The Adventures of Alundra, or just plain Alundra was one of my first “retro” purchases for my then-newly acquired Playstation 1 and it remains one of my most memorable and exciting experiences on the console. Alundra is a rare type of game – an early 2D Playstation 1 game, it closely resembles A Link to the Past with a dose of Final Fantasy. The top-notch localisation of Alundra’s eerie story combined with well-done Zelda-inspired puzzles and mechanics makes for a rewarding adventure. Alundra must’ve seemed an anomaly back in 1997, a throwback game completely out of step with the 3D revolution. The 3D era was just starting and Sony were among 3D’s biggest champions, and here was a 2D game on a Sony platform long before 2D games were old enough to the point they became “cool” again. Returning to it in 2014 though Alundra is a beautiful 2D game, with graphics similar to the best looking late-era Super Nintendo RPGs, such as Tales of Phantasia, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.
Unlike Alien Hominid (see my previous post), Alundra is not a carbon copy of its biggest influence, Zelda. It borrows much, but it does so selectively, and it adds its own character and charm to create a very different experience with similar mechanics. In particular, its high difficulty, long length and intriguing story distinguish it from the Zelda series.
The story is about the enigmatic Alundra, who travels to a small village as the result of a dream. Alundra’s unique ability is that he can enter people’s dreams, Freddy Kreuger style. It soon becomes necessary for Alundra to use his talent after villagers start falling into an inexplicable form of sleep sickness. Past this original set up, the story develops along fairly interesting lines, while the dynamics between the village inhabitants are often surprisingly dark and ambiguous for a videogame. There are a number of references to Nietzsche in the story, and not in a name-droppey or pretentious way. Beyond the dark story, the localisation by Working Designs makes each and every interaction with a character entertaining, and at times genuinely funny.
The structure of the game strays from the Zelda formula too, with a mixture of dreams, dungeons, overworld and light RPGish busywork in the village. The variation and unpredictability helps here, especially because the game is so long. If I remember rightly it took me about 30 hours to complete, and that was without going much into optional sidequests such as looking for Pieces of Heart- err, sorry “Life Vessels”. The game does overstay its welcome, but thankfully not by much. There is very little filler, although I regularly cursed the more arduous dungeons. While things vary, the puzzle intensive environments (nightmares, dungeons) are seriously stacked with challenging puzzles. At times it feels repetitive, when you beat one particularly tough puzzle to enter the next room only to face another equally hard puzzle, and beating that one gives way to another, and another… if I sound like I’m complaining, well, it’s only a half-complaint, since the puzzles are of a high quality, and some of them genuine brain teasers.
In order to raise that half complaint to a three quarters complaint, I must mention that the game requires at times pixel-perfect platforming. The game seems to be aware of its own difficulty though in this respect, and rarely if ever forces you to make challenging jumps over bottomless pits.
Alundra falls into a difficult to categorise space. It suffers from a few minor flaws – its overworld for instance is a bit bland and difficult to navigate at times – but the game is almost uniformly of a very high quality, with stand-out moments throughout. It is, I believe, a minor classic, and well worth seeking out by any fan of RPGs or the Zelda series. It is somewhat reminiscent of Okami in the way it out-Zeldas Zelda in certain respects. There’s now a definite semi-tradition of excellent and mostly niche Zelda clones: Alundra, Beyond Good and Evil, Okami, and the Darksiders games. Alundra and Beyond Good and Evil together also form a subcategory of Nietzsche-inspired Zelda clones.
Putting the question of the all important Nietzsche-inspired-Zelda-clone canon aside for one damn minute (!) Alundra is an excellent game, cheaply available in its original form and also available for the PS3 (and possibly PS4…?) through the online Playstation Store.
There is also the matter of Alundra 2… I have not played it, primarily because it enjoys a far lesser critical reception than the first game. The second game is in 3D, lacks a story connection to the first game, and was not localised by Working Designs. So, I have no plans to right now, but perhaps one day I will pick it up. There are certainly plenty more copies of it floating around on ebay than its predecessor.
I only have one remaining question to do with Alundra. The load screen, where you select your game file, has you controlling a ginger haired boy/girl in a sort of library area. The books are save slots which you use to load the game. But the mystery of who this person is is never revealed nor explained. The impostor even uses different controls to Alundra – instead of the common X, this tiny segment insists you hit circle to progress the dialogue. Really weird.
Well, that was my experience with Alundra in a nutshell, and this is my love letter to it, several years after the fact. I would wholeheartedly recommend it, somewhat forgotten Zelda clone gem that it is. Go forth ye yonder readers, maketh thine bedding in Alundra and laze upon it (just play it dammit).