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vs. Fenrir-Lunaris
Guineapig Cage, The BUTTON, Stickman with a Chainsaw, and other familiar OHR related imagery.
Download: 22B
Play Time: 8 hours and 30 minutes
Review # 6 for Fenrir-Lunaris Guineapig Cage, The BUTTON, Stickman with a Chainsaw, and other familiar OHR related imagery.
Them's Fightin' Words
    Halloween Quest II was hailed as Red Maverick Zero's most anticipated game, and for good reason. The previous year, his entry for the Halloween contest was a spectacular tour de force filled with cameos from the OHR community and popular culture. It was well balanced, had a continuous storyline, and decent enough graphics for an artist whose visual style is best described as 'angular' (an obvious nod to his other major series). With scripting wiz *Worthy* and a variety of playtesters at his disposal, this was destined to become another 'OHR Great'.

What the hell happened?

    I'll be brutally honest - the graphics are passable in some areas, really good in others, and absolutely terrible in others. The whole lot is a mixed bag, really. The floor tiles of many of the houses were probably the worst of the lot, with a high contrast between bright and dark areas. Like many of the other games in the RMZ collection, they'll outright hurt your eyes. Many enemies are also overly simplified, such as a lot of the bloodless (the standard foe in the game), and don't make full use of the 16 color palletes available to them. Others look plain rushed.

This isn't to say the whole game is unplayable because of the graphics. On the contrary, there's a lot of very good ones that fit the cartoony feel of the game. There's an underwater sequence where the hero has to navigate down a cave, with animated chains and kelp, with air bubbles spaced throughout. It reminded me an awful lot of a level in the old TMNT game, and even some of the underwater levels in the classic Sonic games. On top of this, the best aspect of this game is the dozens, if not hundreds of individual animations the heroes will do during cut scenes. Few OHR games actually take the time to do this, if at all. Speaking of cut scenes, there is an animated sequence at the end that is actually well put together, and is worth looking at if nothing else.

The other excellent thing this game has is in the actual hero and NPC designs themselves. The main character Josh, has a Bob the Hamster suit, an obvious nod to the father of the OHR community. His companions have various costumes based on others found worn by characters from other OHR games. The 'antihero' of the game is even a stylized 'dark' version of Kyle from TSSE, complete with a black trenchcoat. The game also sports a wide cast of heroes, NPCs, foes, and the like from other OHR games drawn in RMZ's style, ranging from Bob Surlaw to the requisite fight with Cloud Strife.

It was also amusing, to say the least, to see another person's interpretation of my fictitious identity.

    The story picks off one year from the events of the last game. We start off with Josh and Max, brothers who have moved to a new town after their mother decided to panic after hearing about vampires and the lot. The opening sequence is spent collecting candy, learning the basics of the game's battle system, and leaning to cope with the laborious task of crossing large distances on foot. Later on we meet Clyde and Rachel, the girlfriend and heroine of the game. No more than half an hour into the game, the plot picks up when demonic creatures known as the "Bloodless" (Heartless?) start pouring out into the world, and the main characters resolve to stop their plan from coming to fruition.

We are introduced to the game's Antihero at this point, Kyle, who bears an amazing similarity to the hero from TSSE (intentionally). The villains of the game need an emmisary to do their work, essentially someone who can enter holy shrines and the like, and he turns out to be an excellent choice for this work. The plan concocted by the villains is to sacrifice 4 maidens to replenish the powers of an old witch, who would then unseal their master so they could rule the world/ destroy civilization.

Of course, the heroes aren't the only ones involved in saving the world. There is a huge supporting cast and dozens of NPCs who provide assistance in some way, from building an army to keep the bloodless occupied to simply pointing out where to go next. By the end of the game, the party must gather their strength, defeat the hordes of bloodless, and confront the ultimate evil.

However an epic storyline the game may boast, the majority of it is stylized after Kingdom Hearts in a sense. The heroes move to a new city, speak with the residents, and are sent to a dungeon to either retrieve some artifact of power (which they fail at nearly every time) or to save one of the 4 beautiful maidens from being captured (which they also consistently fail at. After failing to accomplish their goal in one area, they are drawn to the next to start the whole process over again, and the only real resolution in the game is that the heroes defeat the commanders of the bloodless, and Josh saves his girlfriend. Since the game does tend to focus on Josh specifically, this is understandable, however I felt that the other characters were not given their dues. At the end, we are simply told that the other companions return to their homes. We never find out any other details about the maidens, other than that they are the most beautiful of their race in the world. Whatever backstory is told to us is either read from a book, or related by the latest character, who seems to know an awful lot about the world's history. This last point isn't so bad though. The characters are well aware of where to go next should things not go their way - we may not be so fortunate.

However, when told something we are not told just the important stuff - we are told everything - and this presents some problems when trying to figure where to go next. There's a point when too MUCH information is given.

    The game does something interesting in OHR games in that it limits your party to 3 members at a time (though there is a point where four are present temporarily). This is mostly a throwback to Kingdom Hearts, and the PSX era Squaresoft games. Every character is also unique in their skills, which is also good. The strategy therein is then based around which characters you take into battle, and whether they are leveled up enough to perform their task sufficiently.

The main character Josh is well balanced, favoring neither an offensive or defensive position, and is equally competant at fighting as with magic. He is an absolute must in boss battles, having the ability to steal items from them, and also for a powerful skill of his that increaces in strength as his HP is depleted.

Max, the mage of the group, has a low amount of HP, which he more than makes up for with his powerful spells. Now, RMZ has been fairly bad at balancing out his spells, but here he seems to have done a sufficiently good job. Max is not restricted to offensive spells this time around, being also able to cast curative and defensive spells. Granted, the effects of these spells are not always known immediately until they are actually used, and before then it is a simple matter of guesswork. Max, like all other mages in the RMZ compendium, suffers from a decided lack of force behind his spells - they don't do nearly as much damage as they should, given the spell costs and the HP of the hordes of bloodless you WILL be fighting in the game. He is, however, an effective member of the group.

Clyde is perhaps the most important party member for his ability to decreace enemy statistics, to which no foe seems immune. He seems more geared towards being a defensive character, with slightly more HP than the main character, though his attack is nowhere near as good.

Rachel has a set of skills for which I have no earthly idea what the hell they do. She *seems* to be a support character, laying down protective wards for the party, but I don't see any real effect. She has terrible HP, a lack of MP, and has a really low hit rate.

Mamoru, some kind of blue skinned half devil character, has a variety of darkness based skills, and a jump attack, which is realistically the only useful one out of the bunch. Considering so many enemies in the game absorb this type of damage, he's almost not worth the time investing in him.

For what the previous two characters lacked, Fenrir more than makes up for. He has fairly decent stats, and his most readily useful skill is a poison based attack. Most of his skills seem to also cost HP to cast, which is a fair tradeoff. Given the absolute cheapness of poison in this game (it works on everything, and can be stacked with repeated attacks), he may be more useful than Max just for the spell casting. From what I've experienced, he's more valuable than either Mamoru or Rachel just based on this one attack.

    Most of the bosses in this game will boil down to a simple strategy depending on whom is in your party. Josh's primary job is to steal or mug the heck out of the enemy and PRAY they drop an item. Many of the more powerful equipment, and even spells, can be missed out if this isn't done. Bosses tend to have a VERY low stealing rate as well, which is a step back from MTSA5 and HQ1. The remainder of the battle, depending on whom is in the party, will be spent breaking the enemy's statistics (specifically strength, and magic attack), and trying to layer as much poison damage as possible.

The minor enemy battles are for the most part a terrible inconvienience. Foes have too many HP, take too long to kill, their weaknessess are not specifically obvious, and the rewards for defeating them are insufficient. The best equipment in the game doesn't seem to provide nearly enough of an improvement over the original gear either. The rationale behind this to to battle strategically, though for the most part this borders on frustration.

The characters in general seem underpowered against such overwhelming odds. Realistically, a fine degree of leveling has to be done to ensure their survival. Their level 99 statistics need to be double what they are presently. Also, the stat upgrade points cost too much. At the most, they should be $5000, and should be available for purchace in bulk, not in limited quantities. Unlike MTSA5 however, it is possible to beat this game if you level up accordingly, seek out all the best equipment, and 'twink out' your party. You will also generally not be hurting for money, which is a good thing, provided you fight enough battles.

There is one particular battle in the game that is theoretically *impossible* to beat, and is for all practical purposes, impossible to fight considered the tags and textbox linking for it are broken (which I was forced to fix on my own). It was also the one battle I actually WANTED to fight, and let me tell you, this guy/girl wiped the FLOOR with me.

  Map Design
    You will quickly wish there was some sort of run button. Maps are ponderously huge with long blank spaces in them. Doorways leading left or right are not always easily marked. The 'airship' on the world map is also relatively slow, compared to the distances needing to be crossed. Despite this, dungeons and towns are remarkably well put together. Throughout the game, you'll also run across clever references to other OHR games. "Stop" covered in blood on the ground of a tropical jungle. Bob Surlaw standing in the middle of the road waiting to be run over by a bus.  
    Again, the major problems of balance were expressed in the battle aspect of this review. As an aside, Enemies need a 25% - 50% boost in the money and Exp they give out, and the stealing rate for bosses needs to be upped significantly. There also needs to be some general error checking in the textboxes, doorways, and the rest. Aside from these flaws, the game is remarkably well polished.

The most important aspect seperating this game from many other OHR games is the presence of minigames, typically performed as an intermission between quests. When moving from one area to the next, an appropriately themed game will appear. Most take the form of sidescrollers. The spacing of these minigames is sufficient enough, though for all practical purposes there needs to be more to keep the monotony of dungeon crawling down to a minimum.

    Much of the music in this game is ripped, but placed well enough that it doesn't distract from the gameplay in any way. A lot of it is chosen not from RPGs, but from various horror movies, which was intentionally done to go with the halloween theme of the game. The battle music is suspenseful as well. The music does suffer in a few places by using too much percussion and too many drums. These can be muted out, and still retain the melody just as easily. However, this is more a matter of personal taste, as I think the drums in BAM sound like crap.

    To be honest, I did actually enjoy this game, notwithstanding its varied flaws and multitude of cliche sequences. Swear words, a mainstay of RMZ games, are nearly absent from this game, save for near the end. They are also spoken moreso by the villains of the game, which is an ironic twist considering previous RMZ games. As such, I wasn't too offended to want to quit playing.

The dialogue, for the most part is charming, well written, and clever at times. The characters are fully fleshed out, which is a definate improvement. The minigames are enjoyable, fast paced, and appropriate. However, the core gameplay of HQII is the main problem, considering it is an extraordinarily lengthy game for an OHR game. The encounter rate is too high, and battles take too long. It's remarkably similar to certain old style RPGs back on the NES. Enough to kill the game? Not quite.

And for fuck's sake, it's spelled SOLDIER, not solider. At least it's consistent on this point, but sheesh.

Final Blows
    The problem with HQII is not in any one specific area. The fact is, it tries to do too much at once. The game will take the better part of a day or two to complete if played in one sitting. This isn't a bad thing - long games tend to have more work put into them, and HQII is no exception. My major concern I had with this game is that the battles were just too drawn out. A complete graphical overhaul would fix everything, as the game is essentially fine as is in every other category. Were this done, the difficulty of the battles and even the size of the maps could be easily overlooked. The same solution could be had by toning down the difficulty - which would bring the rest of the game up to par.

A battle most player will never see...  or beat, for that matter.

A battle most player will never see... or beat, for that matter.
Final Scores
Graphics: 6/10.0
I'm not a fan of RMZ's style. Frankly, I don't like it at all. However, the sheer multitude of sprites, backdrops, enemies, and the like put into this game is worth checking out.
Storyline: 8/10.0
The game has a well developed beginning, middle, and end. Though the story of 'save the world and defeat the ultimate evil' has been done WAY too much in the OHR community, it is the interactions of the characters and their motivations for what they do that sets this game above them. These are not just two dimensional characters, in other words.
Gameplay: 4/10.0
It needs some serious work, though enough of a change in one category should fix the others. As is, the game is just not nearly as enjoyable as it could be because of the length of the battles, and the tendancy to walk incredible distances to complete a fetch quest. This was what made FFII a poor game.
Music: 9/10.0
Ripped, but placed well enough, and appropriately enough. The strength of certain battle songs is impressive enough. Only one of them is from a Final Fantasy game, and it's not even a battle bgm.
Enjoyment: 6.5/10.0
I couldn't enjoy this as much as I wanted to, though for its length and the content, I can say it was worth it. There needs to be more minigames, and a faster pacing.
Overall Grade: A-
Final Thoughts
    A worthy look, at any rate. The length is probably the only factor that would turn people away.  

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