After a short hiatus, I'm back with the next "wonderful" installment of Off-Brand Games! When I began this series, I had a huge list of candidates for crucifixion. I've been zipping through the shorter games, hoping to pump out articles at a regular clip. Now I'm left with the games that require greater investment and feeling a tad overwhelmed. Suck it up, boyo!
That means the articles may not be coming as often as I had once hoped. Don't worry, though! I'm still devoted to cracking open these sons of bitches like piņatas, releasing the months-old candy and moldy chocolate goodness inside. I want to hit up some GameCube and PlayStation 2 games hardcore, maybe a PC title here and there if my laptop is up to the challenge.
As for today, I've pulled out another Atlus-published treasure. The Legend of Zelda is tapped once again, and as with Alundra, it's really kinda tough to screw up a winning formula.
OFFENDER: Crusader of Centy DEVELOPED BY: Nextech RELEASED ON: GEN, 1994 TASTES LIKE: The Legend of Zelda
Crusader of Centy was developed by Nextech, better known these days as Nex Entertainment. This group demonstrated great prowess with a little game called Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Fearing the obligation of meeting expectations of consistent quality, it shat out Time Crisis 4 and brought balance back to its software catalogue. Who wants to work that hard all the time, seriously?
The game opens with a history lesson on the planet's creation. Before plants and animals sprung, the land was populated by monsters. As light poured over the surface, the weaker monsters died off while the more resilient ones took refuge deep underground. It was there that the monsters flourished as humans established themselves as the dominant creatures in the world above. One day, the monsters crept out of their caves and tried to adapt to the altered environment.
Naturally, the people responded by pissing their pants and killing shit.
You are Corona and you've just celebrated your 14th birthday. That means you get to start hero training! Pick up your dead father's sword and continue the proud family tradition of ruthless slaughter. You were to be joined by your cousins Tecate and Dos Equis, but unfortunately previous engagements prevented their appearance in this game. In their place is a squad of animal companions who bestow upon you kick-ass magic! Animals rule!
HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?
What the hell is a "Centy"? No, really. I have no fucking clue.
Is it wrong to assume that the title of a game should offer some insight into what it's all about? The word is only spoken once in the entire game, around the halfway mark when an enemy refers to you as the "Crusader of Centy." A little context could help, thanks! Is it a person? Was there once a hero named Centy? I don't think it's the name of the continent. In fact, the European title of the game, Soleil, happens to be the name of your village. So it's more like you're the "Crusader of Soleil," but we still have a mystery here! Is it shorthand for something? Jesus! Tell me!
The entire game is a localization mess. I thought by 1994 these grammar screw-ups would be a thing of the past, but no! There are cases of text scrolling by so fast that you can't read it, then you are given a yes/no response prompt and you have no idea what it is you are responding to. On several occasions, a word would improperly wrap from one line to the next, so you'd get something like "with" where the end of one line has the "w" and the following line has the "ith." That's some amateur RPG Maker horseshit!
At least that can be attributed to human error. The game's scenario, on the other hand, is flat-out lazy. The whole game feels like one big fucking side quest. You get a sword, go to the training grounds, travel outside the village, save a lady from the fucking Big Bad Wolf, and rescue a little critter from an octopus, the successful completion of which qualifies you to be the world's savior or some nonsense. It doesn't add up!
Right near the end of the game, you are hit with a big Shyamalan twist. It seems that the monsters are not evil, merely misunderstood. You've been killing innocents out of fear and ignorance! I would feel sickened, except that every monster boss you face is a bigger asshole than the last! They taunt you, insult you, threaten you, and generally get all up in your business. Forgive me if I don't quite empathize with your plight, jerks! Don't gimme that "oh, but we were pushed into a corner" crap either. Even the most minor enemies attack you unprovoked! Misunderstood, my ass!
All this is at odds with the core game which is actually quite polished and streamlined. It really lends credence to my theory that the folks at Nex Entertainment can't stand having a good game on their record and thus must sabotage their work somehow. The game borrows its aesthetic from Zelda, specifically A Link to the Past. A lot of the tiles and architecture look like they would fit right in Link's third outing. Rather than Heart Containers, you collect Apples of Life. There's a Master Sword-like upgrade. Two-thirds of the way through the game, there's even a Dark World mechanic in which you go back in time to explore areas you were unable to in the present.
However, while the game looks like and shares a few common elements with Zelda, it really goes off and does its own thing. The name of the game is "streamlining." The only tool you ever use is your sword (which can be thrown like a boomerang, by the way). Instead of picking up new items, you recruit fifteen different animal helpers and apply any two at a time. They bestow abilities to augment your body and weapon, such as extended sword throwing range, fire or ice affinity, running speed boost, etc. Once equipped, you can see the current animals floating behind you in adorable familiar form.
Because of these visual cues, the game lacks a HUD crowded with a bunch of nonessential data. Crusader of Centy's minimal HUD is in stark contrast to that of the Zelda series which seems to grow more and more cluttered with each successive installment. All you need to know is how much health and money you possess. As an added bonus, monsters have their own visible health bars. Enemies and bosses go down fairly quickly, but it's still a nice extra over Zelda's offering of nothing.
Crusader of Centy eschews a traditional overworld in favor of a stage select map of sorts. In order to progress, you have to complete some challenge at a level marker. Once you've met the clear requirement, whether it be defeating a boss or running from Point A to Point B, you are free to pass over that marker unless a future objective requires a return trip. One downside to Zelda is the tedium in trudging through the same areas to fight the same squads of goons repeatedly every time you have an errand to run. Zelda games get around this through some kind of warping mechanic, but this stage select system is much cleaner.
While Zelda is extremely puzzle-centric, Crusader of Centy is more focused on straightforward platforming. There are several zones that lack any monster encounters and only ask that you clear the obstacles to reach the goal. You ricochet off giant rubber bands, slide across moving floors to pick up enough momentum to cross massive chasms, and maneuver past retractable spikes or flame columns. The game's jump mechanic is only used to step on buttons and clear gaps with no fucked-up relative-elevation guesswork as in Alundra. Thank God for that.
Whereas most of the action in a Zelda game is found in the dungeons, you are just as likely encounter major challenges and bosses in the normal areas in this game. In fact, there is no real distinction between dungeons and regular zones. You don't collect maps or keys, nor do you open more than a couple of treasure chests. It's a transparent experience that avoids the rigid level-overworld-level format that Zelda games fall victim to. Even with the inclusion of the stage select map, the world feels a lot more connected.
There's one point where you gain the ability to speak with plants and animals, but then a calamity occurs that makes it impossible for humans to communicate with one another. Try to speak to an NPC and you'll just get garbled characters. To resolve this, you have to scale the Tower of Babel, battle a freakish dental floss monster, and gain entrance into Heaven. You shoot the breeze with some angels before advancing across platforms miles above the Earth and battling a beast that guards the key to restoring communication. At no point during this trial do you think, "I have completed this dungeon, am entering a town, and will be playing through another dungeon." No, the transition from one zone to the next is very smooth and subtle.
The game flat-out looks good. There are these little details that absolutely tickled me. When you walk across the beach, your footprints will remain in the sand until you exit the beach area. You can run around the whole place and draw pictures in the sand and shit and it'll stay there! It really drives me up the wall that all this polish and detail is ruined because the scenario writers and localizers were dicking around instead of doing their job.
Because of the odd balance of fantastic and lazy design, the end result is somewhat of a mixed bag. The game is fun to play, but you don't feel that sense of satisfaction that should come with tackling an epic quest. The game is over extremely quickly, much faster than A Link to the Past, and the endgame isn't all that satisfying. However, the positives outweigh the negatives, so I say go for it!