Beats ‘Kraken Breeding Simulator 1999’
“Y-you can’t trick me! A black and white bear? It couldn’t exist!”
“A black and white bear… heh heh heh… Well, it’s something different to look for if you reach the orient.”
“A black and white bear… Impossible… Inconceivable! There’s no way such a thing could exist, right? But if it did exist, what kind of pattern do you suppose it’d have?”
Only a few hours into the game, and Neo Atlas 1469 has given me a quest to find a panda. Truly, we have found our GOT-
-What do you mean, I have to judge a game based on other metrics? Charlatans.
Neo Atlas 1469 (PC)
Publisher: Arc System Works
Released: February 14, 2017
I was sailing the high seas of the Steam storefront on a clear day (actually the middle of the night), when I stumbled across Neo Atlas 1469. I thought to myself, “What is Arc System Works (best known for rock-powered fighting games Guilty Gear and BlazBlue) doing distributing what appears to be a PS1-style simulation/strategy game?”
But how wrong I was. Well, not wrong. I was right on the dot, but I didn’t see how deep this whirlpool went. Neo Atlas 1469 wasn’t a game made in the style of a PS1 title. It is in fact a port of a Vita remake of 1999’s Neo Atlas II. The remake updates the graphics and adds a few new scenarios, but is (allegedly) otherwise identical to the base game.
The game actually starts you in 1466, showing you the tragic tale of Antonio Gomez, your Portuguese trade company’s former admiral who was overtaken by pirates and lost at sea. Your goal between ’66 and ’69 is to get your company in order by building up some funds, hiring new admirals – starting with the science-obsessed young genius Peres – and finding the shipwrecked Gomez.
Oh, and completing the tutorial, of course – did I mention the hour-long tutorial? You don’t have to take the tutorial, of course, but you still have to complete all of the tasks associated with it. Enabling the tutorial will run you through your paces, and while the game does contain a number of mechanics, that hour-length I quoted is mostly padded out by dialogue and extra little quests. While I appreciate that these characters were given a personality, and are generally all very likable, the amount of hand-holding, even without the tutorial, is interminable.
Other than the speed option (there are three speeds, and pausing for menus), all options are locked from the offset; your fleets, trades, save button, and even the button to exit to the main menu are all locked until you finally finish this intro. Likewise, quests will actually be solved for you if you don’t hurry it up, because, you know, the game is called Neo Atlas 1969; if you don’t start by 1969 it all gets pretty awkward, doesn’t it?
Atlas can be broken down into a few different styles of gameplay, all tied together. Your main goal, as tasked by the jolly still image of the King of Portugal, is to reach the fabled land of Zipangu, land of silver and gold (that’s Japan, for us contemporaries) within the span of 30 years. The problem is, the people of Europe are entirely clueless of anything happening approximately ten feet outside the borders of Europe or Northern Africa, leaving the map in a dense fog. Who knows if you might just sail off the edge of the world?
Exploration is the main activity of the game, and all other portions function to support it. Admirals act as the head of your fleets (you start with scant few of both, and gain more as the game progresses), and vary greatly in both stats and pay rate. Gomez will greatly extend the range of your fleets, but Peres can see further, as an example. As they explore, the fog peels back, and sea or land is revealed – only you won’t see the results until they return. Usually this will be when they hit land or reach the end of their supply range, but your fleets will also turn back when they run into pirates, storms, or sea monsters, and lack the Navigation (or Luck) to dodge the hazard.
It’s strange to say that fleet reports were simultaneously the most interesting and tedious part of the title. No matter what you are doing, you are immediately transported to the location of your reporting Admiral, who takes you through a third-person journey of the voyage, with commentary. The commentary varies by character, but usually amounts to them reacting differently to similar situations. This can get old fast, and the repetitions in dialogue can cause you to skip over some unique gems connected to side-quests. Should the character hit land, a swath of it is revealed, and the most important button of all is revealed.
If you say yes, then all ports (and treasure, but more on that later) are revealed. If you say no, then everything is undone, and you undo the fickle hand of RNGesus… but be warned, for threats within are not RNG-powered, only land. You also have the option to immediately send your fleet back out along exactly the same route, which can save a lot of time. Certainly, I was far too fickle with the “Agree” button early on, and found myself with several small land-locked seas and tiny lakes with highly valuable goods I would never profit from.
I said that exploration is the main activity, and that’s true. There is something lovely in seeing a world take shape that is just close enough to your own to be familiar, yet somehow alien, and knowing you directly had a hand in it. However, there are many other things to do to support your explorations, because ships and people cost money. The King gives you a small stipend each year based on the amount of fog you clear from the map, but it will mostly serve to pay the wages of your Admiralty. Most of your money is made from trading and treasure hunting.
Trading starts small, with only two routes, expanding as you accomplish worth deeds (and buy them from the black market), and functions as a bit of a “match two” system. All ports have a product. You can either match these with an adequate ship for maximum profit, or match two complementary products to create a third, much more expensive product (that is often in much shorter supply). Barrels and sugar? Now you have the ubiquitous rum. Diamonds and rings? Diamond rings. Coffee and milk? Coffee milk (This is Japan we’re talking about!)
Treasure hunting is the game’s biggest hit-or-miss activity, and I’m leaning towards the latter. All new objects you find are worth money, whether it’s an exportable good or a mysterious creature – whether it’s a koala, the Temple of Atlantis, or a creature made of meat (really). Many of these often lead to side quests, which range from silly (“That turtle island ate my hat!” being a personal favorite) to incredibly tedious.
The problem lies in the tedium as a whole. Treasure-hunting is busywork, forcing you to zoom in at painfully-close angles until your retinas bleed when your expensive dowsing chain has run out. Likewise, don’t expect excitement in combat, because it’s just a simple matter of, “who has the bigger number” – and beyond some early pirates, it’ll usually be them, forcing you to go multiple rounds (of pricey repairs) to take down your fifteenth Kraken. Seriously, what’s with all the Krakens? How fast do these things breed, anyway?
Neo Atlas 1469 is an odd creation. Individually, each element is far too weak to stand on its own – and I’m certainly too lazy to go around calling it a “Adventure/Simulation/Strategy/Visual Novel/RPG/Point and Click Bear Finder.” Yet, together, they keep you engaged, with light but solid narratives having you finding Sinbad’s anchor or breaking curses while you wait for that next fleet report to come in. It’s an extremely long game – and I’m not actually sure where it ends. At 25-30 hours, I’ve long-since cleared the main goals, yet it’s still going strong… so I can only imagine it will be over once I hit 100% map clearance.
It’s still a strange, niche title from 1999, but hey, at least I finally found that panda.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]