Most people know that the SNES doesn't have a load of darker themed or violent games due to Nintendo's track record of making games suitable for all ages. However, there is one thing that many people DON'T know...there is a dark and brooding RPG for SNES in the vein of "Sweet Home", a highly acclaimed game back on the NES (Famicom, as it's Japan-Only) by Capcom that paved the way for future Capcom horror titles like Resident Evil. What better SNES/SFC RPG to talk about in the month of October than Rapurasu no Ma, the game that is justly dubbed a "Psychic Horror RPG"?
Typically called "Laplace no Ma", "Demon of Laplace", "Laplace's Demon", or "Diable De Laplace", RnM is an RPG that has ties to Pierre-Simon Laplace's theory of the universe and a distinct air of H.P. Lovecraft inspiration. Throw in a little of what Japan is typically known for like a cute anime girl here or there and you have the makings for something great...or something horribly cliched. The setting is the fictional town of Newcam (Newcam being tied to H.P. Lovecraft's fictional town of Arkham), a small town in the outskirts of Boston, USA. The year...is 1924. Your mission in a nutshell: To solve all the cases of murder and missing people to gain fame. Your destination: The Haunted Weathertop Manor. There is only one thing standing in your way...the unknown. The only thing you DO know is that a man by the name of Benedict Weathertop may have something to do with the unsettling plot.
This game is every bit as scientific as it is supernatural, but we mustn't forget that this IS a game and not a book. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. Is Rapurasu no Ma worth a playthrough, or is it a fruitless mess? Sadly, Rapurasu no Ma is bareable at best...and at worst, it's a malignant tumor that needs to be disposed of before it destroys precious human life. Does this sound harsh? Of course, but in a world where time is precious, GS attempts to make your life easier when it comes down to deciding what you should play. Well, enough with the description, how is the game?
The first thing you'll notice when you get to start messing around with things is that you're given the option between choosing an uptight-looking male protagonist or a guileless-looking female protagonist. You then get to choose what class your character will be, which ranges from a Detective, Journalist, Scientist, Medium, or Dilettante. Your abilities will depend on what class you pick, and you should also choose what characters you'll have join you at the bar (and Hotel) wisely to balance your party. You use the town of Newcam as your base of operations and when you're ready, you get to explore the Weathertop Manor.
If you haven't guessed it, one of RnM's perks is its character customization, which will make fans of games like "Wizardry" and "The Bard's Tale" feel more comfortable. There are a couple of nice differences between the classes such as the Journalist being capable of taking pictures of enemies that can be sold and Scientists who are adept at using tools. Still, while one can argue the semantics, once the novelty wears off, the characters in and of themselves aren't particularly different or interesting from dozens of RPGs before it, and the lacking character development adds insult to injury. Visually, the game is nothing to write home about. The scant number of locations will quickly seem redundant with all the recurring scenery and lack of imagination. Battles aren't particularly dazzling either, as most enemies aren't particularly detailed or imaginative. The visuals are quite unimpressive as a whole, though the game at least captures the eerieness of the most prominent locations in the game, like the Manor. Fans of games like Sweet Home and Clock Tower will more than likely dig the scenery though.
One thing that a game parading itself as a "horror" title needs most isn't great visuals, but sounds and audio that enhance the mood, and I'm dedicating a whole paragraph to this games' audio. Sadly, this game has a lousy, repetitive soundtrack IMO and the audio just isn't creepy even with the sound effects when you add the generic dialougue, bland environments and the lack of atmosphere. Okay, so I can hear a door open and close or hear a generic sound effect that doesn't even appropriately portray what's happening in the environment...to that, I say "big whoop". While a few tracks are tolerable, the audio as a whole is very ho-hum. Sound can be very beneficial to a horror title, so it disappointed me greatly to see the audio fail to live up to its potential.
Lastly, we have the gameplay...which is another exercise in frustration. Vic Tokai is not to blame for this, but Humming Bird Soft...they are the ones who developed this game and I know a few of their other titles firsthand such as Record of Lodoss War for the PC-Engine. What does it have in common with Rapurasu no Ma? Loads of pointless fetch quests, a wretched leveling system, lots of backtracking and plenty of mandatory and unrewarding battles. Because Humming Bird Soft didn't teach me a lesson in Record of Lodoss War, I effectively sought out another title to play from these developers and I've come to realize that they have a thing for punishing unsuspecting gamers...similarly like a dominatrix toys with her prey.
Enemies can be vicious if you aren't prepared and fighting them in the slow-paced battles can be a chore. After defeating your wretched foe, you are awarded a measly amount of experience...hooray! This isn't so bad until you realize that they don't equate numerous party members in your after-battle assessment...so, let's do the math: Almost nothing divided by 2, 3 or 4 equals almost nothing divided by 2, 3 or 4. It's also no fun when battles get drawn out due to enemies constantly trying to evade your attacks. So how do you level up? Sidequests! While you don't HAVE to level up by using sidequests, it's the only rational way to do so (without cheating). While RnM gets many of its "fine" core elements from Record of Lodoss War, RnM's quests are at least a little more rewarding and interesting than "go kill this guy" or "go find this guy, then kill him". Otherwise, this game is pretty average in the gameplay department.
Ultimately, this game is marred by a fairly drab presentation, lackluster audio, a generic plot (that gets a little better as you progress), gameplay suitable for a sadist and sidequests that aren't so much sidequests since they are the only feasible way to do anything...and you'll be lucky if you get your party to level SIX at the end of the game (though to be fair, it won't go much higher). Rapurasu no Ma isn't the best game to play if you are looking for a game that will give you a scare...you know, a good scare. It's not "Sweet Home" for SNES...it's just a generic horror RPG from start to finish...and that as they say is that.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -