Japanese role-playing games are a staple of console gaming. But aside from some lackluster ports, they’ve been almost nonexistent on the PC. Developer Ion Storm is attempting to redress this imbalance with Anachronox, a Final Fantasy-inspired game designed specifically for the PC. It manages to stay true to its console roots while modifying the formula in a few key areas, not the least of which is the addition of plot and dialogue not translated from Japanese. Though these changes are too subtle to bridge the gap between people who enjoy this type of linear adventure-RPG hybrid and those who don’t, Anachronox is a solid addition to the genre and makes up for some rough spots with a welcome sense of humor and a lot of personality.
However, there is one major caveat: The game gets off to a slow start. Though the convention in this genre is to keep you on rails for a while before opening up, Anachronox is a little ridiculous in this respect. The first five or six hours involve lots and lots of running mindless errands without much in the way of combat, puzzle solving, or anything else that could be considered good gameplay to break up the monotony. You’ll generally be asked to walk somewhere, get something, or talk to somebody, and walk back. In most cases, this involves two or three transitions between areas. Worse yet, in between the loading times from area to area, you’ll have to ride on elevators, which means watching an unavoidable animation of you riding the elevator–a tactic seemingly designed for no other purpose than to annoy you. The whole thing is like watching a five-hour cutscene powered by you tapping the left mouse button.
The beginning part introduces you to the main character, Sylvester “Sly” Boots, a down-on-his-luck private detective living in a futuristic city built on a mysterious, giant alien artifact. As usual with private detectives, he owes money all over town to the wrong kinds of people. His attempt to get a job and pay back his debts eventually leads him off of Anachronox on a quest to save the universe. Though it all sounds pretty standard, there’s a lot of cleverness in the dialogue and plot details. Anachronox joins the short list of games such as Giants: Citizen Kabuto and Grim Fandango that manage to successfully convey an actual sense of humor–not “funny for a game” funny, but legitimately funny.