Here is a game that is obviously the passion project of someone. It has a unique world, with unique gameplay, and a lot of passion behind it.
Tail Concerto starts really well, showing a world consisting of islands in the sky that invokes memories of Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, except this is a world inhabited by Dog and Cat people.
Yet, despite all the charm and heart that went into making the game, I am afraid the game doesn't stick the landing.
A75: Tail Concerto:
Year: 1998 (JP), 1999 (NA).
Genre: Action Adventure.
Publisher: Bandai, Atlus.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"His first breath was filled with hatred. His arms touched the clouds. His roar shook the heavens and his breath froze the land. He struck fear to those who stood in his way and left nothing but silence in his wake"
The opening anime scene in the game is a flashback of the dog-boy hero, Waffle, giving a blue crystal thing to a cat-girl. Later, as a police-dog riding an inexplicable robot, Waffle finds himself chasing the Black Cat gang which is lead by that same cat-girl whose name is Alicia. This conflict between seemingly two childhood friends should be a strong emotional core of the story, yet it is left underdeveloped (or really overcooked) like many other elements in the game.
Take the world of Prairie for instance. It supposedly consists of many floating islands revolving around a castle and is a world that subsists on ancient technology. Early on, your first mission takes place in what is supposedly a major harbor town. I thought that would be the first of many interesting settlements but it turned out to be the only one.
The world is not explored enough
Likewise, ancient technology and history of the world are explored in two cut-scenes and the final moments of the game, but there is no attempt at world-building or any interesting lore.
That would be fine if the main story at least half-delivered, but that was too much for the game. Basically, Alicia's central motif is supposed racism between the dog and cat people. However, the game never bothered to establish that as a thing in the world, and in fact, it flat out contradicts it removing any sympathy you may have with Alicia. Yet, the game actively expects me to have sympathies with characters that continue to make stupid and moronic decisions.
Of course, this being a PS1 game, this is not helped by some poor dialogue even if the voice acting is (mostly) acceptable.
"Packs of kittens are tearing up the town!!"
You may have noticed that I mentioned that Waffle rids a robot, which for some reason is the only robot of its kind in the world. This robot moves faster than a tank in fluid 3D movement and you can back-up with a dedicated button, and shoot bubbles instead of bullets. Also, you can jump around and flap your arms like a bird, and even get a jetpack in one area in the game.
This robot is cool, but the game doesn't do much with him.
You can fly at one point
Waffle's main objective n each area is to catch the Black Cats kittens in separate arenas. You basically have to chase them around a bit, catching some by trapping them in bubbles, and destroying their tanks by the same bubble shots. More satisfyingly, you can throw back their bombs at them which always feels great when it hits.
It's not a bad system, but you feel the game never really takes it into its full potential except in boss battles. These battles are often the highlight of the game, requiring more deliberate action and strategy than the chaotic tag contests with the kittens.
"Our princess will know who the real dog is! Hahaha..."
Outside of combat, the game does shake things up a bit in its short runtime. There is a minecart focused level, a level focused on some light platforming, a jetpack fueled island-hop, and then the game ends.
Seriously, I feel like the budget suddenly ran out in mid-development. Several islands are simply two kitten chases and a boss battle, with a few showing the inventiveness and complexity of the first two or three areas.
This is a cool looking location but little gameplay areas
In total, the game can be finished in less than six hours, and that's not enough when you consider that there isn't much side-content to the game. You feel like there should be some mini-games in the world's only visitable settlement, but the only side activity is collecting photo pieces.
So, there is a big variety in the game considering the short run time (glass-half-full outlook)
"Hey! I better not catch you throwing my furniture around! I can't really complain if it's for an investigation though..."
Looking at the opening anime scene, it would have been a shame if the game's graphics and art design did not live up to its promise. Thankfully, within the technical boundaries of the PS1, the game looks great.
Sure, these are low-res PS1 polygons we are looking at, but they look acceptable and still convey a sense of character and place to the world. That's especially obvious in the aforementioned island-hop sequence where faraway islands can still be seen in the distance.
Bosses look funny and are a joy to fight against
Thankfully, there are many anime cutscenes interspersed throughout the game, giving you a helping hand to guide your imagination of the world (Even if the game's declining budgets butchered the last few islands you visit.).
The same level of care went into the game sound department, which boasts an impressive percentage of voiced lines (but not that impressive of a number considering the length of the game) that are competent most of the time. This extends to the music, which is good but I didn't feel it had any memorable themes.
There was a definite passion behind making this game. In fact, that passion eventually culminated in making Solatorobo on the DS, which is a much better game.
After all, the game suffers from some downright stupid narrative beats that are not helped by limited gameplay in a world that obviously finished its budget in mid-conception. I am actually hesitant now if the game's faults are more forgivable for me given its ambitions, or if the game would have been better received by my much younger self back on the PS1 days.
1-When you get all the kittens in an area you hear a specific chime.
2-Search inside closets for picture parts and some recovery items.
3-Talk to all townspeople to uncover the next destinations.
4-Tamp the jump button to keep from falling hard.
5-you can throw bombs and other physical projectiles back at people.
6-Your main bubble shot bounces off walls.
7-Hit the jump and direction buttons at the same time to do a dodge leap.
Chasing cats is fun but cannot carry the entire game
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
I will always fondly remember the boss battles
I imagine that Tails Concerto would have better appealed to me if I played it back on the PS1 days. Now, both the game's narrative and the gameplay faltered too much in the second half for me to rate it highly. In fact, the only reason I don't rate it lower is that the game does have a charming premise and is mercifully short.
The next game on my radar is Battle Hunter at #A74, which is a unique RPG-hybrid that is reportedly more multi-player focused. If the game is too multi-player centric, then I will automatically move on to Eternal Eyes at #A73, which is an early PS1 Tactical RPG.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: