As you might realise, I’m getting a little bit long in the tooth so I thought I’d try one of those new fangled Japanese RPGs (jRPGs). I say new-fangled, but they’ve been around forever it seems. Aparently the first was in 1982, The Dragon and the Princess. That old title had a great Wizard of Oz moment where the game transformed from text adventure to top-down tactical RPG. Must have been quite a sight. The quintessential game though as far as UK knowledge of the Japanese market goes was Legend of Zelda. Released for the Nintendo Entertainment System aka Famicom in 1986, it directly influenced more adventurey RPGs like Times of Lore. The NES always seemed a bit of a step-down though for me from the 8-bit computers, as it tended – like its successor the Super Nintendo – to lean on action, rather than adventure and strategy. As a result I always looked at Zelda and the like with a sense of some disdain. Given the fact that Zelda never really reached the UK and US officially until the back end of 1987 – meaning the game was nearly two years old – its influence was probably within UK games as an undetectable undercurrent by then… But then the cynic in me says that its influence was more hype than anything else.
And so we come to my first jRPG, Aveyond. Aveyond is a huge series, and I dived in at the deep end with Chapter 2 of Aveyond Part 3 – Orbs of Magic. We join the story with Stella experiencing a ghastly nightmare, pursued by uncompromising vampires. Awakening, we find ourselves part of an unlikely fellowship – including a bloodthirsty vampire called Te’ijal – which seeks audience with the King. Somewhere along the line, the king’s sword Excalibur is mentioned (where did I hear that name before?), but it turns out that Te’ijal’s lover and fellow companion is Galahad, so whatever. The central character is announced as Mel the Thief, although Stella also seems to be a protagonist here. After meeting Daddy, the King, Prince Edward leaves with this motley accompaniment with his own additional personal quest of seeking a wife; he is heir apparent after all. And with two single women in the party, there must be a viable option there. We cannot tarry as Vampire Lord Gyendal is after us, so we must leave Thais and locate Naylith Summit. Perhaps we can find the Orb of Light, and halt Gyendal and his nefarious plans for the Orb of Darkness.
Fan Art by Esme Amelia Stella at Mount Drake
It really is quite a quest: even locating places like Naylith Summit can be difficult. There is no clear detailed world map, and I like it! I guess that the world maps are similar across games though; if so series fans will astutely recall directions to go… Character development continues from chapter 1 to 2, but as I was starting at Chapter 2, I had far less skills or equipment, which made it a lot more difficult, especially in the end game, although the end game is not as impossible as it might first seem. The following part, Chapter 3 – The Lost Orb resets all character progress, so I felt less bad about the attributes loss. One thing which did feel like a grievous loss was that there was an upgrade made by the soundtrack composer’s team which added voiceovers for characters (chapters 1 and 2 only), but it seems to have disappeared from the Internet. So come on, Walz Music, tell us what is the deal there?
The music is gorgeous, by the way: Gheledon, Darkthrop Keep, Harburg, Stormbend, the list goes on and on. There’s also a great piece with some Indian sounds when you reach Mount Drake, I wasn’t sure if was a stock piece from RPG Maker XP or one of Aaron’s, but I contacted Aaron, and sure enough, it’s one of his. The story meanwhile is convoluted, but in a good way. You’ll need some processing time though for the epilogue, especially if you didn’t play the series all the way through. If the dialogue seems a little childish at times, I encourage you to read it aloud or just say it aloud in your head with emotion, and any naffness quickly evaporates. The story writer and many of the staff are female, and this shows, again, in a good way. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen so many women involved in a game project since the heady day of St. Bride’s Software.
Amanda Fitch Tiffany Lim Rebecca Long
The writer and game designer, Amanda Fitch, cut her mustard with Adventure Game Studio before moving on to RPG Maker, as well as working with programming languages. I love the 8-bit style graphics: those jungle trees kinda remind me of Sabre Wulf for some reason. Okay, so some people might complain of it being too generic, but RPG Maker or not, great writing is great writing. The atmosphere is so good that there is even a decent bulk of Aveyond fan fiction out there. I wish though that they’d stuck to orginal characters, like Lydia and Stella, rather than mythic ones like Galahad and Hercules. Maybe it’s just my preference, but there’s no need for those characters, as the characterisation which Fitch has achieved with her own characters is great.
The company Amaranth Games was named after a Greek symbol of immortality, though Aveyond is so popular that they now call themselves Aveyond Kingdom. I think the former title was perhaps the most apt. +1 to the Amaranth team for warning you to save your game before you descend into the deeper darkness of the catacombs. There are the odd little niggles, like how if you turn off the music you have to leave the current map to re-enable it, but then I can’t see many people turning off Walz’s lovely score. Battle looks a little simplistic, but Prince Edward’s propensity to fly shudderingly close to death tempered the casual look of the game with some emotional moments (there are save games but I like to play as much as possible avoiding them). Whilst the combat does start to become monotonous, it is more edgy towards the end of the game, and I can’t understate the importance of the tactic of changing equipment. For example, you may have a high-powered weapon, but that low-powered dagger which curses your victim might be more useful in the present situation. As the journal doesn’t always keep vital information, you have to have a good memory, and getting that elusive treasure chest key which is so important in the endgame really pulled my ‘harp strings’.
It does have adventure game content, though unlike a genuine adventure, if you are carrying the right item at the time, it simply invokes the conversational thread to progress the sequence. But the sprawling nature of the world, and quantity of things to complete, makes it feel very much real. Overall, even though this is an RPG, it still felt very much an adventure game, and a good one at that. Aveyond 4 was just released before the end of the year, which will immortalise the game even further, but I’d better get cracking with the rest of Aveyond 3 first. As it took me 42 hours to get through Chapter 2 alone, I don’t think I’m going to achieve that any time soon…