Video Game Review: Chantelise – A Tale of Two Sisters

“Five years ago, a witch’s curse beneath the red moon turned Chante into a fairy. Now she and her sister Elise search for a way to transform her back into a human, and in their travels they come across a particular town, which is home to a number of nearby ruins, as well as a peculiar shopkeeper named Aira, and a strange, mercurial fortune-teller who calls herself Elma. Could this place hold the key to returning Chante to normal? Or will it lead to more answers than our two sisters ever wanted to know?”

Chantelise comes from the Japanese indie developer EasyGameStation, who you may know as the group that created Carpe Fulgur’s previous release Recettear. Chantelise actually pre-dates Recettear, being EasyGameStation’s first game to feature their own characters and story instead of being based on an existing property. Though you shouldn’t go into this expecting a premise and experience as unique as Recettear; Chantelise is just a simple 3D action adventure game.

Players take control of Elise, a young swordswoman who travels with her sister Chante, who happens to be a fairy. Combat is pretty straightforward: Elise can perform a short combo with her sword, jump, and dash out of the way of attacks, and Chante participates in combat by casting magic, which can only be done when the player picks up magic stones that enemies drop. The magic easily adds the most variety to the combat, allowing you to use multiple magic stones at the same time to perform different kinds of spells. There’s a spell list in the menu, though for some reason it only appears to list spells for using multiples of the same element, and doesn’t include any of spells for using a mix of elements. That defeats the purpose of the spell list since it’s easy to remember to use two fire stones to cast a stronger fire spell whereas other combinations and their results aren’t as straightforward, and it seems like an oversight on the developer’s part.

Chantelise forgoes a traditional level-up system, instead requiring you to buy HP upgrades and other stat boosting equipment at the town store. This is where the game can get cruel. Whenever you buy something the price goes up, and every time you sell a treasure its value goes down. If you play the game long enough HP upgrades can start costing you well over 100,000 Pix, while most pieces of treasure you have to sell will net you a couple hundred, maybe a thousand if you’re lucky.  The real kicker is buying hints for the various hidden treasures in dungeons lowers your max HP instead of costing money, so if you want to go after the treasure it’s going to cost you significantly to get your HP back up. I can only assume this is some form of karmic punishment for every time I price-gouged customers when there was a food shortage in Recettear. Needless to say if you’re aiming to boost your stats a great deal you’re in for a lot of grinding.

Dungeon exploration in Chantelise isn’t a complicated affair. You simply go floor to floor, killing every enemy in the area to advance. There isn’t actually that much “exploration” involved. There is a hidden treasure located in every floor in the entire game, but that doesn’t really require exploration so much as fulfilling some strange vague criteria to make the treasure chest appear. Another problem with the dungeon exploration is the lack of variety of enemies. There are only a handful of different types of monsters, with latter dungeons mostly being filled with palate swapped versions of things you’ve fought before. If you’ve played Recettear you’ll also notice that almost every enemy from Chantelise was also in that game (this also extends to sound effects, items, and other things as well). Although that’s actually a flaw with Recettear since, again, Chantelise was made before it. Going through the dungeons  and killing monsters would easily get repetitive and tedious after a while, but luckily there are only six dungeons in the game and they’re not too long.

The real challenge in the dungeon exploration comes from the bosses. Simply put, if you run in to the first boss battle thinking it’s a simple matter of hitting them a few times and dodging, you’re going to die. A lot. The first boss is probably one of the most challenging, simply because you have no idea what to expect. Unlike normal enemies, bosses have a large variety of attacks and if you don’t properly learn how to avoid them, which isn’t as simple as just pressing the dodge button, you won’t get very far. This isn’t something you can just brute force your way through. You can’t just go grind money to buy some HP boosts and hope to hold out. This is a real challenge that you need to learn to overcome, and it’s one of the best parts of the game.

One big problem with the game is the lack of extra content. Once you’ve finished the story, which will only take you about 10 hours, there’s next to nothing left for you to do. There is an extra dungeon that opens up if you’ve found all the hidden treasure, but it’s a short dungeon that you can clear pretty quickly. The other major thing is a 60 floor  survival mode dungeon, made up of re-used floors from other dungeons, where the goal is to keep killing monsters until you reach the end. It’s certainly lengthy, but not something I ever really see myself bothering with. Aside from those two things, there’s also a fishing minigame, which plays like a golf minigame for some reason. The fishing doesn’t figure into things in any significant way (though you can catch some… questionable things), and it’s entirely possible to go through the entire game without even realizing there’s a finishing minigame at all.

Chantelise‘s gameplay may be a little bland, but where it really shines is the dialogue. Carpe Fulgur once again produced a superb localization, with every bit of dialogue filled with personality and bit of humour thrown in for good measure. The majority of funny dialogue comes out of Chante’s mouth, Chante being a hyperactive little fairy who’s quick to anger and has a penchant for kicking in people’s shins. Other characters have their moments as well, with another highlight being the fortune-teller Elma, though most of her funny moments are centered around her interactions with Chante. The dialogue features jabs at some aspects of the game itself, jokes about old over-localization habits, and a host of other things that are sure to get a laugh or two while you’re hacking and slashing your way through dungeons. Of course, even the dialogue that’s not focused on being funny is handled well, so much so that it’s hard to tell that the game used to be in another language. Carpe Fulgur did an excellent job with this game, easily on par with their Recettear localization.

Chantelise may not have an epic, sweeping story, but what story there is has a certain charm to it. It’s a simple story of two sisters seeking a way to break a curse and getting caught up in a bigger adventure along the way. The best part of the story comes from the two sisters who are willing to do anything to help one another. Either one is ready and willing to risk their life if it means helping her sister, and it results in a nice heartwarming little story. Whether or not the story really matters depends on how much emphasis you put on the plot of an action adventure game, and chances are it’s not very much. Even so, EasyGameStation’s first outing into original characters and story was a good one, with a simple but charming plot and a great cast of characters, easily rivaling the efforts of professional developers in this genre.

In the end, Chantelise is a pretty good action adventure game that’s worth checking out. The gameplay is fun, if a little shallow and repetitive, but this is easily made up for by the humour present in the dialogue. It has a nice little charming story and a lovable cast of characters. It may be lacking in content, only offering about 10-15 hours of playtime, but it’s ultimately a fun experience that’s easily worth the $10 price tag.

Score: 4/5

Pros: Great localization, lots of humour, charming story, challenging boss fights

Cons: Lacking extra content, combat can be a little shallow, not a very long game

Chantelise is available on Steam and GamersGate

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