Saiyuki: Journey West
Reviewed: 04/03/2003


If you live in a rural area, go stick your head outside and take a deep breath. If you live in a large city, which may be polluted, just pretend with me. Mmm, smell that? It’s a big breath of what we call “fresh air.” That’s exactly what I felt when playing Saiyuki: Journey West.

Saiyuki is a tactical/strategy RPG that centers around an adolescent named Sanzo or Genjo, depending on whether you should choose your character to be male or female. Your main character was found in a basket floating down a river, not unlike the Bible’s Moses, and adopted by some monks in China. The story kicks off when a goddess named Lady Kannon appears to Sanzo/Genjo and tells him/her to deliver a thunder staff to the temple in India. Kannon then provides a staff to you, the monks bid you farewell and good luck, and off you go on your journey west!

Keeping in line with the actual Asian legend the story is based on, your character soon encounters Son-Goku, who was imprisoned in stone by Buddha after invading heaven. Goku is your first party member who can use “Were Form” in battle. A Were is the huge beast that certain characters can morph into to bring down all hell on the enemy. One party member can use their Were form at a time, and only for a certain period of time, indicated by an on-screen meter. This restriction may seem like a bummer at first, but it should give an idea of just how powerful the Were form is. If you just switched everyone to Were for the whole battle, things would just get unfair. Also, it adds a nice element of extra strategy to have to decide on who to mutate and when.

In another welcome twist, your main character is the only one who cannot become a Were. This might suck to hear at first, but that small lacking is more than made up for by his/her ability to summon Guardians. Through the game, your crew will rescue several holy spirits who will agree to help you on your quest. When a Guardian is summoned, it will stick around for a few turns and assist your party in various ways. For example, one Guardian will greatly increase you party’s attack power, while another will restore a certain amount of HP after every turn, and so on. Also, every guardian, while being summoned, grants Sanzo/Genjo a special ability. These may be a brutal attack, helpful assist spell, or great healing magic.

There are only some minor things I don’t like about Saiyuki. One is that once your main character gets KO’d, you’ve lost the battle. This, however, is in some other tactical RPG’s, so Saiyuki doesn’t lose major points there. Similar to that gripe, there is no way to revive you characters once fallen—they just go away. Again, though, this is not exclusive to Saiyuki, and does’t hurt it much. And to make up for the previous flaw, characters can’t “die,” even if they disappear from battle, thanks to the fact that they are all important to the story. And finally, the story is mildly entertaining, but sometimes seems to go off track and move at a slowed pace. Those and the outrageous difficulty of the final boss are about the only flaws that detract from the experience, though.

Overall, Saiyuki: Journey West is a surprisingly good, and quite underrated game. I would very highly recommend it to tactical RPG fans.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Bad
Graphics Below Average
Sound/Music Bad
Replay Value Below Average
The Verdict: 7