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Whale's Voyage is essentially an RPG that features space-trading elements: Your crew visits several planets, where they can barter a range of goods and accomplish certain missions in order to increase their budget and obtain better equipment for themselves and for their ship.
You command the crew of the Whale, a space freighter which may have been an impressive ship once -- but soon, your men realize that the vehicle, which they bought second-hand, was such a cheap deal not because of their superb bargaining skills but simply because it's a piece of scrap. So, you've got an almost-wrecked ship orbiting around a planet which is faaar away from your beloved Earth, and you've got no money – to sum things up: You've got a big problem! Your task will be, as you have certainly already guessed, to find a way to boost your finances and get back home. Sound easy? Rest assured, it ain't…
At the very beginning you need to create your crew. The character system is very similar to what we know from many RPGs, even though in Whale’s Voyage you can apparently only choose between two different races. Other specifications, such as professions and attributes, are rather familiar. Professions are defined by a range of educational institutions your characters attended earlier in their lives. These include different facilities for mental, scientific or military training. First you choose a basic course, then you select a specific development which finally results in the respective profession, such as soldier, psionic, headhunter or scientist. Another interesting feature is the mutation rate. You have the option to spend a certain number of points on your characters' attributes in order to increase them. The more points you spend, the higher the mutation rate will be, thus weakening a character's genes, which means that this crew member will be somewhat more vulnerable to environmental hazards, such as diseases.
After you've completed the creation of your crew, you're in the ship menu. There you can buy/sell goods, equip your ship, select a planet to travel to, visit a planet you're orbiting and, last but not least, contact a special person via phone. By pressing the Escape key, you will also get into the options menu, where you can save and load a game (please note that you can only access this menu while you're aboard the Whale).
Depending on which option you select, you will enter one of the modes that the game's divided into. Basically, there's a trading/equipment mode, which lets you deal with certain items and power up your ship, a planetary mode, where you can explore a planet's settlement and interact with its inhabitants, and an interstellar mode, which occasionally shows objects that may be interfering with your travels to another planet. In this case, you can control the movement of your ship on a map and engage attacking opposition, all of which is turn-based.
The most interesting mode, however, is planetary exploration: After your crew arrives on a planet, you will find yourself in a colony of some sort. You walk through the streets and buildings and meet merchants who offer goods to you (or buy goods from you), thugs who try to kill you and characters who are in need of assistance for special missions (for example, to help somebody to escape from a planet, or to take a precious item to another location), all of which is played in real-time. You can enter into simple dialogues with many inhabitants, set each member's specific task within the crew and manage their inventories and skills, as well as observe your surroundings. To support your orientation, there's an overview map displaying the areas you've already explored.
As you accomplish objectives for people in need of help, you will receive payments or special items and level up from time to time. This will increase the efficiency of your fellows, since you can pick new skills according to their professions.
Now we get to the only distinctive downside of this game: Your controls are limited to the keyboard; there's no mouse support. The procedure through which you access the menus and move your crew is quite annoying, as you can either walk or operate the menus. You've got to hit Return and Down simultaneously to get into the menus and then browse them one by one using the arrow keys. As you will come to find, this is especially hindering during a fight, because you've got to go through the menu structure quite quickly, and that might turn out very awkward, since it’s arranged in a non-linear way. I found this kind of control very cumbersome, but I guess for most players it'll just be a matter of practice!
Graphics & Sound:
The graphics are very nicely done, considering how old the game is. All visual elements are well-drawn (except for the interstellar map, in which some objects are quite hard to identify at first) and rather diverse. There are only a few animations, and these are slightly rough, but this shouldn't really be a problem.
The music is touchy with each location and has its own score, but it can still get a little repetitive at times. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any sound effects, which would otherwise have intensified the atmosphere.
In all, Whale's Voyage is a very solid science-fiction RPG. Not only does it contain RPG/adventure elements, it also demands a certain level of strategic management when it comes to trading and space fights – so it's a very interesting mix of genres. Although its story is not the most original one, the game manages to develop a good amount of entertainment and challenge. Despite the awful controls, which you might get used to if you show good will and patience, Whale's Voyage delivers some nice gameplay along with really enjoyable graphics and cool music, so it's without doubt worth a try!