During this 3D Action-RPG you play as Parin, a small but mighty girl who has just moved in with her Grandfather in a town with no other children and not a fat deal to do. Fortunately for Parin as you begin to explore the town further, you uncover a secret entrance to an alternate world, filled with monsters who are ironically scared of the people in the human town, and whose own world has been besieged by a mysterious group of Phantoms. As you fight your way through varying environments and enemies you must rescue the villagers and gather their belongings in order to begin to rebuild their town, and uncover the world from the ominous mist that has fallen over it.
Gurumin is a game with a relatively long history, originally a Japan-only Windows title released in 2004, it was later ported to the PSP adding availability for North America and Europe in 2007 and releasing worldwide on Steam in 2015. This 3DS port was announced and released for North America and Europe in 2016 and it was a great choice of platform. Gurumin lends itself well to a handheld console, and the addition of 3D adds depth to the graphics when positioning is key, although, not being a fan of 3D myself as I struggle to see it, playing with 3D off does not hinder gameplay in any way.
Due to the RPG nature of the game, being able to dip in and out is both a blessing and a curse, being able to settle in for a couple of hours whilst on a train, as well as jump in for 15 minutes at a time between other things is great, however, if you leave it too long between playing it’s easy to forget what you’re supposed to be doing, and there aren’t really any hints or anywhere to see your current objectives, so wandering around until you remember is really your only course of action. A simple objective hint on the item screen would have been a huge help to adapt to the handheld gaming-on-the-go style of play.
As previously mentioned, the story involves playing as Parin whose parent have been called to work overseas and left Parin with her Grandfather. Parin comes across a girl cowering from a dog, and helps her out. Parin realises the girl isn’t human and discovers a world of monsters living just the other side of a crack in the wall, a legendary weapon in the form of a drill, and a mission to save her new friends from the evil Phantoms who have destroyed their homes and engulfed their world in darkness.
The game has two main hub words areas – the human town which consists of Parin’s temporary home, various shops and a disused and off-limits mine, and the monster world map which allows you to enter various ruins which act as the levels you will need to complete in order to retrieve the belongings taken by the Phantoms as well as uncover new sections of the world. The two hubs are linked by the monster village, and, as you rescue characters and their household items, this is where you return to as they begin to rebuild. There is a large amount of back and forth between the two worlds, and the monster have a tendency to wander off for no real reason other than making you find them again.
The main purpose of the human world is to buy health-restoring items in the form of cakes from Fan at the bakery, new headgear such as goggles and a gas mask from Disk in his Junk Shop and upgrades for your drill from Cylinder who walks around the town; later in the game you can also trade medals with your grandfather for money or items which are pertinent to the story. Items don’t come cheap however, luckily pretty much everything you see in the main levels is drillable and drops either money (for cakes, headgear and drill upgrades) or trash (for upgrades to your headgear), including trees, pots, posts and small lumps of what appears to be sand. Elemental upgrades for your drill are uncovered back in the monster world in non-combat areas revealed as the mist recedes.
The actual levels are nice and short, with enemies to kill and items and characters to find. At the end of each level your reward is a piece of furniture to return to one of the residents of the town. Once you have completed each level in a particular set of ruins you encounter a boss fight in order to rescue another monster, as more monsters are freed the town slowly begins to be rebuilt. As the story progresses you start to learn more about the Phantoms and their reason for attacking in the first place, however, there seems to be more to this story than you think. Once you have rescued all six residents of the monster village a new threat emerges and you head off to investigate who is behind it and where all the cakes are going!
The gameplay in general can be a little confusing, with a lot of elements all coming together. Along with the obligatory platforming and battling in the separate levels, you also have tasks to perform in the hub world which span both the monster world and the human world and feature lots of finding tasks. The monsters you need to return furniture to in order to progress the game have a nasty habit of disappearing into the human world, despite seemingly being terrified of everything there, and you need to go and find them before you can carry on. The human town is, thankfully, really quite small, however, finding things is still not a particularly easy task, and becomes and exercise in checking each building until you stumble upon them.
Similarly, I was tasked with finding one of a tag-team of mole brothers in the monster world, in order to break a door blocking my way. The first time was fine, he was predictably in the mole dojo where I found his bother, however, after sending him on his way and heading back to the impenetrable door I found he hadn’t arrived and was tasked with going to find him again, with no more information than that. Cue tediously checking every area until finding him in one of the non-combat levels where I had found the fire attachment for my drill, and again, pointing him in the right direction. Back to the door, and, lo-and-behold, he’s still not here. Back out to search then, and by this point I couldn’t really care less what had happened to him.
The levels are relatively easy to game-over as Parin doesn’t have a huge amount of life, and her attacks are costly time-wise. This means it’s easy to get hit several times in the time it takes you to do an attack – the fact that battles are almost always with more than one foe at a time doesn’t make this any easier. If you do game over, you will be started back at the beginning of the current area you are in, all enemies will have been restored and you will have half of your full health. This is where it becomes increasingly annoying to progress, as you are already at a health disadvantage, you have most likely already used any health-restoring items before game over, and there is no way to get out of the level and back to a shop in order to buy more. The most useful tactic I found here was to attempt to rush through and avoid as many enemies as possible and pretty much just hope for the best! Unfortunately this affects your rank for that level and isn’t very fun.
This being said, the over all difficultly levels seems well-balanced, and, once you’ve got the hang of equipment and upgrades things like forced water and gas-plant encounters become much easier to deal with taking minimal damage – my advice here would be to upgrade early. The boss fights can be tricky, and I certainly spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to take on the first boss who seems to have impenetrable armour. As previously mentioned, the game does not really do well with hints, and the dialogue is stunted so talking to characters for advice doesn’t help. Once you’ve worked out the ‘trick’ to each boss though, they generally don’t take too long to defeat.
The controls adapt well on the DS, moving with the analog stick or d-pad, attacking, jumping and dashing with the face buttons and accessing your items and the game menu with start is all pretty standard. The only annoying thing about the set-up is using the shoulder buttons to manually rotate the camera. Not having an automatically adjusting camera makes boss battles particularly frustrating as you’re trying to dodge attacks whilst keeping an eye on where the enemy is – the ability to ‘lock-on’ would have been very welcome here as a compromise – but also means that in tight maze-like corridors the camera starts to clip into objects which then obstruct your view. This may well be less of an issue on a different platform, such as PC, as the dimensions of the 3DS screen obviously limit your view.
The only other gripe here is the requirement to use the same button you attack with to charge your attack, meaning you waste time with an initial attack when the button is pressed down to start charging, and, as previously mentioned, any lost-time in the fast-paced battles puts you at a disadvantage immediately. I was extremely glad that bringing up the items menu mid-battle essentially pauses the action allowing you to heal up before returning to the fight.
The dialogue throughout is relatively amusing and Parin herself is not afraid to speak her mind with a nice sarcastic element to conversations. Generally characters are well-developed and their dialogue aids the overall shaping of their personalities. The infamous lost mole, however, kept calling me ‘baby’ which was an odd and pretty cringeworthy turn of events. The game music fades well into the background and isn’t particularly memorable, however, I enjoyed it whilst it was on.
With an advertised 35+ hours of gameplay, after playing approximately 6 hours worth of the game it feels like I’m about half way through the main story, so I’m not sure what else lays in store to flesh out the time, however, so far it’s becoming more enjoyable as I spend more time with it. The gameplay has it’s sticking points, however, nothing so serious as to make me put the game down completely, and the story is becoming more engaging as we begin to find out more about the Phantoms and their leader, Prince. Gurumin is a relatively typical Action RPG which is in no way a bad thing, and I would recommend giving it a go – although I may opt for a different platform to really make the most of the graphics and hopefully fix some of the control issues.