Review by TWE
As charming as it is flawed
Tenerezza is a rare game; it is as charming as it is flawed. One cant help but see the endless potential oozing out of this game, the faint hints at brilliant ideas that somehow never quite made it to fruition. It comes to us from Aquaplus, a small Japanese developer/publisher that most people have probably never heard of.
Perhaps the best part about Tenerezza is the comical dialog and situations you find in the game. The interplay between Tenerezza and her companion fairy Lolo is classic, and it really feels like youre playing through a comedic anime. The story is fairly basic, but its nice. In the town of Esperanza, there is the worlds greatest magic user, who is none other than the young and cute Tenerezza. She has her own house on the very top of the town, complete with a kitchen where she can cook food (you need to find recipes and ingredients to cook (such as tomatoes, rice, apples, eggs, fish, etc.), and these foods help you in battles, such as replenishing your health or healing poison. A very cool and innovative twist on the usual healing items found in RPGs!). The president of the town (yes, hes the president, theres no mayor, just a president. Dont ask me why) asks Tene (as she likes to be called for short, and as I will henceforth refer to her) to investigate the Magic Forest to see where all the monsters have been coming from lately. So she embarks on her quest, soon meeting the magic fairy Lolo in the forest, and together their journey begins. Its fairly typical stuff, involving a quest to retrieve 4 magic crystals, a crazy witch as a villain, and various other characters along the way. But what saves it from falling into the depths of derivative doldrums (hows that for an alliteration!) are the superb character designs, great dialog, and humorous situations that are abundant in the game.
The graphics are fairly average and the game looks like a nice Dreamcast title, as far as the 3D graphics go. The framerate is usually 30fps but sometimes dips to 25 or so. While Esperanza is very detailed, and all the characters and interiors of the houses are very well done, the battle areas are rather drab and sparse, with not a whole lot of detail. The character models are great though, and the anime expressions that pop up when the characters are talking are simply beautiful. The enemies are fairly boring and frankly rather strange--especially the hopping teddy bears. I don't really understand why they're in this game! Also worth mention is the anime intro, which is nicely done.
The music is pretty standard fare, though some pieces really stand out, like the Volcano mountain and Green Plains theme music. The sound effects are very good, there is a generous amount of voice acting in the game, and all of the key scenes feature full character voicing. As a point of interest, when Tene changes magic, for whatever reason, she yells out the magic name in ENGLISH (i.e. earth!, fire!, water!, wind!). Ive no idea why, though its a curious oddity, one of many in this game.
The control is less than perfect and sometimes it can be slightly frustrating. This is one of the major downfalls of the game. You change magic by using the L and R buttons, you charge up and release a magic blast using the A button, and you can use a weapon with the B button. The X button calls up the item screen and the Y button unleashes Lolos attack (sort of a last ditch kill all the enemies on the screen attack that you can only use sparingly). What this game is lacking-- SEVERELY lacking--is the ability to move the camera. Yes, this is a 3D action-rpg, but no, you CANNOT move the camera. At all. There is absolutely no ability to move the camera in this game, which I found completely shocking, as this is a fairly standard aspect of any 3D rpg or action-rpg (or most any 3D game, actually). The first 5 minutes I had the game, I was frantically trying to use the second analog stick and the L and R buttons, horrified to see that nothing was happening. Thankfully the camera moves automatically fairly well (most of the time), though there is a huge, huge problem with this when you enter a boss battle. First of all, all the bosses Ive seen thus far are horribly designed, unimaginative, and just not fun to fight. The camera in these scenes is so terrible, youll find yourself dying over and over again ONLY because you cant always see where the stupid boss is on the screen due to the horrible camera! Its totally cheap and it will annoy you to no end. Also, there is a problem with calling up the item menu sometimes, Ive noticed Ill press the X button in battle and nothing will happen, then I press it again one or two times quickly and it will finally come up. Theres really no excuse for that. One time this happened to me, and when I finally opened the item screen, it happened as I was getting hit. I used a few healing items on the item screen, and returned to the action only to find the healing items didnt register, the hit killed me, and I had to start again with the healing items out of my inventory!! It registered them used and gone, though it didnt register their effect in the actual game. Again, there is no excuse for such sloppy programming as this.
The gameplay is nothing stellar and in fact it is just barely adequate. You mainly use magic, which involves charging up and releasing one of the elementals (earth, wind, fire, water) with the A button. Pretty boring and bland in the beginning, but it gets better as you level up (more on the level up system later, thats one of the good parts of this game). Ive found the weapons you can buy have such a short range, are so slow, and take off so little damage from enemies, theyre fairly useless. Whats strange though, is the weapons are insanely expensive, and require not only lots of money but a certain amount of different jewels and items in the game-- some of which are quite rare! Actually, the whole money system in this game is WAY off. You earn squat from enemies, all the items are priced way too high, when you die you start again with HALF of the money you had (extremely annoying if you had $2000 and you start again with $1000, as $2000 takes a LONG time to accumulatethough you can choose to just reload from your last save and try that area over again, which lets you keep all your money, but the tradeoff is you dont keep all the items you found right before you died), and if you want to save out in the fighting areas, you have to find this traveling girl who charges a crazy $500 for one save, and each save after that increases by $500, so the next is $1000, the third save is $1500!! Its unbelievable! Whoever designed this part of the game obviously takes cruel pleasure in annoying the gamer.
Yet another problem is the item system. Similar to Resident Evil, you can only carry a limited amount of items at one time. In this game, its 20. Considering 4 of those items will always be your weapons and equipment, youre left with a measly 16 available items you can pickup and carry at one time. This becomes very annoying when youre in a dungeon and characters are leaving good items behind when you kill them. Youll find yourself constantly having to go to the item screen and delete the least valuable item on your list. Over and over again. Of course you can go back to your house in Esperanza and store your items in a chest, which holds a maximum of 500 items. But the whole process is repetitive and unnecessary.
The level up system is one of the nice parts about this game. When you level up, you get 1 or 2 bonus points, which you can then use to level up whatever area you choose, whether its attack or defense power, or any of the specific elemental magics (water, fire, earth, wind). This makes the game fun to play, as you can create the character you choose. If you want Tene to be a super powered fire magic user, you can focus on that area, if you want her to have strong general attack power, you can focus on that, or if you just want her a well-rounded character in all areas, you can distribute the points evenly as you level up. At certain levels, you gain new magic attacks, and the magics gradually become more powerful as you level up.
In addition, Tene will be busy due to all the requests she gets in Esperanza. By frequenting the bar, or sometimes just walking out her front door, the townspeople will request her to do things for them, like find 5 garnet stones, or defeat a monster to retrieve a lost brooch, etc. By doing these, Tene gets paid much needed money, and sometimes gets rare items. It adds lots of little side quests to the game, and you always have the option of choosing whether or not you want to do them (which is nice). Also, in Tenes bedroom, on her desk, is a diary where you can read up on the details of all of your current requests, in case you should forget what youre supposed to get for whom.
Despite all its flaws, Tenerezza is still a fairly enjoyable game if you give it time. While its not in the same league as an action-rpg like Landstalker on the Genesis/Megadrive or Magic Knight Rayearth for the Saturn, Xbox owners starved for some Japanese action-rpg action should consider importing it. Japanese reading ability isnt absolutely necessary to play this game, if youve played through a Japanese action-rpg before you should know what to expect here. Though it might get pretty difficult at parts when you have to mix ingredients or items, or when doing the requests. Anyway, if this game had a movable camera, tighter controls, not such a strict limit on the amount of items you can carry at once, a more balanced money system, more interesting boss battles, and a better weapon system, it would score much higher than the rating I gave it below. I hope they make a sequel and incorporate some of these improvements! As I said in the beginning, this game does have a certain charm to it, and I think it will appeal to fans of a game like Napple Tale on the Dreamcast. The character art is absolutely gorgeous, and the story is comical and very entertaining. And thats this games saving grace.
RATING: 68% (D+)
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