Nowadays, companies have turned to focus more on graphics and battle systems than on strategy, puzzles, and gameplay. With role-playing games in particular, it's hard to find a game that is more than just pretty graphics, one that's easy to pick up and play but is addictive and enough of a challenge so you could be stuck in a dungeon for hours trying to figure out its puzzles. Alundra is such a game.
You play as Alundra, a boy who has the ability to step into people's dreams and alleviate their nightmares (kind of like that mid-'80s Dennis Quaid film Dreamscape). As the story begins, Alundra is on his way to Inoa - a village his dreams told him to go to. The ship goes down during the voyage, but luckily Alundra is safely washed up on a beach not far from the village. There he is taken in by Jess, a swordsmith in Inoa, who treats Alundra like a son. But things are not right with the townspeople. They begin having horrible nightmares, and Alundra steps in to use his talent to enter their dreams and alleviate their nightmares. That's only the beginning....
Alundra's graphics harken back to the days of Genesis and SNES graphics with finely drawn sprite-based graphics. The game is set in a three-quarter top-down view, somewhat different from Landstalker, closer to the perspective used in The Legend of Zelda. The comparisons of this game to the Zelda series are valid, but there's more to this game than hacking your way through dungeons with a few scattered puzzles. A more accurate comparison is to Landstalker for the Genesis, and it's no wonder since Alundra was created by the same team. The only problem with the graphics is that while playing you'll run into areas where you're not able to judge height or distance before going ahead by trial and error. If you're stuck in a dungeon where you've seemingly tried everything, trying to jump across an area that seems like it'd be too far might be the answer.
The dungeons are what the game is all about. There are plenty of places to explore on the overworld map, some of which aren't reachable unless a certain item or weapon has been found first. Each of the game's main dungeons will require you to figure out dozens of puzzles before reaching the end. The great thing about the dungeons is that there's something new in just about every one of them, right up until the end. So if you're getting through the game at a decent pace, there's bound to be something up ahead that will completely throw you off.
Alundra's gameplay is nicely balanced. The control is tight, but at times jumping to successive platforms (especially when they move) can be frustrating if not downright annoying. Being surrounded by enemies can spell disaster as well, but running from your enemies is not always the best route to take. Sometimes special items or switches appear when all the enemies in an area are defeated.
As for music, Alundra's tunes fit the mood of the game - from upbeat and adventurous to solemn - and the music will stick in your head. There's also a sound test, which reveals new songs as you hear them during the game (a nice touch).
What is really good about Alundra is the translation. For those who have bagged on WD for its past liberties with American humor, there is little to complain about here. Alundra is maturely written and has a tone and feel that fits the game to a T. Each character has its own distinct personality, instead of being caught in a trap where the dialogue could be described as "one size fits all." As the story progresses, religion becomes a major player in the game's plot, as the townspeople slowly begin to realize what's behind their suffering.
If you're a fan of Zelda, Landstalker, or other action RPGs that have hit consoles before, then Alundra should be your next stop. It's an addictive, well-rounded game that is balanced, challenging, and, most of all, fun to play. If you're speedy, on the quick end it'll take around 40 or so hours to complete. If you like to take your time and really search every corner while trying to figure out every puzzle, it'll take a lot longer. If you're a hard-fought turn-based RPG veteran who's not so good when it comes to button-pressing dexterity, then Alundra will take some getting used to but is worth it.