The nineties was a golden age for Squaresoft; during the course of this decade, many of their creations would become timeless classics such as Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. When the medium made the leap to 3D, many third-party developers would move on from Nintendo to Sony – their new PlayStation console offering a more versatile format for them to develop games on. Nearly two years after the console’s debut, Squaresoft released a new entry in their Final Fantasy series. The previous three entries introduced many game enthusiasts to the JRPG genre, so one could only imagine their confusion when this newest installment was titled: Final Fantasy VII. It wouldn’t be long before fans had the answer to this mystery – the second, third, and fifth Final Fantasy games were never localized. Once the internet became widely available, fans would discover other titles in Square’s library that remain exclusive to Japan. One such game is Treasure of the Rudras. Released in 1996, it was one of the last games Square would develop for the Super Famicom before the debut its 64-bit successor.
Playing the Game
Treasure of the Rudras is a JRPG. Despite having been released in 1996, it does not feature Square’s signature Active Time Battle (ATB) system which originated in Final Fantasy IV. Instead, the battle system is turn-based; a round of combat is played out after inputting an action for each character. There is a helpful graphic on the right side of where each character’s HP is displayed on the battle interface that informs players of the order your party members will act every round, which is determined by their speed stat.
The concept of magic has been implemented in a myriad of ways throughout Square’s long history. In some of their games, you can buy magic from a shop while in others, characters learn spells on their own by leveling up. In this regard, Treasure of the Rudras stands out from all of Square’s other titles, and indeed most video games, by letting you create your own spells. Each character starts with a list of mantras they already know along with a fixed amount of empty slots. For each one, you can inscribe any combination of letters to form a new mantra. Some words have earth-shatteringly powerful results while others barely do anything at all.
To help the player discover new combinations, the game is littered with chests that don’t contain items, but instead give whoever opens it a strange feeling. Etched on the insides of these containers is a mantra that performs a function associated with the energy emanating from them. In other words, a chest that makes the person who opens it feel as though their strength is being drained away might result in a spell which allows them to steal health (HP) from an enemy. Thankfully, the chests don’t actually have any ill effects on your characters.
It’s common in many video games, especially RPGs, to have elemental attacks. The basic idea behind this concept is that certain enemies are weak against different elements. For instance, ice creatures will take increased damage from fire-based attacks. In Treasure of the Rudras, there are eight attributes: fire, water, wind, thunder, light, darkness, earth, and void. They do not function in a manner reminiscent of rock-paper-scissors as one would expect; instead, the elements in this game are in direct opposition of each other. These oppositions are fire against water, wind against thunder, and light against darkness. The remaining two attributes exist outside of this spectrum and have no strengths or weakness, though earth-based attacks cannot harm aerial opponents.
Many weapons and armor have elemental attributes, and equipping them will influence that character’s offensive and defensive capabilities. As an example, equipping a dark weapon will give a character an advantage over light-attribute monsters, but prove disadvantageous against creatures of darkness. This principle extends to armor; equipping wind-attribute armor will cut damage from wind-based attacks, but doing so also will make the character susceptible to thunder.
What I like about the mantra system is that it allows for experimentation; I spent a lot of time trying out random words to see what, if anything, they would do. If you pay attention in battle, you can even copy the mantras that enemies use. Despite having been made by the same company that created the Final Fantasy series, the magic system reminds me of the one that features in Atlus’s long-running Shin Megami Tensei metaseries. Rather than having plain names for its spells such as “Fire” and “Cure,” Treasure of the Rudras has its own nomenclature – the respective mantras are called “Ig” and “Lef”. Arguably the most striking similarity with Shin Megami Tensei is that adding syllables to these base spells increases the damage they do or allow them to affect every enemy on the field instead of just one. There are even syllables which result in mantras that lessen the damage party members take from specific elements.
The only downside to the system is that it can be difficult to discover important mantras without a guide. The game can conceivably be completed without one, but it requires a lot of tinkering around and patience, for the mantra chests usually don’t reveal the whole name of the spell. It’s important to learn the best mantras as soon as your characters can comfortably use them without immediately expending their mana, for even at high levels the bosses in this game are very formidable.
If it’s one thing I’ve noticed about many RPGs, it’s that there is very little reason to keep old armor or weapons after upgrading them. Once you’ve done so, the old equipment has no purpose other than to be sold right away for a little extra money. Such is not the case with Treasure of the Rudras. Because certain pieces of armor affect which elements your characters are resistant or vulnerable to, it’s worth keeping old equipment in your inventory even if they don’t offer the same raw defensive capabilities as the newer items. There were indeed many instances where I had to switch to a weaker weapon or armor piece in order to gain an advantage in an upcoming boss fight or to prevent my characters from being decimated by their powerful mantras. It’s because of this that Treasure of the Rudras has a level of depth and complexity not present in other RPGs. It’s not often I’ve found myself putting this much consideration into whether or not a piece of equipment was worth keeping.
Analyzing the Story
Treasure of the Rudras focuses on the exploits of four characters. Sion is a warrior from Cryunne Castle who wants to become the strongest in the world. Surlent is an archaeologist who is working to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of humanity’s predecessors. Riza is a young priestess from a small village on a quest to heal the earth. Dune is a thief (though he prefers to be called a treasure hunter) who shows up in the scenarios of the other three protagonists every now and again.
This game features a method of storytelling similar to Live A Live in that it is composed of multiple stories each with its own protagonist. Unlike Live A Live, Treasure of the Rudras features three stories taking place within the same world. Moreover, at the beginning of each session, you are brought to a menu that allows to continue any scenario from where you left off; it is not necessary to complete any of them all the way through from start to finish.
As much as I enjoyed Live A Live, one of my criticisms towards that game was that the scenarios only covered the bare basics of what constitutes a plot. Granted, it was most likely a natural consequence of the fact that there were seven scenarios which took place in separate epochs. Thankfully, the same is not true of Treasure of the Rudras; each character’s journey is fleshed out so well that each of them feels like its own standalone story. At the same time, they complement each other so well that making them separate games would have been a disservice. This is mainly because having three different protagonists lends itself to making the world feel alive. There are many points where you will witness seemingly random events only to later learn through playing the other scenarios what caused them to happen in the first place.
In a way, this game is also reminiscent of Final Fantasy VI as both games feature a large ensemble cast. However, as good as that game is, I feel that Treasure of the Rudras fleshes out its cast far more effectively. In Final Fantasy VI, even though there were fourteen playable characters, they all worked towards a common goal. Because you were only allowed to have four of them in your party at a time, which characters were present for certain plot developments was largely up to the player. Therefore, the dialogue was often written in a way that lacked characterization; sometimes, it wasn’t even clear which of the protagonists was speaking during these exchanges. Most of the characters had their own backstories and character arcs, but it didn’t always come across so well because of how sparse these moments were.
Treasure of the Rudras doesn’t have this problem. Although it features thirteen playable characters, they are separated into three groups of four with the last one joining you at the very end of the game. Because who you have in your party at any given moment is fixed, this allowed the writers to create dialogue that accounted for these characters’ presence, fleshing them out to a greater degree than in most games which feature large casts.
The four characters you name fall into the standard RPG mold with their professions, consisting of a knight, a sorcerer, a priestess, and a thief. A nice, subtle touch that I enjoyed was how the writers played with the character archetypes they used. The knight, Sion, is the intelligent one and it’s the sorcerer, Surlent, who regularly gets swindled by antagonists and the resident thief, Dune. The mild-mannered priestess, Riza, is the chosen one foretold in an ancient prophecy instead of a hot-blooded action hero as is the norm for this genre. Not only that, but her journey doesn’t eclipse the other stories in terms of importance; all of them serve an equally integral role.
My favorite aspect of this game’s plot is its premise. The world’s history borrows elements from the wheel of time, a concept that can be found in several religions and philosophies of Indian origin such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Every 4,000 years, the world is destroyed, wiping out nearly all life so that a Rudra, a demigod of sorts, can recreate it and begin the cycle anew. This game takes place over the course of sixteen days, the last of which is slated to be the day humanity will go extinct. Luckily, you don’t have to rush because time only advances when you reach the next plot point. The only downside to this is that because the plots are all so linear even by JRPG standards, it can be easy to miss out on secrets if you don’t know about them in advance. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means though and given how difficult it must have been for the writers to make sure that there were no contradictions between the three separate storylines, I have to applaud their ambition.
Drawing a Conclusion
One could make a fairly strong case that Treasure of the Rudras is one of Square’s best-written games. It is unfortunate that it was never considered for localization, though Square had more of an excuse for dismissing it than they did for Final Fantasy V. Translating Secret of Mana to English required cutting out a significant portion of the text because there wasn’t enough space on the ROM to hold it all. With its novel mantra system, localizing Treasure of the Rudras to any European language likely would have been an impossible task. Whatever the case may be, there is an excellent fan translation available on the internet. Seek it out if you’re a fan of JRPGs, for it is an underrated gem of a classic from Square’s heyday. As soon as I finished watching this game’s introduction, I was intrigued by its premise. After having completed it, I can safely say that the writers successfully followed through.
Final Score: 9/10