Most of my favourite games — the ones I go back to regularly to play time and time again — were released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). I have favourites on every platform, to be sure, but I have the most on the SNES, and of all of them, if I had to choose just one that I enjoyed more than any other, I'd have to go with Secret of Mana.
Not because it was the best action-RPG title on the console (I'd award that badge to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past), or because it had the best characters or storytelling (Chrono Trigger, anyone?) — no, it was my favourite, and remains that way to this very day, because of the cooperative multiplayer.
In Secret of Mana, you could play through almost the entire game with a friend, each taking control of one of three characters while the game played the third. It sounds simple enough, I'm sure, but by adding multiplayer to a genre that typically never offered it, Squaresoft had created an experience like no other.
I mention this now because recently I discovered Wanderlust: Rebirth on Steam and for the first time in almost 20 years I feel like I'm playing a SNES RPG with my friends again, only this time it's even better.
LEARNIN' THE ROPES
I was a little afraid of Wanderlust: Rebirth at first; as is typical for me with Steam, I rushed in with no idea what I was going to play. After creating my character and completing the tutorial — which among the basics introduced character point (CP) allocation and crafting — I was thrust into battle almost immediately and lost amidst a sea of colours, characters and combat.
Quickly, I realised that I was one member of a party of 4, the others controlled by the game and each with different abilities. I was an Alchemist who played the role of a rogue, dashing and flinging explosive potions at everything within reach; the others, a Cleric, Fighter and Elementalist all contributing to the carnage in ways I could scarcely comprehend.
Following a series of short battles, a small mini-boss encounter and some oddly charming dialogue we appeared to have won the tournament, and set out on an adventure to claim our prize.
Everything happened so quickly that I didn't get a chance to process what I'd learned. The end of the chapter brought with it a score screen detailing the awards I'd earned and % completion, which determined the CP I'd earned, and thereby, how much I could enhance my character.
MAKE IT MULTIPLAYER
That's when I was invited to play with a group of friends, and from the very moment we began our quest anew — this time, communicating on Skype and listening to them prepare character 'builds' that would benefit the group/scenario — I began to fall in love.
Having already completed the game multiple times, some of my companions already had access to every mission on multiple difficulties, alongside an awesome selection of spells, abilities and equipment; though, to keep things fresh they started with new characters and we played from the beginning. It didn't take me long to nail down the basics properly and get a handle on my Alchemist's abilities, and by playing with others I began to see how the other classes worked.
The Cleric wasn't just a healer, but a battle-hardened veteran capable of blocking all incoming damage and increasing our party abilities. The Fighter, an arse-kicker without limits, customisable for every situation. And the Elementalist, another beast entirely, complete with its own spell system and mechanics. On top of it all, each of us had access to a shared 'Soul Charge Pool' that filled as we succeeded in battle. Each of us had a single ability we could use to drain this pool, which effected the entire group, and by utilising these abilities sparingly, saving them until at precisely the right moment, we could topple harder opponents without issue.
The depth was immediately visible, and it only continued to develop as we plunged deeper into a world of ever-growing chaos.
Skip forward half-a-day and I'm a veritable pro, strategically dropping blast potions on large groups of enemies immediately after hitting stealth to maximise my combos and earn more awards. We'd finished a complete play-through and were working our way through Hard Mode attempting to 100% each chapter for more CP.
I'd crafted a blue weapon, too, and using gems switched out some of the lesser enhancements for a massive damage boost. This happened after we'd unlocked a new game mode, The Crawl. Essentially a limitless, randomised dungeon grind, The Crawl served as an easy way to start farming crafting materials alongside honing our group strategy against some crazy enemy and boss combinations.
Better yet, after 5 successful 'crawls', we entered a treasure room. On the left, a blue chest with basic rewards and an instant exit. On the right, a locked orange chest, presumably filled with rarer recipes and equipment. In the centre, a slot machine. Playing the slots is the only way to open the orange chest and win better rewards; however, doing so loads up another, harder crawl, with the chance of boss encounters. Play and win, but risk failure and complete loss of all loot? Or leave now and live, precious crafting materials in tow? This is the heart of The Crawl, and with every successful run from there, you're given the same difficult choice. Ingenious, and incredible. Especially so, on Epic Difficulty.
GET ON MY LEVEL
Eventually, we arrived at Epic Difficulty in the Story Mode and discovered an entire new game to enjoy. New limitations and monster attacks deeply altered our combat strategy, and with death now ending the chapter entirely, the level of difficulty had spiked beyond reason.
It was glorious. Orange-Level gear recipes had now begun to appear, too, with special items required from special hidden boss encounters to craft, and having already completed most chapters 100% on Normal and Hard, we had plenty of CP to spare and an incredible array of new abilities to work with. Almost as though we were playing an MMORPG, end-game had appeared and with it a new host of gameplay to enjoy.
Eventually, we called it a night and continued on the following day. Currently, I'm working on getting every achievement on Steam — a challenge reserved for the greats, it would seem — and I'm getting closer with each passing day. In closing, I've shared with you here my experience with Wanderlust: Rebirth, and why I have enjoyed playing it. To reiterate my opening passage, it takes me back to an era of my life that I've been trying to get back to for years, and does it with grace, style and unique flavour.
Built entirely within GameMaker by two guys, there are some expected issues. Controlling your character is clunky at times, but becomes significantly easier with practice, the lack of multiplayer connection directly through Steam, instead requiring basic port-forwarding is frustrating at times, and there's a learning curve (specifically if playing solo) that's tough to get your head around. Though, rest assured, for fans of the SNES RPG era — specifically fans of cooperative multiplayer and, to a lesser degree, PvP — this is a title that you'll be happy to have gracing the shelves of your virtual collection.
ABOUT THE DEVELOPER
Yeti Trunk are currently working on Wanderlust: Adventures, the upcoming open-world sequel to Wanderlust: Rebirth. Matthew Griffin and Jason Gordy, known as Leth and D2King10 to their followers, livestream development daily on Twitch.