Review by spweasel
Tales of Mediocrity
Every now and then, a game is made by a small-name developer that takes everybody by surprise and redefines the genre. Everybody praises it, and even if it doesn't become a best seller, it achieves cult status.
Mimana Iyar Chronicles isn't one of those games.
That isn't to say that it is bad. It's just incredibly... average. The PSP is somewhat lacking in good Action RPGs, though, so this might hold you over for a little while.
Gameplay Overall: 6.5/10
If you have ever played a Tales or Star Ocean game, you'll feel right at home here. While dungeon crawling, you will be randomly pulled into encounters, usually against roughly 5 foes. You move your character on the 2D battlefield with the D-pad, perform up to a three-hit sword combo with X, block with Circle, and use one of 4 previously set spells with Square (the spell used is determined by what direction you are pressing when Square is pressed).
Triangle pulls up the in-battle menu, where you can force your party members to use spells or skills, use items, change your teammates' AI, or run away.
One of the big issues with the combat system is that you cannot switch control to any character but the hero, Crais. If Crais dies while you don't have any reviving items, you often have to hope that your other party members walk far enough away from the enemy to use their attack spells before they are interrupted. For most of the game, the party consists of only Crais and squishy wizards, so they are going to have a hard time fighting off strong physical attackers without your help. The AI for spellcasters isn't all that good when you aren't babysitting them.
Another issue is the lack of variety in Crais' skillset. You basically have two options during battle: using his regular three-hit combo, or using one of his attack skills over and over again. There usually isn't a whole lot of reason to use a skill after an attack combo (like you would in the Tales series), since Crais needs to go back to his normal battle stance before attacking again. His spells take a long time to cast and are generally pretty weak and/or unnecessary (he gets several stat increasing spells). He does get some healing spells, but those are more useful out of combat since items are cheap and don't have a cast time or cooldown (and you always have at least one other healer around).
The menu system works great, the rate at which you find items is good, and there are a good number of healing points/backtracking shortcuts around. Healing your party and changing equipment, party members, AI setup, or in-battle starting formation are all quick and easy. Experience is given in sufficient amounts that you probably will not need to stop and grind so long as you mostly avoid running from battles.
The largest problem?
The first several dungeons aren't bad at all. They are fairly straightforward, short, and pretty fun. Eventually, though, the dungeons become exercises in frustration as you traverse large mazes where everything looks alike, perform ill-defined tasks to release barriers, and search for the correct hole to fall into. These obnoxious time-wasters can be easily remedied by keeping maps of each dungeon handy, but that defeats the purpose behind the game being on a handheld device.
The other problem is the encounter rate. I mentioned above that you get enough experience to keep going forward just by not running from battle. That doesn't mean that the enemies give lots of experience so much as it means that you'll be fighting a ton of them. Even if you keep using the spell that reduces the encounter rate, you will fight far more opponents than you would reasonably expect to while wandering aimlessly down passageways because you got lost again.
Basically, the poor dungeon design and high encounter rate turn what would have otherwise been a 4 hour RPG into a 12+ hour one.
Story Overall: 6/10
The plot wasn't bad enough to make me stop playing, but it certainly wasn't the reason I bothered finishing, either.
The story starts out in a town in a stereotypical fantasy world with magic, swordsmen, etc.. Crais gets forced into working for the child bard Sophie to bodyguard her on her quest for 7 elemental gems. Plot ensues.
The best way to describe the plot is that it is like a Tales game, only without any big twists or plot developments. There are a few things that are supposed to be large reveals, but they are so well-telegraphed that anyone who is even somewhat familiar with RPG plot twists won't be surprised by anything that happens.
I can't go into too much detail for obvious reasons, but the ending is a huge disappointment. Several plot details are left hanging (hinted at but not properly explained), and the story ends as an obvious sequel hook. The developers were obviously attempting to build this into a long series.
What hurts the score the most, though, is the pacing. For a huge portion of the game, the party consists only of Crais and Sophie, and the plot consists of nothing but the dungeon crawls and various plot hints being dropped. Then, major plot developments start happening and the majority of your party suddenly start joining at a rapid pace. The only thing keeping plot points from happening too quickly is that the dungeons between plot points start getting longer and longer.
Wanting to spend the early part of the game building up the relationship between Crais and Sophie makes sense from a storytelling point of view, but it doesn't work so well in the framework of the game. Not having a full party until late in the game doesn't feel right, and the plot being pushed into the end of the quest makes the whole thing feel very back heavy.
Mimana Iyar Chronicles' characters are one of the high points of the game.
Overall, the characters are likable and fun to watch interact with each other and NPCs. Unfortunately, they aren't terribly deep and largely fill basic character roles that we've all seen before. Crais is usually a jerk, brought on by his troubled past. Sophie is the cheerful girl who is incredibly polite. Mel is an insufferable genius magician as well as a bit of a pervert. The bad guys are EVIL. And so on.
The first impressions you get for these characters stay pretty much consistent throughout the game. You get some character development, but most of it happens on the part of Crais, with others only having more of their past revealed.
So long as you look past the fact that the characters are mostly mix-and-match stock RPG characters, though, and you are left with fun, humorous interactions and above-average dialogue.
I personally found the field graphics to be pretty good, using the timeless sprite on a 3D environment look that's been popular since the Playstation era. Dungeon graphics are a little nondescript, but nothing too bad. The fact that all passageways look alike is a little more problematic, since that does add to the problem of getting lost in dungeons.
The combat graphics aren't as good, though. The character sprites are stretched out, giving an odd, lanky feel to the characters. Enemies are mostly pallet swaps of each other, and many of them are less than inspired. A large portion of your fights will be against colored cubes, pyramids, and gem-shaped crystals.
Character designs aren't bad, per se, but they are highly unoriginal. Crais looks suspiciously like Fayt from Star Ocean 3. Sophie was apparently thrown up by the Atelier series. The rest of the cast follows suit, looking almost (but not quite) like characters from other games/animes. They all look pretty good, but don't expect to be able to pick them out of a lineup in 10 years.
The anime cutscenes don't look too bad, but the characters don't look quite the same as they do during regular gameplay (mostly in the faces). It isn't too jarring, but it does seem to indicate a lack of polish.
Sound Overall: 6/10
Yes, I realize this is a low score. The thing is, there isn't much music in the game, and what does exist is pretty forgettable. According to the Sound Test, there are 19 songs in the game. The problem is, they are mostly used for only one area each. Most dungeons are completely silent. No, seriously - no music whatsoever. You might not notice, though, since when music does play it doesn't draw attention to itself in the slightest.
Voice Acting: 9/10
The voice acting is another of Mimana's high points. While localizing this, they decided to go all out on voice actors. Johnny Yong Bosch, Laura Bailey, Wendee Lee, and a host of other great voice actors all play large roles, so the game obviously earns a 10/10...
Except there are a few small issues. Karen Strassman plays the part of Mel, but she manages to make a character who mostly exists for comic relief and make her exceedingly annoying. This mostly comes down to preference, but I just cringed and hurried past any of her spoken lines and removed her from the active party as soon as I could.
I was underwhelmed with the performance of the two main villains as well. Liam O'Brian normally does an excellent job, but he seemed a little too generically evil this time around, which only served to make a generic villain even more generic. His partner (the voice of whom I can't place) doesn't really do "emotionless killer" quite right, either.
Overall, though, the voiced scenes are a pleasure to listen to, and fans of American voice actors will be pleased with this aspect of the game.
The game has a slight affection system, which will determine a few small things in the game. There are also various mutually exclusive sidequests, so you will get more story/development for the different characters. The game is fairly short (especially if you know what you are doing and don't get lost during subsequent plays), so doing full runs is no huge time investment.
That being said, major plot points don't change, and neither does most of the witty dialogue. The plot isn't complex enough for you to need to replay the game to catch things you missed the first time. The actual process of playing the game isn't amazingly spectacular, either, so playing just for more gameplay is less likely as well.
If you enjoyed the game, you might want to pick it up again right away. If you didn't fall in love with it, it might end up stored in a box somewhere and maybe played again in a few years.
In-Combat Gameplay: 8/10
Out-of-Combat Gameplay: 5/10
Voice Acting: 9/10
Overall, this game really wasn't that bad, but it really felt a bit like an attempt at making a cash-cow franchise. Almost everything in the game feels borrowed from other sources (especially other Action RPGs), and the final product is just generic. Even the title is synonymous with "Tales of Iyar - Mimana".
If you are a fan of old-school RPGs, this game is worth at least a rent. If you generally are not a fan of RPGs, though, don't expect this to change your mind.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Mimana Iyar Chronicle (US, 03/30/10)
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