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Quest: Brian's Journey (GBC)

Console games being ported onto a portable system is nothing new. Especially in recent days, numerous NES and SNES games have made their way onto portable systems like the GBA. Generally there has been a large gap of years in between the original console version and the portable version, however, until the portable system had gotten up to the power of where the console system had been. Seeing NES and SNES games on GBA isn't too surprising, since the GBA is quite capable of doing games like that. A portable version of a game coming out within two years of the console version, however, isn't something that one would normally expect. This is even more unexpected when the console version is a fully 3D N64 game, and the portable in question is the Gameboy Color. Needless to say, something like that isn't a matter of just a straight port between two roughly equal systems. In that sort of case, a complete re-figuring of the game would be needed. That's what Quest: Brian's Journey for GBC is.

Quest 64 for N64 had been an RPG on a console in desperate need of RPGs. Coming after the SNES with its multitude of 2D RPGs, the N64 with its 3D games was left quite lacking. Quest 64 would be the first of what would be precious few RPGs to make its way to that system, making full use of its 3D abilities to create a wide-open landscape to explore. The game may have had its issues, but, on a system devoid of many alternatives, it was a welcome addition to the console's library. After having been released for that system, however, apparently someone thought it would be interesting to try bringing the game to the Gameboy Color. This would mean things like the full 3D world would need to be cut out, and somehow squeezed into a 2D landscape that was something that the portable system could handle. It seemed like quite a task, taking a fully 3D game and transferring it over to a 2D system. Still, work went ahead on accomplishing just that, and the end result was quite impressive.

For anyone who has previously played the N64 version of this game, explaining what to expect here is fairly straightforward. Simply, it's pretty much the same thing as the N64 game, but made 2D. You'll be embarking on the same quest, going through the same towns, fighting the same enemies, using the same battle strategies, just without that extra viewing dimension. It may seem hard to imagine that without actually trying out the game, but that's exactly what it is. There have, however, been some minor changes to the game in this version. In particular, more of a story lead-in has been provided at the beginning of the game, so that you actually see some of the things that been described in the original version happening in front of you as opposed to just being told about them. Some dialog has been clarified and fleshed out, and in general, while the story is the same, the process of experiencing the story is much more cohesive and enjoyable.

Beyond the dialog and story points, the only real changes are in the moving from 3D to 2D. The battle still takes place with you being able to move around on the field, just on flat ground as opposed to over hills and valleys, which makes lining up and targeting enemies much easier. In addition, while the original game made it all too easy to get turned around and lost inside of winding tunnels, with this game being flat and with the same viewpoint, it's much easier to keep track of where you are and where you're going. Of course, it loses the immersiveness of a 3D world, but considering the transformation, the game still retains much of the same feeling. While it sounds overly cliche, simply put, if you enjoyed the N64 version and ever wanted to take it on the go, or enjoyed it and want to try playing through it in 2D, it's definitely a game that one would enjoy, and something to check out. It's not going to offer a new experience as far as the core package of the game, but it still manages to provide an interesting new look on the game as a whole.

If one hasn't played the N64 game, much of that doesn't really help since one can't base anything on having played that game already, and aren't familiar with what that game offers. That is the other way to approach this game, as never having played the N64 version, and just looking for an interesting GBC RPG. Considering the Gameboy and Gameboy Color have a decent supply of RPGs already, some of Quest's weaknesses and issues become more glaring when compared against other options which don't have these issues. So, the consideration of whether to check this game out becomes a completely different choice compared against these other options and the package as a whole needs to be looked at more thoroughly.

Quest: Brian's Journey focuses on the story of a young boy named (surprise) Brian, trying to recover a mysterious book which had been stolen. His father had originally gone after the book, but appears to be missing, and so Brian heads off both after the book, and to find out what has happened to his father. On the journey it will just be Brian by himself, not being joined by any other party members. So, it will just be him against all the enemies he encounters along the way, which may be a change for people more used to a larger party-based RPG. This isn't too unusual, as there have been other RPGs which have worked well with just a single-person group. There are other departures from the usual RPG standards, however, which leave things a bit lacking.

The first striking difference is in the experience and leveling systems. In particular, there is no general "EXP" gained and no standard "levels" to be earned. Instead, improvement of statistics comes through the use of them. That is, Brian becomes stronger at attacking directly by attacking directly and better at using spells by using spells. Other statistics such as HP and MP, agility and defense, increase through the back and forth dodging and damage taking involved in battle. In addition to this, spells aren't gained by leveling or through scrolls or other methods, but by finding spirit wisps while exploring and increasing a spirit meter while fighting. There are 200 total of these to find and gain, a fairly equal number between ones that are found and ones that are gained. Each time one of these is found or gained, it is applied to one of the four standard magic fields - Fire, Water, Earth and Wind. Each of these fields has a number of spells under it and which involve it, either directly under it or through a combination of the different fields. For instance, a particular spell might involve one direction of Water, one of Earth and one of Wind. Each spell can have between one and three components made up of any of these fields, depending on the spirit level of each field. As well, as the spirit level of a particular field increases, the spells within that field become stronger. So, one may choose to spread out the spirits to be able to cast spells consisting of an involved mixture of a number of different fields, or concentrate on one or two fields to be able to increase the strength of that type of spell. The whole thing is a bit different from what one may expect, but it all works surprisingly well.

The next notable difference is the complete lack of any equipment or purchasable items. As far as equipment, it will just be Brian and his staff and robe, without being able to buy any additional armor or new weapons to become stronger offensively or defensively. As noted above, these statistics, as with others, becomes stronger just through use. Still, it is rather unusual to not be able to toss on a helmet or breastplate to withstand the blows of enemies more, or use a "spiked staff" or something to inflict more damage. Again, this takes some getting used to, but doesn't work out that badly. A bit more awkward, however, is how items are handled. Again, there is no money and no way to purchase items, so the items gathered are limited to just what is picked up and what people hand out. Some people do indeed hand out items, but if you already have the item they are handing out they won't give it to you; so, while one can go back to these people to get another once the item has been used, the people can't be used to build up a supply of the items. There are items scattered about in treasure chests as well which can be used to build up that supply, but once they've been used that won't be much help. So, if there is a big battle coming out where it would be useful to have a bunch of health potions or something, unless one already has that supply, one can't simply head back to a store and stock up. This can lead to some pretty challenging battles if items aren't managed well. On the other hand, it can also lead to a large pile of left-over items at the end of the game, saved "just in case" but never needed. It can be hard to know exactly how to manage the items without knowing what to expect except that they can't just be bought again if needed.

The third notable difference, and one that works out very well, is how battles take place. Entering into a battle is a matter of random encounters while wandering around outside areas as is typical, but unlike most other RPGs where your character and the enemies are lined up on their own sides of the screen attacking from a stationary place at a distance, in this game Brian and the enemies can move around on the field of battle, and how they can attack is determined by where they are positioned in relation to what is being attacked. For instance, using the staff to hit an enemy while positioned entirely across the field isn't possible, but that position is perfect for a long-distance fire attack. So, part of battle will have to be spent getting into the perfect position for the attacks desired and to be able to avoid the enemy attacks. As well, different spells are useful not just for their strength, but the method in which they attack, and if used well can be made to hit a group of enemies all at the same time if positioned correctly. Battles aren't just a hindrance that gets in the way of getting to the next area, but can be quite interesting just on their own.

Beyond that, the rest of the game is what one would likely expect from a Gameboy RPG. This game in particular is one of the black cartridge games which can be used on a regular Gameboy or Super Gameboy, but which has additional coloring put in when used on a Gameboy Color or Gameboy Advance. While it doesn't stand out particularly graphically, everything does look nice enough and works well with the game, and is particularly impressive when considering that everything in the game was transitioned from a 3D world to still working good as a 2D game. Likewise the music isn't anything that stands out too much, but, there are different tunes for each area, and then fit the game well enough. There are a number of areas to explore, with some interesting variety to the people and places encountered on the journey. Many of the towns and people have a particularly Celtic feel to them, in contrast to the medieval England feeling of many other RPGs, and makes for an interesting experience. Each town has a number of people to talk with, who can shed light on what to do next, on the journey as a whole, or just on their own little bit of life, which makes going from place to place and exploring much more interesting. As well, the areas outside of town have a good variety to them, consisting of grasslands, deserts, oceans, fire-scarred lands, and many other surroundings. It can be plenty of fun just exploring all the different areas of the game, even without worrying about where exactly one should be going next or working toward the final goal. Once one does get back onto that though, the story as a whole isn't the most exciting thing, but it does work out well enough in the end.

If one is choosing this game out of the various other Gameboy and Gameboy Color RPGs that are available, this one doesn't quite stand out at the top with the better ones, but does end up being a fairly fun game of its own. It tries doing a number of things differently, some of which work out well and some of which would've been better doing things a more standard way. As a whole, however, even if not quite as good as some other games, it does make for a rather unique experience. Again, if one has enjoyed the N64 version and thinks trying it in this form might be enjoyable, it definitely does provide an interesting look on the game. If one plays this game first and enjoys it, it would also be interesting to then try out the N64 version after playing this game. If one enjoys RPGs in general, and is looking for something new to try after having played others, or something a bit different from the rest, it's definitely something to check out. It's not going to amaze or anything, but it's a fairly fun game, and something certainly worth playing if it sounds appealing.