Review: Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters (PS2)

Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters
Developer: WoW (Sega)
Publisher: Natsume (USA), Sony (Japan)
Genre: Ummm…Fish Simulation?
Release Date: 5/18/05

You know, it wasn’t until the beginning of this month I heard of this game. And from the looks of it, not many people have. I was just randomly going across sites and found Finny’s release date. Now at first I assumed this would be a crappy platformer, until I saw two things. The first was Natsume as the publisher. I generally like games Natsume publishes…except that horrible CIMA: The Enemy game for the GBA, and that the game came with a free stuffed Finny when you pre-ordered it.

Shut up. I preordered Harvest Moon for the stuffed cow. And I was willing to play (and thus review) a platformer for a stuffed fish.

But then as I looked into the game, I found it wasn’t a platformer at all. It was…something totally unique. I can’t even put this game into a genre. It had aspects of a platformer, a RPG, an action adventure game, a collection game, a sim, a flight simulator (!), and Gauntlet (!!). It was too weird to be true. And it came with a stuffed animal version of Finny. I had to have this game. And then using my evil powers of “OMG! LOOK! Obscure game with weird freebie!” on Liquidcross, he went out and preordered it too.

So I went and preached the Gospel of Finny. If only because no one seemed to know this game existed. Even game Crazy and EBgames didn’t have anything about poor Finny until a week before the game came out! And they didn’t offer the free cuddly fish. Boo I say! I posted about Finny, trying to make as many people as I could aware of it, knowing full well this game would probably sell 5,000 copies nationwide and be one of the most obscure and bizarre titles ever released in the states for the PS2.

I was right on that point.

I’ve had Finny the Fish in my hands for about a week now and I have to say it is still one of the most unique games I’ve ever played. I still can’t actually shoehorn the game into a specific genre. If I had to I would say it is the first ever “Fish Life Simulation.” But even that is not accurate, and too many people would try comparing it to another Sega game with a fish in it: Seaman.

So let’s take a look at this game. Sadly, every single web site seems to chosen to ignore Finny the Fish’s existence, so I guess it’s up to Inside Pulse here to make you aware of this game’s existence and to say, “Well, you’ll probably never get to play this due to the lack of publicity and amazingly low print run, but here’s whether it’s worth thirty bucks or not.”
Let’s Review

1. Story

Finny the Fish has an odd story behind it. The game starts off with an off with an old Kappa (water demon with turtle like characteristics) having a dark premonitions and ill omens of things to come. The waters began to turn black and dark and old Kappa seemed unable to contact the other guardians of the Master Statues.

That’s when he turned to the chosen one: Finny the fish! Finny is just a normal looking forgettable fish, average in every way. But in fact he is the chosen one, the fish of Destiny.

And before you ask, yes he is just a fish. He’s not a creepy furrie with an attitude and stupid accent like Crash Bandicoot. He’s a fish. A simple everyday fish.

It becomes Finny’s goal to traverse the seven waters and find out what happened to the Masters and bring back the Master Statues to the old Kappa so that the waters can be restored to normal.

Pretty simple, eh? It’s a cute simplistic and straightforward plot. Occasionally there will be some side quests that you have to complete before you can move on, but other than that the game’s premise is laid out immediately for you and there’s no hidden menace or intrigue.

The game starts off pretty linear, but in truth, you can go all over the map (although some areas have to be opened up) and you can free roam as much as you want without doing the main quest. Maybe you want to spend an hour or three collecting scale power ups and eating various smaller animals so that you can complete your prey book or stealing lures from fisherman. The more you play the game, the more open-ended it is, which was a nice surprise.

There’s some obvious stretches from reality, but it’s a game. But what’s really nice is Finny acts like a fish. There’s no voice actor for him. He makes fishy noises and moves like a fish. WoW went all out to have a realistic main character in a slightly non realistic world. Nice touch.

There’s nothing ground breaking or intense or gripping about the plot of Finny the Fish, but it is a nice simple tale, and it’s told well. That’s what matters.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

I don’t know why exactly, but I really love the graphics in this game. Finny looks pretty real, and yet he still manages to be adorable. Who finds fish adorable? Well you will here! All the other major characters are very nicely done too, although more cartoonish than I would have liked.

The real stars of the game are actually the various insects, shellfish, and fish you encounter in the game. They may be generic, but they look exceptional and spot on to what the real version of these aquatic animals look like. And once you eaten one, they show up in your prey glossary and you even get a nice pit of info on them as well as a close up of the creature. I loved this and I was very happy with how realistic the visuals were. And wait until you see the gators!

As well, your entire surroundings are amazing. This is the best aquatic world I’ve seen in a video game. Water looks and actually moves like water. It’s not just surface rippling and some iridescence like you find in RPG’s. Everything looks and feels authentic, from the rocks and streambeds to when you flop up rocks and the way the waterfall spray hits the river. It’s magnificent.

Every time I encountered something new, whether an underwater cave or a new animal like a platypus, I was pleasantly surprised by how real everything seemed. This was so different from the cartoony platformer I was expecting. Excellent job here. It’s hard to be visually impressive nowadays, but Finny pulls it off.

Graphics Rating: 9/10

3. Sound

There are two voice actors in the game I can stand. The first is the narrator who says the name of the game when it first starts off he’s a James Earl Jones wannabe. The second is Kappa. Everyone else though? They graduated Magna Cum Laude at “Annoying University” which a BA in annoyance and a minor in irritating. Hideous, hideous voice acting.

You know it’s bad when Finny and his head nodding or air bubbles leaving his mouth are the highlight of the voice acting.

The music is very serene and fitting for the game. It’s not frantic or pressing. It’s just light nice background music that fits the adventures of a fish eating things and trying not to be eaten. Nothing that stands out in my brain, but there was nothing bad in this area either.

Overall this is one of Finny’s weak points, as the voice acting with its poor accents and strange attempts at being ‘hip’ just doesn’t jibe with the rest of the game. But the music does quite nicely.

Thankfully the voice acting that occurs is in the minority.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay Rating

Now here’s where it gets weird. See, Finny the Fish feels like an amalgamation of a lot of games. First off, we have the fact Finny feels like you a controls a plane in a flight simulator. Down is up on the stick, up is down, and it is night impossible to make a tight, precise turn, instead, one has to rely on wide turns. This is amazingly frustrating when you have a specific turn or position you have to be in, most notably when you are trying to get a scale power up from a wedged-in location. Man does the profanity come flying out here.

As well, often you need to use the lock on command to do just about anything, from eating, to talking to other characters (well THEY talk), to picking up important objects. The problem is that if there’s anything at all around to lock on to, you will inevitably lock on to the least important thing. Here’s a nice example at the beginning of the game. You have to pry this detonator from these rocks. However there is a Northern Snakehead by there that will try to eat you if you come near. The object is to quickly grab the item and flee as you will not have collected enough power ups in the game to fight back. But every single time you try and click on the object, you will instead focus on the fish coming after you, wasting time and more often than not, this messed up control scheme causes you to take damage or get eaten. Again, frustrating and annoying.

And this happens frequently throughout the game. The L1 button is not only for locking on, but also your search command for hidden powers and items. And what happens when you get a screen telling you this? Why you try it and you lock on to a water beetle of course! Arrrgh! Or, when you have to dodge rocks, you get a flashy graphic on the screen saying “Search with the L1 button” only to find you have now locked onto a tiny fish and the locking on has caused Finny to be directly in the path of a boulder. Hurrah!

My other control issue is with the lure. See, sometimes instead of eating a fish or bug or lobster or what have you, you will ingest a lure and then it becomes a battle of trying to escape the fishing line. You have two options. The first is to break the line, which is nigh impossible. I’ve done it only a handful of times, yet part of the game is to collect a ton of lures which can only occur from…breaking the line. The other option is to jump up out of the water and try and unhook yourself. This is far more successful, but more often than not, you are screwed. I’d say you have a 50% chance of escaping once you are hooked. And then when you’re reeled up, you’re either eaten, fed to a cat, or thrown back in the water near dead and desperate to try and find something to eat so you don’t die.

Adding into this level of annoyance is that there are very few save spots in the game and the fact you have a Gauntlet style life bar going on. Your health bar is directly connected to your tummy bar. This means the hungry Finny gets, the faster you will lose life. Makes sense right? Well, Finny’s life bar goes down quickly when hungry, but takes a very long time to refill. The tummy bar thankfully goes down slowly, but quickly refills.

This is one of those funny things where I was thankful this game was not a platformer, yet I still was not happy with the controls. They just weren’t precise enough for my liking and it would have been a lot better if you could scroll through a series of targets instead of auto focus, pray it went the right way, unlock target and repeat until you finally are killed.

It’s a shame that such a nice game in all other aspects has to be bogged down with some amazingly poor gameplay. There’s a lot of areas where this could have been easily tuned up if given a little more work.

Control and Gameplay: 3/10

5. Replayability.

Finny is a much longer game than one would expect, and there’s a ton to see and do in it. However, once you’ve beaten the game, there’s no real point to go back unless you have OCD and absolutely need to collect every scale, lure, and prey in the game. In which case I worry about your mental health.

Not to mention the controls just might drive you mad.

But once you DO get adjusted to the controls and accept that Finny does play like trying to control a fighter jet in water, there might be something here worth coming back to. It’s a cute, sweet little game the likes of which haven’t been seen in a very long time. One of those feel-good games that have been pushed aside for games with more gore and hookers. Trust me people, if violence and senseless death is what you’re looking for, what other game but Finny has the main character eaten alive and digested before your eyes as you play?

For me, I might replay this a year down the line, but I can see it having some lasting appeal for a lot of people who luck out on playing it, especially if you’ve got a family. I can see much younger gamers really enjoying Finny and wanting to play it several times over.

Replyability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Actually, for all my gripes about the controls, Finny is well balanced. Pretty much every enemy in the game can be beaten/eaten if you get enough jaw power-ups. And you can always out-swim the bigger fish trying to eat you if need be. Your only real enemy is the controls scheme itself.

The puzzles are simple and don’t require a ton of intellect to figure out how you will have to solve them, but looking for all the scale power-ups and trying to complete your collection of items does take a bit of work and sleuthing.

That’s not to say Finny is easy. Much like Gauntlet you are competing against your constantly depleting health and need to find food constantly. You also have to traverse some pretty large maps as the game goes on and pay close attention to your surroundings to find paths and new areas you perhaps haven’t explored yet.

Finny is a very well balanced game as everything comes together pretty seamlessly. As long as one plays conservatively and defensively, the control scheme is much less of a problem. But don’t get me wrong, it is STILL a problem.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

This is one thing Finny has in Spades. Never have I played a game even remotely like this before. It’s complete unlike anything that came before it.

Mind you there are little glimmers and examples of influence from other genres and games that came long before it, but none of these aspects and genres have ever been patchworked together like this and then blended into something that comes off pretty well indeed.

Fish Life Simulation is the closest I can come to labeling this game.

Truly innovating, amazingly original, hard to control. That really sums up Finny the Fish.

Originality Rating: 10/10

8. Addictiveness

Truthfully, I didn’t get that into the game. I played it for a few hours the first day, than didn’t pick it up for a day or two because the controls annoyed me that much. As original as this game is and as beautiful as the graphics are, it’s rather dull when you have to try the same thing over several dozen times because the lock on keeps picking the wrong thing to lock onto and you have to run away again and again to avoid being eaten.

You’ll get into the game, then get frustrated from the controls and put it down, and then pick it back up remembering that the rest of the game in pretty nice and then put it down again telling yourself it doesn’t matter how well made the game is if it is a bitch to play.

For me, its odd as I didn’t get too into the game and played it more to get the review done than from actual fun, yet I can’t bring myself to trade in the game, if only because I know it will be next to impossible to find if I do and that someday I may want to play this again but it’ll be at exorbitant collector’s pricing on Ebay.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

If you can find it, I think Finny the Fish will appeal to a lot of gamers. It takes the best part of a lot of genres, (EXCEPT controls! God, why didn’t this have better gameplay???) and makes it all accessible to even diehard opponents have those genres. Finny realistic graphics saves the game from people who would detract this as a “Kiddee Game.”

There’s so much to see and do and devour and collect and run from in Finny that for the right person, this game can be quite satisfying. It wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but I can see the vast majority of gamers that are able to pick this game up saying, “Yeah, it wasn’t bad.” And really, when a game is this underground, that’s a pretty good goal to have achieved.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Finny the Fish brings a lot to the table. It’s original, it is innovative, it’s graphically stunning, and it’s able to mix a lot of great qualities into one game. The problem is it plays so poorly, you’ll find it hard to not take that one negative and say it outweighs the rest of the game. After all GAMEplay does stand out more than any other category when all is said and done. If you’re better at dealing with the controls and breaking the fishing lines than I am, this might be a very good game for you, but the game does handle like an old school flight simulator and too often that vexed me rather than entertained me.

Overall I am glad to have played and purchased Finny, but I can’t make that recommendation for anyone else, unless you’re a lover of the obscure and weird. Still, for thirty bucks, you can do a LOT worse than Finny.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

The Scores
Story: 6
Graphics: 9
Sound: 5
Gameplay/Control: 3
Replayability: 4
Balance: 6
Originality: 10
Addictiveness: 4
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 6
Overall: 5.8
Final Score: 6.0 (Above Average)

Short Attention Span Summary
Finny the Fish is a good game with one large inescapable glaring flaw. The really big problem is that flaw is actually playing the game itself. But then, this is the age of 3-D games with horrible controls and pretty graphics, so remembering that, a lot of people will probably enjoy Finny and not even realize the controls are ass. Aside from the actual problems controlling Finny himself, Sega’s made a very original and interesting game that many people will respect, if not outright have fun with. Keep in mind the flaws when you see this game on the shelves and decide if it is worth a purchase. Just remember you’ll probably never see the game after that one glimpse though…