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I've been wanting to get a "new" RPG for the Gameboy DS for months now, but there's been nothing in the "under 1,000 yen" range at any of the used shops that I've been frequenting that I had any interest in. I'd seen Tales of the Tempest at the Book Off near the apartment, but I didn't care that much for the cover art, or the fact that it's part of the Tales series. I finally broke down and picked it up for 500 yen, figuring that I wouldn't be out that much money if it turned out to be a bad game. Tempest came out from Dimps in 2006, and was released by Namco Bandai. Turns out it's an ok game for the money I paid for it.
The story revolves around a young boy named Caius Qualls. He has been raised by a foster father in a small village, along with his friend, Rubia Natwick. One day, some human soldiers come into the village looking for Lycanths (shape-changers able to take on animal form). Caius' foster father is revealed to be a Lycanth and is taken prisoner. Rubia's mother and father try to confront the soldiers, but are killed for their efforts. Caius learns that he himself is a Lycanth, and he has to go on the run with Rubia to try to rescue his foster father and discover what had happened to his real parents. Along the way they encounter 3 other characters that enter the party - Tilkis Barone, a wanderer looking into a mystery plaguing her country; Forest Ledoyen, another Lycanth acting as Tilkis' escort; and Arria Ekberg, a human priestess that doesn't condone the killing of Lycanths. Eventually, we learn that 100 years ago, the Lycanth civilization had been very power and wise, but had found technology that was beyond their control. It wiped out most of the population, and control of the planet was given to the then-weaker race of humans. Now, the humans are in charge, and they blame the Lycanths for all the world's ills and are trying to eradicate them completely. (Incidentally, the Church in Tempest is based somewhat on the Christian line. That seems to be a common thread in a number of Japanese RPGs...)
(World map, in the snow mountains.)
So, you get 5 characters to choose from, but you can only have 3 in the party at one time. Caius and Forest are weapons users (sword and axe), while Rubia is a magic user, Arria is a cleric, and Tilkis is more of a sniper. I never bothered playing with Arris and Tilkis, so I don't know if they have any particular strengths. The advantage of using Caius and Forest is that they act as a buffer to keep the enemy busy, while Rubia sits on the back line and casts area-wide attack spells and healing. You can only control one character during the battle, no switching, and I found that the game AI was too slow in getting Rubia to heal the party when it was needed. Therefore, I spent the entire game controlling Rubia, and that sped things up a lot.
(Real-time battle screen.)
As with most RPGs, you find money, food, items and equipment in chests and as item drops after defeating monsters. Money is pretty plentiful, and there's not that much to spend it on in the stores in the towns. Mainly, your goal is to amass 9,999,999 g to get the title of Treasure Hunter. (By the end of the game, I only got 1,600,000 g, and gave up on the idea of attaining that title.) There are two "mini-games" that you can play with some of the items - cooking and weapon buffing. With cooking, you find recipes and ingredients, and then you try to "cook" various dishes like hamburgers and curry rice. Each recipe has a requirement, such as moving the stylus up and down, left and right, or in a circle, a certain number of times in 10 seconds. Failure to meet this requirement means losing the ingredients you committed to the dish. If you're successful, you can eat the dish as long as you're not in a battle, and it acts like any regular hit point and spell point recovery item. But, you have to complete a fixed number of battles before eating another dish, making cooking kind of a waste of time, since you can simply buy normal recovery items in the stores. The other mini-game allows you to apply elemental items to your weapons to make them stronger, change them into other weapons, and add status effects. You can put 5 items on one weapon, but they have to be of the same element or status effect, and the more points you add, the better. As an example, adding a Red Jewel (worth 16 points, and not easy to obtain) and a Poison Gel (4 points) to a sword makes it a poison flame sword with maxed hit points. You can add three Poison Flakes (1 point each) to fill the remaining three slots, if you wish. If you make a mistake, or want to clean the weapon and try a different combination, you can use a Rune Bottle.
(Cooking screen. Grab the red circle with the stylus and move it as directed.)
Combat is a bit different with this game. The battle field is laid out like a bowling alley to the left and right, with three "lanes". Your characters and the enemies are positioned in these lanes and will only run left and right within "their" lane. If someone is in your way, they'll block you until you change lanes by double-pressing the up or down direction buttons. You control one character while the other two are on auto. If you like, you can put the leader on auto, too, and just let the game play against itself. What I found helped a lot was when I got one accessory that replenished spell points every couple seconds, and another that cut SP usage in half. Additionally, you recover 10% of your max SP at the end of the battle. As long as I paced myself, I could easily mass-attack the enemy with Rubia, do healing, and still be at max SP after the fighting ended. That makes fights go much, much smoother. One more thing - you get "titles" during the game for reaching various milestones. The one mentioned above was for amassing money. There are also titles for X number of battles; 10-, 20- and 40-hit combos; reaching level 60; getting to certain points in the game; etc. You can only have one title assigned per character at a time, so I had +20 to ATK and +20 to HP for Caius and Forest, and a reduction in spell casting time for Rubia. There were only 2 times that the party got wiped out during the entire game, and that was because I was still learning how to play it. After that, I only had maybe one or two "scares".
(World map, preparing to enter a ruined village.)
Overall, Tempest is a decent game. I didn't bother using 95% of the equipment, items, titles or recipes simply because I didn't need to. The music is good and the story is ok. There's no way to skip conversations, which is a shame, but I do like the in-game artwork. The tiling on the landscapes occasionally showed seams, marking this as an early game (since the programmers fixed this problem later on). I didn't listen to the voice acting so I can't comment on that. However, this is one of those games where you absolutely have to have the walkthrough to finish it. One reason is that there are hidden items in rooms in the towns, and you have to be in just the right spot for the game to give the items to you, which occasionally include things you need to progress the story. Missing the correct positioning means you never even know the item was there. Another is that you have to camp out at specific locations at specific points in the story to get conversations that also progress the game. Missing one of these conversations can also mean missing out on the only optional dungeon - the EX Dungeon. There's no New Game+ feature, so when you finish the game you just get the ending bit, the programmer credits, an epilogue and then go back to the start screen. If you want to keep playing as long as possible, you've GOT to unlock EX Dungeon (literally - you're given keys to the entrance, and the 10th and 20th floors). You need to play the EX Dungeon before you start the final boss battle. The battles are kind of slow and drawn out, but EX has 30 floors, and at the bottom levels are the best weapons and armor in the game. Additionally, since you're fighting so much, when you do get to the bottom you'll have leveled up to 75+ for each of your main characters. This really speeds up the battle with the final story boss.
(Descending into the EX dungeon.)
I have three complaints that I do have to mention. First, the game locked up on me twice - once when in the middle of a fixed conversation and again when trying to switch from night to day. Both times required powering off, and losing an hour or so of unsaved gameplay. Second, there was a website in Japan that provided codes that are needed to unlock weapons and skills in the game. You get a code from the game for achieving certain milestones (number of battles, beating a specific enemy), and you take that code to the website to get a reply code that you type back into the game to do the unlock. Well, that website went offline in 2007, and the codes are specific to your Gameboy machine, meaning that about 20 items and upgrades aren't available to you anymore. And third, there's no real replay value. You beat the game, that's it. The EX dungeon is ok the first time through, after that though it's boring and there's no reason to keep playing.
I like Japanese RPGs, and Tales of the Tempest is a typical old-school RPG. It's not a perfect game, but for 500 yen ($4.50 USD), it's a good way to while away a few hours. Recommended if you can get it cheap.