After Volume 3‘s unexpected but not unwelcome pair of stories Eldorado Gate‘s back with another three scenario disc, with three new characters for our ever-expanding team to go with it – Mimi, Mamma, and Gigi. Again the manual implores newcomers to treat the stories contained within as standalone adventures (and read the updated on-disc encyclopaedia when they’ve got the time), although I have to admit that four discs in that notice, as well-intentioned as it is, starts to ring a little hollow.
I have to admit, I’m a little concerned this time around. However you choose to look at it, this disc marks the halfway point in an RPG series that seems to have been created and sustained by sheer force of will rather than sales numbers or critical acclaim, and as there are just three discs and nine scenarios left the plot really needs to start going places now if there’s any chance of all of this leading somewhere meaningful before we run out of GD-ROMs. We’ve had the introduction, we’ve had characters introduced in one story and witnessed their fates concluded in another, we’ve had multiple teases for the whole Dios/Razin god/demon business that’s been going on little too quietly in the background but so far not really followed up on – it’s all been great, but now we need to move on.
…I say that, but as soon as I dived back in all of those concerns melted away, and to be honest all I wanted to do was spend some more time in this fascinating little world Capcom created – for a while, at least.
Mimi’s story is an amusing way to kick off Eldorado Gate’s trio of mid-series scenarios. She’s a fists-first kinda kid happy to solve the town’s magical problems (all of which have been deliberately created for nefarious purposes) while dragging a magically-controlled and cartoonishly goofy-faced Gomez along for much of the chapter. As always there is little fat in need of trimming, the game content to say “You’ve got to go over here” and then simply allowing you to do so with little to no “Ah, but” padding getting between the two. The artwork in either its Capcom-pixelled or illustrated Amano battle forms is once again beyond impeccable, all of it so perfectly executed you can’t help but wonder how a game as beautiful as this exists as commercial product from a major developer working to (and keeping to) strict deadlines.
However, the joy I felt in the moment wasn’t enough to assuage the fears I mentioned earlier, and there’s no escaping the fact that this is another story that doesn’t really “do” anything other than give the latest lead character a reason to meet and then join the rest of the gang.
The same criticism can be levelled at the next scenario, starring the food-obsessed Mamma (even his weapons are food – beating up monkeys with an avocado or a strawberry isn’t something I’ll forget in a hurry). Through a mixture of boredom and shenanigans, Pamela (introduced in the previous disc) ends up fighting in a martial arts tournament, which leads to the town’s ruler asking her to search for his lost child – no prizes for guessing who that turns out to be. As amusing as this story is (you get to fight muscular penguins, amongst other things) it does play out exactly the way every sanitised modern take on this tale’s familiar template ever has, with the two separated family members happily reunited, the mother conveniently deceased for drama’s sake, and the evil advisor’s schemes discovered before they’re eventually defeated in combat. At least we get to see robo-Bud again at the end; still confused, still calling out Liza’s name and not understanding why he does that or why he’s so distressed until he jets off once more before anyone can reach out to him.
We’re now two scenarios down and Volume 4’s in an awkward spot, because on the one hand there’s nothing positive I haven’t said about the preceding discs that isn’t also true of this one: The adventures are pleasantly breezy, the battle system’s unique enough to be interesting but not so unique every fight feels like a test from an over-enthusiastic maths teacher, and the characters are just plain fun to be around. But there’s that increasingly inescapable question of “OK, but what’s next?” looming over Eldorado Gate now, and the game’s answer so far seems to be “Uh… more of the same?”
I wanted this to be the point where I got to dramatically say “Until now!” but the final scenario on the disc, “Holy Knight Gigi”, starts off about the same as all the rest and then has the nerve to subject us to the tedious low point of finding and then defeating almost two dozen enemies in one area before we can continue on, and almost all of them are hiding out of sight. The game doesn’t tell you how many of them you’ve found or give you any hot/cold clues as to where they might be, which left me combing the entire area again when I reached the “end” and realised I’d missed one, but had no way of knowing where I’d gone wrong. It was not a lot of fun.
Things do pick up towards the end of the scenario, as it becomes apparent that as cute as all the little village churches we’ve been able to optionally visit up to now are, the holy knights of Dios are just a bit more “Star Wars stormtrooper” than they are unwavering defenders of the good and pure, and they all seem to be quite keen on sorting out the mortal “sins” of others with sharp swords and earlier than expected trips to the afterlife rather than quiet prayer or self-reflection.
As the scenario’s title indicates this is the same order Gigi belongs to, and in a unique twist she’s something of an antagonist (and an unplayable one at that) who kidnaps Mamma as part of her plan to acquire the energy core needed to power the group’s legendary airship – the one armed with a massive laser cannon, presumably to help put the fear of God in people in a more literal way than usual. We fight her, we see her choose her holy order over us even though she should be part of our gang thanks to the same awakened power she carries within her, and we see her realise that her father, the order’s leader, is perhaps not the flawless tower of justice he claims to be as he fires the cannon directly at the island the airship just left, the one he knew damned well our party and her own brother were still on, utterly obliterating the location in the process. I’m looking forward to seeing how this thread develops, although this eventual jolt towards something new really didn’t need or benefit from the two (and a bit) scenarios worth of enjoyable yet largely unnecessary fluff that came before it.
So the disc ends on a high, right? Not quite. According to Bantross’ now customary post-game teaser, the first scenario of the fifth disc (of seven, so we’re really in “Gotta start wrapping things up” territory there) is another potential party member introduction, which rather makes it feel like we’ve come so far only to find ourselves right back at square one.