Story/Characters: With 16 party characters in a game from this era, it’s not surprising that there’s almost no development for any of them. A few of them (especially the party leaders) get some story events, but even Pyne, the main character, doesn’t get much.
The story overall is fairly good for a game of this time. There are some nice twists and turns, the villains are interesting, and
World: Standard fantasy, but the game gives you a good amount of lore through library books and monoliths that tell you about the past history. There are several different races. The areas blend together quite a bit but they have some individuality.
Game Flow: This is a problem. The game becomes very repetitive and requires a lot of grinding — also, because you need full or nearly full MP for the bosses, you have to go in each place multiple times to find chests and such, and then when you’re ready for the boss you have to run from every fight, which can be very frustrating given the high encounter rate. This game really needs a way to restore MP other than leaving a town.
The main reason this game took me so long to finish is that I couldn’t play it for more than 30-45 minutes in a sitting before I got bored. This has made me consider an additional rule which I don’t know if I’ll actually use — a 2 week limit for each game, which can only be extended if I’m actually enjoying the game.
System: I commend the designers for trying something new, but in the end it just doesn’t work. The auto-battles can be frustrating, especially when unlucky things happen like your healer getting frozen. I like the meld system, but I wish they had retained a normal XP-levelling system. The fixed level is an interesting idea, but the fact that they had to add a secret adjustment to each area based on how many battles you’ve fought seems like a patch over a flawed system. This is in effect a normal XP system but just implemented in an opaque manner.
Many people will hate the auto-battle system. In principle I don’t mind it, but I wish they had made it a little more complex with AI options and other things like that. It’s frustrating to watch your characters get hit and hope your healer will cast a heal spell in time but have absolutely no control over whether it will happen or not. You don’t have any feeling of gaining additional powers or abilities (because you aren’t gaining any) so that the final boss fight feels exactly the same as the first random battle you encounter. This adds to the tedium and repetitiveness.
Side Quests/Optional Content:Very little. At times it seems like there are some options, but the game always expects you to clear everything to raise your level, and sometimes when you have a choice you have to do one first because the other is too hard.
Interface: Why are companies still refusing to include a unified “action” button? This is no longer a new feature that nobody knows about. Other than that the interface is fine. I like that you can heal with an herb by using the X button, and go instantly to the meld with the Y.
Graphics/Sound: The graphics are a strong point. Having a manga artist design characters always means they look more detailed and interesting than most games. The monsters are colorful and detailed, and I like the victory dance they do if you get a game over. The locations are also vivid and interesting.
The BGM is fine, but it gets old after a while since it’s the same few tracks over and over again.
Yeah, auto battles don't really work. Earthbound had a nice twist in that if you engaged weak enemies several levels below yours, you'd automatically win and be taken to victory screen. More games should do this.
The only other SFC rpg with automatic battles that comes to mind is 1994 Last Battle, which had auto-battles, but atleast you could stop the action anytime and assign specific actions to any characters if you wanted to. Still the combat in that was chaotic like Elfaria it seems, and above all the battles dragged on and were dull and boring to watch.
Ogre Battle also has some auto battling but I thought that worked better — they just needed more options and AI.
Dragon Force had a nice system for auto battles where you controlled a general commanding up to 100 troops. The only control was battle formations, advancing, holding ground, or retreating, plus some special attacks that cost MP.
Not a SFC game, but Kurisu already talked about Ogre Battle. 😉