I agree with most of what Dale said, but I think he doesn't give enough credit to JC where it really shines, which is the incredible craftsmanship that was devoted to it. The graphics and animation are well executed, between the rendered 3D polygon images (real-time and pre-rendered) and the hand-rendered anime distinct character designs that feel more Miyazaki-esque (rather than the typically over sexed goo-goo dolls that normally populate Japanese games). The sound and music also retain the primitive backwaters village style set forth in graphics, making for a much more cohesive presentation unlike the visually muddled Star Ocean: The Second Story. JC, in terms of its visual and aural aesthetics, is clearly on par with any recent RPG entry.

The background plot is very complex and richly detailed, yet logically silly the way folklore typically is. I could tell that much careful attention was given to the setting and story. This, in turn, not only made me gravitate more toward the game, but my devotion to the story didn't seem cheaply spent either. It's also brilliant the way historical myths were unfolded to me via the elders of the village in a verbal storytelling session. The story elements are only furthered enhanced by some of the finest voice acting in a game that quickly garnered my attention.

In terms of actual gameplay, JC isn't quite the sprawling trek that most RPGs represent. Instead, traveling is minimized through menus and plot devices that enable quick entry to particular areas. There is some exploration, but the main focus still resides on combating and capturing monsters (as Dale already mentioned, unoriginally dubbed Minions). Combining various monsters in order to reach higher peaks of combat prowess is a fun and often addictive experience. And while the Minions don't have nearly as much personality as Pokémon do, I still found myself engaged in the process of training and evolving my Minions. This is definitely not a shameless rip-off of the Pokémon concept and it takes only a few combinations of Minions to realize that serious detail in the process was not sacrificed.

It's too bad that the JC's focus largely remains on a single village which makes for a well streamlined and efficient design, but comes up feeling positively underwhelming. Add to that the fact that Crave Entertainment didn't devote much marketing resource (the game barely registered on my radar when it was released), the game was released rather uneventfully and, hence, destined to be a sleeper hit. It's too bad that such a well-crafted game gets largely done in by not being hyped and thrust into the forefront of public conscious the way I feel it richly deserves. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui
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