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Beyond the Beyond
System: PlayStation :: Rating: N/A :: Players: 1
Genre: RPG :: Released: 23 July 1996

By JB Mulholland
If you have ever lost a beloved pet, or, perhaps, run headlong into a low-clearance pipe, repeatedly, then you know what sort of misery I was getting myself into when I decided to replay my copy of Beyond the Beyond.

One of the very first PlayStation RPGs, Beyond the Beyond seemed a godsend when, all the way back in 1996, I was a poor little lonely teenager, hungry for some good roleplayin' after Square shut off the gameworks for the SNES. I bought it immediately. I didn't cry until later...

Let's work from the outside in, shall we? Beyond the Beyond has some of the worst pseudo-anime, generic medieval garbage box-art I have ever seen (with the exception, perhaps, of Suikoden — the difference is, Suikoden was a good game). It also marked my first encounter (remember, I was still young) with the androgynous, headband-wearing, too-young-for-his-hero-britches prepubescent. (If only it had been my last...)

Upon selecting New Game I was greeted by a lovely lady made of fancy, high-tech pixels — PlayStation pixels! — set against a swirling, acid-trip background. She introduced me to my new best-friend, the dragon-baby Steiner, then proceeded to tell me that I was a great hero, and Steiner would help me out on my quest for... something or other. Fulfilling some prophecy?

Let's think here. Had Secret of Mana been this blatant? Sure, sure, the Mana Sword talked to me and all, but it didn't show up in the opening screens and say, "Hey, you... Yeah, you... Time to save the world. Cool? No, man, seriously, it's your destiny."

When the opening sequence ended, things looked even bleaker. The in-game graphics are second generation Super Nintendo, at best. The character sprites are super-deformed lumps with eyes, smoother and crisper than the sprites in Final Fantasy III, but also less detailed. Pathetic, considering that Suikoden was released a mere three months later.

Now, call me crazy, but I recognized the story without even having to play through it. (I played through it anyway, though. Pity me.) There were evil, ruthless rulers, sword-wielding heroes, and world-wide conflict. But there was something wrong. Yes, there were evil, ruthless rulers, and they ruled evilly and ruthlessly. But who were they? Nobody, really. Just evil, ruthless rulers. Yes, there was world-wide conflict, and it created all sorts of trouble. But what was it? Oh, nothing, just... You get the idea. The story was like low-grade linen: extra thin and full of holes. It was nothing more than a tangle of RPG plot clichés.

Puzzles? Totally random things that didn't fit in with the story at all. Early in the game, the characters encounter a square depression on the floor, filled with eight square tiles and an empty spot. Move the tiles, form the picture, go on to the next test of your patience and kind nature.

Battle system? Well, the system seems to be based entirely on triggering as many battles as it can before I smash my controller through the television screen. The dungeon battles aren't too bad (unless you consider trading one hit point blows with a cave bat over and over again bad), but the world map is hell. Stepping onto the world map, I got thrown into a fight every three steps, and believe me, the fights in this game are never short. Moving from town to town quickly became an exercise in self-control. When I managed to make it across the map without swearing and pounding something, I considered myself a candidate for canonization.

Controls? The shoulder buttons are the primary action buttons, which really screwed me up. Coming off the SNES, where shoulder buttons are really just so much wasted plastic, they were the last places my fingers went. The X button can be used, too, but instead of taking the most pertinent action for the situation (talking to a villager, searching a chest), it opens up a slow-scrolling menu of options. "Yes, I do believe I'll talk to this ficus." Unnecessary. But hey, why give the player just the drill-bit they need when you could give them an entire toolbox?

Silent, nameless protagonist? Of course. Like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, our hero seems to have no tongue. His head does seem to retract into his neck when he agrees with something, though, and he vibrates whenever he's confused or excited.

Steiner? God help us all. Steiner, you see, makes me want to kill myself and/or those around me. Go see a performance of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, or Waiting for Godot and you will have some idea of the soul crushing effect of the little pink dragon mascot. He is not a character. I know he is not a character, because he has no personality, no life. He is more like a Nietzschean concept than a character. For death? Perhaps. For despair? More likely. I used to think I hated sassy mascots, or hyper cute mascots, but that was before I braved the empty, hollow stare of Steiner's cold, dead eyes.

Last, but certainly not least... Fun? No. Tedious in 1996, masochistic today. Replaying this game was the hardest thing I've had to do in a very long time. My advice is, if you want to see RPGs done right, go play the Suikoden series, if you want to see cutesy mascots done right, play Pokemon, and if you want to see generic gameplay done right, play Oni. But do not, under any circumstances, play this game. Let the sands of time erase its memory, like footprints from the dunes of history. Please.

Final Rating: 2 of 10 — Because it was one of the first PlayStation RPGs, and because it made me appreciate SquareSoft that much more.

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