Elminage Original: Pretty dungeons, aimless wandering

December 7, 2012

Elminage Original is a retro-style first-person dungeon crawler that probably has a ton of mechanical depth. It might even have a worthwhile story and interesting quests to tackle, and perhaps even a smattering of cool abilities and character classes to play around with.

If it does, though, I can hardly tell.

Elminage Original has the worst localization since the PlayStation in the mid-nineties. If the English language isn’t being mangled beyond repair during a given moment, unfortunate programming errors are making the text even more difficult, if not impossible at times, to read. I use impossible with a touch of hyperbole, because if you can read Japanese, you’ll be okay when the game’s text randomly switches back over to its language of origin.

Sometimes sentences in item or spell descriptions are smashed together in a way that interrupts the end and beginning (or the middle, on occasion!) of two sentences, forming ridiculous-looking frankenwords in the process. Text hardly ever fits in the tiny amounts of real estate afforded to it, so unless you have the patience to sit and watch it scroll by at a crawling speed at almost every menu option, you have your work cut out for you figuring things out. You do anyway even if you do sit and read all of the broken text, but you’ll be that much worse off.

A fair amount of the inconsequential story bits are mostly coherent, so you’ll generally have some idea of what you’re doing and why, but figuring out how the game actually works (in an RPG that is deeply rooted in its mechanics, therefore inundated with text) is an exercise not in frustration, but in confusion and bewilderment.

If you’re still here, the game isn’t all that bad. If you can muscle your way through and figure out the important bits on your own, Elminage Original is definitely a solid game. It lacks the unique punch that other first-person dungeon crawling revivals as of late have (Etrian Odyssey comes to mind), and it also tries so hard to be old-school it suffers in playability (though sometimes I had a hard time differentiating between that and the text errors impeding my progress), but it is nonetheless a very competent game with a ton of options for customization and party-building.

Perhaps it has too many, since it wants you to use specific classes (out of several) on occasion for various quests. It also has this odd feature during character creation in which you can press square to re-roll your stat bonus points, which you can do indefinitely until you find a high number you are satisfied with, so I wonder what the point is. There really is nothing new here, but if you have an itch that needs scratching and nowhere else to get your fix, you could probably do worse than this.

One area that Elminage Original really nails is in the art department. The art may comprise your typical budget-JRPG static images, but all of it is positively gorgeous. Especially the enemy designs. They range from your standard JRPG monsters, to comically-goofy-looking demons and elaborate horrors that I have never encountered before and hope I never will.

The colors are vibrant and deep, and the attention to detail is astounding. The designs, especially, look amazing on the Vita’s OLED screen. The dungeons are an unfortunate eyesore in the form of jagged, ugly polygons, but the person or people responsible for the creature design in this game are heroes of their craft and must be commended.

Somewhere in Elminage Original lies a solid dungeon-crawling experience. It is there, I know it is, and I can even feel it, but it is disappointingly hard to see. The embarrassing localization tragically hampers what would otherwise be a good, easily recommendable game for fans of the genre. Sadly, I can only offer reason to play it for the die-hard or the curious.

Pros: Solid aesthetics, tons of customization
Cons: Horrible localization,  steep learning curve

Score: 2/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.