Gamers today are blessed to live in a world with powerful AI, nearly photorealistic graphics, and enough scripted "holy crap" moments to send a horse into a coma. With flashy titles like Halo 3 on the way, it's pretty easy to forget that enterprising gamers and independent studios worldwide are cranking out hundreds of games a year - just take Metanet software's 2005 release N.
All preamble aside, I had the chance to play through Aveyond, a nifty little title by Amaranth games (http://www.amaranthia.com). Aveyond is the sequel to designer Amanda Fae's modest underground success, Ahriman's Prophecy.
Set some period of time after Ahriman's Prophecy, Aveyond follows the travails of Rhen, a purple-haired young girl who is captured and sold into slavery far across the world. When it is discovered that Rhen has the potential to become a sword singer (who casts spells through swords), she is rescued and taken to an academy in the capital city. From there, Rhen must fulfill an ancient prophecy, find a bunch of druids, kill demons to retrieve the druids' souls, get a magic sword, and defeat Ahriman once and for all.
Unfortunately, the backstory is about as much story as you're going to get out of this whole thing. There is no interaction between party members besides the ability to arbitrarily marry them to each other, and the bosses say nothing to you before or after you fight them. Only Ahriman has a little spiel before you fight him, and that boils down to "Har har, me so evil! You die now!" - Kefka he ain't. Come to think of it, he isn't exactly Kafka either, but I digress.
So if you're looking for deep storytelling, look elsewhere. What story is here is fairly light and easily digestible, with very little character development and, let's be honest, no real reason to complete your quest beyond being able to say to your friends, "Hey, so I finished Aveyond last night."
Speaking of cliches, let's take a look at some of the characters you'll meet and places you'll go:
- A humble young girl with an improbable hair colour, and a mysterious and magical past
- A butch Amazon woman who summons demons and carries a whip (but her name isn't Rydia)
- A paladin who has no powers and is ultimately useless beyond the stick up his backside
- A vampire who is nearly unkillable and is the most powerful character in the game
- A unicorn
- A dragon
- Talking cats
- Two pirates who are without a doubt the weakest in the game
- A sun priest you will never use and who will end up betraying you anyway (No spoilers here - the introductory scene gives away this little chestnut)
- The ice level
- The jungle level
- The desert level
- The lava caves
The list goes on, I assure you.
While the story leaves a lot to be desired, it's fairly well written and mostly free of typos, which is some small saving grace.
At the risk of using a worn game reviewer cliché, graphics are a mixed bag. The environments are bright, detailed, and cheery, reminiscent of early SNES RPGs of yore. The style is reminiscent of the Ys series, with menu-driven combat typical of turn-based RPGs. Each character can attack, use special abilities (If they have any - thanks for coming out, Galahad), use items, or defend. Curiously, there's no option to run, which means that if you find yourself in an area beyond your skills, you can either win against impossible odds or die. Save early and save often, kids.
While the environments are mostly well done, character models are tiny and lack any real detail or character, and even major bosses took up only an inch on my screen, and some were actually smaller than the sprites of regular enemies.
Gameplay is a pretty pedestrian affair, consisting of walking around the maps until you get attacked, and then selecting special moves until you're out of points. Bosses invariably wait at the bottom of a dungeon, where they wait for you to approach and attack them.
By far, the best part of the game is the music. Supplied by independent composer Aaron Walz (http://www.walzmusic.com), the soundtrack is orchestral, with real live flutes and horns and everything! The music manages to be atmospheric and fairly well done, but about halfway through the game I ran into a bug that cut the music out entirely.
At the end of the day, my job is to tell you whether or not this game is worth your $18. While pleasing to the senses, the story is definitely lacking, and the characters resemble nothing more than a 15-year-old's D&D character sheet collection. That said, the demo is free, and independent game designers deserve our support. So if you're hankering for a little old-school RPG action, at least check out the demo.