Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits
Yoh Asakura isn't your average everyday spiky-haired Japanese teen. As a shaman, he can see, interact with and control spirits of creatures who have for some reason not passed on to the Spirit World. With the help of his bossy spirit medium fiance, a know-it-all classmate, and a 600 years dead samurai spirit, Yoh's ultimate goal is to win the Shaman Tourney, and become Shaman King. Not a bad idea for someone whose sole goal in life is to take it easy.
Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits may be familiar to many in our younger audience due to the exposure given to the cartoon on the Fox network. The game's basic premise is to become a powerful shaman by capturing, befriending, or combining different spirits and defeating other spirits and shamans in spirit battles. Spirit energy, called furyoku, is the power that allows a shaman to control and direct spirits in battle. Lose all of your furyoku and you lose your battle, which is the basis for all combat in this game.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The graphics are actually quite good in some aspects, even with the limited palette of the GBA handheld. Background scenery is crisp and fairly detailed, while the 'big head'? anime style prevalent in this kind of game is actually quite good, in a Legend of Zelda fashion. Unfortunately, character control is not quite as good, as your characters can often get bogged down in areas where obstacles aren't readily seen. The audio is not too bad, just unremarkable music and a few token sound effects in battle, but nothing to horribly grating or distracting.
Gameplay is extremely easy to grasp, and fairly straightforward. As you continually guide Yoh to new places and the storyline advances, you'll have opportunities to fight random spirits, encounter other shaman, and actually have an enjoyable time of it, despite the clichéd and overused battle format. The combat is turn-based, and is reminiscent of Pokemon, or the first Heroes of Might and Magic games: pick an attack, and your opponent does the same. Initiative factors in who can strike first. Whoever runs out of points first is the loser. Simple, and boring. But, even though there's not much variety in attack/defense or even in innovation, the game's actually quite addicting.
The bread and butter of this game, however, is the ability you have to combine spirits into a completely new spirit creature, with different attack and defensive capabilities. Though there's no rhyme or reason to combinations (explain to me how combining a spirit cat and skeleton to make the Pai-Long Dragon?), the other selling point is the ability to trade spirits from GBA to GBA through the Game Boy connector cable.
However, the game's main drawback is its length. Though it's a fun ride, it's easily finished in a few hours, and it doesn't really follow its own storyline really well. Not to mention the incomplete nature of the game: instead of a payoff, it's obvious that there's a sequel in the works. Not horrible enough to be a Not Recommended, because there is a fun factor in there. Still, this game's more suited to the Saturday morning cartoon crowd than the serious strategy gamer.
Note: This review is based on the Soaring Eagle version of the game. Apparently the storylines and characters remain the same with both versions, the only apparent difference between Eagle and Wolf versions being the types of spirits and combinations available.