Bring the Old to the New
We’ve already talked about Japanese developer Falcom at length in various reviews. Really, what else is there to say about them? What’s that? They released a one-off action-RPG game over a decade ago that’s become something of a cult classic? Well, let’s talk about that, then!
At the tail end of 2004, Falcom released a little title called Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure for PC in Japan. The title was a wholly original property, with no tie-ins to any of their previous series (as they’re so apt to do with their multitude Dragon Slayer spin-offs). The game also had a completely different aesthetic to it compared to other series – rather than going for classic fantasy RPG or dark and gritty, Gurumin was a colorful and lighthearted romp.
The game would end up being one of the few Falcom games to travel westward before XSeed Games teamed up with them to help open the floodgates. In North America, the game’s PSP port was released in English by the localization outfit Mastiff, earning relatively positive reviews. However, it seemed to generally fly under the radar.
Jumping forward to 2015, Mastiff revisited Gurumin, which had now gained some cult traction in the west, by releasing the original PC version via Steam. Quickly following that, it was decided to port the title to the most popular handheld device currently alive today – the 3DS. In this case, Mastiff managed to beat Japan to the punch, releasing an English version a month earlier than the Japanese port.
Developed by Nihon Falcom and published in the west by Mastiff, Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure was released on October 13th, 2016 for the 3DS. We had a chance to glance at the previous Steam release as well, but this review will be focused on the 3DS port.
Cute Little Monsters
The story of Gurumin 3D follows a young girl named Parin, who can be renamed to your liking. So, of course, I named this girl “Marth.” Anyways, Parin has just finished moving in with her grandfather in Tiese Town, as here parents have traveled overseas. Excited to be in a new city, her outlook is quickly crushed when she’s told that no other children live in Tiese. It’s just a town filled with miners and elderly folk.
While exploring the town, though, Parin runs across what looks to be another girl her age. It turns out, though, that this “girl” is actually a monster, a kind of creature that only children can see. The monster leads her through a portal in town to the Monster Village, where she meets a group of friendly monsters.
After spending time with them and figuring living in Tiese won’t be so bad after all, the village is attacked by an evil group of monsters known as Phantoms. The Phantoms destroy the village, kidnap most of the monsters, and steal all of their belongings. After this, Parin decides to fight back to save the one part of her new city she fell in love with, wielding a drill-like weapon that the monsters say was once used by a hero of legend.
What follows is, as I said earlier, a colorful and lighthearted romp through the land of monsters. The story of Gurumin 3D isn’t particularly deep, but it’s interesting and entertaining enough that the occasional cutscenes spread throughout are worth watching. A highlight is the style of humor the game employs, contrasting the wacky cartoonish monsters against Parin’s constant deadpan reactions.
There are a few scattered moments that seem to go against the tone of the overall game, though. One notable occurrence is a miner in Tiese Town constantly trying to get Parin (who can’t be more than ten years old) to go out with him. Creepy stuff like this just stands out in a bad way from all of the lighthearted whimsy of the rest of the game.
Fight for Focus
Gurumin 3D is a fairly standard action RPG. You have a hub in Tiese Town, where you can interact with NPCs and purchase equipment and upgrades. The action gameplay takes place in a number of short dungeon-like stages, totaling just over thirty.
One thing I enjoyed about the game is its semi-open-ended presentation. You will typically have multiple stages available to access at any one time, allowing you to work your way through the game however you so choose. The goal of each stage is to collect an item belonging to a monster at the end of it, and then bring it back to said monster in the Monster Village. Doing so unlocks more stages.
Stages themselves are a blend of basic fighting and platforming. You wield a drill-like weapon in battle, with basic attack combos pulled off by tapping the A button. The aforementioned creepy miner in Tiese also sells parts for your drill, which expand your attack repertoire upon purchase. Most of these special attacks involve revolving the circle pad on the 3DS, which can make single direction attacks difficult to aim at times.
Also available are parts that imbue your drill with various elements, allowing you to cause more damage to enemies by figuring out their weaknesses. Lastly, you have a charge attack that can also be used to break down walls and modify the environment.
The battle functions control quite well, with the combo inputs needed for special attacks being somewhat lenient. I can’t say I ever had trouble activating specials in the heat of battle, which is obviously much appreciated. Unfortunately, the platforming aspect isn’t as tight. Parin’s jumping controls are somewhat slippery, and combined with the fact that you’ll be navigating some seriously small platforms, completing a platforming area in one shot is a rare feat.
Contributing to that difficulty, as well as being one of my overall issues with Gurumin 3D, is the camera. If you own a New 3DS model, the game does make use of the secondary analog nub on the system for camera control, which was initially a nice surprise. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck using the L and R buttons. No matter the control scheme, though, the camera’s movement feels very loose and imprecise.
Compounding the issue is the fact that the game also moves the camera automatically, trying to keep up with Parin during your navigation. Thanks to this, I ended up constantly fighting the auto camera to keep the view where I wanted it. This becomes a huge issue in battle, especially during boss battles, as the auto camera seems like it could care less about focusing on whatever you’re fighting.
On the positive side, the stages themselves are relatively varied, throwing enough new challenges at you to keep them from getting dull. You are also awarded rankings upon the completion of each stage, which are tied to how many phantoms you defeated, how many items you collected, and your traversal time, encouraging repeated plays. The medals you earn from these rankings can be traded in Tiese for cash or special items.
A Simpler Time
The graphical presentation of Gurumin 3D feels like it’s straight out of the PS1 era. Not to say this is a bad thing, although it makes sense, as Falcom hadn’t dabbled much in full 3D presentation before this title. Everything is noticeably polygonal (hell, Parin’s twintails are literally just diamond shapes), with the game opting for a cel-shaded style.
Despite the aged presentation, though, this style just works well for the game. The simple and colorful character designs add greatly to the cartoony feel of the world. Also, despite the lo-fi character models, Parin herself is extremely expressive.
I ended up surprised, though, that the 3DS seems to have trouble keeping up with the game. I would think the system would be strong enough for a slightly-updated version of a twelve-year-old title, but the constant framerate drops seem to prove otherwise. Turning on the 3D function makes performance even worse; despite looking great in 3D (which it should, since this port features the 3D function in its title), framerate deteriorates horribly.
What’s Old Ain’t Always Good
Now to everyone’s favorite part of a Falcom game: the soundtrack. The company’s in-house band and sound team turns in another performance that matches the game perfectly. The tracks here are very synth-heavy and upbeat, with a strong pop influence to them – a great match for the bright and comical atmosphere. The game’s opening track is notable – a funky bass-driven jam that proves insanely catchy.
The voice acting, though…whoo boy. Again, this game is originally from 2004, which isn’t exactly a gaming era known for good voice over performances. The cast includes some notable English dub performers such as Tara Strong and Amber Hood, but even with the star power, the performances here are incredibly weak. Taking the cake, though, is the performance of the game’s main antagonist, which sounds like someone was pulled off the street randomly and told to sound “villainy.”
Stressful Love Affair
Overall, Gurumin 3D is a fairly entertaining title wrapped up in some difficult functionality. The story and atmosphere presented here is just so bright, upbeat, and endearing that it’s sure to clear up any negative mood you’re in.
You’ll need that, though, since you’ll be constantly fighting with camera issues and imprecise platforming, which really does put a damper on everything. Framerate issues that don’t seem like they should exist, along with a startlingly lacking voice performance, further drag down the game’s innate charm.
I did have fun with the title despite the issues, but it’s because of that that said issues stand out even more. With a friendlier camera and more optimized performance, we’d be looking at a great game to play to unwind from a stressful day. The product we have now, though, is somewhat lacking.
If you’re interested in Gurumin, I’d probably point you in the direction of last year’s Steam release.
~ Final Score: 6/10 ~
Review copy provided by Mastiff for 3DS. Screenshots courtesy of Mastiff.