GOOKA 2: MYSTERY OF JANATRIS / Cenega / PC
Gooka 2 starts from an adventure game base similar to the gameplay of Grim Fandango, where nearly everything is controlled with just a few buttons so you can play with a gamepad. But it also dabbles in some turn-based RPG combat in the style of the earlier Final Fantasy games and all sorts of similar JRPGs.
Gooka is our unfortunately named hero. This is apparently the sequel to something, as the intro establishes that he beat off many monsters with his bare hands in a faraway land long ago, and now is the judge of the land of Janatris. Also has no problem with slavery it seems, as he has bald oily muscle guys to carry him wherever he wants to go. For some reason this is how I picture Peter Molyneux living if he actually inhabited a fantasy world.
Anyway, life is pretty sweet for Gooka, until he comes home one day to find his house burned, his wife stabbed with a poison dagger and his kid missing with no indication as to who did this or why. Fortunately for Gooka, he lives in an odd medieval-futuristic hybrid world where the nearby monastery has a high-tech healing sarcophagus that can keep his wife in suspended animation until he finds a cure for the poison. So that's job one, and at some point we'll have to figure out where the little rugrat got to as well.
This is a lower-budget game from a small publisher so there's generally something of a slow pace, a bit of occasional control jank and the writing in general isn't great. But honestly, I kinda enjoyed the game's whole "Zelda atmosphere but in an adventure game with tank controls" style. It leans much more heavily toward adventure game than RPG, as combat is limited to a few fixed encounters in each area -- other than a couple of optional subquest fights there's no real level-grinding or random encounters to speak of. Most of the gameplay time is spent solving puzzles and running around talking to people / finding items in typical adventure style. After getting out of the opening area, Gooka eventually gets some party members, but their stays are usually fleeting and there's little point to trying to level them up.
For 2004 and the low budget the game actually looks pretty good, with nicely constructed environments and even changing weather effects such as thunderstorms and a day-night cycle (though not in real time). It also has a surprisingly decent (if sparing on the track count) soundtrack, and the little Australian team that picked up the rights to localize and publish the game even did a halfway decent job with the English voice acting.
Gooka will definitely appeal more to old-school adventure gamers who can tolerate a bit of console-style turn-based battling rather than JRPG fans. The battle engine does allow you to customize Gooka's growth somewhat, as his Body (offense and defense) or Mind (magic damage and resistance) will grow proportionally depending on how much you use them in combat. The opening area has nothing but physical attackers, however, and they're all initially a lot stronger than you to boot, basically forcing you to go hard with the Body abilities initially just to survive. There's more room for magic later once other party members start coming in to spread out the incoming damage. But in general the combat could have been a lot better balanced than it was, and tough encounters later in the game virtually mandate that you suss out all the earlier optional battles in order to power up.
I don't mean to paint the game as a great undiscovered foreign gem -- the story and characters are somewhat flat, the translation to English is passable but not great, and there's no particularly compelling plot twists or inventive gameplay on display. But it's a solid old-school sort of adventure in a surprisingly enjoyable and nice-looking game engine and may be worth a look for adventure gamers who have run through nearly everything else already.
* Gameplay Video