's game over. Basically speaking, if you die early in the game, you're pretty much screwed at the end of the game. Hearts are pretty rare and you need them to recruit characters, so dying early will prevent you from getting decent characters later on. I cheated a great deal on an emulator, so I'm more speaking to those folks who intend to play this on a console...with the absurd amount of traps, laugh-out-loud A.I, overpowered enemies, narrow dungeons, brutal resurrection system, and no way to train characters in old dungeons, the game is nearly impossible to beat. I own the game, but I'll be damned if I'm going back to play this game on my SNES. To add to this, if you manage to beat the game...well, let's just say that the worst has yet to come.
--------TREASURE EVERYWHERE TO HELP REDUCE THE HURTING--------
The game is difficult, but it's good to know that it isn't difficult because you're an archer. Actually, the archer in this game can kick some serious butt if you let him. He can also use a little magic, but since he isn't a wizard, the spell-book will disappear once he uses it (it stays infinitely in the hands of the proper spell caster), but it can still be helpful if you find extra in the dungeons. Your hero's special ability is to shoot arrows, which start off very weak. However, you can use items to power them up either one level or two levels. If you keep powering them up by two levels instead of one, you will find your arrows growing in power very quickly, which will come in handy later on. Also, there are plenty of special arrows that you can find in the dungeons that can deal damage (some can even hit a line of enemies/objects) and cause various abnormal status conditions (speaking of status conditions, they succeed too often on friend and foe alike) like "mahi" (paralysis) and other conditions.
Speaking of items, the game has many different items you can collect, but like some rogue-style RPGs, if you don't know what items do what, you can do more harm than good. For example, you can pickup a heart item in the game that when used, explodes and deals damage to you and your party (or anyone in range of the explosion). Does this mean that the game is out to kill you? Well...yes, BUT YOU CAN use the item to your advantage by THROWING it away from your party and toward a group of enemies. That way, the only suckers that burn are the loser baddies. The explosion can also reveal hidden traps and destroy urns and spike traps (or destroy any trap if the trap isn't hidden). Keep in mind though that the explosion can even destroy any potentially valuable items in the area too. Some items must be identified before they have any use (There is a mushroom that can't be thrown away that can also be identified) and you can identify them by touching a golden maiden statue or by using a certain item. Items can heal, do damage, boost stats (including powering up the strength of equipped armor with a "1" or such), level up a character, give a character EXP, and much more. You can find keys to unlock doors or treasure chests too, but there's even an accessory that allows you to open any locked doors or chests even without keys. Long story short, the items are awesome and make the game a little more enjoyable. Experimentation is the key for those folks who don't know any Japanese.
--------NOT FOR THE IMPATIENT AND/OR EASILY FRUSTRATED--------
This game really requires the patience of a saint to get any kind of enjoyment out of it. It's annoying enough to command two people, but once you get a party of four (IF you get a party of four), it can really become aggravating. The game has you climb to the top of the castle as well as deep underneath the castle and the game has you enter many dungeons too. The story during the course of the game, while there is some, is relatively light. Generally speaking, the visuals and the audio are what kept me going and Milandra is one frustrating game. Looking for an SNES rogue-style RPG besides Furai no Shiren? Milandra might fit the bill, or it might not. As I stated before, it's not for the impatient and/or easily frustrated. Play at your own risk.
- Written by Vyse the determined -