This week in Retro or Remake? we’re looking at a title that is particularly close to my heart from the PS One days, The Adventures of Alundra. Released in 1997 in Japan and other territories later in 1998 by Matrix Software and the now defunct Psygnosis, it opened to some great reviews and was in it’s own right, commercially successful.
I remember picking the game up from my local Blockbuster, in the days where you could rent games from a store front. Wow, makes me feel old. Being honest, I picked it up because I liked the box art, I didn’t even consider looking at he back of the casing to know what it was actually about. And thankfully, I was not disappointed.
To give some background about Alundra, it could essentially be considered a genre successor of The Legend of Zelda at around the time it was released. What I mean by that, is that it was practically a Zelda game with a different story and protagonist. Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t diminish how much of a classic this game is, Matrix Software just took something that worked, realised that people liked it, and shaped it in their image. Nothing wrong with that, if it ain’t broke why fix it, right?
So, the game itself was a top-down action adventure, much like earlier iterations of the Zelda series, with a massive emphasis on dungeon crawling and solving puzzles. And some of these puzzles were raw and took an exceptional mixture of concentration, timing and outside the box thinking. This was no breeze through the woods, I remember feeling a little overwhelmed to begin with, and that didn’t really ease up throughout.
The game also had a couple of pretty neat mechanics, like specific types of terrain having an affect on the player (I remember walking through a desert area at one point and god, was it slow). As you made your way through the game and finished dungeons, you’d get access to better equipment to access areas that you previously couldn’t, as well as to revisit areas and find secrets. It was definitely an exploration focused game, and had plenty of charm to that end.
It was also difficult to boot. And that’s very likely an understatement. Alundra was pretty unforgiving, which was not seen that regularly in games of this genre at the time. It was challenging, and oft times unfairly so. But you know what, I absolutely loved it. It’s probably why I enjoy getting served in Dark Souls so much. Glutton for punishment I suppose.
Now you may be thinking, ‘This is all well and good Kyle, but, I’m pretty sure you just explained Zelda to me’, and you might be right. But what Zelda didn’t have was an exceptionally dark story, that get’s much darker as it progresses and considers themes such as death, depression, religion and the nuances of human existence. Yeah, you weren’t expect that were you!
So here it is. Alundra, is an elf from a clan of people called the Dreamwalkers. They have an actual name, but it escapes me at the moment. Alundra has a dream where a mysterious dream person tells him he must make his way to the village of Inoa, to save the villagers from evil. This evil being a nasty demon chap called Melzas. As in all adventures like these, things never go to plan. Poor Alundra’s ship gets caught in a storm and sent to the bottom of the deep dark ocean. Credits roll. The end.
Alundra washes up on shore pretty worse for wear. As fortune would have it, a villager named Jess finds him and rescues him, taking him back to the village, where Alundra is set to rest. Now we know Alundra is a Dreamwalker, so he can basically enter peoples dreams. And it seems the villagers are having problems with dreams, and being murdered. So go figure, Alundra arrives at the right time. But this isn’t your typical hero story, the villagers realise these nasty dreams started when Alundra turns up. So for the most part to begin with, they spend their time blaming you for their troubles. Bloody ungrateful if you ask me.
Now in typical fashion, I’m not going to fully explain the story to you, because it’s great and should be experienced to be fully enjoyed. What I will say is that for a 2D game of this nature, I got quite attached to some of the characters, and boy did it hurt when I couldn’t save them despite my best efforts. Mentioning no names, but one in particular hit me really hard. You’ll know what I mean if you ever play it.
The game was pretty adult by story standards, and it’s a pretty poignant one at that. And this is what set it truly apart from other Zelda-likes of the time. Yes, it had your typical go through dungeon, unlock cool tool to progress formula. It was pretty grim, but such a dark and enjoyable experience.
The intro movie was pretty exceptional too. There was a full rendition of anime scenes to the background of some pretty cool music. You should check it out on youtube if you get chance, just for that alone. The setting was pretty run of the mill for this type of game, but it had some pretty clever level design, and the puzzles were enigmatic but super satisfying to solve. To add to that, it had some pretty excellent music in it’s soundtrack. Varying from ambient to just outright quality, it made the entire experience really great.
So let’s move on the actual question then guys and gals.
Alundra was reasonably successful. It wasn’t Legend of Zelda successful, but few games can claim that moniker. It definitely had a sort of cult status as a classic, and made the genre accessible to players outside of the scope of Nintendo. Does this warrant a remake? I don’t know, I’m not the decision maker. But I know what i’d say if it were up to me.
After experiencing Breath of the Wild, and even earlier games like Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Windwaker (we all the know the list continues) it’s hard not to consider this a viable option for remake. Gameplay could be improved on such a phenomenal level, that it goes without saying that you could take something old and make it new and shiny. And it’s definitely deserving of that.
What made Alundra unique, was to do away with the idea of being a sword and shield wielding hero of light that vanquishes the big nasty and saves the princess. It was about exploring the human psyche, and understanding that at our core, we’re all pretty fragile and life isn’t easy. And that sometimes no matter what we do, it isn’t always enough to save what we love. We can’t always be the hero, the world doesn’t work like that.
Alright that was pretty deep. It also shows us that the best way to deal with physical trauma is to bash green slimes and lizard men. Balance restored.
In all honesty, I can’t see it ever getting a remake. Matrix Software have moved on to mobile applications and despite its acclaim, it’s still a little too niche to be the kind of success that a remake needs to be before consideration. Despite that, I’m giving it my full approval for Remake. Simply because, it’s just a great game that deserves a second chance at captivating peoples hearts.
Title: The Adventures of Alundra
Platform: Playstation One
Release: 1997 [JP], 1998 [NA, EU]
Developer: Matrix Software
Publisher: Psygnosis [Defunct]