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 Last Scenario

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vaudy
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Posts : 165
Join date : 2009-04-22

PostSubject: Last Scenario   Thu May 07, 2009 10:38 am

Website: http://www.scfworks.com/
Alternate download site: http://www.rampantgames.com/lastscenario
RM version: XP

Overview

Pros: Great, well-developed storyline (mostly; there are some blips), believable characters and dialogue, excellent mapping, good use of cutscenes, custom sprites for PCs and important NPCs, high level of detail in spriting (facial expressions, hand gestures, etc.), challenging but balanced battles

Cons: sprites have a blurry look to them (even RTP sprites for NPCS), magic-oriented characters can't use any more spells than physically-oriented ones, healing-item progression is wonky, mindless level-grinding is sometimes necessary to earn enough money to upgrade equipment (especially in late game)

Special features: Unique magic card system, very well done mini game (a collectible card game) integrated throughout main game

(c/p from email)

This is the game I've been playing recently that I told you about when I was over at your place. Like I told you, it starts out with a basic "destined hero" scenario, but as the plot develops, the story turns out to be much more sophisticated than that.

*This turned out waaaaay longer than I intended. But I feel these elements all merit discussion, because they are things we will have to think about with our own game. Maybe I should actually post it as a formal review.*

This game comes closer to really having the "full package" than any homebrew I've seen. The story is good, character development is, well, there is character development, which is, in itself, sort of a standout for games like these, and the dialogue is mostly well-written. There are some awkward moments, and the main character comes across as a little slow in the very beginning, but he gets better. Someone complained about spelling/grammar in the game in the forum where I first came across it, but compared to other homebrew games, I've found much fewer errors of that sort that what I usually see. There are a lot of twists that make the story much more than your basic "Hero defeats the Big Foozle" plot common to the genre, but all of the twists make sense.

There are a lot of cutscenes, but they are dramatically appropriate and don't go on forever and ever, making you wonder when you get to play the game again. Also, cutscenes include some scene switching, where, for example, you might get a glimpse of what your enemies are planning, or if your party is split, you might go back and forth between two groups of characters, which keeps it interesting during some of the longer ones. Also, cutscenes are often punctuated with Things To Do where you regain control of your character, either to walk somewhere or just for a battle, which keeps Cutscene Boredom at bay.

The gameplay is challenging and satisfying (it's hard to quantify what I mean by satisfying; I'll figure it out one of these days); battles are very challenging and require a certain amount of strategizing, but it's balanced enough that I've had to do relatively little level grinding (I have done some). However, for the player who wants to level grind, previous areas are almost always available between, er, "controlled" situations. Areas that you have to battle through usually have at least one, and sometimes two, save points where you can use a "tent" to heal your whole party. Battles use the default turn-based system, and encounters are random. I'm of two minds about that, because while there is a long tradition of random encounters in this sort of RPG, I've increasingly become a fan of visible monsters. Random encouters add challenge, but they are interruptions that can hamper exploration.

The game is linear without feeling linear, and suprisingly, the game developer didn't do this with sidequests. Any story-based RPG is going to be somewhat linear, but soooooooo many of them make you feel railroaded, which is what I usually mean when I say something is "too linear." A lot of developers will throw in sidequests, which are usually optional but will net you useful items/equipment or are simply good leveling up opportunities. (Generally, I like sidequests, as long as all of them aren't fetch quests. A few fetch quests are fine.) This game avoids the linearity more by giving you some freedom to explore, and giving you freedom between story elements to do other things, like go back to previous areas to level up or get more gold or whatever.

As I mentioned when we talked, money can be scarce, forcing the player to make choices about what can be purchased when (unless the player is patient enough to play back through previous areas to earn money, which I've done a few times). As the game goes on, new equipment gets more and more expensive, and no matter how wealthy you appear to be after completing one part of the game, you will not have enough to completely re-equip the whole party when you find better weapons in the next town, especially if you also need to restock healing items (tents are essential ).

There are a couple of gripes I have with the allocation issues, and they have to do with the aforementioned healing items. The first is that your basic healing items at the beginning of the game are relatively affordable, but advanced healing items are 1) not available for a long time, 2) make too high of a jump as far as how much healing they give, and 3) are incredibly expensive when they become available. For example, the basic single-person healing item heals 50 HP, and costs 10-15 gold (I'd have to fire up the game to check). The next single-person healing item in the chain jumps to 400 HP and costs 850 gold, when you can finally buy it. So it's really only good for emergency healing, and for a goodly chunk of the game your HP levels are high enough, and monsters do enough damage, that 50 HP is not enough healing, but 400 is way more than you need, forcing you to use more magic for healing, or use lots and lots of healing items between battles. This brings me to my second gripe, which is that mana restoring items are not available in stores. You can only find them in chests or win them from enemies, making them very rare. You have to be very careful sometimes about how much magic you're using, lest your primary magic users run out of mana before you reach a save point where you can heal with a tent. This is also why tents are so essential. Now, this does add a level of challenge, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I'd rather have them be available, but have them be expensive.

Graphics have their good and bad points. Town/Dungeon graphics are RTP, with some recolored elements. The world map is a custom tileset from RPG-Palace, but the towns and buildings on the world map come from the earlier versions of RPG Maker, which looks a little incongruous. Sprites, as I said before, are a little blurry-looking, even the RTP ones, and i'm not sure if that was an intentional effect or not. Important characters are original sprites, using a combination of what appear to be totally original pixel-art elements to recolored RTP elements. I have to say that the quality of the original spritework could be higher, in addition to the widespread blurriness problem. However, there is also a level of sophistication and detail here that most RM games don't have, insofar as the important character sprites have facial expressions and do things like turn their heads, close their eyes, etc. Facesets and battlers are hand-drawn in a fairly simple style. Some are better than others, but they fit the atmosphere of the game, and there are "expressive" facesets that occasionally pop up in dramatic moments to match the characters' emotions. Many monster battlers are original hand drawings, but they mesh reasonably well with the RTP monsters that are used.

Mapping is generally well done, I think. The different areas are interesting to go through without being over-decorated, and while exploration isn't a huge element, it's not a follow-the-yellow-brick-road sort of situation that so many RM games fall into, where the mapper has laid the path out for you, and you just have to follow it. You do have to find your way, sometimes, and sometimes an offshoot path really is just a dead end, without even a treasure chest to redeem it. This adds to the challenge level of the game, since you'll have to fight more battles. Towns are really nice, and have a lot of buildings to make them look like realistic towns, even though you can't enter all of them, which is something even professional RPGs don't always do (there are ten NPCs to talk to, but only three houses in town?). One thing I've never seen before with mapping that I thought was a really nice effect is that you don't reach the edge of the map before teleporting to the next screen, and when you're moving from area to area (not exiting an area onto the world map), the edge of the map you just exited is often repeated on the new map, so you really feel like the you're moving through a continous area. One thing I didn't like about the mapping, and this drives me crazy, because I see it all the time, is that you sometimes enter a building (or cave, or whatever) and you're suddenly facing a different direction from how you entered. Like, you enter a door pointed north, but inside the building you're facing south. I hate this in maps; it doesn't make sense. There are some other, similar directional/positional issues while exploring that detract from the overall quality of the mapping for me.

There's not much to comment on regarding music; it's RTP, plus some of the RTP music from RM2k/RM2k3, and at least one piece of music that I think is ripped from an Final Fantasy game. But for RTP music, there are spots where it's used to good atmospheric effect. I do like that certain kinds of areas have consistent music (mountain areas always have the same music, for example).

The magic system is unique, but has its issues. It's a spellcard system, so you purchase (or find) spellcards, and then anyone can equip and use them. Each spellcard has a basic spell and a "crisis" spell. You have a crisis meter that increases each time you're hit in battle, and when it reaches its maximum, you can use the crisis spells. Once maxed out, the crisis meter stays that way until you either use a crisis spell or die in battle, at which point it goes back to zero. Also, spell cards have different effects on your stats (e.g., a certain card might increase your HP but decrease your MP). I like that it's different, and there are a lot of different spells to choose from. However, each person only has so many spell slots, so they are limited as to how many spells they can equip. As the game goes on, you can gain items to unlock more spell slots. This adds to the strategy element of the game, since you have to choose who will equip what spells and you need to switch up your spells for different areas because monsters have different vulnerabilities.

I don't like that anyone can use any spell: the meatshield can use the same spells, and the same number of spells, potentially, as the girl who's studied magic her whole life; the only difference is the latter has more MP and higher intelligence, so the same spell is more effective when she casts it. I do think that it could be a little more sophisticated if there were certain advanced spells that could only be used by magic-type characters, or if physically oriented characters were unable to unlock as many spell slots, because lets face it, I don't want to waste my heavy-hitters by casting spells, so I'm only going to give them "emergency" spells that won't be needed often. Also, as I'm getting deeper into the game, I feel like the limitations are more frustrating than challenging, and having to periodically change my spellcards is annoying.

This system also interferes a bit with characterization. I mean, you have one character who, according to the story, is a healer and spent all this time studying medicine, but he's only a healer insofar as he comes equipped with the Cure spellcard when he joins your party. You could very well take that spellcard away and equip him with all attack spells, and suddenly he's not a healer at all, except for plot reasons. So the magic system messes with received information about the characters. It sort of goes back to my comment about anyone being able to equip any spell.

So, overall, even though there are some negatives, this game has pretty well blown me away. And the story has really sucked me in; it's like reading a book and not being able to put it down. I have to force myself to stop playing for things like, oh, going to bed. The review is probably detailed enough for you to be able to think about how we might apply (or avoid) some of these elements in our game, but I do think you'd benefit from playing and experiencing them firsthand (and forming your own opinions about them, of course). And I really do think that this is not just a standout example of a good RMXP game, but a good game, and one that's well worth playing.
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