Poor console conversion (bad Konami! BAD!), inconsistent time-travel rules
One of the first things I said when I started playing this game was "Oh god, do the cutscenes ever end? When am I going to get to the game?", especially since the cutscenes can't be skipped until you have saved, and saving can only be done when you have completed the chapter. After much frustration, I realized 2 things:
1) you CAN save halfway through a chapter, but you have to do it in a special way that is inconvenient and not obvious*.
2) to a large degree, the cutscenes ARE the game.
This is not as lame as it may sound. Once you accept the fact that this game is more of an interactive movie than a conventional video game, you realize that it is much more than a movie could ever be and is quite innovative, in its own way. For one thing, it doesn't contain dragons, spaceships or fun lovin' criminals. Its set in a quaint German village inhabited by ordinary people. And yet by the end of the game I really felt attached to these characters. I wanted to go to this place and visit them. It was nice just to spend some time in a place that didn't have a single Starbucks.
The story of these people and the history of their town unfolds in a way that could only be accomplished interactively. Its an experience that's going to be a little different for each person that plays it. And I really think it has somethinq to say about the human condition and about the relationship between free will and destiny. That kind of depth is rarely found in computer games.
You can get as involved in this story as much as you want, and that's one of the things that really impressed me. The game is very easy to complete. Even a novice gamer should be able to finish it in very little time and get a satisfying ending. But there's still 4 more (very different) endings to see if you are so inclined and they are harder to get. Then there's also optional subplots and a bonus mode (which has its own endings). On the other hand, its missinq some of the bonus material from the PS2 vesion (probably because its not on DVD) but there's still a lot here, and there's something for everyone.
And the cut scenes are really good, though perhaps a little long. They are rendered in real time, but the motion capture is excellent. The gestures and facial expressions (those eyes!) are incredibly expressive and really breath life into the characters. I ended up liking almost all of the characters, even the ones that seemed annoying at first.
I was a bit bothered by what I percieved to be inconsistencies in the game. If you don't already know, it's about time travel. You have to travel through time to prevent your own death. Your temporal wanderings are governed by a few rules, which is great, but they seem to be applied somewhat iconsistently. This seemed to detract from the beleivability of the story, but wasn't a huge problem. More of a minor frustration. Every once in a while I died and wasn't sure why, but it was easy to avoid the next time around.
It is also unfortunate that such an envoyable game has come to us by such a shoddy conversion (as is all too common with console ports). The keys and gamepad cannot be re-mapped, and the gamepad does not support the camera controls, which are neccessary for enjoyable gameplay, because the camera is very unresponsive. It's possible to change the volume of some things but not others, such as the main character's footsteps, which can be very loud (seriously, dude's wearin' clogs or tap shoes or something...). I also encountered a few minor bugs, as have others, yet Konami has made no move to release a patch for the North American version or provide ANY useful tech support info on their site.
At any rate, if your looking for a break from the find-crystal-kill-dragon-save-princess grind, pick this one up. It's a multifaceted gem that takes on a different appearance from every angle. Years from now, I think people might look back on this game as a milestone in the development of interactive storytelling. Say what you want about GTA3, but its games like this that will mark the coming of age of computer games: games that can be enjoyed by everyone, that try to be more than just movies.