We're gonna need a bigger boat...
The gaming industry sure loves breaking things down into genres. Game X is a First-person Shooter, or an Action/Adventure, or a Racing/RTS or even a Space Simulation/MMORPG. It all gets quite confusing. And despite hybrid genre types, a number of games are left out.
Well, I propose that we introduce a new genre altogether to cover these black sheep. For the new name, I nominate WWTS, or What Were They Smokings. These are the games that have you scratching your head before you even open the box, defying categorization because they are so conceptually retarded/brilliant/odd. And they often sound neat on paper, provided you are using ZigZags.
Need some examples? How about this? Or maybe this? Smoke some of this, then take a shot of this, then use this one as a chaser. I tend to gravitate towards games that sound ridiculous - five years of Tomb Raider clones will do that to a guy.
So without hesitation, I strapped on a tank and dove into Everblue 2, a scuba-diving role-playing game and a sequel to a game I have never heard of before. Yep, a scuba-diving RPG. My guess is that the developers at Arika were smoking apple tobacco mixed with black tar heroin.
The game starts off where the first Everblue (which was never released in the States) left off. You're Leo, an expert diver who has recently shipwrecked on the island of Valencia. You're a bit disoriented, but eventually figure out that the town is crazy about diving. How fitting. Your goal is to get off the island, so you hook up with a local girl and get acquainted with the townsfolk, which then somehow leads to copious amounts of scuba-diving.
Everblue 2 is essentially a very bare-bones RPG. You don't even have an actual avatar. Rather, you navigate through the few screens that make up the island in classic adventure game fashion by using a little hand pointer to talk to people and get from one area to another. It's odd, old-fashioned and somewhat depressing.
What's even odder is the 'action' element of the game - the scuba-diving part. An enormous, wide-open sea surrounds the island, so you hop into a boat, pick a spot and go diving.
The diving mainly amounts to item collection. You can equip a few different 'elements' to your little multi-sonar device; one might search for metal, or wood, or clay, etc. You swim around sending out little 'ping' pulses from the sonar, then hunting down items scattered under the sea.
Though the ocean itself is three-dimensional, you move on a 2D plane, meaning you cannot freely ascend or descend at all. You simply glide along beeping your sonar. You have a little gauge on the left side of the screen to indicate depth, which is really the main way you'll know you're in deeper water. You don't even need to 'swim' back up to the surface; just select 'Ascend' from the sub menu and you're back in town.
This changes when you find a downed vessel to search. There are six in the game located all over the big world map. Once you enter a ship, things get very, very different. You suddenly have free movement, which is a bit disorienting, made even more so by the fact that suddenly it's all very dark. You have a flashlight, at least, which you end up waving all over the place as you careen through creepy corridors searching out items and whatnot. You can also get lost in some of the larger ships and cannot magically ascend like in the main sea.
At these times, Everblue 2 takes on almost a survival-horror feel. There's really no music when you're underwater, which leaves your heavy breathing as the soundtrack. The draw distance isn't terrific, so you wind up awkwardly swimming through very dark water in atmospheric sunken vessels just waiting for a Megalodon to slam into your face.
This just makes a weird game weirder, though, since the rest of it is a family game. There are no weapons or combat at all. The ocean is filled with life, and while most are harmless, some are not. If you stumble upon a Great White shark (and you probably will) you have to swim away (which you will not do successfully). It's irritating. How about a non-lethal electric shark prod? Or a bottle of Fish-Off? A net, maybe?
Most of the game is spent bouncing back and forth between the one town and the big ocean. You scavenge some goods, go back to town to appraise and sell them, rest up to refill your health and air meters, then it's back to the sea for more scavenging. It's quite monotonous and the lack of any combat or strategy leads to a generally dull experience.
Some quirky little RPG bits do spice it up, however. You'll quickly gain a camera, which can be used to take pictures of stuff underwater, Pokemon Snap style. Two simple mini-games also help break up the flow.
The delivery isn't great. The town of Valencia looks terrible, with these lame pre-rendered backgrounds and poorly animated people to talk to. Things get better in the water, as some of the fish look pretty realistic (while others, such as the big Mola fish, look pretty Atari 2600). Again, exploring the sunken ships is really where the game finds its stride, featuring neat little bubbles and particles that illuminate when your flashlight passes over them. Maybe the whole game should have been in the dark.
There is no speech in the game, which might be a blessing since the story and plot are so lame. The music can get grating, but hey, it's a strange Japanese RPG....what did you expect?
As the first official WWTS game I've had the pleasure to review, Everblue 2 does a nice job of being strange. Unfortunately, it does a poor job of being fun. Though it's got some very interesting tense underwater moments, most of the game is too shallow to warrant a dip.