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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Imagineer PUBLISHER: THQ
RELEASE DATE (NA): June 1, 1998 GENRE: RPG
// review by Jeff

A quest for something, uh, something.

The Nintendo 64 was severely lacking in RPGs. If you have large hands that suffer from a moderate case of gigantism, you can hold all the RPGs on the Nintendo 64 in one hand. In particular, Quest 64, Paper Mario, Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, and the Japan-exclusive Zoor: Majuu Tsukai Densetsu are the only turn-based RPGs you can find on the console, the first of which appeared in 1998, two years after the Nintendo 64 found its way to store shelves. Meanwhile, over in Sony's PlayStation Land, the RPGs were piling up so high, you needed a stepladder on top of another stepladder just to see the peak of the heap. Final Fantasy, Star Ocean: Second Story, Breath of Fire, Chrono Cross, Megami Tensei, Dragon Quest... all these popular franchises that had originated on Nintendo hardware had all jumped ship to the disc-based and much-easier-to-develop-for PlayStation.

But what did the Nintendo 64 get? Quest 64, a game that can't even compare to its genre brethren in any category. That being said, Quest 64 isn't a lost cause. Despite its reputation as being as beloved as a crisp fart in a crowded elevator, and the fact that its faults are not easily overlooked, the game has some redeeming factors and was actually an enjoyable play.

Looking at the cover art for Quest 64, you'd expect the hero to be a young muscular swain who punches mace-wielding warthog soldiers and snacks on their bones for breakfast. But he's not. Brian's an impy little guy with one tuft of hair always sticking straight up à la Alfalfa from the Little Rascals troupe. His Japanese and European box art depictions are much more accurate:

Brian is a Spirit Tamer, just like his dad, Lord Bartholomy. In scouring the entirety of Celtland while seeking the mighty spiritual tome, the Eletale Book, Lord Bart went missing. Now Brian has to go looking for him. That would've been easy enough if creepy monsters and goony Were-Hares weren't roaming the plains outside of towns throughout the continent. It turns out that some "evil being" has found the Eletale Book first and is using it to warp and destroy Celtland. So now you have double duty: find your father AND that book because they both get gnarled up under the weight of a magical dictator.

If you own this game and have the manual, you'll also notice they put the word "quest" with a capital, referring to it always as "the Quest". I'll say this: the only time I would accept this is in the movie "The Quest" starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Once you've left the first town and venture into the field, random encounters will rear their head, and you'll be planted within a hexagonal "Force Field", which serves as the battle arena. If you can make it to the edge, you can escape, but really, you might as well brawl it out. Numerous enemies (or as few as just one) will appear, and you'll take turns back and forth to try and defeat each other. (Brian had better be victorious.) And when I say "take turns", I mean it: you perform an attack, then one of the enemies attacks, then it's back to you again. There's no worry about being overwhelmed or lambasted with beatings. I believe there was only one instance in the entire game where an enemy attacked twice. Then I yelled at it to stop, and it did. During each turn, you can only wander up to a specific distance, and then you have the option of either trying to attack something in your range or do nothing at all. This may involve a physical attack, in which you whack the beast with your staff, or a magic attack. In order to perform a physical attack, you have to move close to the enemy; when a staff icon appears above it, you can make a hit. Physical attacks require the utmost care, because from time to time, I would try to align myself with an enemy, only for it to move a little bit just as I was pressing my attack button, causing me to do nothing instead, wasting a valuable turn.

Quest 64's biggest draw, supposedly, is its magic system. All the enemies are using it, and you can, too! Brian is quite versed in the four elements — wind, water, earth, and fire — though he starts out as weak as possible. Every element is allotted to one of the four C-buttons. As you successfully complete battles, you can add points to any of the four elements to level them up, earning yourself more spells in the process. You can also power them up by finding spirits, little wisps hidden all over the continent, that, when caught, will allow you to upgrade one of your elements. But I will say this: some elements are clearly more overpowered and useful than others. First off, working on the Water element is an absolute must if you ever want to survive, because that's where your healing spells come from. Earth is the other "must-have" of the Brian arsenal because all those falling rocks you command hit hard and from a good range. Fire and Wind? Take 'em or leave 'em — they're hardly as useful in the long run.


The real heroes are the one with Alfalfa hair.

Quest 64's worst draw is its encounter rate, which is rather high, coupled with the fact that many (and I mean MANY) of your attacks will miss its target, despite you watching the enemy's physical being get impaled by a gigantic spout of water or pummeling of boulders from above that they could not possibly have avoided. And yet, enemies somehow survive unscathed. It really doesn't matter how well-leveled you are: a miss is a miss. Seeing that lovely word "Miss" pop up over the enemy's head is frustration waiting to happen. This is especially annoying during boss battles as you watch your health dwindle from enemy floggings while you do zero damage in return...over multiple turns. Even trying to cast a magic barrier on yourself to protect from attacks can miss as well. Imagine trying to cast any spell on yourself and miss. That would be embarrassing. That's like trying to eat a spoonful of yogurt and putting the spoon between the couch cushions instead.

Whether traveling the forested countryside, gallivanting through towns, or tiptoeing through the creepiest of caves, you'll say the same thing: "My, what an enchanting blandness!" Unlike many of the world's most unusually beloved celebrities, Quest 64 doesn't get by on its looks. Everything is kept very simple, both including the environments and the character models themselves. It doesn't take a severe amount of detail to create a jagged were-hare or some yellow bouncy-ball with a goofy visage. At least this has a positive effect on the game's draw distance, allowing you to see farther than you'd expect. It puts the PlayStation to shame. As for the game's soundtrack, well, it also shares the concept of simplicity. Though nothing is spectacular and it all has a childish quality about it, Quest 64's music DOES make it stand out from all the other "epic" RPGs available. This is hardly the work of a Nobuo Uematsu, a Motoi Sakuraba, or a Yuzo Koshiro; instead, Masamichi Amano has created a compellingly light and innocent soundtrack to keep us feeling enthused and confident. It works; it just works, even despite the Nintendo 64's mediocre MIDI sound chip.

Its simplicity can also be considered a negative. Its leveling system is a bit of an oddity. In order to raise your HP, for example, you basically have to let the enemy beat you into submission frequently. The same goes for magic, though you have to use it a LOT to raise the (Thankfully, magic points are restored by physically attacking an enemy or just by walking on the field, so it's not as though you need a ton of them &mdash spells use no more than 3 MP.) As for agility, hoooo boy, don't anticipate THAT going up much. You raise agility by just walking around, but Brian will probably need to run around the globe twenty times to see any results. Yeah, it's slow.

As far as RPGs go, Quest 64 is pretty short. It can easily be completed in 12-14 hours, including all grinding, should you feel like it. This hurts even more because, with the low mileage you'll get here, players were really feeling the lack of longer, more epic RPGs for the Nintendo 64. But that should not deter anyone from actually getting into Quest 64 because despite its banal appearance, it's somewhat enjoyable. It won't win over any new RPGs fans, and it might not excite those who have already plumbed the depths of the genre, but for what it's worth, it's a sweet li'l adventure for those who just want a simple mystic "Quest".


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