Planet Laika is a joint project between Japanese software developers Quintet - whose past works include Actraiser and Illusion of Gaia for the SNES, and The Granstream Saga for the PlayStation - and Zeque, which created the PlayStation cult hit Kowloon's Gate, released only in Japan. While Zeque was responsible for the concept, design, scenario, and graphics for Planet Laika, Quintet handled the programming and sound. Because of that, a lot of Planet Laika's concept and design is reminiscent of Zeque's Kowloon's Gate, with themes that explore the two sides to every coin - good and evil, light and darkness, ying and yang. Even some of the names of the game's supporting characters are the same. The story begins as the crew of a rocket ship heads to Mars on a mission to find out the truth behind rumors about the "end of the world" and the existence of an unknown supernatural being. All the characters in the game have dog faces, and you learn at one point that mankind was once destroyed for having human faces. Mars is controlled by a force called the "Evil Mind," which manipulates the inhabitants of the planet, changing them into one of three colors and personality types. The people who are colored yellow are visually focused and pursue physical beauty. The reds are animalistic and strong, and they resort to violence quickly. The blues are psychotic but also quite crafty. The planet plays tricks on their minds, causing them to see illusions, including an illusion of the crew of the ship.
One of the game's main themes is how the colors how tie in with split and multiple personalities. Your main character, Laika, has a multiple-personality disorder. When you talk to different people, you will see an aura around them in one of the three colors, and Laika absorbs this aura. A gauge will tell you which of the three colors you are absorbing most. When one of the three reaches its limit, you can visit a mirror and transform into one of three alter egos, depending on which type of evil you absorbed most. You become Ernest if you have absorbed more red, Yolanda for yellow, and Spacer for blue. You will have to inhabit a different persona to fulfill missions as the story progresses. For example, Laika must transform into Ernest (the strongest) to open a heavy shutter. Most of the supporting characters in the game also possess forms of split personality, and depending on whether they're inhabiting a good or bad alter ego, they'll have different names, which can be pretty confusing at times.Planet Laika has a format similar to the more recent Final Fantasy's, with 3D polygonal characters, prerendered 2D backgrounds, and several CG movies, but it's more of an adventure game than an RPG. The game's presentation (especially the CG movies) is reminiscent of old sci-fi TV series like Dr. Who and of European movies like The City of Lost Children.
The storyline is linear but at times confusing, because the dialogue can be so symbolic that you're forced to guess where to go. And even when you do know where to head next, you might have to go somewhere entirely different to trigger an event. The item names are also sometimes so vague and obscure that you won't always know what to do with them.
The good thing about Planet Laika is that there aren't too many battles, and the battle system it uses is pretty unique. If you can evade enemies, you'll only end up fighting a few bosses in the entire game. You only encounter enemies when Laika is transformed into one of three alter egos. When you're walking around, enemies - which are called Faces - appear in front of you, which sometimes lets you evade them before entering battle. The battle system is unlike any you've seen out there, although it feels a bit like that of classic games like Space Invaders or Pong. You have a small energy ball called a Mind Core, which you must shoot back and forth across the screen to block shots fired by your enemy. If you can send those shots back at him, they'll inflict damage. It's a pretty simple system, yet the timing is difficult to get used to, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat every time you fight.
Unfortunately, Planet Laika rushes to its climax without giving you time to better understand the story, taking only about nine hours to beat. Besides that, it's definitely a game that picks its gamers. If you like the retro sci-fi image and the theme of split/multiple personalities, this may be a title worth picking up, but it's not for everyone. Know that a clear understanding of Japanese is a must for Planet Laika, so it might be worth waiting to find out whether Enix intends to bring the game to the States.