The beginning of the end

There are just two scenarios contained within Eldorado Gate Vol.6‘s GD-ROM, and the first is short even by the series’ already pleasantly zippy standards. The chapter title “Operation: Wipe out the Gabri tribe” wastes no time in establishing the threat to Eldorado Gates’ cute and colourful mascot-type monster by those pesky holy knights first introduced a disc or two ago, and the plot makes no apologies for maintaining a brisk, no-filler, pace.

By the end of this opening scenario conflicted knight Gigi still hasn’t joined the team of twelve Bantross (and by extension, us) has been trying to assemble all series long, although at this point she’s learned that she’s been repeatedly lied to and her religious order are not half as righteous as they seem. Her reaction to these irrefutable revelations (long story short: The Gabri are framed for awful things they would never do, and we prove it – oh and the knights order her own father to kill her too) are really very well done, even though the game’s never been one to smother scenes in vast quantities of dialogue. You can see Gigi struggling with the clear difference between what she’s been told and what she knows is right, aware that she’s come to a turning point but is afraid to let go of the reality she’s lived her whole life by.

Amano’s illustrations are a happy blend of old and new, his vast reserves of artistic ability capable of turning a concept as mundane as “coins with faces” into something strange and beautiful. Capcom’s in-house background and sprite artists are equally worthy of praise, every single screen and new face, even six volumes in, still looking like they’ve had as much time and creative energy poured into them as anything else in the series. There are plenty of one-off details to catch your eye and lush landscapes to drink in as immaculately animated sprites walk through them – if staff were flagging and the budget was in danger of running dry, there’s no indication of it here. As if to prove beyond all doubt everyone was as fired up about the project as they were at the beginning, this first scenario concludes with an exciting three-part fight against an enormous dragon, its giant form an awe-inspiring sight that inevitably brings to mind Synn, the bright red dragon waiting at the end of Capcom’s own Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara.

Rather than rushed, the breakneck speed of chapter 15 feels like the goal’s in sight and whatever’s coming, it’s going to be big and there’s no time for anything other than preparing for this unknown climax. Being brief doesn’t mean it was easy though: I may have never lost a battle in Volume 6’s opening chapter but there’s no doubt I had to earn those victories, and if I hadn’t being trying my hardest at all times then it would’ve fallen apart very quickly. I think it’s worth highlighting something I mentioned back in the first volume that still holds true even now, and that is how Eldorado Gate’s dungeons are always filled with a generous supply of magical stones to help you recover your strength or rain down fireballs on your enemies, and slight diversions off the main path are virtually guaranteed to contain treasure chests filled with genuinely useful equipment. The game wants you to arrive at the next major battle ready to fight – ready to succeed – victory always within your grasp.

And that was all absolutely true… until Scenario 16, the final story on this disc. It starts off so very well: the entire gang rush to Gigi’s aid in playable little groups of three and four, unlocking magical doors using their supernaturally-bestowed emblems while she’s shielding herself from deadly lasers. Just as they’re all about to be reunited as allies the ex-knight is whisked away by her former superiors. Everyone immediately sets off to rescue her, and there’s a tangible feeling we’re moments away from something Capital-I Important, if only we can get through this final plot twist.

It’s at this point Eldorado Gate decides to throw every good thing it’s ever done out the window and end the scenario with two of the most utterly miserable boss fights ever featured in an RPG.

The first pits you against a pair of twins who refuse to give up the baby wyvern that’s just hatched out of the previous volume’s mystery egg. One leans towards dishing out physical damage, the other’s happy to pelt you with magic – so far, so normal. But the problem is… OK, the biggest of several big problems is, that both of them must be killed on the same turn, or else whichever one you just offed immediately revives at full health. How much health is full health? I’ve got no idea, because there’s no way of finding out – and that means knowing when one of them’s at death’s door is down to either luck or jotting down damage taken on a sheet of paper, which is something that would’ve felt horrifically outdated in an RPG released a decade earlier. Oh and I should also mention that there’s no way of hitting both of them at the same time, as multi-target magic attacks always miss the magically-inclined half of the pair – and that’s the one with a nasty habit of regularly unleashing the sort of spell that’ll wipe at least half of anyone’s health off, so you have to have at least one of your four-person team permanently on healing duty too.

So I needed to stop whining and level up, right? I wish. One of Eldorado Gate’s great joys is that there are no levels to grind out, only stat-boosting gear to buy or find – and I already had the best gear. Even my accessories were the sort you only find in chests hidden on secret unmarked locations on the world map. Everyone was as well equipped as they could possibly be, with literally six discs worth of weapons and armour to choose from – and yet it still took countless restarts to clear. When I did eventually win it wasn’t some grand “Ah-ha!” moment after perfecting a new strategy, it was a lot of tedious pre-emptive healing/buffing coupled with a huge dollop of luck.

That fight was so awful it sapped a lot of the fun and wonder out of the magical wyvern ride to save Gigi that followed afterwards, because I felt I’d already more than earned my ending and the game wasn’t giving it to me just yet.

What it did give me instead was an almost identical rerun of the setup used in previous battle, thankfully minus the “kill both of them together part”. It did however more than make up for that by increasing the damage dealt to an almost comical degree, the mage-type this time not only unleashing overwhelming spells every turn but many of them inflicting multiple stat debuffs at the same time, and on top of that her physical partner’s standard attack tended to kill off anyone if it landed as a critical hit – and it usually did. I didn’t feel good when I won, just relieved it was finally over and more than a bit annoyed Capcom had for some reason decided to do the same bad thing twice in a row.

At least the ending made up for all that pain. With all twelve people and their emblems finally together, Bantross expected their actions to reawaken Razin, the supposedly dark counterpart to the god Dios, whose most prominent and powerful followers are “good” in an air quotes-heavy kind of way, all final judgements and death to nonbelievers.

But what happens instead – and this clearly isn’t the outcome the game’s mysterious host/party-gatherer has been hoping for all this time – is an imposing stone tablet manifests out of thin air, which causes the Gabri’s elder to start spouting fractured sentences about Razin’s… the specific term used here is “黙示録” which can mean “apocalypse” (the Biblical kind), but it’s also the Japanese name for Revelations (again, the Biblical kind), although he has no memory of doing so when asked about it afterwards. The ambiguity is deliberate, and the exact implications of this “apocalypse/revelation” are still very much up in the air at the end up the disc – mostly because the tablet is swiftly shattered into four pieces by a new being called Bals, who conveniently only appears when the stone tablet does and is completely opposed to Razin, us, and whatever we were about to unleash. Just to make sure we know where he stands, he makes a point of declaring Dios is the only and ultimate god before going off on a little rant about “purity” and “returning unclean people to nothingness”. If the behaviour of the “holy” knights wasn’t proof enough bringing back Razin and/or getting rid of Dios is going to be a good thing, then Bals made it crystal clear.

This was, bar that final (and truly awful) stumble, the penultimate volume I was hoping for. Every step of the way was packed with enjoyable events that built upon all that came before, sometimes quick nods to past scenarios, sometimes building towards the next volume’s climax.

Six discs in, and the journey still feels worth the effort. I still can’t wait to see what Eldorado Gate has to offer.

[This and every other Eldorado Gate feature wouldn’t be here without the support I receive through Ko-fi! Please consider leaving me a little tip if you’ve enjoyed anything you’ve read.]

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