Rejoice: Beyond Aretha Kingdom (リジョイス 〜アレサ王国の彼方〜), released 4/21/1995, developed by Yanoman
Yanoman is back with the sixth (and last) Aretha game. This one takes place in the same timeline as the Game Boy games, and involves the Dark King Howard from the first two GB titles (as well as Doll or Dorl or however you want to romanize it). I got the feeling that there were other parts of the game that were references to the GB Aretha games but not having played them I’m not completely sure. The game takes a different approach from the previous five in being an action RPG rather than a regular RPG.
The game starts with the dark king Howard trying to capture Milrose, who he calls a princess. When she runs away he sends Ice Cube after her (complete with Ice Ice Baby lyrics — the whole game’s soundtrack has a hip hop theme).
This is an unwinnable battle but it lets you play around with the battle system a bit before the real game begins.
Now we switch to our “protagonists”, the Rejoice! group, who are a bunch of thieves and swindlers. I’ve seen thief main characters in RPGs before but they usually try to make them sympathetic. Here they insult each other, rob a statue from a tomb, and then go back to town and rob a man’s house by setting it on fire to distract him, steal a cart from a sleeping old woman, cheat a shopkeeper with fake money, and try to rob another shop at knifepoint. The townspeople treat them like they’re just incorrigible youth that you roll your eyes at, but this seems over the top.
Unfortunately the Black Ship Thieves show up and steal all their hard earned stuff, but they manage to hold on to the statue to deliver it to Ben Marxist. This whole part of the game was rather unclear to me — Ben claims that he doesn’t care about the statue, he just wanted it out of the cave. Then he gives the Force Book to the group. Kyu, one of the members, wants it for himself and kills Base, one of the other group members. He runs away, leaving the book behind. Treno, who is our main character, somehow is able to use the book to gain magic power but leaves it there, then a tsunami wipes out the village and Treno washes up on a beach.
Now he’s found by Aretha series regular Dorl, who is in all six games. Treno wants to find Mikey (the fourth member of the group); they find Mikey’s knife on the ground. This leads to a cutscene showing Mikey captured, with a prisoner in the next cell saying that they were looking for a hero to beat Howard.
Now Doll and Treno reach the first area of the game, the Mushroom Forest. This game supports two players, so someone can control Dorl (you can also switch people by pressing start to pause the game, then L or R).
Each character has a weapon, armor, shield, and up to two items. The “life” at the top right is shared between characters; if you die you will be revived and lose a life — these can be recovered with the Risarisa item.
The weapons you can equip vary quite a bit in range and attack style, so it’s not just a matter of equipping whatever the strongest one is. You also may have to switch, although the inability to switch in a boss battle is annoying because it means that if you see a different one might be better you have to reload or quit.
The most annoying feature is the armor and shield, because they can break by taking damage. I don’t know what the purpose of this system was, but it meant that most of the time I had no armor or shield.
I often found it hard to find my way around, but I often have that experience in action RPGs; I’m not sure why. Treno levels very quickly. I was level 6 by the time I reached the first boss, the Poison Mushroom, and level 11 after the fight. You recover HP on level up so you can sometimes kill the bosses’ things they shoot out and gain a bunch of levels during the boss fights that way.
Some people complain that you can’t see your HP while you are fighting. I actually didn’t find this to be that bad, because when you get hit, you flash a color based on your remaining HP; that was always enough for me to tell when I was in danger. The enemies have the same colors (this is a long standing feature of the series; in Aretha SFC 1 you couldn’t even see how much damage you were dealing).
After that we read Akim Town, where they collapse from the poison of the forest. Akim nurses them back to health, and then wants Treno to try to fight against Howard — if he could defeat the Poison Mushroom he may be able to beat the dark king as well. Of course Treno’s not interested.
The next part is annoying; it’s a common feature of RPGs that I sometimes call “inscrutable flags” — you have to talk to the right people in the right order, some of them more than once, to get the game to advance. But there’s no logic or way to find out what steps you have to do, so you just have to wander around the town talking to everyone over and over again and returning to Akim’s house until the game finally decides to advance. This is repeated several times throughout the game, in most of the towns. You can do a party chat which sometimes helps, but usually not.
Eventually Treno decides to try to go after Howard on the hope that he will find Mikey along the way. So they enter this magic door that just happens to be in the town which takes them to the Trick Castle, supposedly connected to Howard’s castle. The game has no sense of a world map or locations; it’s more like a sequence of stages than anything else.
There are two bosses in this castle. First up, a knight. If you switch to Dorl you can use some long range magic that might make it easier but it’s hard to tell where to hit the boss and I lost several lives.
After this we find Mikey, as well as the neighboring prisoner who turns out to be Milrose. So we fight Ice Cube again, but can actually win this time (I was at level 30 at this point).
Now we fall into a big pit to the Cave Town, where ants and grasshoppers are working together (although the grasshoppers are looked down on) against the antlions. This town and dungeon is by far the worst place in the game for the “invisible flags” I mentioned before — you have to constantly wander around randomly until a party member says something, then places you couldn’t go before suddenly open for no reason.
You have to solve this puzzle to advance, but even when you solve it the way forward doesn’t immediately open, you have to wander around and come back. I had to watch a video playthrough of this on youtube and the Japanese player was as frustrated with it as I was; half his time was just walking back and forth trying to figure out what to do, and even when he was able to advance he would just say something like “screw you, rejoice”.
Anyway, the boss of this section is a big bug, but I had moved up so many levels that he was no challenge.
Now to get out of here we have to cross the lava with the help of some rescued turtles from earlier. This leads to the Kaskal Sea, where we can breathe underwater for some reason. There’s a sunken ship whose captain will take us to Howard’s castle if we can get them out of the ocean.
This is a confusing section yet again. The dialogue makes it seem like you need to bring back parts from the sunken pirate ship to Captain Rock to repair the ship. Actually all you have to do is see the pirate ship, then go back to Rock and talk, then return to the pirate ship and fight ghosts. This is another place where the Japanese player was frustrated.
This lizard boss posed no challenge at all. I was at level 66 by this point.
Now we’re in Giant Forest, which has fairies, and also the nearby Neve Town. After another “invisible flag” hell, I found my way to the Tsuda Cave. Along the way we learn that Kyu (the guy from the beginning) has become a Dark Priest and Howard’s right hand man, and Milrose gets captured.
The cave soon leads to Howard Castle.
When we reach Howard, he tries to kill Treno but Kyu protects him and dies. He then flies on a dragon to Karakuri Castle and we have to fight the left-behind Balloon Dragon.
With the long range weapon it’s not too bad, just hit the belly button until he dies. Now onto Karakuri Castle.
At this point I had what I guess is the best weapon, this thing that creates a bunch of sparkles around you. It slows down the game a lot, though, and one time froze the game. In this castle we find Kurisu (another one!) who is a friend of Dorl; this part must be a reference to previous games. It turns out they are looking for Mahara Kingdom, but that’s Treno’s home that was destroyed in the tsunami. (Ben Marxist never appears in the game again so I don’t know what all that was about).
The Bamboo Dragon is kind of challenging until you learn how to avoid all of its moves and reliably hit the head. I was at level 79.
Final dungeon is Howard’s Tower.
I had a really hard time with Howard at first. There’s this bullshit first part of the fight where you just take a whole bunch of damage with no way to block it. I eventually did some level grinding and at level 89 he was easy.
At the end, they return to the ruins of Mahar Kingdom but it’s not clear what everyone is going to do — the Dorl/Kurisu plot is unresolved and I don’t know what Treno and Mikey will do either.
The designers were clearly proud of their music because the credits at the end have a whole track list including tempi.
In the end this game is playable and good in some ways, but has plenty of annoying parts as well. It’s also really short. This is the end of the Aretha series, and I don’t know how many more games Yanoman made — they’ve been a big presence so far in the blog but will this be their last hurrah?