Many PS1 RPGs with heavy Anime aesthetics had dating sim elements in the game. Yet, very few of them were ever localized west. Thousand Arms, which was published by Atlus, is one of few such games that was ported West.
Honestly, if this is the best of the genre, then we haven't missed much. After all, Thousand Arms is a thoroughly mediocre game even without its dating sim elements, and those make it an even worse game.
#A64: Vanguard Bandits:
Year: 1998, 1999.
Genre: RPG Datin-Sim.
Developer: Red Company, Atlus.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"The Holy Flame of the Sacred Torch is the power of Light, the only power that can battle the Darkness"
The story in Thousand Arms begins with Meis, the main protagonist, fleeing from his home as the powerful Dark Acolytes conquer his home. Soon, as a special "Spirit Blacksmith" can wield the power of the light, he finds himself facing these foes to save the world from darkness.
Accompanying him in his journey is a motley crew of JRPG archetypes, and many of them are girls that he can date.
I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree
Being a game with dating sim elements, Meis is a horny teenager who tries to flirt with every female character in the game, and eight or so girls oblige him with dates. Ideally, you would expect these dates to reveal some character growth between Meis and any of the girls he dates (including some who are actual party members). Yet, these "dates" are only a series of random questions (that aren't unique to each girl" with obvious correct answers. They are boring, useless, and offer little value. Except, they are actually required if you need to use your "Spirit Blacksmith" power to upgrade your weapons.
The emptiness of these dates extent to the boring story itself. While it tries to be a "funny" JRPG, the humor doesn't land often and is a poor excuse for having a predictable plot and boring characters.
However, it is worth noting that the game has extensive voice acting, which is actually mostly good and works to disguise the vapidity of the game's plot.
"Even more important than my land... is my property... Errr, my people! It's my duty to protect my people"
Normally, a good gameplay system will allow me to power through a mediocre story. No such luck here. True, this is not a terrible battle system, but it can get very slow by design.
While you have three members in the party, each battle is a one-on-one affair. Only the front member of each team can attack each other, while the background characters provide passive support and encouragement. In battle, you choose the actions of the front character and the back characters and execute the action manually once an activity gauge fills for each line.
The enemies also have their gauges, but you can't see them
As you can imagine, battles can drag on for quite a while. Also, this means that you don't get the most out of all of your party, and only use one of them at a time. Even their background activities are lacking in impact, as most spells and skills can only be used in the front.
Sure, some abilities allow you to target all enemies at once, but that costs resources that end up wasting as much time to recuperate.
Overall, it is a unique and interesting battle system that simply wastes too much time in every regular battle, doesn't fully utilize all of your party, and doesn't make use of much of your abilities.
"The happier the girl, the stronger her elemental power"
Outside of battles, the other major gameplay system is the cringy dates you go to. Unfortunately, these dates are of significant importance to the game even if you don't find any intrinsic value in them at all.
As you date girls and raise their "intimacy" levels, you can forge more powerful spells into your weapons.
Come on lady, we gotta forge some swords
Other than having these multiple-choice answer dates, you can also engage in a different mini-game with each girl, and these are mostly fun, but they make it easier to raise the intimacy level instead of raising it by themselves.
Ironically, as I progressed through the game, I realized that many skills are useless, and as such dating can be a double waste of time. However, the strongest skills are still locked at the highest intimacy levels, so there is no way out of these empty cringe-filled scenes.
"All I wanted was to make a powerful sword. Is this a reflection of my desire? A raging evil?"
Visually, this is a sprite-heavy game that uses a unique and expressive style that didn't wane with the effect of age. The closest game to its visual style is Guardian Heroes on the Sega Saturn
Outside of battle, the sprites are chibi-sized, expressive, and look different from any other game I played. In battles, characters and enemies face each other like in a 2D fighting game, and they look really good, even if some people may not appreciate the exaggerated looks. Especially the enemies, which feature some punk-rock kind of style.
Even the sprites have their own unique vibe
Also, given the importance of the dating sim elements, there are frequent instances when the characters take to each other in full Anime-styled panel-scenes. These showcase a completely different design aesthetic than the exaggerated looks you see in the rest of the game, conforming fully to 90s Anime sensibilities.
Musically, the game's soundtrack is acceptable. While it has some great tracks, I mostly found it to be forgettable and unremarkable.
Weirdly, the voice acting, despite having some awkward or hammy moments, is actually pretty good. This probably was some of the best voice acting in a localized JRPG at the time.
Thousand Arms is a mediocre game both as an RPG and a Dating Sim. It has interesting gameplay ideas that are hampered by the awkwardness and slowness of their execution, and it has no interesting story or characters to successfully craft an interesting Dating Sim element in the game.
In fact, all it succeeds in doing is wasting some perfectly good design ideas and voice acting in a game that excels at practically nothing. It isn't fun to battle when battles take too long, the story isn't that good, and sure as hell it isn't fun to have dates in.
Meis looks shocked at my low score
1-To upgrade weapons, forge them as the girl level up.
2-To gain spells from forging, forge when the intimacy levels of any girl increase.
3-To get all spells, make sure to forge at all intimacy levels because you don't get the back skills (for example, if you increase intimacy from 3 to 5, forging will not give you the spells of the 4th level).
4-Succeeding at dates means you should lie to the girls and not reveal how much of a jerk your character is really is.
5-You can only forge weapons up to your current "Charisma" level, so don't let intimacy outpace charisma.
The sprites are almost the level of a Fighting game
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Unfortunately, the game is bogged down by uninteresting characters and story as well as boring combat
I was willing to ignore or tolerate the boring and idiotic dating scenes in the game, after all, I made it clear that I am actively turned-off by dating sim elements in most games. However, I wasn't willing to ignore the slow and boring gameplay, along with a weak and unremarkable story. As such, I really didn't enjoy Thousand Arms, even if I didn't butcher its score (because it still has some fun and funny elements).
The next game in my addendum PS1 review list is a cult Survival Horror game, Clock Tower, which has two games on the PS1. Here is hoping it is better than Alone in the Dark, although I suspect the first game in the series will seriously show its age.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: