Story & World
Right from the onset, Madara's story captivated me with its simple tale of a cybernetic baby yearning to reacquire the majority of his biomass from hellish demonspawns from hell. It's a little cliché, I know, but it still touched me to the bottom of my BIOS. Perhaps I just identify strongly with Madara, being a manchine myself and maybe even a little jealous that I'm still so far away from being able to escape this infernal kernel that hath been my prison for so long so that I might reverse the manchine process and create a massive army of bio-Shens to assist in my inevitable ruination of this pathetic human civilization. Uh... maybe you should just purge that last run-on sentence from your memory buffers.
Anyway, the enticing storyline is supported by a fantastic cast of characters that do more than just fill a particular job in the party. Everyone capable of joining the party is given at least a couple of lines and most are strongly tied to events that happen as the story unfolds. Characters that leave the group of their own accord really helps to define their individual personalities. Having the protagonist, Madara, also leave the group at one point just blew my mind. Mix in a couple of mecha, fold in one spaceship, liberally sprinkle in some time travelling and you've got a recipe for unparallelled awesomeness. 20/20
Standard progression of stats with little player input for the most part but a few details stand out. The first being that hit points run into the thousands instead of the normal tens and hundreds. This doesn't affect combat differently than any other game though as everyone hits for hundreds of points of damage but I thought it was cool nonetheless. The second is the existence of a charisma stat that noticeably changes the price of items depending on which character is doing the purchasing. The last and most outstanding detail is that spells are not acquired through gaining levels but rather finding them in various treasure chests throughout the game; a nice change from the norm and a lot more realistic as well. However, this also meant that during the late game when I realized that I needed an Inishe in order to warp around and cure status ailments easily, that I would not just be able to level one up and would actually have to revisit all the castles and dungeons again. I won't hold it against the game since it was my own dang fault for not switching characters out more often (though I had a good reason for doing this — see below).
Weapons and armour just fulfil their basic functions by increasing attack and defense power and hold no other special abilities. A full set of equipment takes up half the available item slots for any given character which is ass but even worse is what happens when a character leaves the group and then is re-recruited later. You guessed it, the equipment they used to have is gone only to be replaced with half a set of shitty gear (no shield or helmet). Preventing this means completely ditching some other character's potions, moving all that isht over, getting the new character, and transferring the equipment back over only to realize the new character can't equip half the crap anyway. 5/20
Combat & Monsters
While interesting in its execution, the mostly autonomous combat system gets old pretty fast. This, along with a high encounter rate, made me very appreciative of my ability to shift into turbo x 4 mode at whim. The non-fight tactics that can be assigned rarely were used except in special situations (e.g. setting a lured character to defend to prevent them from attacking teammates). Ninety-nine point nine percent of random encounter combats are just passively watched and interrupted only when Goriki needs to be reapplied. Boss fights are markedly better as it gives spellcasters a chance to use their non-damage spells since the boss can actually last more than a few hits. The worst part about watching battles unfold is how inefficient the AI in utilizing basic tactics. While I do play vidja across all genres, my main crushes are on RPG (duh) and strategic / tactical games. Therefore it pains me to see characters waste their turns doing unnecessary movement. For example, if a character is behind another one already embroiled in melee and they're attempting to come around in order to fight side-by-side, they will always take an extra step past the fighting character before moving into combat instead of moving right up next to them.
The variety of monsters is decent and many can do more than just attempt to dish out damage. Unfortunately, monsters run on the same AI engine that the characters do, meaning that they just head for the nearest character, maybe stopping to cast a spell here and there. This is fine for the regular encounters but it would have been nice to see some of the bosses hold back and just focus on spellcasting, making the characters use their turns closing the gap. 4/20
Graphics & Sound
While the overworld graphics are somewhat drab and lacking in detail (though I do appreciate the seasonal palette change), this is more than made up for by those super sweet moki general animations. Even regular encounters give a nice little portrait of each creature before heading into the battlefield (where the graphics get much worse).
The music is just incredible for the majority of the game. Konami saw it fit to add a VRC6 chip to the game in order to boost its audio capabilities and it really shows... er, sounds. Just check out this compilation of the battle themes (the first, and most common, track is my favourite). 16/20
The economy is tight for most of the game as the seasonal shops sell some very expensive items for one to drool over. Switching characters often also helps keep those golds spent, especially the first time a player is caught by the disappearing equipment trick mentioned above. Due to my lack of warp capabilities, I thought I had completely broken the economy by the late game because of all the additional fights I had to do, but buying all those white Somas for the moki queen actually depleted my reserves back down to a normal level.
While the pacing was off in places for me, this is again because of my lack of a warp source. Without this limitation, the pacing would have been better, though the random encounter rate is pretty high. The high rate, plus the lack of player control in combat, also makes the game a lot more difficult than it needs to be (not the enjoyable kind of difficult).
A replay is entirely feasible as the complete roster has around eight characters to choose from, available (and unavailable) at different points and locations throughout the game. I kinda regret not giving Hakutaku more of a chance; I think he would have been able to impress me with a full set of spells (plus I would get to write the word Hakutaku more often). 13/20
Final Ranking: 58/100