Developed by Grasshopper Manufacturer and published by Atlus in North America, Contact is a quirky little game released early in the DS’ lifeline. It tells the story of the Professor, being chased by an organization called the CosmoNOTs, and how he brings a passer-by boy onto his ship in order to make him search for cells to fuel his ship. The kid, default name Terry, is a silent protagonist with as much personality as a piece of paper so he just goes along with the suspicious old man to do his dirty work for him, in hopes of getting taken home. Of course, confrontation with the CosmoNOTs is unavoidable.
Let’s just get this out of the way early in the review: the story is kept to a minimum and there is basically no character development, interesting backstories, or anything to make you grow to like them. If you like your RPGs with interesting characters or a well-written story, Contact has none of that. Even with a story that doesn’t go anywhere deep, Contact still manages to have a bunch of loose ends, unanswered questions, and basically nothing is resolved at the end. Granted it’s probably meant to be ambiguous by the creators, but rather than being thought-provoking, the ending just turned out to be plain unsatisfying. If you liked the game, you will probably rage at it, or at least dislike it. If you didn’t care for the game (i.e. me), you will probably laugh at it. Terry gets no development, as he is a silent protagonist. The other characters (and there aren’t many in the first place) also aren’t very fun to be with. NPCs are your usual dull one-line speakers.
The combat isn’t very exciting, despite being branded as an Action RPG. Ever play RuneScape or Trickster Online? No? Well I’m pretty sure some other MMO had a similar system. Basically what you did was click on the enemy you wish to attack, walk up to it, and you will automatically engage in combat. Your character and the enemy will exchange hits by themselves, and you basically sit back and watch as you whittle down their HP, and open the menu to use some items or skills if the going gets tough. Alright, Trickster was actually pretty fun for 13-year-old me because you got a variety of skills to use and the combat was pretty fast and there was actually a bunch of other things to do (and it wasn’t that popular so the amount of rude little kids was pretty low), but I quit RuneScape within a day because it was boring and didn’t even have any aesthetic appeal to make me stay.
In Contact, what I mentioned above is pretty much how you fight. You press B to switch between battle mode (where you’ll engage in combat with close-by enemies) and normal mode (where you don’t engage in combat and you can move around faster, but enemies will still attack and chase after you). You walk up to the selected enemy, and watch as Terry exchanges blows with it automatically. Feed him a potion when his HP is low, and maybe use a skill when his sill meter is high enough to speed things up. Battles with regular enemies are all the same, and as you’d expect, they’d get dull pretty fast. Dungeon bosses are better, with unique designs that are quite fun to figure out how to beat. A certain dragon near the end was actually pretty fun to fight. You also get costumes that grant you different abilities, such as cooking or lock-picking, but you can only change when you’re back at your home base. If you’re wearing a costume for the extra defence bonus and you suddenly see a locked chest deep in a dungeon, you’ll have to go back to your ship, change, and then make your way through the dungeon again until you arrive at the chest. It gets annoying quick.
With unimpressive characters, minimal story, and boring combat, what made some people play this game for longer than 15 hours is probably the stat level-up system. Instead of going the traditional RPG way with levelling up, each start of Terry’s has levels up to 100. They are all associated with actions, and the more you perform that action, the more experience you gain for that stat. For example, hitting an enemy gives you EXP for strength, and getting hit gives you EXP for defence. Using a sword, striking weapon, or punching weapon will give you EXP in their respective attacking categories. It can get quite addictive. The closest levelling system I can think of is from the Rune Factory series, where you had levels for swordsmanship, farming, etc. and you level up each category by doing things associated with it. I actually like this kind of system, but only if the rest of the game is fun. Speaking of other activities, you can also cook, fish, and pick locks. There’s also a karma level that increases if you kill monsters, and decreases if you kill villagers (who respawn) or steal from them. These things are interesting, but didn’t keep my attention past the ending of the game. I didn’t want to bother with any post-game sidequests.
Graphics aren’t atrocious, but they aren’t close to showing what the DS is capable of. Considering this game came out back in 2006 (mother of god, when did 2006 become so long ago), that’s forgiveable. The music isn’t great either. The thing that keeps Contact alive to this date is probably its quirkiness. It reminded me a bit of Mother 3 at first, but that game managed to be quirky and fun, and also got me to care about its world and characters.
I bought Contact for $20 used at GameStop, and I’d say at this point in time, you could probably do better at that price. I could see why people would love it back in 2006 when the DS library was limited in RPGs, and perhaps I’d be less harsh on it back then, but the system is rich with great games in both ends of the unique-traditional spectrum so you won’t exactly be missing out even if you decide to skip this game. On the other hand, if you like grinding for stats and don’t seem to mind the aspects I did, then you might just get addicted to Contact. I wouldn’t say I regret playing it, being at 12 hours long for the main story, but I didn’t really get any satisfaction from it.