The game starts as Gooka, the supreme judge of the land, returns home from a long journey full of adventures that the player knows nothing about. Gooka arrives at the town of Parenti to find his house burnt down, his wife poisoned, and his son kidnapped by unknown assailants. Hardly shaken by his grim discovery, he resolves to find a cure for his wife and rescue his son... And the player hopes hours of engaging gameplay experience is about to ensue as Gooka not only saves his family, but also unravels the great secrets of the planet Janatris.
Unfortunately, unlike what the title of the game suggests, there is either not that great of a mystery to Janatris, or Gooka must have discovered the real mystery when I blinked. The story, as it is delivered in the game, lacks any kind of true depth. The facts presented in the beginning sequence of the game are never truly challenged. There are no jaw-dropping discoveries or completely unexpected plot twists. Sure, Gooka does end up understanding the nature of his land and its people a little better, but this does not keep the game from being trapped in that dreaded sense of predictability. Vlado Risa's Gooka and Yorimar, the book the game is based on, must tell the story far more effectively, because what is offered in the game will hardly keep players at the edge of their seats.
Despite the lack of elements that would have made the story truly great, Gooka can still be an entertaining game to play. The hero of the tale is most definitely a 'cool' character to control. He is a capable fighter and a gifted magic user, not to mention his remarkable psionic abilities. Gooka is pretty much the full fantasy hero package. Unfortunately, the game is not designed in a way to capture his full potential. Many aspects of the game feel as though they were left incomplete. Many good ideas have obviously gone into the development of Gooka: The Mystery of Janatris. Unfortunately, the end result feels as though those ideas were simply not cooked to perfection.
The vast majority of Gooka plays like a typical adventure game. The hero of the tale runs around, interacts with people, and tries to solve puzzles to complete various tasks. Even though the challenges offered in Gooka will not be completely new to the experienced adventure gamer, some of the puzzles are quite interesting and fairly original. Furthermore, Gooka's telepathic powers make the adventuring aspect of the game rather unique since he can read other characters' minds for hints and clues as to what to do next. However, Gooka's psychic talents should have probably been a more important element of gameplay. After all, the novelty of being bale to read a single thought from characters the players will have little reason to care about wears off very quickly.
The game also suffers from a considerable event sequence problem. Gooka can finish certain tasks before even meeting the person who is supposed to assign it. In fact, when Gooka does finally meet the person that was meant to give the quest, the other character may act as though the quest had already been assigned and proceed directly to giving the reward. To make things worse, Gooka is also fully capable of putting together items without having any reason to do so. For instance, at one point in the game, Gooka can combine two items in a laboratory to create a potion and know exactly what it does long before he needs the potion or finds the recipe for it. While such problems are not observed very frequently, they should have been altogether avoided.
Yet another problem with the adventure elements of the game is the poor use of English. Players will often have to solve puzzles based on the clues provided by other characters. Thus, it is extremely important that those clues are stated in clear and understandable language. Unfortunately, at several points in the game, what is said to Gooka can be greatly misinterpreted. Thus, players might find themselves running around the same set of locations, trying to make sense a clue that is made ambiguous only by virtue of the poor English with which it was delivered. This language problem adds an unnecessary level of difficulty to the game.
Although Gooka: The Mystery of Janatris is an adventure game at its core, it also features some basic RPG elements. At various points during the game, Gooka will have to engage in combat. Reminiscent of combat in Final Fantasy games, the fighting sequences are turn-based. Depending on their speed ratings, characters take turns during which they can perform various actions. The actions are distributed across four categories. The first category, using body strength as its base, includes physical attacks and skills such as improving combat damage, slowing down opponents for the duration of the fight. The second category is derived from mental strength and includes the various spells available. The third category includes skills that allow characters to channel body strength or mind strength into the opposite attribute as well as the meditation skill that allows characters to rest and recover strength. Finally, the fourth category includes the various potions that can be used in combat.
Conceptually, the fighting system is very intuitive and engaging. Players will have to make careful decisions about how to use their turns in order to win any given fight. Players will also want to have a longer term strategy as Gooka's body strength and mental strength attributes improve based on the kind of skills he uses in combat. As the game progresses, Gooka learns new physical and mental skills, making fights more interesting. Furthermore, other characters occasionally join Gooka, which adds a whole new level of strategy to combat.
In practice however, there are serious problems with the combat system. First of all, many opponents are powerful enough to kill Gooka with a single blow. Especially when the opponent has the first turn, there is absolutely nothing the player can do to prevent this from happening. Thus, the player is all too frequently load a saved game and repeat the combat seqence, hoping that Gooka will be luckier and receive less damage from the initial attack. Even with the game's autosave feature, having no choice but to reload the game is not acceptable.
A second problem with combat is how important a single decision can be. For instance, if the player decides to improve mental strength on a given turn and they are against an opponent with high physical strength, the opponent is almost assured to be able to kill Gooka in the next turn. Gooka can just easily die if the player decides to attack, cast a healing spell, or use an item when it is not favorable to do so. The game is extremely unforgiving towards mistakes, making the combat sequences very frustrating at times.
The fact that an adventure game features many combat sequences alone might be enough to discourage some players. As if to avoid this, Gooka has difficulty settings that allow players to make the fights easier. When the combat level is set to easy, players can view the attributes of their opponents and make their decisions accordingly. At higher difficulty levels however, this information is hidden, forcing the player to guess at the relative strengths of the opponents. Furthermore, the attributes of the opponents are randomized every time you fight them. Thus, a strategy that seemed to work during the same combat sequence once may not work on a consecutive attempt. To make matters worse, the difficulty level of the puzzles in the game cannot be adjusted independently. If players want to play at the normal puzzle difficulty, they have no choice but to put up with the excessively difficult combat.
Gooka: The Mystery of Janatris has many elements that could have made it a great game. The graphics are very nice even though they are not sizzling with cutting-edge technology. Although it plays all too rarely, the music is very pleasant. The voice acting is good throughout the game and quite exceptional for a few of the characters. The puzzles entertaining and challenging enough to keep most adventure gamers busy for a few hours.
Unfortunately, the game fails to deliver all of these elements effectively. The initially interesting combat system becomes little more than a nuisance by the end of the game. The story does not develop and grow much beyond what is offered in the opening sequence. Some of the tasks Gooka has to complete feel as though they have been added simply to increase gameplay time. Several hours into the game, players can easily lose interest or become too frustrated with the combat to continue playing. Even those who are patient or resilient enough to play the game to the end will probably be disappointed by the predictable and anticlimactic ending.
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