Role-playing games have always been the bastard sons of the videogame industry: they don't have "in your face" mascots with attitude; they lack a wide variety of playable fighters; and they typically don't take place in true 3-D worlds. Beyond the Beyond is an important title in that it's the first "old school" style RPG released for the Playstation (unlike newcomer hybrids, such as King's Field). As such, it could open the door for better "classic style" RPGs in the future.
Despite its earnest effort to bring true RPG action to the console market, Beyond the Beyond doesn't attempt to take the genre in many new directions. In fact, it plays like most RPGs: the world (circa way long ago) is in peril and the player must save it. Starting off as a young warrior, whom the player gets to name, the hero is immersed in hard-to-follow storylines (even after 20 hours of gameplay) that involve dozens of characters, their family members, and an assortment of "bad people." Essentially, it's your run-of-the-mill onscreen soap opera, complete with heartbreaking "... please don't gos" and maniacal "hahahahahahahas." In this regard, the game is somewhat disappointing - all of the drama unfolds within the context of standard gameplay, without the benefit of intermissions (a la Y's). In fact the game only undergoes dramatic cosmetic changes when the characters advance in class (after a certain number of levels) and don new wardrobes.
Containing challenging puzzles and clear objectives, Beyond the Beyond also fails to take advantage of the Playstation's capabilities. If for no other reason, this prevents Beyond from heralding the future of "next generation" RPGs. The bulk of the game is spent wandering around fighting monsters, gaining experience points, and chipping away at the storyline. The battles are slow, and aside from the "hidden move" feature, where hitting buttons in the right sequence can produce more powerful attacks, the action is rather uneventful. Played in a standard top-down 2-D view (except for the 3-D battles), it resembles every RPG seen since the days of the 8-bit Nintendo. The graphics aren't as slick as those in other Playstation games. In fact, to a large degree they resemble Super Nintendo graphics, and the music is standard fare, down to the customary melody when you save your game. None of the music is pre-recorded Red Book on the CD (so much for technology): instead players will endure an underlying "MIDI feast" score.
Beyond the Beyond lands squarely in familiar territory - nothing likely to convert new players, but for many it will be exactly what they're looking for. Judged solely on its merits as an RPG, this is not a bad game; rather, it's a solid product that should provide die-hard RPG fans with 20-50 hours of gleeful gameplay. If nothing else, it will hold us over until Square releases Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation.