Deep in the desert there lies an ancient and mystic tower. It is the only place where fabled monster eggs can be found, though monsters themselves can be found across the world. Monsters can only be raised by the first person they see when they’re hatched. Where there are strange creatures someone will want them. Where there’s a want it can be bought. Where there’s a buyer, there’s a seller. At the foot of the tower a city began to form and grow, Monsbaiya, made up of or supporting those who would brave the tower in search of the precious eggs and other loot.
Your father was one of these monster tamers and egg hunters. He would brave the tower hoping to some day reach its peak. When you turned five he left like any other day but something was different, there was an electricity in the air. The hours passed on, longer than he’d ever explored the tower’s paths. Clouds loomed over Monsbaiya laden with rain and crackling with thunder. With a peal of the storm’s lightning magical rays erupted from the tower’s crown scorching the desert — and scaring the hell out of everyone. No sooner had that ended a great seal overcame the tower’s top and with a great din the rain began. His monster came back but your father never did.
Ten years pass and your 15, of age to enter the tower. Your father’s fortune is all but spent. Monsbaiya, your family, and your life rest on your ability to master the tricks and traps of the tower of monsters. Climb to the tower’s summit like your father before you and see the Azure Dreams above the clouds.
I’ll concede, the only reason the introduction is so long is because I’ve got nothing here. Seriously, all I know is that this game was made by Konami. It might have been made by aliens and left on Konami’s doorstep for all I know.
Azure Dreams was released on June 30th, 1998. It’s competition was Banjo-Kazooie (Nintendo 64), Megaman Legends (PS1), and Fallout 2 (PC).
I mentioned that this game was made by Konami for the PS1 and anyone who was playing Konami games can see where this is going. For those who don’t, let me explain. Metal Gear Solid is another Konami game for the PS1 and it’s — more well known and better made, I mean — got a villain in it by the name of Psycho Mantis. This creep floats around and claims to be able to control your mind. As a demonstration of his power he reads your thoughts and can tell you what games you love based on the data on your memory card. Imagine if you will, little Renald at his Playstation in the dark late on a Friday night and Mantis hisses, “You like Azure Dreams, don’t you?” It blew my goddam mind and scared the hell out of me.
Azure Dreams is a turn-based, RPG, dungeon crawler, semi-roguelike with town building and dating simulator elements. Most of the gameplay is focused at the tower exploring its mysteries. The rules are simple and yet restricting. Whenever you enter the tower your level gets chopped to level one, but the levels of your monsters remain unchanged. Well, at least you can bring a bunch of monsters and your best sword/wand and shield… except the tower dislikes the greedy. The doors will only open if you have five or fewer items with them — and monsters count as items. And finally the floor of the tower changes every time you enter, so the challenge is never the same.
It should come as no surprise that the tower is filled with monsters. They are innumerable and will destroy you if they can. Have no fear of death though, your father’s spell preserves your life should you fall but you’ll be picked clean before you reach home — your monsters are still safe though.
When you’re not in the tower you can explore the town. Maybe buy some things for your home or start some building projects with a visit to the carpenter’s. You can improve and build many buildings in town beside your own, raising the town’s respect for you and improving the attitudes of potential suitors — but we’ll get to the ladies of Monsbaiya later. These buildings can unlock minigames and add flavor to the world.
There are quite the variety of strange and deadly monsters and they all have interesting abilities. From the Picket’s thievery to the Clown’s DeLevel spell and sinister visage. My favorite though, by far, is the Troll and his tool use. These little guys have got a makeshift society going and have learned to craft finely made weapons. These little bastards are rare but if you can tame one then you’ll be able to equip him with any troll tools you find from clubs to swords to a goddam crossbow.
The character art for this game is fantastic. Prominent NPCs have character portraits in dialogue with different variations to reflect their attitude or emotional state. There’s nothing like frustrating Ghosh and being able to see the look on his big dumb face.
I adore the music in this game. Every time I enter the tower and hear its familiar tune I’m filled with an adventurous spirit. As I climb higher and higher the music grows more intense and sinister as the danger grows and the tension builds. It’s clear to see how each variation is built on the same theme but warped in some way to suit the feeling its meant to inspire in the player.
Building up the town up is fun and rewarding in a sort of pure way. Most of the projects don’t improve your odds in the tower — if it does then I’m unaware — but I still want to make Monsbaiya better than its ever been. Some of the building’s unlock minigames like bowling or horse racing. Others, like rebuilding your family estate or helping your friend fulfill his dream of performing on stage by building a theater, have purely narrative results. And of course there’s the casino where I always lose my shirt.
There’s a dark side to the town building though. There’s a romance system in this game with a total of seven possible options ranging from the book worm to an exotic dancer. Each one responds positively to different projects — the book worm doesn’t even appear until you build the library for instance. The thing that skeeves me out though is the emotionally manipulative tactics you have to employ to romance them. Seriously, if you don’t trick them into loving you then they get upset because you don’t care enough. They even fight over the sheer privilege of waking you up each morning, trying to elbow each other out of the way until there’s only one remaining. If you fix the swimming pool then you can even see them there bikini clad with brand new character art — as if you say, ‘you done good kid, here’s the swimsuit issue. The real problem comes in the matter of age. The main character is 15, the dancer is 21, but all the others are 17 or younger. One of them is 15, and this game has the gall to ‘treat’ you to a bikini pin-up of this child. Bluuuugh.
Most interactions are blocked off by binary choice dialogue in which you have to say what the other person wants to hear. A series of 50/50 near guesses until you get the right conclusion. I’m also lead to believe that everyone in Monsbaiya has a short-term memory problem because, for the most part, if you fail one of these dialogue encounters you can start it over the next day and they act like nothing happened.
The early game can be a real grind and even openly hostile to new players. As you pray to RNJesus for some decent monster eggs and other good drops you’ll have to throw in prayers for finding an item to allow you to leave the tower with your loot. This is a guide game. Look up an FAQ because this game won’t explain how monster combat and monster MP management works, how to use a wind crystal to leave the tower, or what certain items even do.
Also, fuck rust traps.
I love this game with all my heart but sadly the cheapest I could find it was for $60 off of some used game website and it goes for $220 new on Amazon. It might be good but it’s not worth either of those price tags and it doesn’t look like it’s coming to any virtual console very soon… or ever.
Next Week: Monster Rancher 2