Eternal Filena [Eien no Filena] (SNES) Review

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Note: This title is also known as Eternal Filerna and Eien no Filerna

Review by tankMage (April 2018)

Score: C- (7/10)

   If there is one thing I can say about Eternal Filena, it’s that it is better than the anime that served as it’s source material. With that said, Eternal Filena (Eien no Filena in Japanese) is essentially a Final Fantasy IV clone that lacks the depth and production quality of the franchise it seeks to emulate. Everything the player will encounter, from the story, to the battle engine, and even the music was done better by someone else at some point, so it is no surprise that the world has pretty much left Filena behind. As lackluster as this game may be, I could not bring bring myself to hate it, or even totally dislike it for all its foibles, especially after watching a bit of the OVA, which was a poor example of early nineties anime. The OVA actually left me with the impression that Tokuma Shoten did everything they could to make a decent game out of rather underwhelming source material and succeeded in at least making something that was not complete garbage.

Story

   Filena, the heroine, is the heir to a kingdom that was destroyed by your garden variety evil empire. Her grandfather, Zenna, managed to spirit baby Filena away just as the imperial army broke through the castle’s defenses. Unfortunately for Filena and Zenna, the empire manages to conquer the world and create a tiered society where the lowest class, clechia, are slaves. As a clechia, Zenna manages to become a Battler trainer (gladiatorial matches between clechia are a popular form of entertainment in the empire) and raises Filena as a battler, which seems like a dangerous line of work for the last heir to a fallen kingdom, but its also probably the last place the empire would look for her. Zenna also disguises her as a man, presumably to hide her true identity. I have to admit, this was a novel approach to a cliche plot and the first hour or so of the game is interesting. Then it devolves into a boring, tired story that holds little in the way of surprises for anyone who has played an RPG from this era.

If you insist.

   The problem is compounded by the fact that Filena’s personality is flat and robotic. She essentially carries out her duty as heir to the Filosera kingdom unquestioningly to the very end. There’s no character development, internal conflict, or even snappy one liners for Filena and as a result she comes off as a soulless android. Oddly enough, the supporting cast is more interesting and carry the weight of the narrative by themselves. Characters like Lila and Nest have their own pasts which are vaguely alluded to through the dialogue and it was interesting to consider why they join Filena. For example, Lila was a clechia who was forced to… shall we say “entertain” battlers and Nest was an imperial citizen with a guilty conscience. Over the course of the game Lila often serves as comic relief and has a rather complicated relationship with Filena. Thanks to characters like her, the game’s story didn’t completely founder. But, there’s really no follow through and even the strongest supporting characters lose steam towards the end of the adventure.

   Finally, the boogeymen of Eternal Filena, the Black Devils, is one of the most self defeating, incompetent groups of villains I’ve ever seen. It was also strange that each one was named Barabba 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. This was likely a literary device, joke, or even a reference to some other bit of pop culture, but it didn’t translate well into the game. While the empire’s goals of world domination made sense, their methods were often a bit mysterious and I often felt many of the things they did were simply incorporated to make them look evil, which is fine if there is some sort of rationale behind it. As it stands, the empire and it’s lackies come off as some of the worst antagonists I’ve seen, but I have to give Eternal Filena credit for at least attempting to establish it’s villains as the prime evil throughout the game, fleshing them out a bit, and lending the story a modicum of consistency, which is more than can be said for some other RPGs I’ve played.

   I should point out that Filena can be on what some may consider the risque side at times. There’s references to alcohol and some sexual innuendo. Personally I felt it kept the dialogue from being utterly boring, but it’s something people may want to keep in mind. It also served as a double edged sword, since many of the more adult themes seemed thrown in for the sake of being edgy or fan service. This would have worked well in a game that had some more substance to it, but in this case it just brought attention to the shallowness of the story.

Translation

   Never having been released in the west, this title is unavailable in English through the usual channels, but a ROM Hacker known as Satsu created an English patch for it. Sadly, this translation is unfinished (the project was abandoned) and there’s a bit of text that still in Japanese. To Satsu’s credit, all of the important stuff is in English and the player can finish Filena without a problem. Satsu seems to have focused primarily on translating the dialogue and put pretty rough translations in for things like the weapons and enemies, so you’ll see some pretty strangely named things like “Lind Water” and enemies with names like Marky. I usually wear kid gloves when criticizing fan translations, because these people are often not paid to create these patches and do so on their own time, which is something I’m grateful for. I’ll give Satsu the same consideration and am grateful for his efforts, but keep in mind that this translation is not perfect.

Graphics

   The visuals are pretty standard as SNES RPGs go, so you can expect little in the way of animation and rather squat, dwarf like overworld characters. The battle animations for the player’s characters are rigid and rather basic, but the devs made some effort to include weapon skill effects, which is much more than can be said for some games, though said effects can’t hold a candle to some of this title’s contemporaries. In fact, Eternal Filena looks more like it was released in 1991 than 1995, which is what lends it that Final Fantasy IV vibe I spoke of earlier. Even the monsters look like something out of Final Fantasy, through they are at least imaginatively designed. However, the bosses all look the same except for handful of foes that appear towards the end of the game, so get ready to see a plethora of Barabbas.

   Aside from a nice looking world map, the environments are dull, which can mostly be attributed to the rather generic fantasy theme of the source material. In fact, Eternal Filena is far too eclectic. Characters used weapons that shot lightning bolts while fighting in a Roman style colosseum, there were computers, genetically engineered monsters, demons, fantasy style armor, magical artifacts… you name it, Filena had it. It is possible to successfully blend these ideas, but it has to be done with care or the entire concept will feel disjointed, which is what happened here. This of course carried over into the game and made the backdrop feel soulless.

These enemies are certainly unique.

   I have to say there’s one saving grace that scored this title a few points in my eyes: it didn’t use the Dragon Quest pseudo first person style battle system, which I find boring. Players can see both the heroes and the monsters in battle, which gives fights a much needed sense of drama. The devs also placed the camera behind the party, which was an interesting choice that made the battle engine feel a bit more unique. There were also a variety of backgrounds that were nice enough and I was surprised at just how much care was put into designing backdrops for just about every type of terrain in the game. Some backgrounds were hardly even used and I was surprised to see they even took the time to make them. So I guess they got something right.

Music and Sound

   There’s only one other Super Nintendo RPG I can think of that might possibly have a worse soundtrack than this game and even then it would be a close call. The music seems like it was written in a rush by someone who had just learned how to play a synth, but had no real idea of how to go about composing music. Players will hear the same few themes over and over again throughout the game and even the battle music, which is almost good, becomes grating after a while. While the composition and selection of songs may be crap, they had to go the extra mile, by leaving songs that are totally inappropriate for what’s happening in the game to drone on in the background. As a result, many cutscenes show the villains talking with the cheery town theme playing the whole time. Needless to stay this killed any sense of tension these cutscenes had.

    The sound effects aren’t much better and seem to be taken right out of the box. Some of them even sound like they were ripped from other games and altered slightly, but that’s something I cannot confirm, though it goes to show that whoever was in charge of the sound did a poor job. Moreover, a few of the sound effects were nearly as inappropriately implemented as the music. If the player gets poisoned and walks around he or she will hear a beep that almost sounds like an old phone key tone, which was really strange seeing as how there were plenty of sound effects in the game that could have been used for poison damage. At any rate, this stuff might have been acceptable for Atari or 8-bit systems, but devs could do better than this in the mid nineties with a minimal amount of effort.

User Interface

   Well, the devs managed to get something right with Eternal Filena and that’s the UI. The inventory is about as streamlined as it gets for a game from this era, so it’s easy to swap gear around as well as buy/sell stuff. It’s possible to save anywhere at any time thanks to the diary, which was a nice touch and players can even run around town by holding the B button down*. Inputting battle commands is also easy thanks to a Lufia 2 style menu system that allows the player to input commands quickly, though cycling through weapons in battle could be a chore.

   Tokuma Shoten even attempted to include an autobattle system that allows the player to set each member of his or her team to function independently and its even possible to choose the way each character behaves in battle by changing the AI settings. While autobattle works fine as long as everyone in the party is near full life and at healthy status, the AI is very bad at healing lost HP or status ailments and seemed to choose restorative items at random. Needless to say this often didn’t work, since a para cure is going to do nothing for a party member that is low on HP or poisoned. Despite it’s problems, autobattle is not altogether useless as long as the player takes time to heal the party up outside of battle.

*This may have been a feature of the ROM Hack. It was still possible to run using a hidden item in the normal game, however.

Gameplay

   Eternal Filena will have players exploring towns, walking around the world map, and scrambling through dungeons. You’ll often have to figure out where to go and what to do next by talking to NPCs, but the sort of tasks you do are limited to speaking with a certain character to obtain a key type item or grabbing something from the occasional dungeon, with the former being more common than the latter. Later on, the player will have to travel around the world map activating important story related objects. Consequently, backtracking was common, with going from NPC to NPC in towns early in the game being almost a microcosm of the massive amounts of backtracking the player will perform (on foot no less) near the end. Fortunately, the devs included a few teleport points to make the process less painful, but the amount of time spent backtracking is still noticeable.

   This title is also very linear, since it is constrained by it’s source material. Tokuma Shoten (which I’m assuming was both the publisher and developer) did attempt to make the experience more interesting for the player by hiding Black Markets around the world map. These markets sell powerful equipment and also trade in items dropped by monsters that the player can collect. Trading special items will reward the player with powerful pieces of equipment, so there’s incentive to search around the world map and dungeons.

   Players will have to deal with the usual random encounters, but the game does not require much grinding, although it is necessary to maintain a decent level. The battle engine is also one of Filena’s better features thanks to its active battle system and fairly challenging enemies. It is likely the battle engine design was inspired by Final Fantasy, but they did it justice and even random encounters are require a touch of strategy unless you are massively over leveled. Boss fights are also well designed considering the limitations imposed on the devs by Eternal Filena’s plot. I often found myself having to fight carefully and use a little strategy to stay ahead of the bad guys, who had powerful attacks. Too bad the bosses are often very similar to each other in behavior and fights with the Black Devils become predictable after the first two encounters.

    There is also a skill system that lets players unleash a number of special attacks. Sadly, the skill system lacks depth and most of the special abilities are single target attacks or healing abilities. There are a few status ailment attacks like toxic thrust, which poisons enemies, but there’s no reason to use them, since high damage abilities like triple thrust or heavy ray are almost always more efficient to use in battle. The fact that battle skills are tied to weapon types and different characters use different skills at least adds some depth to the system. Playable characters can use and learn skills for knives, spears, hammers, and swords. There are even special crystal weapons that fire beams and medical bags that allow the use of healing abilities. Players can equip up to three weapons to take into battle, so there are a lot of options, but you’ll find yourself sticking to one or two skills for each character, so it’s almost pointless to have so many options. The skill system would have felt more balanced if the various weapons had some sort of niche to fill, or if enemies resisted certain types of weapons, but such an idea was not implemented into the battle engine. With that said, the skill system works well enough and trying out different setups can be entertaining.

   Dungeons in Eternal Filena are short and can often be cleared in a few minutes, especially if the player knows where to go. Treasures are strewn about these dungeons in the usual fashion and there’s good reason to check boxes for the occasional new piece of equipment or rare healing item. Especially curious players will find hidden passages that lead to chests that are often stocked with quality items. Aside from one or two dungeons that feature puzzles, most of them are pretty simple and would have been boring if not for the fact that they are so brief. Honestly, I feel ambivalent about this game’s level design, because the tiny dungeons were preferable to some of the horrendous mazes of staircases and switches I’ve had to navigate in some RPGs. On the other hand, they felt like they were hastily slapped together as an afterthought.

   There’s one final aspect of Eternal Filena that bears examination: it’s 20 hour play length, which was short as RPGs (even those from the mid nineties) go. I should also point out that much of that 20 hours was padded by idle time, since I often put the game down to write notes for the walkthrough I made. In fact, sources like Gamefaqs have Filena clocked at 10 hours, though this may be a bit too conservative. While I don’t have much of a problem with short games, this title felt like it ended just as it started to take off and it was kind of disappointing to see it conclude so quickly. Oddly, this is in part a consequence of the devs not padding the play time with massive amounts of required grinding or labyrinthine dungeons, though they did throw in a good dose of backtracking which was covered earlier in this section. Tokuma Shoten was wise not to pad the play time using such tricks, but a bonus dungeon or two would have been a nice way to beef the content up a bit and maybe even tell a side story.

Final Thoughts

   I often asked myself why someone thought this game was worth making while playing it and researching the source material. It’s not that Eternal Filena (or Filerna or whatever the hell it’s called) is totally irredeemable or even without merit, it is just that I can’t imagine this title having much of an audience even back in 1995. The light novel looked ok (though I confess that I can’t read Japanese), but the OVA was total crap and I can’t imagine people in Japan who were almost certainly familiar with stuff like Dragon Ball Z, Akira, Vampire Hunter D, or even something slightly less well known like Record of the Lodoss War would have considered Eien no Filena a worthy anime. Maybe this game was made for some sort of core fan base that really loved the light novel or maybe it was a pet project of Tokuma Shoten’s CEO, I don’t know. It does seem that the OVA and game just sort of click for some people, which I can understand, so if you like this game and wonder why I feel it barely qualifies as mediocre, do not be discouraged: you are not alone. In fact the ROM Hacker who translated this game seemed to have a high opinion of it, so maybe there’s something I’m missing here. I will say this: Eternal Filena has the unique honor of being the first video game adaptation I’ve ever played that is better than it’s source material, which is a credit to Tokuma Shoten.

Recommendations

Eternal Filena is probably best left to SNES enthusiasts who have a lot of experience with exclusively Japanese releases, but if you’re familiar with the OVA or light novels and enjoyed them, you will probably enjoy the video game incarnation of the series.

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