Do you remember the great, older action-RPGs like The Legend of Zelda for the SNES or Legend of Oasis for the Saturn? Elemental Gimmick Gear for the Sega Dreamcast is one of those titles that definitely returns to the basics of action-RPG. Like the classic games, you'll jump, run, and attack while acquiring different items and magic in a 2D map rich with colorful, beautiful backgrounds.
The story begins when archaeologists discover an egg-shaped robot and a pilot at an ancient structure that dates back more than five thousand years. Engineers successfully replicate the robot for mass production and call it Elemental Gimmick Gear or E.G.G. for short. E.G.G. eventually becomes a part of everyday life, taking on extreme physical tasks so the human race can take it easy. But the pilot who was discovered in the original E.G.G. is still asleep (hence, his name, the Sleeping Man), and all attempts to wake him have failed. Five hundred years have passed, and the ancient structure has been dubbed the Fogna, a place where scientists continue their excavation, and treasure hunters risk their lives in hopes of finding buried treasure. But instead of finding treasure, the treasure hunters trigger a switch that causes mass destruction, shaking the earth and causing huge tentacles to spread across the continent, destroying everything in their path. All this commotion causes the Sleeping Man to wake up and hop in his E.G.G., hoping to regain his lost memory and find out what lies beneath the Fogna.
The game was developed by Birthday and was originally planned for a release on the Sega Saturn console. It's good the game has retained its Saturn-esque image, but it adds flavor with an additional gameplay element that uses the hardware capabilities of the Dreamcast console. You will usually move across town and through dungeons in a 2D map reminiscent of the hand-drawn picture-book style found in Square's SaGa Frontier. 3D battles occur only on occasion, usually when you encounter a boss inside a dungeon. The 2D-world graphics are very colorful and detailed, though it makes it easy to get lost. The characters and enemies are all in 2D sprites, while polygon models are used in the 3D battles. Although the graphics are simple first-generation Dreamcast graphics, the movements and controls are seamlessly smooth. The game also features FMV sequences in between gameplay, as well. Miki Takahama did the artwork for the game. His previous work includes the Japanese live-action flick Gamera 3. Unfortunately, the artwork doesn't seem to have been used very well. The clashing styles between the midget-sized characters and their respective face icons (used during dialogue) cause a bit of confusion. The mech design of the E.G.G. is neither new nor unique. It's quite reminiscent of the mech design found in series like Sakura Wars. Finally, the story and the characters fall short, lacking well-established and complex characters. It might seem strange for an RPG, but what saves E.G.G. from being below average isn't its story or characters; it's the gameplay that picks up some of the slack.
The basic attack consists of either a punch or a spin. While spinning, you can move faster across the field, attacking enemies all the while and even becoming impervious to certain enemy attacks. The only drawback is that spinning causes your hit points to slowly drop, so you can't use it all the time. You will later gain special items, which let your E.G.G. cast spells like fireball, ice beam, earthquake, and plasma beam. Other special items do things like teleport out of the dungeon, recover hit points, carry heavy blocks, or cross broken bridges. All these actions and movements can be done in the 3D battle mode, as well; the only difference is that your point of view will change from top-view 2D to front-view 3D.
The gameworld is not as big as you'd expect from an RPG. You'll only come across one or two very small towns. There are several dungeons spread throughout the game, such as the tower called Metal Heaven. But the dungeon you will be exploring most of the time is the ancient structure Fogna, which consists of several floors with different entrances and exits located in different parts of the world. As the game progresses, you will gain access to deeper levels in the dungeon. Although you will travel across the same sections several times, the common enemies will get stronger as you defeat bosses. The dungeons use the same old action-RPG tricks and puzzles, such as moving heavy objects onto a floor switch to unlock doors, using your grappling hook to cross bridges, using magic spells to trigger switches, and so forth. Most of the time, you will encounter only one or two situations where you can get stuck. One problem is that, since you aren't provided much guidance throughout the game, you must take guesses about where you should be heading next. Since there are several entrances to Fogna, you're never quite sure if you are in the right spot. The other problem is that some of the tricks and puzzles demand great timing and precise controls. For example, you will come across a switch that you must trigger with a spin attack. After you switch it on, seven doors open, and you have to dash through all of them before the doors close on you. To make things a bit more challenging, the seven doors aren't placed in a straight line. Situations like these definitely bring forth some of that classic action-RPG challenge.
The sound effects in the game are satisfactory but definitely would have benefited from a little more work. Most of the mechs and enemies are made from some sort of metal, but only hearing a few patterns of clunks and bangs from different-sized enemies isn't too convincing. There isn't much voice acting in the game - you'll hear a narrator and several minor characters in the opening FMV sequence, but that's about it. Voice acting for the main characters could have brought a much-needed dose of life to the game. Despite that, the soundtrack to the game is quite amazing. Although it isn't like the majestic, orchestral tunes you hear in Final Fantasy VIII, the soundtrack adds to game's atmosphere.
Overall, it'll take about 20 hours to complete the game. Although the storyline falls short, the gameplay element really makes it feel much more complete. The game also features minigames, which aren't relevant to the main plot but are still fun to delve into. There are obstacle courses and race games included, and winning these games can earn you extra items.
Elemental Gimmick Gear is a first-generation Dreamcast title. Don't expect it to have an epic Zelda-like story - the fun comes from solving the tricks and puzzles, as well as the 3D battles. If you're into games like The Legend of Zelda, Beyond Oasis, Alundra, or the original Legacy of Kain, then consider picking this one up.