Review by KholdStare88
Exciting and fun for gamers, may be tedious for VN readers
As an introduction, Kamidori Alchemist Master is a Visual Novel and Role-Playing Game combo, or more simply "dating sim" with "battles". In short, you read through dialogue and fight enemies, similar to a typical video game but with much more focus on plot and the availability of H-scenes. Sounds interesting?
For most VN + RPG packages, they are essentially half-assed. You either get more focus on the story and/or sex scenes leaving with badly thought out combat systems or vice versa. Unfortunately, many VN + RPGs are lacking in both area leaving behind a product that is barely decent. I was a bit surprised by the story in Kamidori. Even though the core of it is cliche - a boy rises in power quickly and helps everyone he can - we see a lot of personality and in depth backgrounds for its characters. Now the last sentence should describe a good VN, but remember we're considering a VN + RPG product, so this is at least one they that is done right.
By comparison to other VNs with combat but not necessarily an RPG element like Fate/stay night, the story is well inferior, and no one expected Kamidori's story to rival some of the best true VNs. But to be fair, I have to rate story a 7/10 even though Kamidori's story is high tier when only considering VN + RPG products. I consider Kamidori more along the lines of a Xenogears game with lots of attention to story and cutscenes.
Unlike games that intermingle plot and RPG (for example Eien no Aselia), we see a separation in Kamidori. Even though going down different routes will result in different maps, you don't need to worry about gaining "love points" for every time the main character stands next to a girl (like Fire Emblem's support system). I like this distinction because there would be less annoyance. Imagine forcing yourself to bring a girl you want to pursue to every battle, even if she's overleveled or weak. Watch out though, because only one or two decisions will lead you down a girl's route, and this is irreversible.
The gameplay is excellent and it is everything I can ask for of a grid-based sRPG. You have characters with different abilities (flyers, swimmers, etc...) and with different weapons (hammers, bows, clothlines, eyeballs...). Because there's a variety of "classes" to use, the gameplay is fun, or if you ragequit, you'll come back in a day or two. You can also customize equipments and skills, and gain new skills via weapons or equipment. In summary, the battle system is simplistic with many fun skills.
Kamidori has a system to roll the die on stat gains when you level up. This is, in my bias, a terrible system by itself. When improved, such as in Golden Sun where you gain 2 or 3 for each stat instead of 0 or 1, the randomness factor is still there but it won't screw you over. Another system that is also fine is if you have a 40% to increase Str and it didn't increase, then the next time you level it will be 80%. But in Kamidori many times I get frustrated at just a level gain with +1 HP and nothing else, so I end up reloading the last save. To its credit, you can save anywhere in the game, even during battles.
But the really disappointing factor of this game is how much you have to grind. When a new chapter starts and we get "Level 15" dungeons, chances are my characters at level 11 and will reach level 15 by the end of the chapter, when "Level 20" dungeons are then unlocked. If you don't want to grind, then you pretty much have to reload for better level gains, and both methods are easily boring. Fortunately the game is not that hard that you need to grind all the time, but it adds a slight annoyance to the gameplay.
One last thing is how you are sometimes given so little information. We see on message boards all the time, "stuck on chapter 3" or "stuck on chapter 5" because it's sometimes unclear what level you need to advance the story or if there's an event scene somewhere. The worst part is when you get a quest in say Chapter 2 but you're supposed to sit on it until it continues on in Chapter 5. And you get the feeling you're supposed to do something for it and probably failed it somehow. Usually failing a few side quests aren't crucial, but in a VN + RPG game where one of the goal is to collect all the CGs, missing a side quest will prevent you from doing that.
There's really nothing bad I can say about this category. Taking out the RPG elements, the art is as beautiful as any top of the line VN. Even the battlefield sprites are well done with lots of details. They definitely did not half-ass this.
All I can say is, "Meh." The background music is good, although very repetitive. If you're in the middle of a long fight, then sooner or later the thumping battle music will make you want to turn it off and open up Winamp or iTunes. Unlike Pokemon where every town has a new, refreshing tune, there is only one city. But that's not the worst of it. The "sound effects" are too loud and annoying. Every time you move your cursor on the battlefield, you will hit a square or an a stat box or an enemy which will generate more noise over the already-annoying thumping battle music. And lastly, during H-scenes, it's pretty much slurping noises all the way through which may or may not serve to excite you.
It's funny, becaue in the "extras" if you listen to each BGM track searately, then there's really nothing wrong with them. But they way they are implemented in the game is somewhat "clashing" in a not so good way. All I will say is that VNs tend to have excellent music so I was probably spoiled, leading to the average score.
Replay Value: 7/10
If you're replaying the game for other routes, then you're out of luck. For most VNs, you can skip a lot of common events between routes to reach decision points, but tough luck here. Not only is there only 2 or so decision points, but you definitely cannot skip the battles. So unless you are really into grid-based sRPGs, you'll probably just play a route and call it quits.
If you're replaying the game for gameplay too, then New Game+ makes going through battles quite easier but you still cannot skip the battles to advance the plot. For games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, you may want to replay the game to make different party of other classes/characters, but here you're already forced to level up all characters to unlock scenes, so there's nothing left to explore. What I can say is that I was addicted to the game while playing it, and for most of the game that I felt similarly, I end up replaying it a year or two later.
The problem with assigning an overall score is that should I consider all aspects of Kamidori based on the best of VN and the best of RPGs combined? If so, then they are just decent in both categories, probably 6/10. But if score Kamidori comparatively only to other VN + RPG products, then it excels, scoring 10/10. Unlike Tears to Tiara where there's actually an "automatic gameplay easy mode" for those who just want to play the VN aspect of it, no such feature exists in Kamidori. Unlike Castle Fantasia 2 where you can just press Ctrl through dialog to get to battles, you actually need to read the text to figure out how to advance the plot. So it is a good combination of both VN and RPG elements, but its market is, in my opinion, severely limited.
If you like games such as Utawarerumono, Eien no Aselia, and Battle Moon Wars, then give this game a try. I would say the "feel" of the game is most similar to Eien no Aselia in terms of balancing plot and combat, but Kamidori is a grid-based sRPG. It has more focus on battles than Utawarerumono, and there is much more plot (and pretty graphics) than BMW, CF2, Rance, and most similar products of its kind.
Product Release: Kamidori Alchemy Master (JP, 04/22/11)
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