Another reason not to date video games.
Naíve softie that I am, I like the idea of playing a game without any hype or prior knowledge. With fingers crossed, there's the faint glimmering of hope that a hype-less nobody would turn out to be a prom queen of a game. Perhaps - just maybe - I would find that proverbial diamond in the rough.
That was what I hoped for with Ephemeral Fantasia. I took her home. I bought her nice clothes. Took her out to candlelight dinners. Even bought her flowers!
But when I took her glasses off, I didn't find a beauty, but a very ugly, stupid game that I want to run and hide from. One that I wanted to alert the zoo to go catch and cage.
Ephemeral Fantasia is the first traditional RPG for the PS2, in the manner of menu-based, character driven adventures a la Final Fantasy. But there are just so many things going wrong, I hardly know where to begin.
The look and play of the game are extremely dated, made many times worse by the bad design that flows through Ephemeral's veins. EF is filled with thoughtless design. It's hard to get around. Battles trudge on. Even the characters are an enigma.
Your character's name is Mouse. Not exactly the kind of name to inspire heroics and dashing-do. Mouse isn't even the sensitive, vulnerable guy that a name like 'Mouse' would suggest. In fact, Mouse is a louse, a scam artist. If anything, the name Mouse represents the irritation this diminutive mute will bring to you.
Mute characters are a story device used by RPG's to allow the players to empathize. One example includes Chrono Trigger. The mute Mouse just doesn't work in EF. While the idea of an anti-heroic character is interesting, Mouse just isn't written or designed well. He doesn't have what it takes to be compelling and empathetic. His lack of textual speech makes him ever more dislikeable. Supporting characters are dull and miss their mark.
Anyway, Mouse has been hired by the island of Pandule to construct a wedding anthem for Xelpherpolis, the ridiculously named, generically silver haired ruler of the island. If you ever find yourself in a RPG, watch out for the peeps with silver hair. Them's bad juju.
While on this island, Mouse encounters characters such as the big-breasted girl and the frigid princess. Mouse stumbles upon a sinister plot to force the island to repeat the same five days over and over, Groundhog Day style. The only thing worse? Having to play Ephemeral Fantasia over and over.
Let's talk navigation. Just getting around the little island is a chore unto itself. Basically, the island is a seamless area without any map screens. Every time you walk through another square unit of the map, you'll get smacked upside the head with a loading screen. Loading screen after loading screen, the game is just filled to the rim with load times. Where's the sense of immersion? Where's the next-gen programming?
Add to that some bad camera angles and any immersion is gone. You're either navigating from close up or from miles above. No comforting middle ground here, just odd extremities.
Even without the loading screens and lousy views, the pissy sense of design on this island is appalling. If I want to get to the town center that lies a few strides ahead of me, I have to walk all the way around town to find the right staircase. Even a bad architect would have solved that dilemma. And getting around is important because there are events and appointments that need to be met in the game. You are automatically whisked away to some events, while others require you to trudge on through the awkward navigation. The game doesn't even try to differentiate between the two. Bad design, no soup for you.
As you venture your way outside of the city, you'll face random battles. Normally, random battles dance around the edge of annoyance, but here in Ephemeral Fantasia, they take an ungraceful cannonball off the ravine straight into the cold, black abyss or sheer irritation.
The plan seems to be that not even one second passes after dealing with one random battle before getting shot into another. And the game doesn't even have the sense to send you to fight different creatures, but into the exact same battle over and over again.
The battle system is same old, same old. The active time system equivalent comes in the form of a regenerating meter. More powerful attacks cut down the meter faster, requiring more time to replenish. As you progress through your battles, the characters will learn new, more powerful skills.
Like a crazed drunk, the battle camera swings around violently, perhaps in some futile attempt to relay the sense of intense action. No. No. It just makes me sick. Changing the camera view to 'stationary' will give you a sky-high view of tiny, little characters. Yet again, there is no middle ground. Either drown in the depths of the ocean or suffocate in the dead of space.
One of the mini games is an appropriation of Guitar Freaks, one of Konami's Beat Mania rhythm games. Rather than dancing or mixing, you follow the onscreen rhythm patterns by holding chords and strumming. Mouse plays Pattimo, his talking guitar buddy. Played rather sparingly, this mini-game is more fun than the entirety of Ephemeral Fantasia.
And speaking of instruments, why does the music here seem to come out of a Japanese Night Club? There aren't any voices here, either, and you know how we feel about that.
Graphically, this is far from what the PS2 promised. Textures lack color and vibrancy. Facial animations are blah. The game is dated, all in all a poor offering for the ballyhooed PS2.
Ephemeral Fantasia is a study in bad design and boring gameplay. It's at least playable, but why anyone would want to is beyond me. Heed my stern warning and don't talk to Ephemeral Fantasia. Don't pass her notes. Don't try to get test answers off of her. She's an evil witch.