Thursday, 25 November 2010

Etoile Princesse - Exact

Etoile Princesse's (Etoile from now on) story is presumably based on the French fairy tale Princess Belle-Etoile, though the opening screen names the setting (amusingly, and I assume unintentionally) as 'Fail-Land' - a country located on continents that float in the sky. Your character seems to be named Rilule, a red-headed girl who appears to be a witch of some kind, on a quest to rescue other magically imbued girls. There is plenty of Japanese dialogue throughout the game, though it doesn't tend to hinder play. The menus are mostly Japanese however, though as there are fairly few of them trial and error quickly allows you to work it out.

For those that have enjoyed Twinkle Tale on the Megadrive this game may be right up your alley. Like the aforementioned game you control a witch in a fantasy themed multi-directional shooter, however Etoile combines more adventure and RPG elements, bringing it closer to Zelda and the like. The game is organised into mostly free scrolling stages littered with enemies that regenerate off screen and have a boss at the end. Some stages are different however, such as one which sees you in a forced vertically scrolling part. The layout of each stage is often fairly labyrinthe in nature, with switches to toggle in order to proceed, obstacles and traps to avoid and dead ends, sometimes with chests to open. Each stage generally contains a differing multitude of varying foes that differ in form and attack, with a boss at the end. Similarly each stage has a unique setting and thus aesthetics. Difficulty not too hard, though bosses can be very large and with limited on screen space it can become very crowded. Before each stage there is a map screen which allows you to save and load, with an occasional choice between stages.

You initially play as a red haired girl who casts circles of stars straight out in front of her - I say initially as the reward for defeating bosses is often a new character to play. At the start of each stage you choose two of these to take with you and are able to swap these characters out mid play – as each has a unique main shot and bomb some will be more useful than others in various situations. Note that magic and hit points won't raise upon swapping out, so if you die playing with any character its game over. The bombs are activated by holding down the main shot between 1-3 seconds – any longer than this and the charge goes back to zero, which is helpful if the situation changes and you don't want to waste any of your magic points. The magic gauge is filled by collecting stars dropped by defeated enemies, or using one of the leaf items found in chests. Other chest items found are berries that increase your health, vials that increase your maximum health, rings and a compass, amongst others. Items are equipped through the inventory screen, accessed by holding both A and B on a joypad, or shift on the keyboard. The berry and leaf items are used once your health and magic are depleted. Beware of chests though – they aren't always what they seem, some will jump at you with teeth bared! In addition enemies drop a variety of instant effect pick ups when killed – apples and muffins to restore health, the aforementioned stars and mushrooms that restore all your magic. Some leave behind time delay bombs too. Characters also have the ability to jump, allowing you another option to dodge enemies and their attacks, but also to combat obstacles and access hidden areas. Some enemies have the ability to jump too though. Your characters can't face in diagonals which can become a bit of a problem in some situations, though pressing diagonals means you can strafe forwards and to the corresponding side, in the direction you were facing.

The graphics for Etoile are wonderfully vibrant, large, chunky and colourful. This fits well with the cutesy fantasy theme and light humor occasionally present (Such as the demon boss dropping his furry pants to show a blur of red pixels). The terrain tends to be excellently done and varied between levels. Some levels take place in dark castles with swirling lava below, another in a verdant swamp wood and another in a ruined town. Some have lovely animated background effects – aside from the lava there is also rain, thunder and the swamp's pools of water have bubbles popping at the surface. Its little touches like these that make a game's graphics stand out, demonstrating the attention to detail put poured in. Even the title screen is animated, and the rain stops when you enter covered areas. There are a few errors, such as your character appearing in front of some objects when they shouldn't, but they are far and few between. Some stage's backgrounds are very similar or the same over the level, especially in the forest part of the swamp-wood stage, but as mentioned with it changing every level it doesn't become a problem. I should also mention the game makes use of the transparency graphic effect frequently, thus PI's XM6 won't display many parts properly – use GIMON's XM6 TypeG or WinX68k-high-speed.

Sound effects are generally good, with enough variation so as to not become annoying. Each character's attack has a different sound for example. Some do share a lot in common with Exact's other excellent X68000 game, Naious. Music wise though there aren't any external sound module tracks for the MT-32 and the like, not too many players will be affected. The music is good enough for the game with several good ditties and usually suits the mood of the stage. There isn't a vast amount of difference between instruments, however with as many tracks as there are, it is perhaps inevitable. As with the sound effects it never becomes annoying. I feel sometimes I've been spoiled listening to too much X68000 music, forgetting how superior much of it is to the majority of the system's contemporaries, but I have to remain objective and compare it to other X68000 titles! The options menu is exclusively for the usual sound effect and music tests, with an option for the source of the music.

So, those are the main ins-and-outs of the game. An enjoyable adventure with excellent graphics and a well implemented control scheme. There are few criticisms to mention – the simplicity of the stage's 'puzzles', being almost exclusively activating a switch and few small graphics issues, but nothing game breaking. Except perhaps if you don't like navigating the maze structure of some levels, however the majority are fairly short stages. For me it is up there in the system's top twenty. 

Written by: Oliver Knight (Oli_lar)