It has various flaws, but it's also unique on its system
An elf with pointy ears and a sword, going about a forest rich environment slaying orcs and other weird creatures, where have we seen that before? Alundra is an RPG-adventure story like the days of old would have it. A silent hero, a world in distress, an open map filled with areas and dungeons and a lot of items to help you along each quest; all the elements are there.
The story starts on a boat, heading for the village of Inoa. While on that boat, the main character, Alundra himself, has a strange dream. In this dream a spirit called Lars, speaks to him, telling him of great danger. Calling Alundra the 'Releaser', he tells him a tale of a powerful demon, ready to destroy the world. This demon, called Melzas, is going to destroy Inoa and all that surrounds it, plunging the world in darkness and all that jive. It's up to you to go stop him, Releaser, for not even your dreams are safe from harassing people. It's the generic quest formula, but it will get you on your way, now off to it!
Before he can even get his act together, the ship he's boarded on gets caught in a terrible storm and crashes. That's it, game over, he's dead, thanks for playing! Just kidding, but man, would that be fun to do once. In reality, you just beach somewhere, terribly hurt. A strange mustache man picks you up and takes you home. After you wake up, you find yourself in the middle of Inoa and from then on you'll be going out to explore the world, to ultimately save it.
The mustache man, called Jess, can help you with the saving, for he is a smith. Strangely enough, he takes you to heart from the very first second. And I don't mean that he likes you, I mean that he fatherly smothers the hell out of you from second 1! Weird, middle-aged, mustache men passionately loving young boys kind of creep me out.
After you've had your first taste of dialogues, met some characters and solved a few puzzles, you'll undoubtedly notice one thing. Alundra is a Japanese game! Publisher 'Working Designs' was a company that specialized in bringing Japanese based games to a worldwide audience. It's a bold move to try and bridge a gap like that and I wished more companies would have followed their path. You can see by the personalities of the characters and strange story lines, amongst others, that this wasn't meant for Western standards.
There is one thing that Japanese people do very well and that's creating a nice world. All-round, this adventure game looks beautiful with simple, more cartoon-like graphics, like the days of SNES. They didn't trade the power of Playstation for polygons and I think it made for a better, vaster and more believable world. The adventure sense is just more present this way than it would be with square blocks and monochrome caverns. They also add a few more modern and flashy aspects that merge perfectly into the older world, much like an early Disgaea game. I think Alundra is even superior to a bunch of more popular Playstation franchises, in the way it's nicely drawn and there are no rough spots. Even for a present day game, it would be well done because of that. There are a few problems with the perspective aspect however, as sometimes it isn't clear where blocks fall or how far a jump really is. In some cases even, this will be very annoying.
Continuing on their branch of successful Japanorama, the world of Alundra is also accompanied by a great musical score. Some tracks, like the one in Inoa village, are really unique and a nice change to most RPG tracks. In all, every soundtrack will fit an adventurous theme and will go with the correct, current mood. Dungeons will be darker; manors will be creepier and so forth. The sound effects are a bit dodgier; like every item will crash in a pool of water, even if you're throwing stones. Also, some monsters shriek horribly and that sound will feel pasted on top of the game, not in it. It's too bad they couldn't seal the deal on those few details.
The controls for the game work adequately, but aren't rock steady. For instance, dashing is silly and always ends with sliding. Also, most hard jumps have to be taken exactly right. Often your character is required to stand on the last pixel possible, making him seem standing in the void. This is extra embarrassing due to the fact that our hero has gargantuan feet! You can also only attack in 4 directions and that will lead to problems over the course of the game. In a tough boss battle, surrounded by baddies, it won't always be simple to hit or fend off enemies.
There are some personal aspects to this game that make it stand out. One main aspect in the story is that Alundra can enter people's dreams and nightmares. There, he can fight the demons within and rescue people from there dreaming peril. It might sound innocent, but it really isn't, because these demons can kill the dreamers and make them suffer horribly. The fact you can enter a person's mind and solve a dungeon in there is very well made. It's also a nice way to make twisted and bizarre settings.
The storyline itself is another masterpiece. Much darker than you would expect it to be, it unfolds misery after tragedy. Not all will go well if you solve this dungeon, in fact, things might get worse. There is a lot of death that follows you and dire outcomes will make people turn on you. It certainly isn't what you'd suspect at first from this game.
Original music and platform elements are other features that separate this game from the flock. Although the platform gameplay isn't always up to par, it's a welcome addition; even if most elements are only used to solve puzzles in dungeons.
The blessing of the oriental touch might also be its downfall in the Western civilization. Alundra is a hard game; too hard even. Not only because the puzzles are very frequent and difficult to solve, but they also sometimes seem impossible. In every dungeon there are at least 1 or 2 puzzles that have such an odd solution, you'll likely have disregarded it until the very desperate end. There's a specific puzzle I couldn't get through, because the jump I had to make was inconceivable. Only after retrying a million things for the millionth time, I passed a jump that was absurd to do. It doesn't help you one bit that the perspective screws with your basic judgement and assessment of platforms. In particular, up and down platforms or different levels are messed up to view and more than once, you'll miss a jump.
Bosses will give you a run for your money and at sometimes will be downright challenging to surpass. And if that boss is a long way's end from a save point, that means redoing a few hard puzzles. No, in Japan, you don't get anything for free.
As a last point, the plot isn't always brought by an enchanting dialogue. In fact, most times, the only reason given to go clear a certain dungeon will be a cheesy one-liner. You'll get lines like "Have you seen that swamp" or "I wonder how things are on the beach". This lack of any plot devices will make questing feel cheap and unfulfilling.
Despite the obvious link that can be made, pardon the pun, Alundra is a game that stands out on its own and even is unique on Playstation. It borrows a lot of aspects of Zelda: A Link To The Past and a few from Secret Of Mana, but it does so well and those are impressive references to have. In addition, it builds a few layers of its own on top of that, such as dream walking and platform jumping, to stop it from being a mere clone.
Although it might not be open to everyone and it might be too hard, I'd recommend Alundra to any fan of old-fashioned adventure games. It has various flaws that keep it from being great, but it's also a unique experience that is unmatched on its system. Just take it out for a spin and if you get hung up by the bizarre puzzles, let it go. Be sure to bite the bullet a few times before giving up, as the story is worth it. It's a cIassic, sure, but it could've been so much more and that's a pity. But as far as generic adventure games go, Alundra is king!