Saiyuki: Journey West was a perfectly fine FF Tactics clone.
Saiyuki: Journey West wasn't a great game nor a bad game, but it was perfectly average at what it did. The graphics aren't bad, the sound is good, the controls are tight. The story needed more depth, and I wasn't a huge fan of the skill system, but I guess these are my only true complaints.
Saiyuki is pretty fun overall. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics, then this one of the best FFT clones I've played.
Saiyuki: Journey West is a turn-based Strategy RPG. Turns are determined by the character or enemy with the greatest speed. So the game is not round based like you would find in Final Fantasy Tactics of Fire Emblem. Still, most of the time your team will usually have the greatest speed and fight in a group.
Saiyuki plays out not to much differently than Final Fantasy Tactics. You start a match, and you're given a objection. Either kill all enemies or kill a certain enemy, uh not very creative. Whatever, you take turns wacking either other in the head until your team wins or loses just like every strategy RPG ever made. The only big twist you'll find in this game is the ability to transform your characters into "Weres". All characters, but Sanzo, can turn into a Were. A Were is like a mystical beast with special powers. For example, Goku the Monkey God turns into a giant Ape. Each character also have special element abilities too, so Goku is a Fire element, so he can only equip Fire abilities. You can't edit your were abilities though. You gain experience after a battle, and gain "Were experience". Each time you reach a new Were level, one of your Were in your party may or maynot gain a new skill.
When you start a battle, you'll notice a number of notches on the top of the screen. This is your Were points. You can only have one Were on the battle field at one time. When you summon a Were, you lose 1 Were point. Each time your Were uses a special attack, he will then lose more points, until he is depleted of his points completely, and this is when he turns back into the character. There is no way you can recharge your Were points in battle, so you have to use your Weres with good timing.
As I mentioned, Sanzo doesn't have a Were ability, but he can summon Guardians. Guardians are kinda like Summon abilities in Final Fantasy Tactics (well they have a similar animation). Basically when Sanzo summons one of a total of 5 Guardians, he will get a special ability that will last for 3 rounds. For example, the Mother Guardian will give everyone on the team HP, the closer the characters are to Sanzo, the more HP they will gain. He can also use one special spell attack, for example with Mother a Charm attack. Just like Were's, once he uses up his Summon turns, it's over for the rest of that match.
You can buy equipment and items at towns with stores in them. You can't however buy weapons. Every character has one weapon and they stick with it until the end, but you can visit a Blacksmith and he can level up each characters weapon for a price. This reminds me of Suikoden.
You also buy skills for each character at shops too. Each character can hold up to 8 skills at a time. They can swap them in and out when you're at a menu screen. Some skills will only be equippable to certain characters though. For example, Goku, a fire element, can't equip water skills.
----------Characters / Story----------
At the start of the game you get to pick between a male or female character. I ended up picking the male, Sanzo. Sanzo is a rookie monk, picked by the goddess Lady Kannon to find Guardians across China and reach India. Sanzo will seal the power of the Guardians with a white staff given by Lady Kannon. On the way, Sanzo meets up with the Monkey God Goku. Goku is a rude and violent god that fought Buddah 500 years in the past and lost. After freeing Goku from his prison, Goku becomes Sanzo's slave. On the way to India, they run into trouble after trouble with bad guys trying to steal Sanzo's white staff and to stop his journey to India.
The story wasn't as good as you would expect. The first chapter is when they introduced all the main characters. The second chapter is where you fight a ton of random things, not much storyline wise and the last couple chapters felt rushed. The storyline was enough to get by, but not great by any means. One thing that bugged me was when you got a full party of 6 characters, you felt satisfied with just them. These 6 characters stayed within the storyline no matter what. Then by the end of the game you had about 11 characters. That means a bunch of useless characters you won't be using. What makes matters a little easier I guess, is after these characters get their initial storyline arch, and then finally join your party, they become worthless background characters. The first 6 characters were always the most important through out the game, so there was never a reason to use any of the following characters.
Also the game did not get a good localization. I'm hardly a stickler for proper English, if you read any of my reviews before you know why, but there are quite a few spelling errors, and sentences that just don't make sense.
The graphics are ok, but great not bad. On a technical level, it's slightly below Final Fantasy Tactics, but above crap like Eternal Eyes by a mile. I love the huge variety of special attacks, and they're pretty fun to watch too. I love the large amount of avatars used for each character, including random NPC you meet in villages and enemies you fight. Everyone has an avatars. The main characters have a ton of them though, one for each emotion. I love how the avatars flow with the conversation.
On the downside, you'll fight alot of the same monsters in the game over and over again. You'll also be visiting alot of recycled towns and battle fields in the game. Also, the towns and battle fields aren't anything special in the first place. Another slightly annoying thing is how all the shop keepers in town are the same people across the entire game, across various countries full of different races and colors. Makes no sense.
I ran into a couple glitches, nothing to serious though. You'll run into some slowdown. The most notable glitch was later in the game when my avatars would eventually start blacking out. Basically, pixels "died" across my characters avatars. However, the problem usually fixed itself over time.
Between each chapter there are voice overs the main character you picked narrators the cutscene. That's basically all the voice work in the game. The sound effects are repetitive. The music is pretty good and rememberable. However the game opens up with one of the worst theme songs I have ever heard in my entire life. It sounds like a bad Infectious Groove song covered by a Japanese ska band. Yeah.
The world map is very much like Final Fantasy Tactics. You ride on a horse across a premade dot-to-dot made. Each dot will note a town or field. The first time you visit a field then you'll be thrusted into a battle. Towns are different, but you're always thrusted into a storyline scene or a battle or both. Within each town you can find various shops including a Dojo to train, Job center, Item shop, Blacksmith and Armor Shop. The Dojo is basically like fighting random battles, but you can't unleash your Weres in battle or gain Were experience. The Blacksmith can boost your weapon power for each character, minus your main character. The Job center is like taking on jobs in Suikoden Tactics. You get a random assignment, 9 times out of 10 it's to drop off a package. You run to the town, watch a cutscene, and return to collect money. This is the best way to gather money in the game. This is also the only time you can run into "random encounters". The random encounters are almost unavoidable if you want to deliver your package though, so it's not really random. If you restart the game, you'll always run into the encounter, so they're basically undetectable encounters.
The most annoying thing about the world map is how it's broken into four sections. Each chapter has it's own world map. Some are bigger than others, and if you venture to far on a map, then you'll run into the next map. Once you're in a chapter, there's no turning back. That kinda frustrates me because I wasn't done sidequesting in the first chapter, and before I knew it I was on a whole new map without the ability to move.
----------Time to Complete Game----------
This was my final save before the final boss fight. There are no bonus' for beating the game, and you can't save after completing it. The ending to the game is fairly long, mostly alot of sappy goodbyes. They then end the game with another cutscene and some short credits. Nice.
You can replay the game with the other character, but I'm not sure if the storyline is much different at all. Some reason I doubt it.