Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure PSP Review

Fans of the defunct TurboGrafx CD-ROM system may recognize the name Nihon Falcom, creators of the venerable Ys RPG series. After a lengthy hiatus from developing console games for the North American market, they released a couple of forgettable Legend of Heroes games for the PSP and now bring this somewhat unusual localization choice to our shores. From the cutesy anime style to the main character's self-professed love of strawberry shortcake, it's easy to think that Gurumin is a game for kids (though that's not as pejorative a label as it used to be - see Victor De Leon, for example). Regardless, underneath the decidedly childlike exterior of this dungeon hack action RPG from Falcom and Mastiff lies a surprisingly challenging quest that is mostly enjoyable, if not overly deep.

You control Parin, a little girl who is sent to live with her grandfather in a crusty mining town devoid of children. Parin soon discovers that her only peers are friendly monsters (invisible to adults, of course) living in the adjacent town of Monster Village. It is only a matter of time before the monsters are kidnapped and the town destroyed, and the majority of your quest revolves around rescuing your captured friends and helping them rebuild Monster Village by finding their missing furniture. With legendary drill in hand, you set off to vanquish villainous Phantoms - and clear the land of a smog-like mist caused by the sadness of the monsters whose village was destroyed.

Characteristic Japanese plot cheekiness notwithstanding, the apparent simplicity of the game belies a competent and satisfying combat system. Your basic attacks are augmented throughout the game with advanced techniques that are occasionally available for purchase, and your ability to equip elemental upgrades on-the-fly to your drill adds a little bit of strategy to the traditional hack and slash formula. Dungeon-crawling comprises the meat and potatoes of the title, requiring combat and light puzzle elements to ensure their completion. The boss battles in particular merit special mention; they are reminiscent of the boss battles in the Zelda titles, and to this critic, unquestionably the most entertaining parts of the game. I found myself wishing that there were more such boss encounters, because they are extremely well-done.

It is in light of what the game does well, however, that its shortcomings become that much more glaring. The title frequently gets bogged down in tedious fetch quests which are neither entertaining nor do they advance the narrative. You'll want to pull your hair out when you reach an impasse, find a guy to help you through, only to be informed that he can't do it without his brother, scour the entire map to find the brother, and then scour the map to find him again when he gets lost on the way. The loading times when you enter an area (see below) simply exacerbate the frustration of these segments, and it slightly cheapens the total play-time. Various unlockables (including higher difficulty levels) and minigames reward second and subsequent completions. In addition, your performance in each combat area is graded and rewarded with a medal as appropriate, so completists definitely have their work cut out for them.

The visual style is colorful and pleasant, and does a great job conveying the sugary-cute ambience. You may encounter some clipping issues from time to time, but that's a minor gripe. Sound is a mixed bag; the music is catchy but repetitive, and the voice acting, amazingly, alternates between soporific indifference and overblown hamminess, with little in between.

A few technical issues mar the overall experience, with the camera being the worst offender. It has an unnerving tendency to zoom in too close to the action and sometimes whips around haphazardly, requiring you to use the manual camera control far too frequently in order to simply see what is around you. Load times - while not too bad individually - occur so frequently that you will come to dread walking from site to site and building to building searching for a character or item. Though most of the combat is fairly smooth, there are times that an overabundance of enemies coupled with the attack effects will cause a brief stutter in the frame rate.

All in all, Gurumin serves up a bevy of mostly entertaining fare via its lighthearted romp through a whimsical land of monsters and phantoms. Just don't expect a grandiose story or sweeping genre innovation, and despite its kiddie trappings and minor flaws you may be amazed at how fun this game can be.

What's Hot: Great boss battles; anime-style visuals

What's Not: Tedious at times, and camera could use some tuning