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 Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)

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vaudy
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PostSubject: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Mon Jun 15, 2009 11:32 am

This is the third installment in an ongoing series of games. I will review the first two Aveyond games at another time. I'm only doing this one first so WaveformDelta and I have a place to discuss the demo. Bwah.

Website: http://www.amaranthia.com/
RM version: XP
Cost: $10

Overview

Caveat: I'm not finished playing yet; more will be added as I play through. Also, I'm playing on normal mode, no tutorial, my comments, at least, are based on that.

Pros: mostly original graphics (tilesets, sprites, facesets), a large amount of original music, good scripting, engaging story

Cons: healing magic isn't useful, healing items available not commensurate with PC stat levels, armor progression is wonky, battles not well-balanced for PC levels, laggy in city maps

So, I think this game is graphically superior to the previous Aveyond games, which I realize is silly to say when I haven't reviewed them yet, but whatever. The tilesets in the first two games had a softer, more pastel-like look, that didn't mesh with the brighter-toned sprites, and they also looked more hand-drawn, which while nice, again didn't match the RTP-styled sprites. The tilesets here are brighter and have crisper lines; the sprites look good against them, and it looks more cohesive as a whole. The only exception is in one of the later towns, where RMVX-styled sprites are used to indicate a new race, and they are jarringly different next to the RMXP-styled sprites.

Story-wise, I think the quest set-up is pretty good, and I thought that the hour demo provided a really good hook to make the player want to see more (it clearly worked, since I paid my $10). I wish we could see a little more of Mel's training between arriving in Thais and starting the main quest, but unfortunately, that part is pretty much glossed over. I like that the "what's the bad guy up to" interlude scenes are not merely cutscenes, as they are in most games, but actually playable segments with Te'ijal. The character development so far seems better than in the first two games, but we'll see if that will continue.

Battle difficulty in each new area is a little too high for the character level, starting with the Thial mountains (after Te'ijal leaves Mel), and since only some monsters regenerate after clearing an area, going back to an easier area to level up takes longer and is more tedious than usual.

One thing I have never liked in the Aveyond games is how quickly HP levels go up. The main problem with this is that healing items increase in very small increments, in comparison to how much HP the PCs have and the amount of damage enemies do. What's the use of an item that only heals 75 HP when you have 300-400 HP and enemies do upwards of 80 HP per hit? Also, healing magic is all but useless, because 1) it costs a lot of MP in comparison to how much HP it heals, and 2) it doesn't heal much compared to the damage the party is taking at the time the healer actually learns the spell. I almost never use the healer characters in any Aveyond game, unless I only have four or fewer PCs to make up my party.

Also, why the heck is the "Items" option not at the top of the menu? That's freaking standard! I use that way more than "Equip"! The inventory should simply not be four or five choices down on the menu.

*********ETA**********

Okay, so I finished the game, and am actually almost done with my second play-through. My second time through was on a new computer, which means that I didn't experience lag on the city maps like I did before. I still advocate, however, managing the size of city maps (maybe using a few different maps instead of one large one) so that players with older machines can still have a good game experience. A lot of casual gamers don't have the newest, top of the line stuff.

I really like the story; it's a different twist on the old "chosen one" trope. I like Mel as a character, though she has some incongruous moments, and I like Te'ijal and Galahad as characters (especially their dynamic together). Edward's okay, but needs a little more development. He's fairly bland. Stella is a saccharine stereotype. Also useless as a player character, but she's a healer, and I've already talked about that. There are a couple more characters to meet in the next chapter (one has been introduced, but only as an NPC in LoT.)

I kind of like the way that what appear to be sidequests lead the way to the next stage of the main quest. I think it's an effective technique, overall, although it could be refined; some elements were a bit abrupt. Some gameplay elements could use improvement, but the story is worth sticking around for. I always want to know what comes next.

I maintain that each new area is too difficult for the party's current area (except for the caves--those were just about right). That, or each area is not designed adequately to allow the party to reach the appropriate level before it's time to move on. (My brother's comment when I mentioned this was "Oh! It's like a classic game, then!" And he didn't say it in a good way.) I don't mind a bit of level grinding, but this isn't a difference of one or two levels. After training up a couple of levels, the monsters were still doing too much damage.

Each area should be challenging when you first enter it, but be a lot easier when you're done in the area. This isn't happening. Late in the game, there should perhaps be more sidequests in the Stormbend/Sinoa Plains area (which for a large adventure area, you don't spend a lot of time there) to keep the characters there and fighting a bit longer before moving on.

Something needs to be said about the end. It is a big ol' cliffhanger, and some people won't like that.

This is the first chapter of a longer sub-series, but it was originally going to be a full game together with the next chapter, Gates of Night. It was decided late in the development cycle that the game would benefit from being split up into two shorter games, with the res of the sub-series being released the same way. I already knew this going in, and I have read in the Amaranthia forums, and I understand, why the first two chapters were split up where they were, however, I think the split oculd have been adjusted slightly.

****************MAJOR SPOILER**************************
Spoiler:
 
Now, I understand that this is the point where the game becomes really non-linear, and therefore, there wasn't a good story-place to split the game later (LoT is, by beta-tester reports, slightly less than half what the full game would have been before splitting). However (and I have seen this suggested elsewhere), I think, instead of stopping where it did, the game could have let the party return to Thais and have the requisite discussion with the king, as a sort of denouement for this part of the story. This would have the added benefit of allowing players who weren't expecting the end to be, you know, the end, the opportunity to tie up any loose ends they may have left, complete any sidequests that won't be completable in the next chapter, and level up a bit in preparation for the next game if they want to.

As a final note, I sort of wish there were a way to tell which sidequests aren't completable at all until the next chapter, and which ones must be completed in this chapter.


Last edited by vaudy on Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:12 am; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Mon Jun 15, 2009 12:30 pm

WaveformDelta wrote:

I got twenty minutes left on the demo (I got through the forest and mountains into the second city; I'll probably buy it eventually), thought I'd give you my raw first impressions:

  • I see what you mean about how it gets right to the point--the action is very fast, almost a little too fast for my personal taste--I wanted to linger more. Part of this was just my sense of the demo clock tick-tick-ticking away, but part of it was the story pacing. I felt like I didn't have a chance to get familiar with the city, for example--I wanted to explore--and while I knew what I needed about the main character (what was her name?), I didn't feel like I knew her. I actually wanted more time to pass before we got to The Big Story Hook!
  • Whine, whine, whine. On the other hand, your point about demos needing to get to the story hook PDQ is very relevant, and this succeeds in spades. You should read my above comments with the knowledge that I've also complained about stories that take too long to get to their point, and if you want to conclude that I'm never satisfied, I won't exactly argue. And I did deliberately avoid exploration in order to get through as much game as possible, so the 'pacing' issue is partly my own doing...
  • All of this puts me in mind that 'level limited' demos are better than 'clock limited' demos...but that's for another e-mail.
  • I tried it on 'super easy help me in every possible way' mode and then discovered I didn't really need it; but it was a very slick feature. The tutorial, the on-screen explanations of items, and the 'go this way' arrows on the map were especially impressive.
  • In terms of overall quality, this rates as "Polished+": clearly RMXP based, but with some impressive tweaks on the basic engine (the fading text screens, the opening cut scene). I noted some of the music was stock RTP stuff, but I didn't mind so much in the context of so much slick assembly.
  • I wasn't really enamored of the 'side view' fighting screens, but I know they are popular.
  • The floating dialog boxes with face graphics worked very well.
  • It was a nice story touch in the opening cut-scene where she never actually told her husband she was pregnant.
  • Did any of the dialogue make you cringe? There were a couple places where I thought it seemed corny, but I didn't seem to mind in the whirlwind game pace.

  • Which city did you want to explore? Harburg (the starting city)? Because you can't. Even if you had access to all the town areas, all the buildings would probably be locked 'cause it's night. I suppose the game could've started with Mel outside, and let you explore before getting the job from What'sisname, but arguably, there's no need to familiarize yourself with the town, because you're not staying very long. Now, I wanted to explore Thais more when I got there, but I didn't because the demo-clock was starting to run out at that point.
  • That said, I see your point, and when I bought the game, I started over, instead of going on from my last save (more to explore the forest and mountains more thoroughly, since there was nothing to see in town. For comparison, play through the first Aveyond demo. I though it, too, had a great hook (by which I mean something to make you want to play further once the time runs out), but it took a slower pace, gave you more freedom to explore, and gave you a better sense of who the main character was. However, the characters are very different: the hero of AV1 was a small-town girl from a loving family and close-knit community; Mel has more of a transient existence to begin with, so in way, how each one's story begins fits their individual situations. If you'll allow me to channel high school English for a moment, I think a demo should always include the Initial Incident of Conflict, but there are different ways of pacing a demo that can still include that.
  • We may not have a choice there, but as you said, it's better left for another discussion.
  • I skipped the tutorial, because I knew I wouldn't need it and didn't want to take the time. Smile I should start a new game, just to see it (though I've used the tutorial on one or both of the previous games); it's something that you don't need if you've played this type of game before, but it's a really nice feature for players who are new to the genre.
  • Yes; I also think that this is more polished, even, than the previous two games (see my comments in the post above about the consistent graphical look). I also think that this game combines the original music with the RTP more seamlessly than the first one, at least (there was a jarring volume difference between original and RTP BGM in that one).
  • See, I prefer the side view battles, because it reminds me of Final Fantasy. I hate the front view. But! I'd prefer monster art over using the sprites as battlers (and this would require having original monster art Sad ) and having some animation to the character sprites rather than the static sprites (like having them change to a "ready" position when you've entered the battle commands), which would also require a lot of original work pale ).
  • Yeah, I actually think that was implemented better here than in Lucid Awakening. (And that may have to do with however Amanda scripted it, since I'm sure she did all the scripting herself.) I like that she made them look kinda like speech bubbles. I think that's new in this game.
  • Well, I think that was probably necessary. It wouldn't make sense for him to let her live, otherwise. But good writing, there.
  • Generally, I think the dialogue in the Aveyond games is better than average, but it's not perfect (and, well, you've played at least a little bit of a few of RM games by now, so consider the average). There are definitely some awkward lines here and there.
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PostSubject: Re: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Tue Jun 16, 2009 10:14 pm

I did want to explore Harburg; I never had the chance to find out you couldn't do anything in it!
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PostSubject: Re: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Tue Jun 16, 2009 10:28 pm

Actually, I just played through the opening with the tutorial today, and I can see why you felt railroaded. The arrows are pretty slick, but they do make you feel like you can't diverge from the path. Playing without it, I tried to explore the available paths (both to see if I could and to find the right path), and was turned away with either "the mansion isn't in this part of the city, I need to go this way" or "I don't have time for this right now" (those are paraphrased, of course). The few buildings in the accessible areas were either just locked, or there was a knocking sound effect, with a "everyone must be asleep" message. There were a few guys to talk to west of the bridge, I think, but they didn't say anything special.

So, yeah, you're railroaded, anyway, but you're railroaded a little more organically, rather than just following the arrows. I'm pretty sure you can go off on your own, even with the arrows, but I think most people wouldn't.

You know, at the end of the day, I don't know if I saved any time by skipping the tutorial, because I did things without the tutorial that most people using it might not have. Then again, sometimes I just go off on my own, anyway, and put off what I know the goal is, just to see what I can do.
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PostSubject: Re: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:01 pm

Have I ever loaned you Janet H. Murray's Hamlet On The Holodeck? (I know I've mentioned it to you.) She makes a big deal about how one of the pleasures of interactive games is maze exploration--how we enjoy traversing a maze, even without a specific objective. It's the same reason I used to play Doom in ultra-super-wimpy mode (no monsters, and in God Mode, so I couldn't get killed by the acid floors and ceiling traps): I just wanted to explore the maze without any distractions...like, y'know, cacodemons shooting plasma balls at me.

So giving you a city map that you can't actually explore is kinda lame: we'll taunt you with a maze, but you can't actually explore it, and there's nothing to find there anyway. I say BOO-OO-OO-OO!!
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PostSubject: In which I defend the taunting, non-explorable maze   Wed Jun 17, 2009 12:18 am

No you have not. And I see your point, but:

1) You can explore the city later, just well past the time allowed in the demo, and 2) once you get out of the city initially, you encounter increasingly large areas to explore (the forest is larger than Darkthrop Keep, and the mountain area is a bit larger than the forest), that you do get to do before the demo is up. (Though you're blocked from exploring Brightwood Forest until after you start your training in Thais. That's in part because the monsters might be a little strong for you until you can upgrade your weapon in Thais.)

I can see where in part, not allowing you to explore the city was probably done to impart a sense of urgency in setting Mel on her path. Also, exploring the town would take a lot of time out of the demo, since it's a sizable city, once you do get to see it all. That sort of player-directed stuff doesn't work well when you have certain elements that you really want the player to see before they can't play anymore. In the previous two games, where you get to explore the starting areas more, the starting towns are tiny villages, not a large city, so the exploration aspect doesn't take up so much time that it gets in the way of advancing the story far enough that the player wants to continue.

It's actually a little ironic that it starts out so railroad-y, considering how exploration-heavy and non-linear the Aveyond games are once you get into mid-game* (LoT is actually fairly linear all the way through, though there are still large areas to explore, but the next chapter, when it is released, will be much less so, or so we've been promised), compared to the very linear, story-based games the RMXP community at large has been making of late. But it's still the story that's going to get people to buy the game to begin with; no one's going to buy the game because they got to explore the town for a half hour. They're going to buy the game because they think the story is compelling enough that they want to see what happens next, and, in fact, if they waste a half hour exploring the town, they might not see the compelling part of the story.

Part of this problem is simply the exigencies of how these games are currently marketed (i.e., the time-based demo), but I think that even in a freeware game, or if we were able to do a level-based demo, we would want the Initial Incident of Conflict (to be called the IIC hereafter) to occur in roughly the first hour of gameplay, hour and a half at most. As you said in your initial comments, it's just as bad to take too long to get the story moving.

*And actually, mid-game (say 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through) is approximately where I think it's appropriate to really turn the player loose, if you're going the non-linear route. You need some structure in early game, to set up the main quest and get your starting party together.
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PostSubject: Re: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Thu Jun 18, 2009 10:39 pm

12:18 AM? And you accuse me of staying up late?! Razz

I agree with everything you've said here, and I didn't mean that Aveyond:LoT is awful simply because of a sort-of unexplorable starting town. I was just reflecting on having a staring-out-the-car-window-as-we-drive-past-Disneyland moment as I left the town (and even that overstates things a bit, but it was too funny an image not to write down, y'know?)

You're definitely right about the IIC needing to be pretty close to the start; also that a certain amount of railroading is necessary to get things started.

I'm now rather torn about whether a time-based demo is better than a level-based demo. With T.B. demos, you have to pace things so that the IIC happens within the allotted time (assuming a reasonable playing speed--itself perhaps difficult to gauge).

L.B. demos let the player mess around for as long as they like: all you have to do is put the IIC before the end of the level (probably pretty close, so the hook is fresh). But then you have to make sure that everything leading to the IIC is appealing enough to keep them playing until they find it.

I suppose another strategy with an L.B. demo is to put the IIC pretty close to the start, let them play a while, and then put another hook right before the end of the level. The first gets them to stay, the second reminds them why they got into it and makes them think "Boy, I gotta pay and get the rest of this!"

All of which puts me in mind: what are the IICs for our stories? (But those belong on another thread...)
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PostSubject: Re: Aveyond: Lord of Twilight (Orbs of Magic Series, Book1)   Thu Jun 18, 2009 11:46 pm

I've been having trouble sleeping. Sad Also, I intended a short reply before going to bed, and ended up typing for twenty minutes.

The only issue with doing a level-based demo is that with the utilities currently available to manage demos and payment, we may only be able to do time-based. Also, if we want to offer our game to any of the game portals, I believe those only do time-based demos. The only real option I can see to actually do a LBD (at least with my current knowledge of what's out there, which, admittedly, is based on what I've played) is to have is as a separate file. You can download the demo free and play to a certain point (as many times as you like), and the full game is a separate download. That sort of limits our marketing opportunities, since we could only sell the game through our own site. Also, it would be a bit of an inconvenience to the players to have to import a save file into the full game if they don't want to start over.

One other alternative is perhaps to simply have a slightly longer time on our demo. An hour is standard on casual games, but I have seen games do less. Why couldn't we do more?

And yes, the IICs on our particular stories are best left for another discussion, seeing as this part of the forum is public. Smile
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