Remember when Dorothy opened the door and entered the Technicolor world? This game is kind of like that. 45 minutes of direct feed gameplay video included!
The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, known in Japan as the oddly-named RIZ-ZOAWD (an anagram of WIZARD OZ), is based on the classic book series by Frank Baum. Though people are more familiar with the film version, the game takes a much different path from that story line. Filled with high production values, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a captivating new take on the Oz universe.
It’s clear right from the beginning that Beyond the Yellow Brick Road isn’t your conventional rendition of the Oz story. For instance, Dorothy has no aunt and uncle and is contacted by the Wizard immediately after awakening in Oz rather than by Glinda and Munchkins. Dorothy’s trademark footwear is actually a requirement to be able to walk in the Land of Oz. Players reach the end of the Yellow Brick Road and meet the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and the Wizard of Oz all in the first 40 minutes or so of gameplay. Dorothy must actually battle and defeat each new party member to get them to join their party. After reaching Emerald City, the Wizard of Oz (who is also king) sends the four on a mission to take down a family of four witches who threaten the king’s rule. Throughout their journey, Dorothy and her crew will also encounter troupes of hooded cats, elemental sprits, “dragon grandfathers,” and a host of enemies.
Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is controlled entirely with the touch screen, and control is somewhat unconventional albeit very fluid and responsive. As players explore the Land of Oz, the bottom screen is taken up by a giant green orb which is used like a computer trackball. Players spin this ball to move Dorothy around, and spinning the ball faster causes Dorothy to run. Besides the orb, there are four buttons, two buttons to adjust view, a menu button, and a context-sensitive button. When no special action can be performed, the latter button is used to tell Dorothy to pet Toto.
The game's battles are surprisingly traditional RPG fare, harking all the way back to the original Dragon Quest with its first-person battle view. However, the game brings an interesting twist to turn-based combat. Players pick up the four playable characters early on, but not all four can battle simultaneously. Each turn in battle is made up of four sub-turns, which are chosen all at once. However, the Lion takes two sub-turns, and the Tin Man takes three. The characters deal damage proportional to their turn ratio, and characters can be switched out at the beginning of battle. Additionally, each character has a particular affinity, where they can deal more damage to particular enemy types. Thus, players must strategize their attack plans.
The game isn’t afraid to show raw stat numbers, yet it is also tailored to inexperienced RPG players. For example, when players are low on health, the game will automatically switch the default action to a healing command rather than an attack. The game makes good use of the touch screen for selecting battle commands.
One thing that immediately becomes obvious is that Beyond the Yellow Brick Road easily has some of the best visuals on DS, pushing the hardware to its limits. Except for some pop-in, the game runs smoothly, and both its 2-D and 3-D aspects are very detailed and colorful. Traveling and battles take place in 3-D, while story elements are told in 2-D with gorgeous hand-drawn artwork.
The music is light and beautiful, having been composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto (very prolific RPG composer) and Michiko Naruke (WildARMs series). The songs are quite memorable and moving. Careful attention has also been put into the English translation, with long, descriptive tracts of story text, though a few elements of the Japanese version remain (such as the RIZ-ZOAWD label below the track ball and the Japanese lyrics of the intro sequence).
Despite gorgeous landscapes, Dorothy is confined to set paths – the rest of the world is fenced off. This is a rather unfortunate choice, and it makes the game feel very linear. Sections of the roads are connected through warp points rather than being continuous. Though, once beyond the yellow brick road, the roads take many branching paths. Players can mark signposts to keep track of their location. Enemies appear directly on the path so players can attempt to avoid them if they wish, though this is harder on narrow walkways.
The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a distinctly Japanese take on the classic children’s story. The game mixes traditional RPG elements with a few of its own innovative ideas. Thanks to a special focus on graphics, sound, and story, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road has a unique and charming character that should be experienced.
To get a taste of the game, be sure to watch our exclusive direct feed of the first 45 minutes of the game below.