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Ends of the Earth vs. Pepsi Ranger
Ends of the Earth
Valkayree
Download: 1.61 MB
V.S.
Pepsi Ranger
Review # 16 for Pepsi Ranger
Them's Fightin' Words
    At one point or another, someone may ask what happens when the earth comes to an end. At another point, someone else may give a random answer like "Sheep will come and bite the legs off of cows!" or something to that effect, but will not be a hundred percent sure. Others may dismiss the end of the earth totally and agree that both parties are crazy, considering the earth hasn't ended yet. Finally, some may agree that the earth will some day end, but hope that day isn't today. This game never really answers any of those points, but it does make for a decent adventure. Enter Grampa and his grandson Billy. Both sit along a quiet lake near a covered bridge, fishing to their hearts' content. As they fish and fish some more, Billy asks Grampa to tell him a story, one of which he has never heard before. Grampa decides Billy is old enough to hear one particular story, one that requires him to whip out an antique book, which is the only copy in the world, and tells him the story of Centaurus, a lonely centaur who thought he was the last living member of his kind. From there, the game takes over as the story of Centaurus, and his excellent adventure through history (that is the history that was the present back when he walked the earth), and chronicles the events that led up to his revelation that he had in fact embarked on a bogus journey instead. As the story begins, Centaurus decides he wants to search the world for other centaurs because there is no way he can stand the idea that he is the only one left. Unfortunately for him, the mayor of Birka, the happy town where Centaurus lives, does not want citizens leaving the area because the world is full of video game monsters who carry money wherever they go, dishing out all kinds of evil to the poor innocents who want to take a stroll through the woods. But, since Centaurus believes in something that the mayor is too shallow to understand, he leaves town anyway, thus introducing him for the first time to utter abandonment. As Centaurus accepts the fact that he can never return to his hometown, and the fact that he is a centaur who talks to dogs and trees, he swallows his fears and heads for the unknown, which includes fields, caves, floating towns, Minotaurs, fish men, bird men, and really long castles. What he discovers in his adventure is enough to change his world forever, making him wish that he never left his happy town of Birka in the first place.

All in all, I'm kinda glad Centaurus decided to leave his hometown because this game has a lot of interesting things to introduce him to. The number one plus being the variety of heroes and characters to interact with. Obviously, the game's main hero is a brown centaur who casts earth-style magic as his secondary offense. As he exits the plush woods to enter a dead and burning forest, he finds a red minotaur who consequently uses fire (hmmm...). From there, he comes across an oceanic town where he finds a blue fish-type character who naturally uses water. Then he ascends to a town floating three miles in the sky, to recruit the town's prince into his party, who happens to be a wind-weilding white griffin. After doing some more pointed traveling, he comes across the "Really Long Castle," where he frees an archangel who can use the best of nice healing tricks, and has nothing to do with color. Finally, at the very end of the game, the last hero pops in for a fight, who happens to be a black ninja of mystery, capable of weilding the magic of shadows. Put all these characters together, and I can safely say that Hercules would be proud. Even though the variation of heroes is very evenly separated (and clever), they each possess a common thread, not including the ability to cast magic, which in effect brings them all together. This thread is the fact that all are either outcasts from their communities, or just nothing more than the town oddball. To give such unique characters a common thread and yet make them different makes this game a good study tool for character development. But, a game cannot always survive on character alone, so plus number two would have to be the layout of the adventure. The world maps connect each other in a way that mostly diminishes player freedom, but allows room for story development. Whether or not it does a good job of development is something I'll mention in the next paragraph, but for now I will say that the lands are so perfectly unique (like the characters) that the exploration the player does get to have is certainly satisfying to say the least. Add to that the insanely varied types of characters, and I would have to agree that the story lives up to creating and maintaining a very interesting mythology, one that is worth checking out. Outside of the uniqueness of the scenery, the map designs are nothing terribly special, but the "Really Long Castle" is perhaps one of the best dungeons I've seen so far. The map requires the player to find and flip various switches scattered throughout the six different elemental halls, to open gates leading to the elemental orbs, which must be destroyed in order for the heroes to reach the castle boss, a psychotic magician who likes turning innocent townspeople into desert zombies. The castle takes up at least a fifth of the overall game time, or a fourth if the player doesn't catch the point of the castle right away, like me. It's still impressive nonetheless, and worthy of studying. The last good point--plus number three, deals with the game's battle system. It may not stand out as amazing, but that's probably why it's good. The challenge of the early battles and the balance of attacks in the later ones are so nicely done that the player doesn't notice how good or how bad they are. Not to mention the finances earned for each battle is mostly consistent with the expected cash needs for the given area. In other words, the player will not have to spend too much time out in the field in order to raise enough money to buy a codpiece. The experience levels are a slightly different matter as they gain a little slowly, but they can still keep up with the needs of the game, and that's all that's important. After all, I spent very little time roaming the countryside for level-up purposes, and the final boss was still pretty easy to beat.

I wish I could say that there were absolutely no problems with this game, but that would be impossible. For all that I found neat about the game, there were several shortcomings that came with it. The first example would have to be with the stellar characters. As much as I appreciated the uniqueness of the heroes, and the cheesy common thread that bound them together, I found very little personal story background to make me care that they were loners. Centaurus, and the minotaur Azalahad (very cool name), have a fairly decent development with their histories, but everyone else just seems to be thrown into the plot as an outsider who wants to get away. The worst is the last two (Archangel the archangel, and Shadow the ninja), who basically join the party because who else will? The archangel was freed from prison, so there was no reason for him to hang around the castle, and the ninja joined because...well, I'll leave that to discovery. I'm not suggesting that the characters shouldn't have some mystery, but they should have some reasoning behind their motives, or at least some density. In my opinion, the game's story introduces a snippet of their backgrounds, but not enough to make me happy to have them. A deeper story for each character would be nicer, but that would have to mean spending a significant amount of time adding to the game, and who wants to do that to a finished product? Problem number two would have to be in the layout of the last world map. In order for the heroes to reach the eastern continent where all the bad stuff is happening, they must cross a bridge that's guarded by griffins. Okay, that sounds l ike no big deal, except that the griffins demand a sacrifice as a toll. What this means is that the player must choose who to permanently remove from his party so that he can make room for the archangel who is not in the game long enough to develop a decent backgound. Although I think the method of choosing a color crystal to smash as the instrument of a hero's destruction is a neat idea, I find it disappointing that a hero has to be taken out of the game at all. When I played the game, my color of choice was white. What this meant for my experience was that I took a disrespected prince, who was also a griffin, away from his palace, in hopes for making room for happiness and a great adventure for him, just to have him killed five minutes and five levels later. I was upset about that. If that weren't enough, the story itself fell apart when I finally reached the end. Although I will agree that the story follows through with what it builds, and the ending was justified, I felt is was much too sudden and shocking to leave me feeling good about it. Where the game ends should have only been the gateway into act two (not the sequel, but part of a longer first game). The game's main boss, Caramawn, reveals a secret to Centaurus that's unoriginal, but shocking to him, and follows the secret with something dastardly, to which the heroes fight him to the death, thus ending the game. I will admit that I'm glad there is an ending to this game, but if only a few OHR games are completed, those few should have good resolutions and endings to go with them. What this game has to follow the last battle is a brief description of what each character made of themselves after the adventure, three of which are told in the explanation that "if the griffins didn't kill him off, then [this character] went off to be..." and that's it. The credits roll and the story stops. I really didn't feel that this helped the game, whether it was an ending or not. Even though I think the conflict with the lizard creatures (I forget their names at the moment) ends in the right place, the battle with Caramawn should only be introduced by this point, not finished too. This leaves room for the heroes to make some tougher decisions, as they embark on a quest to stop him. But, the story doesn't allow for that. Instead, it allows for a Jackie Chan ending--abrupt and empty. No game should have that. Plus, the whole method of narrating the "things to come" part of the ending could have been a lot better. The dead characters may have a story to tell, but it just doesn't flow right, and it makes one of the only endings in the OHR to be awkward and meaningless. So, I guess the thing to improve in a game like this is the overall depth of story. Other than that, most everything else about this game is nicely done, except for maybe one or two background pictures that look pretty ugly. Nothing else stands out as being a problem anyway, so I still think this is a good game.
Final Scores
Graphics: 8/10.0
With the exception of the field background battle graphics of the last continent, and the blotchy backgrounds of the "Really Long Castle," I think the graphics are good to say the least. The tilemaps are artistic enough to warrant the evidence of detail, and the scene layout allows the towns to have a surreal look to them (especially the haunted desert town with the "living" doors and windows). However, the best graphic achievement this game has to offer comes in the form of the hero and enemy graphics. The details of shadow and the expressions of character are amazing, as well as the animations for each attack the hero delivers and each hit the hero takes. The boss graphics are also a major plus since several sprites are stacked together to make for some really large bosses. Creative and effective are the best words to describe this category.
Storyline: 6/10.0
As I said throughout most of the review, the story is decent, but could definitely use some improvement. The fact that it's technically a story-within-a-story makes it interesting, and the point behind the story can hook the player, but the rushed conclusion ruins all the hope that it built up. It's still not terrible though and deserves a halfway decent score.
Gameplay: 8.5/10.0
With the annoying exception of having to force one of the heroes to die, I think the gameplay is setup quite well. Maybe there's little freedom of exploration to go with it, but the linear urgency works in its favor. The dungeons are designed well, and the battles get easy after awhile, so the player's initial effort to get through the tough early battles is worth it. The fact that the player can save anywhere makes this a relatively easy game, and allows room for moderately novice players to get through it. Overall, the gameplay is solid.
Music: 9/10.0
The fact that the music is original makes this part of the game a rare breed. Okay, maybe anybody can make their own music and technically call it original, but the difference here is that the music is actually good. That's right, an OHR game with original music actually sounds good. Better still is the mood that the music delivers. Each track serves its area from pretty nice to very nice. Even the battle music deserves special attention since it's a fantasy game that uses a rocky sound (on some of the battles anyway). How cool is that? Take that, Final Fantasy rippers, and good work, Kain (the one who is credited to making the music).
Overall Grade: A-
Final Thoughts
    The flimsy story development costs the game's overall score to drop a little, but everything else is so on-target that it makes the experience worth it anyway. The fantastical elements of the gameworld are as good as a book from Greek Mythology, and the map design of each area keeps things heading in the right direction. Of course, the best thing of all is that this is a finished game. How many projects make it that far? If you've never played this game before, go ahead and play it now because you can't experience what hundreds of other gamers have experienced if you don't.  



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