PSX Mania – 025 – Alundra (1997)

Completion time: 39:22:42

I’ve only played Alundra once to completion many years ago. In fact, it was so long ago that I barely remember a single thing about the experience, other than very vague moments during gameplay that trigger a memory buried deep in my smooth brain. Being the 25th game (and the second Milestone game we’ve hit on PSX Mania so far), I wanted to have something with a good mix – I wanted a good challenge (definitely got that), I wanted a game that was familiar yet wasn’t (check), something with a long playtime (definitely check) and something that we could look back upon and discuss it with fondness. Alundra succeeds on most accounts, although one could argue that there’s a bit of a puzzle overload in the entire experience, along with too many schmuck spots with jumping.

If you are the type that enjoys a seemingly endless stream of puzzles, Alundra will be your everything. Although I was digging the puzzles early on, the the frequency of which they appeared started becoming overbearing. You got past that simple ice pillar puzzle? Then here’s another one that’s vastly more complex. Done spending 10+ minutes figuring out the last puzzle? Well spend 15 more minutes on this latest one. I totally get that there’s a segment of players out there that will eat this up and still beg for seconds, but for me, as someone who enjoys a good brain teaser, I enjoy them spaced out more, and much less frequent throughout. They just started adding up and becoming more of a “ugh, more puzzles” situation instead of a “oh boy, more puzzles!” situation.

Maybe this was done to help mask the feeling that this is basically The Legend of Zelda with something more than a flimsy narrative. There’s no mistaking the similarities in gameplay between the two games, although Alundra establishes its own identity mostly thanks in part to the aforementioned puzzle onslaught. They both share a similar dungeon system (with Alundra foregoing a map and compass, yet retaining doors locking until all enemies are defeated, keys to unlock new areas, bosses and “heart containers” to find), several primary weapons and a myriad of sub weapons, an overworld of sorts that slowly opens up as the player progresses, a visual style similar to the classic Zelda titles, and so on. The gameplay as a whole doesn’t match the immaculate Zelda titles, but the more adult storyline and challenging puzzles helps to differentiate Alundra from Nintendo’s masterful franchise. In fact, the interesting storyline is what really carried me throughout my gameplay sessions once the puzzles and platforming became borderline unbearable. That and some satisfying and overall pleasing boss battles (especially the end).

One thing Alundra has that Zelda seldom had in the pre-64 bit days is platforming segments. I swear you need pixel perfect timing to reach some platforms from about 30% into Alundra and on. Combat feels like it was plucked from a Zelda game, although not as refined. The soundtrack though, across the board stellar. While there was that one track with the random screaming woman in it that made me laugh my ass off when I first heard it, the soundtrack is incredibly well done, possibly a top ten best on the console. There’s even some house outside of town that let’s players listen to different pieces of the soundtrack, which was a neat little addition.

Let me take a little time to give praise to the final stretch of the game (rather, the triple header boss battle). Alundra has a situation not unlike Silent Bomber, where there’s a difficult yet fun to learn boss fight that leads into the final fight (and in Alundra‘s case, a third fight in the gauntlet). There’s no checkpoint or save between wins, making this seem like an arduous encounter, but Alundra pulls this off masterfully for a few reason. First being the first two fights have very specific patterns to follow; the first phase of the boss fight can be completed flawlessly once you figure out the major giveaway. The final boss gives a wicked challenge, but as brutal as it is, it’s a fair and winnable fight. Had the game not been so cryptic with how I could unlock the final sword (or maybe I totally missed it? I doubt it), these fights would have been even more manageable, but having the Holy Sword meant I needed to land extra hits. The way that final stretch was laid out though, into that really well put together animated ending with no voice acting or text (I felt it conveyed a strong and memorable ending in its animation), it really turned a lot of my negative feelings aside and gave a more favorable overall impression of the game.

Unfortunately though, Alundra is something that is incredibly niche, no matter how that last bit played out so well. Do you enjoy a deluge of puzzles that get old extremely quick? Do you enjoy the game being cryptic in an overbearing manner? Do you enjoy pixel precision in platforming, to such a degree that you’ll get lost for an hour because that jump you did before wasn’t possible? Then this is the game for you. Its solid story, stellar boss battles (especially the end) and fantastic soundtrack will help carry you through the frustrations. This is a very faint and hesitant recommendation to try out. You really need patience to fully gel with Alundra. It’s not a bad core game whatsoever, but there’s too much guesswork and too many puzzles for its own good. It does say something though, when the close out to the game leaves such a massively positive impression, that you’re able to let go of the most venomous transgressions (sorta….mostly).

Rating: 8

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