Mystaria: The Realms of Lore (Sniper)
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: Micro Cabin
Mystaria shares its engine with Lucienne's Quest, and its artists with the 3DO's outstanding Guardian War-- namely, Masashi Kato as the character designer, with Kimio Kamata and Kenzo Furuya as stage artists. The stages certainly show off the engine, and while a couple of them are beautiful, in general they don't look as refined as Guardian War's. Kato's character art-- which worked so well in the abstract Guardian War universe-- looks a little off when trying to represent more realistic humanoid figures.
Yukiharu Urita-- who was jointly responsible for one of the best video game soundtracks of all time in Guardian War-- returns to provide the score for Mystaria. Guardian War's instrumental rock is replaced with some nice fantasy MIDI work compliments of the Saturn's amazing wave table. The songs fit the game's world excellently, and are appropriately desperate sounding during some of the game's more critical story scenes. Many of them are too short though, and loop far too many times given how lengthy the title's stages are.
As the spiritual successor to Guardian War it's a shame that Yasuhiko Nakatsu, the lead designer for both games, opted to throw out the dungeon crawler mechanics of the first game in lieu of full-time grid-based stages, ala the Shining Force or Fire Emblem series. Fortunately, there is still a lot of novelty present-- characters learn more advanced skills based on which skills they use the most during combat, and many of the ultra creative skills had never been seen in a strategy RPG before, and haven't been since.
Mystaria takes a lot of game design chances-- some of them pay off, and some don't. On the negative side, the title replaces Guardian War's sublime abstract aesthetics with more realism, and it just doesn't really come off. The game also eschews the dungeon crawler-meets-strategy RPG gameplay, and runs into the same pacing problems that typically plague the genre as a result. On the positive side, the truly novel character skills and experimental enemy designs work extremely well together, while the game's off-kilter translation provides constant amusement. It's not as good as Guarian War or Lucienne's Quest, but aspects of it are just as irresistable.