Chantelise is the second title Carpe Fulgur has translated, the first being Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale which was well enough received via critics and with the help of Steam sales, sales soared to 100,000 units sold, at the cost of steep discounts. Even a forum post on Neogaf had a tongue-in-cheek subject title: Recettear + 4 free indie games for $5/£4 on Steam. Despite Andrew Dice’s lamentation of guerrilla marketing Recettear, I do believe it elevated their presence quite a bit as a quality source of translated dōjin games. During my normal rounds of Steam indie game sentry duty, Chantelise popped up and I immediately knew Carpe Fulgur was starting round 2 of their dōjin assault on the Western audience. I reached out to them and they hooked me up with a review copy of Chantelise. How did things turn out? Read on.
Easily the most attractive part of the game. Bright, colorful and a heavy anime style approach makes any screen shot instantly alluring. My favorite aspect of the art style is the use of polygonal environments while most of the NPCs and you are hand animated sprites. It gets really cool when you start to maneuver around and even use the lock-on mechanism or just have the camera circle around you and watch all of the sprites properly align themselves based on the cameras perspective and the direction you are facing.
Hell the only complaint I have regarding the visuals is the screen tearing when in full screen mode. But it can be alleviated when playing in windowed mode. It’s extremely well done, so much so that, like a siren’s call, I let down my critic’s defenses and made myself vulnerable. Never again…
Here is where everything goes to shit. Because of the charming visuals I was literally convincing myself that “it’ll get better.” It never did. I probably subjected myself to two hours of nonstop hope that it was going to get better. I just had to come to grips with reality and except it; Chantelise is tedious. It is so amazingly one dimensional, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing as long as the core mechanic is solid, but it’s stretched out over a 10+ hour game. There are just way too many artificial elements introduced in Chantelise that you wind up with around 3-4 hours of an actual game. Elements like if you die in a “Story Mode” part of the game, you have to start ALL the way back from the beginning. And sure you could just run all the way back to where you need to go, but this isn’t an effective use of my time.
Regarding my one dimensional comment, my reasons for this revolve around the magic system in the game. I was initially amused at the unique magic system – a system in which you must fight monsters so they drop gems of different color which produce different results – especially when you start to combine them by charging your spell. Pretty neat approach. However, the crux of the issue is that you need to melee to do magic. And since you are more likely going to have to fall back to brute force, your stat planning is all but laid out in a linear fashion for you. Unless, of course, you just want to make the game hard for yourself. Yes, making yourself weaker will result in more chops and slashes which results in more chances of getting gems to cast spells, but it isn’t worth it all considering you can only store six gems at a time.
You obviously still have a choice to boost your stats anyway you see fit, but I just couldn’t see wasting resources on improving stats for a skill that is both random and time consuming to activate. Hell, there’s a real problem when you need to be 40% into the game before you can even heal yourself after acquiring three blue stones in a row. The magic system in Chantelise looks good on paper, but in practice just isn’t worth it at all. Especially when you consider the other artificial playtime extending element in the game, money.
In Chantelise there isn’t a notion of xp. Instead, you’ll be grinding and farming cash and treasure to sell so that you can buy new gear and ever important HP boosting items to affect your stats. Each time you buy it effectively doubles the price of the item which means you effectively hit a wall until you finish a boss, so that newer items can come to the market with not such a high price point, but enough that you will be always on the hunt for more cash. There are going to be times when you need to properly equip certain items for a certain situation. And this is where the flow of the combat collides head-on with the equipment management and trial and error portion of the game. The combat in Chantelise is actually pretty well done. The lock-on system works very well and you can cycle between enemies during this lock-on phase, much like you could in Zelda: OoT. There is a dodge mechanism which works very well and blends harmoniously with the lock-on system. But when you need to adjust your equipment to properly handle and dispatch enemies, you have to pause the game, go through your items, sort them and then un-pause the game. It’s a train wreck to an otherwise competent combat scheme. Especially when you consider that if they had only implemented a hot-swap system in place, all of this would have been flowed much better and actually made it that more compelling. I mean, as it was the 360 controller I had hooked up with the game had a full D-Pad unused. So right there was four quick select equipment layouts that could have been used.
My last issue has to do with the bosses. While they are easy after you figure them out, in the vain of Zelda bosses, they have FAR too much health after you figure out the weakness. Pretty much from the second boss onward, even after discovering the weakness to the bosses, those fights last 5+ mins. Again, just another example of dragging out the gameplay.
The picture below illustrates how I configured my sound settings.
Why would you want to have your sound set up like this? As soon as your health gets low enough, you’ll know why. Much like the original Legend of Zelda, when you drop below three hearts an incessant beep alarms you of imminent death. Once again, let me bring up the fact that actually healing yourself to stay alive is completely random. Quite unlike Legend of Zelda for the NES, when you are running low on health, you don’t have a greater chance of getting a heart from a fallen enemy. Again, you will forever be “warned” of your impending death with no chance to actually do anything about it other than the same luck you had at a healthy state.
Thankfully, there are kudos to be given. Easily, the one thing I immediately pick and cringe upon in any translated game is the dubbing. A sincere thank you to Carpe Fulgur for opting out of English dubbing on Chantelise. No doubt they saved money and the overall effect is far better. Voice talent is easy to come by in games. Exceptional voice talent is always much harder to find. Again, pleasantly surprised to find the original Japanese voice track in tow.
A bedtime story oft told to two sisters, Chant and Elise, involving a red moon. The two sisters were always told that if they ever see a red moon outside, never to venture out. Reason being that on these nights, if two sisters were to ever go out, a witch would kidnap them and they’d never return. Lo and behold, one night the moon is red and one of the sisters is compelled to go out into the night. Afraid for the sibling, the other sister follows her. They wake up in the morning and while one sister appears normal, the other had been transformed into a fairy. Amazed and displeased with the turn of events, Chant and Elise set out to find the witch so that they can go back to their normal selves.
And because this pertains to the story elements of the game, I loved the non-intrusive dialog with the townsfolk. Every RPG should do this. Basically, if you start talking to a towns person and they are just repeating the same canned response, you don’t need to acknowledge the dialog with a button press nor does the game halt while in this conversation. You merely have to move along and the dialog will just go away. In a game where I complain about flow, it’s nice to see some streamlining done somewhere.
It’s important to note that while I maybe very critical about this game, it’s because Chantelise teeters so close to being an excellent game but fails in a few spots that drags the entire game with it. Chantelise borrows heavily from the Zelda Franchise. Similar combat lock-on system (which works perfect on a 360 controller), annoying sound when low on health, annoying fairy that follows you around and discovering bosses’ weakness. Hell, even the font is similar during the boss scenes.
In the end, Chantelise is a Japanese Action Role Playing Game whose focus is far too narrow with many rough edges. It’s a shame that the flaws on the outside seem like a simple thing to remedy, yet penetrate so deeply that it creates this monotonous experience.
5/10: Chantelise is a game only fans will love.