According to an online walkthrough, I’m just about halfway through Alundra. And yes, I’m playing with a guide at my side; if I didn’t, I would have given up on the action-adventure Legend of Zelda wannabe sometime back during the saint puzzles in Lars’ Crypt. Or maybe even in the Coal Mine. No doubt about it. But like a bad dream, I’m jumping around and getting ahead of myself. Let’s take it back to the start, just after the awesomely anime cutscene that reinforces the fact that this was most definitely made in the 1990s by Matrix Software, a Japanese video game development company from Tokyo.
The story, while cliché in places, like collecting a bunch of crystals via one dungeon at a time to stop a big baddie, is actually kind of interesting: Alundra, the silent protagonist you control and name of the game, is an elf from the Elna clan of Dreamwalkers. He comes to Inoa after getting shipwrecked, but also because of a recurring dream where a mysterious figure calls him “Releaser” and says he must save the villagers from the evil wizard Melzas. After a while, the people of Inoa begin blaming Alundra for all of the terrible happenings despite his earnest attempts to save them. It’s a pretty straightforward and rather serious story, with some goofy moments and characters now and then, such as Bonaire, the surfer dude and his dream of winning over Sara, a bodacious babe.
I can’t recall if Alundra was ever called “the Zelda killer” though I do know that phrase was used around Dark Cloud, which was not at all a Zelda killer, but did eventually lead to a fantastic sequel that I still need to beat one day, but only after I restart and get all the vital photos along the way. Sorry, got distracted. To get to the point: Alundra is no Zelda killer. Far from it. If anything, it’s a Landstalker/Zelda clone, but much harsher, with subpar controls, and doesn’t give a lick if you can’t figure out its puzzles. Sure, you are traveling across an open world, slashing grass, tossing bombs and pots, charging your sword up for a more powerful attack, and gaining new powers after specific dungeons that can help you advance in the next one, but that doesn’t mean you can toss away your yellowing copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past now that Alundra is in your life. We all know that Charles Caleb Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and I’ll leave it at that.
Just kidding. Alundra is not terrible, but it’s probably one of the more frustrating games I’ve played in a long time, and I really don’t know how people played this back in 1997 without a helpful walkthrough at their side. I’ve had to look up just about every puzzle past the first few dreams Alundra jumps into, and it’s not because I’m a mindless idiot; in fact, I’d like to think I’m fairly smart, intelligent enough to figure out many point-and-click game puzzles. For many of Alundra‘s puzzles, it’s not all about figuring out the solution, but also executing the moves to get the job done. There’s a lot of platforming- and timing-based moves you have to do to open the door to the next room, and unfortunately, Alundra does not move very well. You can only walk in four directions, and the jumping never feels good. Run is assigned to the triangle button, but it is useless because you can’t run and jump–only run. Plus, there’s a lot of depth perception going on in hopping from one column to another, and oftentimes, if you miss a landing, it means starting the jumping all over again, usually from much earlier in the process. That’s my biggest hurdle here: identifying what jumps can and cannot be made.
A couple of negative nitpicks include that while you pick up new armor, like boots and chestplates, these are not visible on Alundra. Fine, I can let that slide. Not every game is about that, but unlike The Legend of Zelda, you can’t even see what gear you have collected in your inventory menu. You just have to remember. It is automatically found and applied, which is disappointing, especially since you get a decent jingle when opening treasure chests and defeating dungeon bosses. I like seeing everything I’ve found along the journey, whether it is useable or not. Fighting enemies is tedious due to Alundra’s inadequate ability to move fast, as well as move and attack at the same time, leading me to avoid combat in most cases.
But despite all that, I’m still really curious. About everything. Just to see what happens next, what special tool Alundra will earn, and so on. It’s probably because I’ve been dreaming myself of playing this game for so long, ever since I read about it in some nascent issue of PSM, but by the time I got around to being able to buy videogames at my leisure, stores no longer carried PS1 games. Flash-forward many, many years, and you can now find Alundra on the PSN for a couple of bucks, and dang it, I really need to know if it was worth all the waiting, all the hoping. Given how much frustration I’ve already encountered eight or nine hours in, I’m thinking no, but one never knows, and I’d rather see it to the end and know for sure then spend some more years living in uncertainty.