Saiyuki Journey West Preview

We take a look at Koei's upcoming PlayStation strategy-RPG.


Saiyuki: Journey West

Released in 1999, Saiyuki: Journey West, Koei's strategy simulation RPG for the PlayStation, will be heading its way to North America and Europe later this year. The game is based on one of the most popular legends of China--which most people would probably recognize by its title, Monkey Magic--about the monk Sanzo's journey from China to India and back. On the way, he recruits Son Goku, the Monkey King, and others and leads them through an epic journey of danger and discovery.

Saiyuki is similar to SquareSoft's Final Fantasy Tactics from a visual standpoint--it features isometric 3D field maps, which can be rotated by increments of 90 degrees, tilted, and zoomed out. The gameplay, however, is a bit different; Saiyuki uses an orthodox turn-based combat system, as opposed to the active time battle (ATB) system used in Final Fantasy Tactics. Each character is offered a choice of various items--some of which grant them special abilities or improve their attributes--to carry, and their uses are purely cosmetic. Certain items, like scrolls, give the characters the ability to cast magic spells, such as lightning, tornadoes, meteorites, and many more.

Interestingly, players can set Sanzo's sex at the beginning of play. And since Sanzo isn't proficient as a warrior, his/her role leans toward supporting the other characters during combat. One of the special abilities Sanzo has is that he/she can summon heavenly beings called guardians, which are similar to the summoned monsters in the Final Fantasy series. Other characters in your party have a different special ability, called WereForm. As in Hudson's Bloody Roar, your characters transform into powerful beasts, though the time they're able to spend in that form is quite limited. During your journey, you'll visit towns and villages, where you can improve your weapons through a blacksmith, increase character's levels by training, earn extra money or items in side quests (usually found at the pub), and even play minigames.

The game's character artwork is by the popular Japanese artist Akihiro Yamada, who has also worked on titles such as Enix's Mystic Ark and SquareSoft's Front Mission 3. Voices are implemented in certain parts of the dialogue, with Japanese-style animation during the opening and ending sequences. Though the graphics are a bit dated, keep in mind that it was released two years ago in Japan and that it is a PlayStation title. Despite that, the trend that was kicked off by Final Fantasy Tactics seems to be thriving in North America, as evidenced by games such as Saiyuki and Atlus' upcoming Hoshigami. In any case, Saiyuki: Journey West is a welcome addition to the strategy RPG genre. The game is expected for a June release in North America and is scheduled to be featured at this year's E3 show in Los Angeles in May.

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