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Quest 64

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Reviewed by Raymond Almeda Did you ever notice that gamers want to stick everything into neat little genres? We're like those kids who can't stand it if their peas are touching their yams or if their cornbread's in their mashed potatoes. For us, every genre has to stay in its own neat little pile. If a game strays too far out of one category and starts touching another, we take our mental forks and make up a whole new pile so we can be sure nothing gets muddled up. We're so picky, we even argue with each other what we should name each pile. Even the brattiest kids aren't that bad ("I think this should be the carrots/pintos pile," Biff said. "No!" yelled Fluffy. "It's pintos-carrots! Get it right!"). Anyway, the reason I think we're like that is because it's so hard for developers to make a truly original game. Genre formulas are easy to follow and they often produce successful titles. When developers color outside the genre lines, they're taking a pretty big risk. Genres give them rules to follow and standards to meet. We adopt those rules and standards and use them as our criteria in judging games. Once we know a game's genre, we know what to expect from it and we can use that to judge it. Every now and then, we'll get a game that successfully breaks out of those categories by slapping us in the face with a new standard of excellence. These games give us something new to expect-- a new category and standard to judge future games by. Unfortunately, Quest 64 is not one of those games, and I don't think its developers intended it to be one. Instead, I think they tried to adjust the RPG format to a Mario 64 audience and ended up with a game that's pretty confused about what it wants to be. Quest 64 delivers gameplay that could be satisfying with a little more gusto and confidence but, as it stands, is not able to pack enough punch to succeed on its own. Quest 64 tells the story of Brian, a lad who has received the gift of spirit taming from his father, Lord Bartholomy. Using this power, he can take mystical energy from his surroundings and use it to increase his own elemental magic. Bartholomy has left the boy behind to search for the stolen Eletale's Book, a mystical tome that keeps his home island of Celtland (although it's oddly devoid of any real Celts) united. The game begins as Brian gets tired of sitting on his hands and decides to go out in search of his father. You, of course, get to play Brian, a lad with huge green puppy dog eyes who strolls around wearing a medieval Superman costume and a quail feather hairdo. In one of the game's strongest features, you get to explore Celtland, which is beautifully rendered in vast 3-D landscapes, from a Mario-esque third-person perspective. There are no "overland maps" or 2-D screens for inns, shops, or anything else. Instead, every road, house, farm, castle, and sea exists in 3-D space. The realistic look of Brian's world immerses you in his environment, and it brings you a lot closer to that unity of player and character that all games strive for. Unfortunately, once you get into Brian's world, there's not much to do. Big, beautiful Celtland is like a giant Hollywood backlot-- everything's just a false front or a prop that doesn't really work. If it's not a person to talk to, a treasure chest to open, or a spirit to absorb, you can't do anything with it. For example, as Brian is leaving his monastery home he passes by a stable that contains a horse. Since I had yet to learn how dull Celtland was, I thought, "Aha! I'm about to start a long journey. Maybe I can ride this horse!" I steered Brian over to the black nag and pressed the action button. The horse said "whinny," or something to that effect, and nothing else happened. Nothing. Later in the game, I realized that I was lucky to get any response. Quest 64's environments are long on detail and very, very short on interactivity. Since Quest 64 can't use fun environments to make people explore Celtland, it spreads "spirits" (which look like little whisps of smoke) across the landscape for Brian to "tame." For each spirit absorbed, you get to increase the power of Brian's earth, air, fire, or water magics. As Brian grows more powerful in an element, he learns new spells that correspond with that element's attributes-- fire magic is more attack-oriented, earth magic centers on defense, etc. These elemental spells and magics are the crux of combat in Quest 64. Since you're a hero on a quest, you must, of course, do battle with every ill- tempered animal and off-kilter varmit that populates the land. Brian carries one weapon, a staff, and wears no armor. Without magic, all he can do is walk around bapping things with his stick-- not the best method for taking out the bad guys. Instead, you have to figure out which element each monster is based on and hit them with a spell that opposes that element. For example, water attacks will douse fire-based hellhounds, but water-based bigmouths will soak the same spells and not feel a thing. There's also a tiny tactical element in Quest 64. During your turn in combat, you get a polygon that shows how far Brian can move that turn. You can position him anywhere inside its bounds, which can be useful for getting out of range of enemy attacks and lining up your spells so that they do as much damage as possible. Being able to move freely inside the limits of the polygon adds a real-time feel to Quest 64's turn-based combat, and that feeling is intensified by a lack of menus. Each button on the controller corresponds to one action both in and out of combat, just as it does in most action games. Unfortunately, combat comes a little too often in Quest 64. In some areas, you can't walk ten feet without being attacked. Usually, you'll be fighting a weak opponent who only slows you down or drops your health a few points. However, if you don't feel like taking the time to mop up the enemy and possibly boost your magic or stats (there are only four), you can usually run Brian away from the fighting in just a few turns. However, if combat ever does take its toll on you and Brian starts getting weak, you can teleport him back to the last town you visited and stay at an inn to recover. Both are free of charge. In fact, everything's free of charge. There's no money in Quest 64-- instead, all the townspeople are as sweet as June Cleaver and they gleefully give you everything they have. It sorta takes the fun out of the tried and true tradition of breaking into townspeople's houses and stealing all their earthly possessions (although, as a rule, the houses in Quest 64 contain absolutely nothing. I guess that's because the townspeople have given it all away). The graphics in Quest 64 are rich and fairly well detailed, although the windows on houses occasionally flicker as you pass by. As I've said, the world of Celtland is beautiful, but the game's camera often actively tries to obscure your view of it. Whenever you walk into a room or a new location, the first thing you see is Brian blinking at you. If you want to see the room, you have to walk a few steps forward (into the unknown), hold down the B button, and wait as the view slowly shifts behind Brian's back. Quest 64's music is usually in sync with its environments and promises a lot more mystery and wonder than they deliver. It made me want to become part of a deep, living world, and instead I became part of a shallow, lifeless one. It's possible that Quest 64 will appeal to gamers who want a simple, easy introduction to RPGs. However, I doubt it holds enough entertainment to hold players for very long. I applaud its immersive world and innovative combat system, but I just didn't enjoy playing the game. Quest 64 took the wrong things from the wrong piles-- it's like a piece of apple pie that's been sitting in bean juice. Take my advice, and use your mental fork to fling this one off the plate.

Overall 7.2 out of 10

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