Many gamers would agree that Nihon Falcom games tend to draw you in and not let go. While it’s true that the budget-friendly visuals they typically employ can call to mind low-rent indie fare, the titles also tend to exhibit a level of polish that quite a few AAA studios can’t match. Indeed, hallmarks of Nihon Falcom games include responsive controls and tight, old-school gameplay, however they do also excel in creating rich, inviting worlds.
One such world is shown in Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure. While it is a bit of a departure from their usual output (they tend to be more like NES and PC-Engine Action RPGs, but Gurumin brings to mind titles from the 32-bit era, such as the classic Megaman Legends), Gurumin bears the standard hallmarks with pride. The title seems to have, unfortunately, flown under the radar of most gamers
Players take control of a young girl named Parin. Her life seems to be heading downhill rather quickly, with her parents having sent her to live with her grandfather in Tiese. This normally wouldn’t be too bad, except that the old mining village barely has any residents, and none of these few residents are children. Parin seems to be doomed to boredom… until she quickly manages to stumble through a gap in a wall.
This gap leads Parin to a world of friendly monsters that bring to mind films from Tim Burton. Only children can see these monsters, and Parin proceeds to spend her days playing and chatting with her new friends, happily spending her time beyond the wall.
One day, however, things take a turn, as a group of evil creatures known as Phantoms attacks the town of monsters and proceeds to kidnap them. Parin is a brave girl, however, and quickly takes up a magical drill located at the center of town, setting off to rescue her friends (and reclaim their furniture) after she obtains it.
To be honest, the story sucked me in more than I expected, and it was hard to put the game down as I constantly wanted to know what happened next.
As you can likely tell, this is a bit of an odd game, and the items you can locate over the course of your adventure exemplify this fact. For example, while other titles may give you helmets and the like, the headwear you obtain early on in Gurumin is none other than a pair of goggles, which is useful for keeping water out of your eyes while swimming. Then there’s the ribbon, which, as the in-game description states, “reduces trap damage… for some reason”.
Gurumin can be quite challenging to play, especially if you, like me, jump into the hardest available difficulty right off the bat. Oh, it starts off simple enough (though still challenging, as the difficulty mentioned means one hit can kill you), with a few basic enemy types and environmental hazards appearing, but things quickly become more and more complex as you advance. While at first you can take down the standard phantoms with melee attacks easily enough, you’ll quickly encounter armored versions. These require a charged blow to first remove their armor. Next up will be flying enemies, which force you to use jump attacks.
Gurumin quickly mixes it up even more, throwing bigger and stronger variants of the creatures at you, versions that have weapons, versions that can utilize elemental projectiles, and even specialized enemies like spiders and seed-spitting plants. You’ll need to be able to think on your feet to get past these hazards. Overall, however, the difficulty curve feels quite nice, and the special enemies present you an opportunity to salvage their gear in order to upgrade your own.
Combat itself is fairly simple, though the game utilizes a unique system for battle. While you can simply run in swinging, or even use your charged attack, it’s much more beneficial to time your attacks with the little bar at the top. This bar, which shows the beat of the background song, is essential if you master combat. As you fight, you need to time your attacks so that you hit as the beat hits the center of the bar. If you are successful, you’ll land a critical attack, with a set number of these increasing your drill’s level (up to a max of 3). If you get hit, your level decreases, and in the highest difficulty only critical strikes can damage enemies.
Falcom fans will be expecting a dungeon crawler, and Gurumin doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Unlike other titles, like Ys, however, Gurumin doesn’t lock you into a linear level progression. Instead the overworld (which will likely feel familiar to anybody of the PSX era) is divided into several different regions allowing you to tackle them in almost any order you wish. The main deterrent is the miasma that blankets the world, preventing you from accessing certain areas. To remove this miasma, you’ll need to find a piece of monster furniture and return it to its owner.
The levels themselves are distinctive and well designed, with plenty of puzzles and challenges to overcome. Each level contains a boss at the end, who is protecting the furniture from you. These bosses are quite well-designed and are, even on the one-hit kill mode I played, quite fun to battle. While bosses in other games may follow set patterns, you can’t count on that in Gurumin, as they tend to jump randomly between different attacks. Each attack will leave the boss vulnerable in different ways, thus encouraging you to pay attention, rather than just go on memory.
Honestly, it’s a shame that Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure flew under the radars of so many gamers (myself included) when it first arrived on PSP almost a decade ago, as it is a solid dungeon crawling action RPG. The characters are likeable, combat is fun, and the stages are distinctive. Hopefully it will appear on many other gamers’ radars now that it’s also on PC.
Final Score: 4.75/5