There are very few, if any, people on Earth that don’t know Greco-Roman mythology. (Which of course makes sense, considering that Western civilization has been heavily influenced by these two cultures.) We’re talking about harshly learned lessons about hubris, greed, and vanity. Familial struggles over power and respect that make the worst Jerry Springer show look like an episode of Pokemon. Greater than life heroes that wield fantastic weapons, such as the head of a gorgon, the blood from a hydra, and the bladed shield of the gods. Ok, that last one I made up, but Tecmo decided that the reincarnation of one of their most beloved characters should be placed in an epic location worthy of his legendary status within the gaming industry. So, discarding the RPG elements and barbarian back story in favor of a more action packed, Mediterranean flavor, Tecmo has released Rygar: The Legendary Adventure.
Players step into the sandaled feet of Rygar, a brave warrior who’s performed numerous feats of bravery and courage as a gladiator on the isle of Argus. Unfortunately, he also has a major case of amnesia, and can’t remember any details about his life. After contributing his noteworthy skills to a massive naval battle, Rygar is readied for a victory celebration and coronation by the princess of the island, Harmonia. Unfortunately, during the initial stages of the festivities, the entire island is attacked from the skies and from underground. The Titans, gods that ruled over Earth before Zeus imprisoned them, seem to have broken their supernatural shackles and are attempting to regain control over the world, starting with Argus. In the chaos and confusion, numerous citizens of the island are killed, the princess is captured, and our hero attempts to save her. An attempt is the operative term, because as Rygar starts his rescue, a rift opens beneath him, sending him into the realm of the Titans.
Fortunately, the gods are with him, as is fate. See, Rygar is the chosen one of prophecy, the one who’s destined to rid the world of the Titans forever with the aid of the mighty Diskarmors, or battle shield of the gods, ancient weapons that initially sealed the powerful Gods in their prison. Looking like a shield at first glance (and able to deflect attacks), the Diskarmor acts more like a spinning, bladed yo-yo of destruction, cutting down any enemies and obstacles in its path. While there are basic features that all three Diskarmors share, such as offensive and defensive combos, each shield has its own unique specialty. For example, the close range shield features quick, multiple hits, while the long-range weapon focuses in on powerful blows. As he progresses in his quest, Rygar will also discover how to unleash spells to summon powerful creatures as well as turn his Diskarmors into effective grappling hooks, opening up new areas for exploration.
Most action titles feature hidden secrets or areas, and Rygar is no exception. Destructible set pieces abound in this game, with pillars, walls and pots, among others, that can be smashed. However, Rygar might just be one of the few titles that has a legitimate reason for trying to destroy everything in your immediate surroundings: According to the game, the Titans can gain reinforcements from statues by bringing them to life, or, if damaged, seek shelter in commonplace objects, resting until they’ve regained their strength. By breaking all of these items, the game reasons, you manage to reduce the strength of the Titans, providing Rygar with a strategic advantage.
Doing so will also wind up releasing items. Potions can be used to replenish your health or magic for summoning creatures. There are experience points boosters that can be used to augment your Diskarmors significantly, unlocking additional combos or causing more damage. Additionally, you may discover magic stones, which can be used to power up your Diskarmors even further, imbuing the shield with higher defense, stronger attacks, or other abilities. Finally, you may stumble upon scrolls or tablets, all of which provide Rygar with more information about his foes, the island of Argus, or himself.
Graphically, Rygar is breathtaking, squeezing every available byte of power out of the PS2. 3D models of both the enemies and Rygar himself are packed with details. As he moves, you’ll be able to detect articulation on individual parts of his outfit. The ways that enemies enter combat are really impressive. Many of the swarming creatures burrow their way up from the ground, while the larger enemies smash their way through walls and barriers to get at you. Rygar moves just as well, and his Diskarmor glides through the air cleanly towards its intended target before slicing back to his waiting hand.
The designers of Rygar have fully recreated the Greco-Roman flair of the Mediterranean region. Large chiseled columns support massive roofs and walls lined with carved frescoes. Sculpted statues in various states can be found in most environments, depicting the various states of disarray the invading evil has committed upon the world. Destroying obstacles or items break realistically, so statues will fall in pieces, or plaster may fall from ceilings. Particle effects, such as miniature pieces of dust, rock, even blood, are tracked with remarkable accuracy. You’ll also discover that environmental textures are very rich. Moss creeps over stairs and buildings. Water displays impressive transparency and reflection capabilities. Finally, light and shadow are nicely calculated, with large sunsets casting fading beams of light and dimly lit hallways accurately hosting deep shadows. In fact, one of the coolest effects is going through dark pathways or underground tunnels, only to burst forth into a brightly lit area.
Unfortunately, there are three flaws with the graphics. The first one is that there can be quite a bit of slowdown, especially with plenty of enemies on the screen. Usually, the game runs at a crisp 60 frames per second. However, whenever a large amount of enemies show up, Rygar slows to a very noticeable crawl. This can be amplified by potential background animations, such as water reflections or flickering torches. The other major problem is the camera, which is uncontrollable and usually poorly placed. Considering that the action in the game is fast paced and often ranges in and out of numerous enemies, you’d think that effective camera placement or self-control would work to the player’s advantage. Instead, you’ll notice that the camera is usually placed in an area for more dramatic effect, such as along side a player or on top of them as separate shots. While this might not seem particularly horrific during ground battles, this can sometimes be deadly during sections that you have to jump and can’t see where you’re going because of its placement. Finally, while the cutscenes are beautifully rendered, there’s no way to skip through them, so in case you wind up dying on a boss or before a particularly long section of exposition, there’s no way to bypass it.
The sound effects are very well placed. When creatures burrow through the ground, it actually sounds like they’re displacing rock and gravel. The swinging, slicing maneuvers of the Diskarmor through the air sounds heavily weighted, metallic, and swift, which serves to draw you further into the idea that only Rygar is worthy to wield this amazing weapon. Additionally, there are other effects, particularly when you destroy items that feel as though you’ve actually broken something with some substance. The sharp crash of pottery that breaks is an obvious contrast to the thick crunch of stone as a statue shatters. Musically, the game exceeds expectations with the Moscow Symphony providing an old world, crusading theme to the action, which invokes images of Gladiator. It’s very well done, and could be the soundtrack to a movie if Tecmo so wanted. The only flaw that the game exhibits aurally is the voiceover work, which can leave a bit to be desired. In fact, the voice over work, combined with some poorly translated text, demonstrates a ton of “All your base are belong to us” foibles.
Aside from some of the text, there are a few other gameplay problems, such as the length of play. With dedicated play, any gamer can fly through the game in ten hours or less on just about any one of the four difficulty levels. Granted, fully exploring all of the areas in the game should take longer, but speed players can literally blaze through this title. Along with the duration problem is a definite lack of enemies. There seems to be about six types within the game, and a majority of those seem to be caterpillar-like creatures. That’s also stretching, since many of them seem to be very slight variations on those initial character types, so expect to kill many of the same creatures over and over again.
However, one of the largest problems that the game seems to feature is a reduced importance on the combos that make the Diskarmors so very cool. Often times, you’ll wind up using a combo to pick up and throw an enemy into a group of advancing foes, or slice through a lined up group of waiting opponents before finishing off the closer, more immediate threats. However, merely flinging your Diskarmor at these targets is just as effective, and at times is a little more preferable than stringing out a complicated set of buttons for some combo or opening yourself up to a counter attack from another side. Nothing illustrates this more than fighting the bosses that are scattered throughout the game. Most bosses can be taken down with minimal effort without unleashing a single combination.
Overall, though, Rygar: The Legendary Adventure is a decent return for one of gaming’s classic characters. With a gorgeous setting, good plot and creative gameplay, Rygar made a good leap forward from 2D into the 3D realm. However, a few graphical and gameplay flaws, as well as its short duration, detract from the total overall experience, making it seem like more of an expansion pack than a full title. But if this is actually the first step in a new Rygar franchise, it’s a definite step in the right direction.