Monday, November 12, 2012

Earth Seeker (Wii) - Impressions

Earth Seeker, developed by Crafts and Meister, is a Wii action game that is, in simplest explaination, a clone of the massively successful Monster Hunter games. There's a hub town where you accept quests, build weapons and food, and an off-branch of the town where you employ some rather alcohol-saavy, pint-sized creatures called Gajiin to assist you. Gameplay is handled by going out into an apocalyptic Earth and battling your way through highly-challenging monsters that don't support HP bars, finding treasures of the Earth-past as well as mountains of materials, and then returning home, cashing in, and doing it all again. In truth, this game really is a clone amongst several others, but like 2010's MH-clone (not to mention overwhelmingly underrated) title, Gods Eater Burst, Earth Seeker does a lot to not only differentiate itself from its idol, but is also a downright solid videogame that is just a ton of fun to play, language understood or not.

Language Barrier
Earth Seeker is very playable, and there are several hours of gameplay before any "required" sleuthing within the more complex game world becomes apparent. While the brief introductory moments may cause the less-creative of import gamers some confusion (which you can remedy by checking out the First Hour Gameplay Video here on Youtube), from there on it's pretty much blind, enjoyable sailing.
It's worth mentioning that I have a miniscule knowledge of Japanese writing, but that, with Earth Seeker, the little bit of it didn't do a thing (for those wondering, Earth Seeker does not have Furigana outside of the instruction booklet). I've been playing completely blind, but in the 8 hours spent I have not hit a single hiccup or aimless frustration, and this game has been one of those surprising imports that just really succeeds by its gameplay alone. Accepting quests is handled by a single desk which reveals a list of lined objectives, and from there its only a short run to the huge ship in the middle of the hub-town which transport you to the location of the quest. The gameplay I can assure to be understood within minutes, and the controls are basic and singular. Knowing when a quest is complete is also unanimous, as either a large golden font will collapse into the center of the screen, or your tough-nut Gajiin will successfully drop a collected part onto the ship (more on this below).
But it isn't a perfect import. The meat of Earth Seeker comes down to collecting materials, customizing your weapons, and managing your team of Gajiin. While the former two are more blatant and easier to grasp, the latter is a downright pest, and this is a serious issue. While you will be neither forced nor stalled due to the complex tablet of upgrading and structuring your team of Gajiin, it's undeniable that you'll be nagged, subconsciously at least, and the frustration of not knowing how or if you're actually maximizing your team is pretty bothersome. The little guys play an important role in your battle abilities (they alone can utilize elements), and not knowing how to boost them appropriate to your ability will be an enlarging tumor as the game progresses.
Still, the language barrier, as far as I've been slumped by it, comes down strictly to your team. There's no halt to actually playing the game though, and the enjoyment of it is never hampered by the language barrier. This is a highly accessible import title, and certainly surpasses the bar of "possible."

There are two aspects of Earth Seeker's gameplay; the peaceful Hub-world (which is accompanied by a wonderful, sleep-inducing melody) where you accept quests, organize your things, upgrade weapons and manage your team, and the vast, dangerous ruins where you will be battling monsters and pillaging the loot randomly strewn about.
Let's talk about the battle first.
Earth-Seeker is an action-title with a Time-Stop battle system. When you are out in the ruins and come across a baddie, pressing the A button pauses the in-game world and brings up a combat menu. Here you select which available attacks to use, then initiate them with a press off the Z button. Which attacks you can choose are subject to the amount of Action Points (AP) stored, which is shown by a series of red plates on the bottom of the screen. Each attack, be it a blazing melee strike by your main character or a spell from your accompanying Gajiin, takes a certain amount of AP, and not having sufficient AP renders the attack-option inoperable. While this style of gameplay may seem like it would disrupt the gameplay heavily, it's quite the opposite. While the first operation may have you carefully analyzing and choosing your attacks, it quickly molds into a very fluent, hasty process that never feels as though it's halting the action. In defense of the pausing occurrence though, I can't stress enough how important your choosing of attacks actually are; when you select a melee attack, your character withdraws her blade and marches right up to the monster, then starts swinging. While choosing constant melee attacks is alright for the little guys, it'll show to be a one-way ticket to Game Over when you're up against a far more hurtful, if not larger, badass. Having the combat menu is a surefire way of the game knowing what you want; if you decide to stampede the monster with blows and die, then it is entirely your fault, a quality that, while damning, is well-sought and praise worthy.
Other aspects of the battlefield would be the variety of missions, which are quite selective. While there are plenty of "Kill the Big One and get his Treasure" missions, there also "Slay X amount of this creature," "Get the Treasure (Which involves finding a teleporter which brings you into a big, cyber-like Freight chamber)" and "Find the Spaceship part." The first three are practically the same; explore the area until you win. The latter though is unique, and worth discussing. While I don't know exactly why you're building a spaceship (which you can check and watch it's growth at the Hub-Town), the rarer missions require you to head out to the field and find a large segment of the dismantled ship lying around. This mission-type brings to mind the videogame Pikmin; when you find the piece, your Gajiin will circle it, lift it up, then head back for the ship (entrance/exit) in the level, completely defenseless and unable to support you. While carrying this, you're assured a plethora of monsters to show up and try and stop them, and it's up to you, the lone melee fighter, to prevent them from knocking out your creatures. It's a tough mission type, but without a doubt edge-of-the-seat inducing and downright fulfilling when its mastered.

The majority of the game though takes place in the hub-town, Panga. It's a clean, vacant place that is readily adorned with a bakery, weapons shop, storage robot, quest desk, art museum, spaceship works and a vast tomb mostly occupied by a lonesome old woman named Rosa who is in a huge metal suit accompanied with still, liquid chambers reminiscent of the Mako Chambers from Final Fantasy 7. There's also the grassy underworld of the Gaijin, accessed by taking a floating branch. Again, I can't read the script, so I really don't have a damn clue why for any of this.
For language-ignorant, interactive purposes, you'll mostly be obliging three portions of the hub-town; the quest desk, the storage/save robot, and the weapons desk. While the Storage Robot may require some trial-and-error to understand, the actions of these places is quickly recognized, and whether you're choosing to upgrade your blade or take on another quest is pretty apparent. Other places, like the Item Shop and Spaceship Works, are probably going to be downright confusing and most likely ignored, but the Art Mueseum is a readily available place worth checking up on. The main objective of each Quest is, when not to fetch the rare Spaceship part, to acquire an artwork, which is modeled in the golden "Complete" text when you finish a mission. These artworks are Earth's, the real Earth's, best, and be them the statue of David or Van Gogh's Starry Night, the historic artworks acquired from the main quests are then stored in a 7-story cylinder located in Panga, which you are free to view and grow pensive over whenever you like.
The land of the Gajiin I can't actually explain, because this has been the single article of Earth Seeker that I just cannot get a grasp on in any way, shape or form. There isn't much to it either; a building where you manage your Gajiin (hiring/firing, equipment, Rank and skills, etc:), and an ominous hole where bright yellow eyes stare at you and ask you for... something. I dunno; I can't understand it. Whatever is going on down there thought, it's here that there isn't a single "click" that will give you results of imminent activity, not unless you spend some serious, concentrated time out in the battlefield figuring out just what exactly you did. I won't muddle you with my "thoughts" here, as quite simply I just cannot grasp a single of the Gajiin area's offers, but it's probably safe to say you'll avoid it for as long as possible.

Worth to Import?
Earth Seeker is a highly practical import title, and I was incredibly surprised by how readily playable it has been. I can't stress this enough, even for the Japanese-absent, and that even though it bares the scope of a console title, I believe anybody with just a pinch of patience can get a solid amount of playtime and enjoyment here.
There are some things to consider though. As of this blog, Earth Seeker has only been out for little over a year, which is a far cry from labeling it an ever-import title. Localization takes time, especially when Earth Seeker's distributor, Kadokawa Games, doesn't have a western agent. Xseed has also already expressed an interest in Earth Seeker, and their upcoming localization, The Last Story, may very well decide for them the choice on whether or not they consider the Wii a worthwhile expense for localizations. On the pessimistic side though, Earth Seeker only sold 5000 copies on its release week, so if Xseed's intrigue falls through it's highly possible no other company will choose to take a chance on this title.
As a game currently available only in another language though, I do consider Earth Seeker a grand example of an import possible, will really give you a lot of fun alongside a surprisingly low amount of frustration, and is one smooth, cool ride until the more demanding aspects of the game take mental hold. I've had a terrific time experiencing Earth Seeker so far, and am enthusiastic to get back to exploring the strange and fascinating world within.

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