I find myself thinking about the company Carpe Fulgur from time to time. As someone who plays games on PC while also being a fan of Japanese games, the impact that Carpe Fulgur has ultimately had has been immeasurable. Their first release, Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, proved to be a big hit and paved the way for more Japanese games releasing on PC. Carpe Fulgur followed up with several games but none of them achieved the success of Recettear and they steadily stopped communicating with their website last being updated in 2017! I've always found this tragic as, despite what they already managed to achieve, I felt like the company had so much more to offer. As I thought about them, I decided to return to the game that they'd released right after Recettear, Chantelise - A Tale of Two Sisters. which I'd played back when it first released but which I only finished last year. There's a very good reason for that which I'll touch on later but, regardless, here are my thoughts and opinions.
The story of Chantelise - A Tale of Two Sisters follows the sisters Chante and Elise who, five years ago, were called outside on the night of the red moon and received what they call the "Witch's curse", resulting in Chante, the older sister, being turned into a fairy. They set off on a journey to break this curse and restore Chante's human form and we meet them as they arrive to a town where they've heard that the witch can be found.
The story itself is quite simple but serves its purpose well moving Chante and Elise from dungeon to dungeon and even introduces a few interesting twists and turns that'll probably catch some people off-guard. The characters themselves are quite pleasant for the most part. Chante is, by far and away, the more characterful of the two sisters as she isn't afraid to speak her mind and butt heads and is routinely fed the best lines in the game. Elise is much blander and, despite some interesting moments towards the end, she serves mainly as the straight woman to contrast with Chante's assertive attitude which she does quite well. A few other characters are introduced over the course of the story and they, with the exception of one, mostly serve their functions with little personality. I should also bring up the translation effort here which is generally superb. The game's dialogue is stuffed with funny quips and references that often lead to a smile and perhaps a chuckle.
Chantelise is an action RPG with some interesting caveats. With regards to combat, battles take place in real-time and sees you controlling Elise who can jump and attack with her weapon. By pressing both attack and jump at the same time, she can also do a jumpstep which effectively serves as a dodge. As Elise engages her opponents, enemies will drop magic stones of four different colours, red, blue, green and brown which she can pick up and stock up to six. Chante can then use and combine them in order to be able to cast spells. These spells tend to be mostly ranged offensive magic but there are a few examples where they can heal or provide extra defence instead. Elise can also lock onto her opponents to be able to target them with her melee attacks or her spells and, combined, this results in a combat system that can be quite quick paced with Elise attacking enemies with melee attacks while gathering stones to use for magic. The biggest flaw with this combat system by far is that you're unable to select which stones you want to combine, instead merely going along the order in which you picked them up. This results in you sometimes needing to waste a few stones so that you can pick up others of the same colour to merge.
In contrast to many RPGs, Elise doesn't level up. Instead, her development comes from the various equipment that she can find or purchase throughout the game. Some of these are flat boosts to stats such as attack or defence while others grant new abilities such as being able to jumpstep in the air or charge your attack. You do only start out with two equipment slots but you can get more as you progress through the story. With regards to health, Elise can find and buy a bottle called "Ferromin" which automatically increases the amount of HP that she has. It's a decent system which allows Elise to become steadily stronger but it can feel a little restrictive at times since you'll often find yourself sacrificing one stat to boost another.
There are several dungeons in the game that Elise and Chante have to traverse in order to be able to fight a boss and progress the story. These dungeons are made up of several rooms typically consisting of minor platforming and the occasional gimmick but something that'll stand out is the sheer number of enemies. In order to progress to the next room, you must find and destroy every enemy present and, while there's a helpful minimap that shows where they are, there's quite a bit of repetition to this. Thankfully, once you've cleared out a room for the first time the way to the next room opens and remains open forever. This means that, when you return, you can just run straight to the room that you want to get to while avoiding the enemies. On the topic of enemies, there's some variety with some that can fly, some that can only be killed by magic and others who will explode upon death but there are also quite a few who pretty much serve as cannon fodder and it can end up being a little exhausting walking from room to room and clearing them out of enemies.
Additionally, each room has a secret condition that, when fulfilled, will spawn a treasure chest. These treasure chests are well worth getting as many will contain valuable equipment or Ferromin that'll make the game easier. However, these hidden mechanics can be very hard to figure out with the only in-game help coming from a priest in town who'll give you hints as to the requirements but will reduce your maximum HP in exchange. As you can imagine, this isn't a fun way to handle this but, thankfully, you're able to pick out a specific room from a dungeon to do as part of a time trial and you can attempt to collect the treasure in this manner which proves to be invaluable at certain points.
The difficulty of Chantelise - A Tale of Two Sisters is all over the place. The game starts out quite challenging as you're relying on food drops from enemies in order to restore your health but, once you learn how to heal yourself through magic, the game becomes much easier. I would say this holds all the way to the final boss of the game who proves to be easily the most difficult part of the game. It was this boss that caused me to stop playing Chantelise all those years ago and, while I've managed to beat him, the fact that he can end up taking a long time to fight makes the experience more of a chore than a pleasure.
The graphical style of Chantelise is quite basic but appealing. The environments and bosses are made up of polygons that, were it not for the draw distance, would remind me of a PS1 game. While not particularly detailed, the use of colour and art direction make it a more pleasant visual experience than it might first seem. As for the characters and regular enemies, these use sprites that are highly stylised and stand out from the rest of the game. This is something that I've seen on occasion but I that I'd love to see more of, 2D characters traversing a 3D world. The animation proves to be quite appealing in its over the top style with 3D elements animating smoothly while sprites use a lower framerate similarly to anime. There are a few graphical glitches and one particular enemy whose hitbox was poorly defined but it's still quite a nice presentation.
There's some voice acting present in the game but it's Japanese only and reserved to short bursts and the shouts emitted in combat. It's fine but never notable enough to really add to the experience in any major way. In contrast, the soundtrack for the game is very good and I would often feel pleasantly surprised whenever I entered a new dungeon or room and heard a new piece of music.
The game's PC port is quite basic which I suspect is partially due to its age and lack of updates. Resolution options are quite limited and don't come anywhere close to what I use for my monitor while, wanting to play this game with a controller, I had to manually customise the controls to work with a PS5 controller. The result works but has hints of awkwardness. On the good side of things, I've never experienced a crash while playing the game and it continues to run well on modern hardware.
Chantelise - A Tale of Two Sisters isn't as good as Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale and can feel overly repetitious at points but the combat still proves to be satisfying, the humour of the game works well and I found myself having a good time even with all its flaws.