Shimmy Shimmy Coco Pop!
I've been a big fan of RPG's since Temple of Apshai first came out for the TRS-80 model 1. And for years I have lamented the very small number of decent RPG's that have come out for console systems. When the much-hyped Beyond the Beyond was due out, I crossed my fingers and waited. Apparently that wasn't good enough.
This is another anime-style RPG that has been translated over from Japan. This doesn't make it automatically bad. Lunar for the short-lived Sega-CD was quite good, but any story-intensive game coming over from Japan begins at a disadvantage. This is because A: The game has to be good to begin with, and B: It has to be translated well. Unfortunately, Beyond the Beyond suffered on both counts.
When I first saw the game, I though I was having 16-bit flashbacks. The graphics looked exactly the same as many RPG's from 16-bit systems. You control a bizarre looking little anime charicature that you move around in a city that is obviously still made up of a grid of squares. The people (and yourself) move from square to square with little animation. Nothing would lead you to believe that you were playing this game on a PlayStation rather than a Genesis until you (finally) get to leave the city.
When you move between cities and dungeons the terrain scolls very nicely and has a cool 3D effect. This is the most advanced use of graphics in the whole game. Also, the combat graphics aren't too bad. You zoom into a 3D landscape suitable to the kind of terrain that you're standing on. The characters are all fairly well animated sprites that can be seen from several veiws. You have the ability to 'rotate the camera'.
When I saw the attention that went into the characters and monsters and the 'rotating camera' on the 3D combat screen, I was hoping for something a little different. A bit of strategy perhaps maneuvering your characters, trying to outflank the enemy, or staying out of attack range. No such luck. The combat is very straightforward hack and slash: You and the enemies take turns hitting each other. There is only one new innovation in the combat, somthing they call the Active Playing System (APS).
In a nutshell, APS tries to bring you a little more into the combat by having lots of 'secret moves'. Immediately before a character attacks or defends (the computer controls this), you can rapidly press a combination of buttons that increases the percentage chance of an extra-powerful attack, or a good defense. While this is an interesting idea, I found that it didn't help the playability at all. If you don't know the secret buttons to push, you are at a disadvantage. If you do know them, you just have to hit the same ones every time, before every attack, in every battle. This is boring. Either way, the game looks exactly the same.
Speaking of boring, the story was not translated very well from the Japanese. The plot is quite complex in the classic anime tradition. You have to go through a lot of VERY long dialogue scenes full of poorly translated english text. The little figures just stand there and 'shimmy' again and again as each one talks. This includes such scintilating dialogue as:
Computer character 1 (shimmies): HAHAHAHAHA
Computer character 2 (shimmies): HAHAHAHAHAHA
Computer characters 1&2 together (shimmies): HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Which leads me to a complaint I've been making for so long its sickening: This is a CD-ROM game, so why am I reading text??!?
Pehaps I'm being a little harsh. All told this game is no worse than many which I have spent dozens of hours playing. But that was years ago, on inferior machines. If you've simply run out of old RPG's to stuff into your Genesis, then Beyond the Beyond would be fine. Its easy to learn, because its exactly the same. It's also quite large, you will need a long time to solve it.
Unfortunately, this game is as average as average gets. I expect much more from my PlayStation.