The Adventures of Alundra (PS1) review

alundra ps1 1

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.

alundra ps1 village

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.

alundra ps1 5

Ha ha ha ha… I don’t get it.

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.

alundra ps1 8

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.

alundra ps1 7

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.

alundra 2

Alundra 2: I know I said I wouldn’t complain about graphics ever again…but it just has to be said: *takes one look at Alundra 2 screenshot and vomits* *sees resemblance between own vomit and screenshot*

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).

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4 comments

  1. Undertakerpt

    Nice review/article/watevs. Alundra is one if my fave games of all time, due to it’s pleasing graphics, smooth mechanics, intriguing storyline, brain raping puzzles and last but not least, absolutely beautiful soundtrack. If I was I millionaire I’d hire an orchestra to recreate these tunes.

    The boy in the loading screen…. Who knows, possibly another dreamwalker in their local library, reading up of the great hero that was alundra, the character could also represent you, the player.

    • veryverygaming

      Hey, thanks for responding 🙂

      Hmm, yes, a dreamwalker sounds like a good theory. I wonder if it was maybe explained in the Japanese version but Working Designs took it out for some reason. After all they had a habit of fiddling with the games they localised.

      As for the soundtrack, I’m intrigued because it didn’t really stand out to me at the time – are there any tunes from the game you’d recommend? The only song I found memorable was the Inoa Village theme – I love how that manages to be funky and chilled out at the same time.

      It’s annoying, I had to delete my Alundra save file recently to make space for other PS1 games. If I still had my save I would load it up and visit the little music hut thing you unlock. I thought that was a cool idea, it has a lot more character than just a sound test in the options menu.

  2. rouju

    Thanks for the review dude. I named my son after this game and I just want to walking down a memory lane and I find this. Thanks for shares the same excitement as I was when playing this game.

    Just like you, I don’t play the sequel due to the fact it don’t have any connection with the first one he he.

  3. Pingback: Walkthrough not optional: replaying Alundra (PS1) | Very Very Gaming

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