I’m noticing a common structure for RPG stories of this era — I wonder what was the first game to use it? The game starts with the main character traveling to a bunch of places. Usually the main goal or antagonist is not clear, or the main character at least doesn’t know what it is. After this, there’s a longer middle section where you have to do a group of fetch quests — find the 6 orbs, defeat the 4 spirits, whatever. Then there’s a final section, sometimes with surprise twists or a coda.
Aretha seems to be following this pattern as well. First, Ariel was looking for information on her ring. Now we’re after the Elemental Dragon, which will lead to the next phase of the game. First up, we get captured by a giant, but freed by some sort of beast-man.
The giant does big damage, but spells and some buff items were enough to beat him.
The party now comes to a desert, and we find that we need an Amber Lens held by some ants to see the way to the fairy kingdom, where the Elemental Dragon is. The ants are split into red and blue factions, and we get in between their war.
Fortunately the ants aren’t very smart so after the red ant queen tries to use us to destroy the Blue ant queen, we turn the tables on her and get the amber lens, opening the way to the fairy kingdom. A few more dungeons lead to the treetop village.
Here Ariel meets the little gnome she saved as a child, who gave her the egg that hatched into Fang. He says some unknown person told him to give the egg to her, so it must mean something. This is where we also find the Elemental Dragon, although he is currently in the form of an elf. He is missing four sources of his power, which we have to collect to restore him to full form.
- The first is in the rainbow town, a strange place inhabited by Zoppies.
- The second is in an ice area to the north.
- The third is out in the sea — Doll rejoins the party, and we get eaten by a Leviathan but that’s where the spirit source turns out to be as well.
- The last is in the Dwarf fire area, in a fire tower.
I’m skipping over a fair amount of gameplay there, but once we get all the spirit fragments, it’s time to restore the Elemental Dragon — except that someone named Zyhalt from the Vandal Empire arrives, along with a woman named Layla who looks just like Ariel.
Once we fight off Zyhalt, the Elemental Dragon reveals that Ariel is actually the descendant of the royal family of Aretha, and thus the Aretha Princess (surprise surprise). A curse split her in two, and Layla is her other half (although why is she with Vandal?) Fang stays with the Dragon to grow into his final form while we head out to find the other Aretha rings. This requires heading to Vandal and beating some of the heads of the Empire. This also gives the first taste of these enemies:
These soldiers and their palette swaps show up again and again in the final parts of the game, and they are incredibly annoying. Only magic works against them, and since the game doesn’t show damage numbers it’s hard to know how much the magic is even doing. Doll’s Force seems to be the best way to beat them, but even then it takes forever to win one of these fights and you get almost no XP for them.
Anyway, Ariel begins to free parts of the world under the control of the Vandal empire by beating the leaders, like this one:
Next up, save Queen Anastasia from a castle with a bunch of those knight fights that I mentioned before. Arrgh. The only good thing was that Doll learned Force B which cleared the enemies out a lot more quickly, but still very annoying. Zafan then returns, mind controlling Doll again, and going to a sky castle. Fang reappears in full form though, and now we can fly! The first thing you should do is go to a small island with a forest, where you fight a blue dragon and then get the Trinea item. This fully restores MP and HP. It can’t be used in battle, but as far as I can tell it has unlimited uses outside of battle.
Layla also gives up on Vandal and joins us; she’s a very powerful attacker.
Zafan was actually somewhat challenging — I lost the first time. Doll has good buff spells at this point — defense and attack up spells that work on everyone. Basically what I had to do was use those buffs, heal with Ariel, and then fight with Layla and Fang. Zafan’s attacks hit everyone for a lot of damage, so after that it was heal heal fight fight until the end.
Now Ariel’s grandmother returns, having been captured by Zafan. And all that’s left is to go to the capital of the Empire and take down the Emperor himself. First, Duke Barbatos is waiting, but he goes down easily. Although the castle has a bunch more of those really annoying knight fights.
Afterwards, Doll completely recovers his memory and remembers defeating the evil Gatansoa (apparently in one of the GB Aretha games). It’s then time to enter a dimensional portal to the Dimension Castle, a one-path dungeon with some good equipment and the final battle. The Emperor goes through the usual JRPG thing where he tries to summon and control Gatansoa but gets taken over and killed instead.
He’s a tricky boss. He can use an ability that causes Fear in everyone (cannot act). He has another move that I think removes buffs, although it’s hard to tell. His other attacks damage everyone. I did the same thing as in the Zafan fight — Fang and Layla fight, Doll and Ariel heal. I had enough MP restoring items to do the fight, and I never got attacked multiple times while everyone was Fear.
Once the Emperor is defeated, you get a text-less ending sequence where Ariel and Layla merge back to a single body. I guess to find out what else happened we have to play Aretha 2 in a couple of years.
I’ll post a wrap-up in a bit — this is not all that great of a game but certainly not the worst I’ve played.
Looks like a pretty neat game, but I guess the decent graphics might be slightly deceiving. Fun fact: If you romanize Ariel's, uhm, not-so-evil twin as Leira, it's actually Ariel reversed! Coincidence? 😛
Ah-hah, clever. I should have noticed that.