While its interesting to see Chis perspective on the cultural significance of the legendary tale behind Saiyuki, I cant say that I was more than vaguely familiar with it before buying the game. I heard the gist and a few snippets of the background, but I wouldnt say that I knew any specifics except for the presence of the Monkey King, Goku. (And no, hes not originally from DragonBall.) Since Im not going to attempt to tackle the meta-issues or any cultural relevance here, Ill focus on the nuts and bolts of the game itself, irrespective of its historical background.
While I appreciated the fact that the majority of battles can be won simply by eliminating the enemy commander, there werent enough different objectives over the course of the game to keep things very fresh. When the bulk of the gameplay is a string of battles, you really need some new elements and challenges to prevent things from getting too repetitive. There wasnt enough variety here to keep the combat fun or very interesting for long, and there werent any class changes or significant goals to work towards outside of the plot elements. I cant pick on Saiyuki in particular since most of the genres games tend to fall short in this area, but its still worth noting.
The Were-forms were a nice addition to the mix, but thats about the only place Saiyuki really deviates from the basic Strategy-RPG mold. However, I will also mention that Saiyuki rewards team tactics and group cohesiveness rather than each character acting as a separate entity. Whether this was a deliberate way of reinforcing the storys theme, I have no way of knowing, but it seems too much of a coincidence to be an accident. Although I definitely agree with Chi that the bulk of characters and the story itself were strong and involving, I like more depth to my Strategy-RPG.
While speaking of the characters, not all of the ones you get have very much backstory, which is a bit of a shame since some of them look like they could potentially be pretty interesting. Whats worse, when you switch your team around and use some of the optional characters, only the core group of original people is featured during cutscenes no matter whos actually on your team. Its a bit disheartening to see that your favorite character is constantly replaced by the person you kicked out of your lineup every time theres some discussion. One other negative thing I noticed was that there was too much leveling up required, especially towards the final third of the disc. As a warning, the last battle absolutely crushes you if you didnt spend time doing some nonessential battles, so be prepared.
Overall, its a pretty competent Strategy-RPG that is greatly enhanced by its excellent story and charismatic group of characters. The battles could have used some spice, but it doesnt really stumble too badly… its just not exceptional. Even so, its still better than a lot of other games out there, and the Strategy-RPG genre has never been a very prolific one to begin with. Saiyuki isnt perfect, but its worth looking into.