Beyond the Beyond is a traditional PS1 JRPG from Camelot Software that was first released on November 3rd 1995, and brought to the western world on August 31st 1996, making it not only one of the first RPGs to launch on the system, but the first RPG on the PS1 to be playable in the english language. Written and directed by Camelot Soft Vice President Shugo Takahashi—who was accompanied by Ami Shibata of Papuwa and Jibaku-Kun fame on the art design—and even Motoi Sakuraba as lead composer, along with some other notable names who eventually went on to work on the Golden Sun series. Many great people came together to take the gaming industry by storm and pave the way for the JRPG genre all across the world, but sadly their goals wouldn’t be realized. At least, not with this game.
In the world of Beyond the Beyond, you play as a 14-year-old silent protagonist officially named Finn, though he can be named as you see fit, going on a quest around the world to stop the evil plot of the dark forces that seek to invade his world for their own nefarious purposes. He is joined by a myriad of characters, including but not limited to: Annie, Finn’s childhood friend and a mage with the ability to heal the party; Steiner, a baby dragon and Finn’s best friend who occasionally assists the party in battle; and Percy, Annie’s older brother and a knight of Marion Castle.
Finn and his friends fight against the tyrannical kingdom of Bandore and its troops, as they lay waste to the surrounding lands in their ceaseless conquest. The further you journey through the game, the more secrets are revealed of the inner workings of the enemy, as well as the destiny of all parties involved.
It is a heavily story-based game, with multiple NPCs taking a chance to tell you where to go and what to do, albeit to varying degrees of clarity. One may find themselves confused about important plot points, the motivations of the enemy, or even the location of the next area, whilst other times scenes and interactions intended to be shocking revelations fall flat due to obvious writing tropes littered across the game.
For its time, the writing was still considered fitting for the adventurous quest the game makes you partake in. Sadly, this did not age well with time, and some have gone on to call it generic and flat when compared to its contemporaries on the same system.
Travelling takes place on a 2D overworld similar to most other JRPGs, with the player character moving across various landscapes to get to the next town or dungeon on their quest.
The world is expansive, which can be both a good and bad thing, as walking through the lands for the first time can be impressive due to the sense of depth the game was able to achieve with natural landscapes such as hills, mountains and rivers, but soon wears out as the scenery continues to drag on with no landmarks in sight, leaving one feeling lost and annoyed.
Meanwhile, in dungeons, the player will traverse underground caves, abandoned temples and enemy strongholds, occasionally solving a thematic puzzle within it to progress. As with overworld exploration, some of these can feel like they begin to overstay their welcome after a while, especially with the high rate of random encounters increasing the time spent within. Those with less patience may find themselves worn out very quickly due to this.
The game uses a mixture of 2D sprites and 3D landscapes in an impressive display of pixel graphics, putting a new spin on a traditional look. Character and enemy designs feel very distinct from one another, while also feeling like an organic part of the world around them. Spell animations become more impressive the higher tier they are, emphasizing the feeling of growth and power that comes from leveling up, and although prone to reuse, Motoi Sakuraba was able to compose an OST that one could feel immersed in upon listening.
Occasionally, at points in the story, the player will traverse towers that reach the sky, or pass through great expanses, and the art team helped give these moments a sense of magnitude.
The combat in Beyond the Beyond happens in a traditional turn based structure, with the player inputting commands for the party before commencing the battle phase. Up to five party members can be in battle at any time, though you will not reach this number until halfway through the experience.
Every party member has Life Points (LP), Vitality Points (VP) and Magic Points (MP). When a character’s VP reaches 0 they are stunned and unable to act for the turn, and upon reaching the next turn, a set amount of LP is spent to revive them to half their VP. MP is used to cast magic, as expected. Magic is a very strong source of damage, with some spells being able to wipe out all enemies on the field in a single hit, though more often than not, the enemies will be casting said magic at you, potentially stunning your entire party for a turn or two. While never particularly difficult, this can make combat feel tedious at times, with random encounters being able to wear out your party’s resources before they reach an important fight. There are also status effects, and while they usually won’t be used much in combat, they can be very problematic and long-term. For example, one causes party members to be afflicted with a deadly curse that has a chance of dealing damage and paralyzing them every turn, and you will be unable to cure this for a sizable chunk of the game.
There are also instances where grinding will be necessary to progress smoothly, as just about every new area is prone to difficulty spikes. This further proceeds to slow down the game as you prepare to go into a dungeon for upwards of an hour.
At around the tail end of the game, the characters can undergo a class change once a level requirement has been met and a special dungeon cleared. The dungeon in question has the protagonist go in alone to fend for himself, which in itself raises the difficulty of the trial due to the still prevalent random encounters. Yet still it suffers from the same problems as the rest of the game, making the experience forgettable overall. On the other hand, Beyond the Beyond was able to keep the already well worn class change mechanic seen in other RPGs that had come before it fresh with new, colorful designs for every party member, as well as more powerful spells and even faster progression than before, breathing back some life into the climax of the game.