August 20, 2011
Chantelise's story starts off with one of the sisters, Chante, venturing outside into the nearby forest, despite being warned by her mother that it bore a witch's curse closely associated with a red moon – which just so happens to have appeared that very night. Her older sister Elise follows behind her and sees her sister being transformed into a fairy by a witch which is blanketed by the dark of the night. This is the beginning of the two sisters' long quest to find the witch and have her change Chante back into her human self. After the game's initial tutorial the duo ends up at the local town (humorously named "Town") that appears to hold the key to their answers. With the help of some of the townsfolk, such as Elma the fortune teller and Aira the shopkeeper, the two girls set out in search of the answer to their current predicament.
While Chantelise's story isn't the most engaging story around, it certainly plays to the budget anime crowd that the original Japanese release catered to and it does also have a great deal of charm thanks to Carpe Fulgur's trademark localization developed through their work with Recettear. While there isn't any meme-inducing catchphrases like Recettear's "yayifications" or "yeperoni," it does have some very amusing sections such as when Chante misinterprets someone's comment as "taking away" her sister's "innocence". All in all, it's a decent but overall average package in terms of story. Thankfully, the gameplay somewhat makes up for the story's shortcomings.
Hearkening back to classics such as Ys, Chantelise's battles take place in real time as the player controls Elise with her sister Chante following right behind her. Elise has a pretty basic assortment of melee attacks available in her repertoire, including normal attacks, charged attacks (that occur after stringing together enough attacks in a chain) and aerial dive attacks where Elise jumps into the air to perform an attack, which sends her diving down towards nearby targets. This alone easily makes for a boring "press button to mash attacks" action RPG, so the player also has the ability to have Chante cast magic by picking up magic gems dropped by enemies or found by destroying breakable objects in dungeons.
Most of the spells are relatively straightforward at the start – one fire gem creates a fireball, two of them creates a larger fireball, but once you start to tinker with different combinations more powerful and unique spells will become available, adding a nice extra wrinkle to what can otherwise be a dull hack-and-slash outing. Some of the spells become absolutely vital later in the game and you'll be required to think strategically as gems can't be rearranged once they are picked up. Not to mention, only six can be carried around at any given time. Thankfully, gems stay around for a while after they appear so players can go back to collect them in their proper order once the enemies in the current area have been cleared out instead of feeling rushed and collecting them while being simultaneously bombarded by enemy attacks. Special elemental stones are also available to augment Elise's attacks and serve to add additional abilities such as the Dark Crystal's HP draining ability.
Chantelise's dungeons are usually separated into six different zones which are further separated by magical barriers that disappear once all visible enemies within the vicinity are defeated as well as a boss room which ends the dungeon. While this sounds awfully archaic and definitely hearkens back to old-school action RPGs back in the day which used this mechanic to lengthen the game, it surprisingly doesn't feel all that annoying due to Chantelise's game over system. Unlike other games that force you to revert to the progress made since your last save, Chantelise keeps all the items and money you obtained up until your death, thus it doesn't take too long until you get back to where you died. The game does force you to run through the areas you already completed but it doesn't require all of the enemies to be defeated over again to progress so while it is slightly annoying the feeling doesn't last for too long as most prior-traveled zones can be traveled through in a matter of seconds.
Most zones also have some sort of hidden treasure that requires a specific action to be executed or a hidden area to be found, so Chantelise allows players to replay any specific zone and head back to the world map after completing it, which is a nice touch considering some of said items are very useful and having to travel through the entire dungeon would quickly become a bore.
For those who aren't longtime fans of this type of game this might all sound interesting but quite repetitive and boring on its own, which is why Chantelise's difficulty level becomes integral to the experience. Unlike other games that have stats that level up by gaining EXP, Elise's stats are upgraded by switching out her equipment and her HP is increased by buying or finding specials potions in the dungeons. Later in the game Chante gains the ability to help heal you but until then you have to rely on health restoring items scattered or randomly dropped in dungeons, forcing players to learn the ins and outs of the game's magic system. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it does help to make what would otherwise be a rout and boring game much more strategic. That said, those who do not have a taste for action RPGs are unlikely to sink their teeth into Chantelise, but for everyone else the game does a lot to cater to both the hardcore and casual players.
Graphically, the game isn't horrible, but it isn't superb either. Visuals are similar to the late PlayStation and early PlayStation 2 titles with simple low-polygon characters and environments are simplistic in geometric level design. That isn't to say that EasyGameStation hasn't put a lot of care into said textures. Each character feels unique in their design and there are enough varieties in monsters so the "let's see how many palette recolors we can find" motions don't set in immediately, although some of the basic monsters do get recolored such as green slimes in the forest and red slimes in the volcano. This is an indie title and it was released before the much more stylized Recettear, making it difficult to scrutinize them too much in this department.
Any good action RPG has to have rockin' music playing in the background as you're beating up baddies and Chantelise definitely delivers in this department. While I don't want to give away any particulars, the compositions as a whole are excellently crafted and are suited to their own individual purpose in the game. EasyGameStation also had the foresight to include an unlockable jukebox item to replay the music at one's leisure. The game also includes the original Japanese audio track for events and general banter as well as when Chante launches magical attacks.
One major issue with the game is the default control set-up. While the game plays beautifully on a game pad (including a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller) and supports full button remapping, the default keyboard controls is an absolutely horrible way to play this game and pushes the frustration levels of the player to their breaking points, despite the ability to remap them. Chantelise requires quick reflexes to adapt to swarms of enemies at times and there just isn't enough fingers to effectively tackle that on a keyboard. The majority of people interested in this game likely already have a game pad available but those who don't really should not touch this title as you will only serve to frustrate yourself with a bad experience out of an otherwise enjoyable title. Another issue is the game's camera which at times stays too close to Elise, leaving her peripheral open to enemy attacks. It's easy to move the camera quickly, but pulling it a little bit farther away from Elise would help in these types of situations.
While most people will complete the main story in 12-14 hours you can easily extend that a few more by taking part in collecting every secret treasure, playing the fishing mini-game, beating your best time in Practice Mode or completing the post-game Survival Dungeon. But going back to the question I proposed in the beginning of the game: Can Chantelise attain the same level of success that Recettear gained? Yes and no. Recettear's quirky mix of dungeon exploration and item shop antics definitely drew in a larger crowd that Chantelise's back-to-basics action RPG gameplay. It's a fun indie action RPG that could use some extra polish, but is otherwise well-made and can stand on its own. This title will instantly appeal to the action RPG crowd but might be a tougher sell to those who vested interest in EasyGameStation and Carpe Fulgur through Recettear – it simply doesn't have that special quirkiness that helped the first release skyrocket almost instantaneously. But by all means try out the demo – you might just enjoy yourself.