Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hype: Forever's End

Forever's End is a traditional JRPG that seems to have been in development for as long as its title suggests. In fact, it's been in development for so long that I've reviewed it twice, the most recent of which you can read here. For an RPGMaker game it has overwhelmingly good press, having being reviewed 15+ times with an average rating of ~8/10. It is also an award winning title, being the winner of the RPGMaker.net's "Most Promising Demo" award in 2010 (an award that it beat my own game, Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl, to win) and the winner of RPG-Atelier.net's "Project of the Month" award for June 2011. When you stack all this data up, it's easy to see why I'm hyped about this game, even if I haven't got a clue when the final version will be released!

 Forever's End is a highly acclaimed JRPG being developed by NicoB.

The game itself is pretty standard as far as JRPG games go. You fight battles, solve puzzles, uncover plot details, fight more battles etc. What makes the game so good is how polished all of these gameplay aspects are. Even in the very first demos released for this game, it was obvious that the final product was going to play incredibly smoothly and with the latest release - the entirety of the "first episode" - it's clear that this is the case. The battles are well-balanced and never feel like a chore to play through, and additions such as the monster capture system (capturing all of the monsters in a certan area will unlock rewards from an NPC) spice up even the most mundane of encounters. The maps themselves are well worked, especially those that contain puzzles, and since the battles aren't encountered randomly you are able to fully enjoy each puzzle without having to worry about getting stuck in a battle half-way through trying to figure it out. The encounter system itself is pretty clever, since you're able to sneak up on enemies to gain an advantage in battle if you're careful enough. It's a system that's been used to great effect in other games, games like the Grandia series, so it is hardly ground-breaking... but that doesn't stop it from working!

Unfortunately, some of the graphical polish doesn't match up to that provided by the gameplay, although this has never stopped me from enjoying a game before. The graphics are competent but there are a lot of little flaws that you will notice the more you play. Passability is a big issue as there is a lot of weird passability - you can quite often get to places you're clearly not meant to be able to and, although this is never advantageous or disadvantageous, it is pretty irking. Other little things, such as the battle animations not reacting to the tinting that is being used in a battle, will be easily spotted and noted as you play through the game. It's hard to deny that the cutscenes look amazing, though:

The game features impressive, comic-book style cutscenes that look truly amazing.

Forever's End, along with Feldschlacht IV's Chronology of the Last Era, is one of those RPGMaker games that seems to have been in development for ages. I don't want the developers to rush what they're doing because it might make the games worse, but sometimes I want the finished games now!

You can check out the homepage for Forever's End here: http://rpgmaker.net/games/650/ 
 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Heirs of Techcatl

Title: Heirs of Techcatl
Developer: Immudelki, Foretnor.
Translation By: Creation
Homepage:  http://rpgmaker.net/games/2685/
Genre: Adventure
Program: RPGMaker XP

Heirs of Techcatl is a game that came to the English RPGMaker community from French soils and was subsequently translated for us by Creation, an active translator in the RPGMaker community. The game was then featured on RPGMaker.net. It takes place in a dystopian, alternative history were the Democratic Republic of England has emerged from the Great War with seeming dominance over most of Europe. This new republic is ruled by a dictatorial leadership and, predictably, the game revolves around a rebellion that's led against said leadership. The game focuses on the actions of Emmett Berglindh, an ex-pilot for the Republic who is now the curator of an aviation museum, as well as being a self-labelled supporter of the Republic.

When you look at the screenshots available for this game, it's easy to see why people were drawn into it. This game is undeniably pretty and employs heavy use of lighting effects, overlays and other tricks to bring each of its hand-drawn maps to life. This beauty seeps out into all the other areas of the game. From the look and feel of the menu systems to the animation of the NPCs to the cutscene stills that are used for the sake of story-telling, everything looks amazing. If you're looking for a game that contains a lot of eye-candy then this is definitely it, because I can't think of many games that look better than Heirs of Techcatl does.


Heirs of Techcatl is definitely a pretty game, as these two screenshots show. The use of effects like steam and lighting makes for realistic environments, while the hand-drawn backgrounds are some of the best you are likely to see!


Unfortunately, the aesthetics department is the only area of this game that actually possesses any semblance of competence. The rest of the game is a mess of broken mechanics, ridiculous storyline twists, unbelievable characters and system bugs. What time you don't spend admiring the pretty graphics, you'll spend cursing the poorly thought-out mechanics, wondering whether or not a character really just did what they did or going mental because the game has a penchant for crashing whilst you're trying to save your progress (that's right, this game just loves to crash when you're trying to do the one thing that allows you to avoid re-playing large swaths of the game due to a crash!)

Let's start the enquiry into this train wreck with the gameplay. The central gameplay mechanic is "+success", a system that rewards you points for successfully doing things within the games universe. However, most of these events are incredibly trivial, have little-to-nought to do with the storyline and basically require the player to be psychic (or to have written down everything they've observed throughout the course of the game).

Unless you're psychic or you abuse the save-anywhere function, that success bar isn't gonna get very high. Note also the untranslated "What To Do Next" dialogue, how helpful!

For example, early on in the game you will see a poster that explains who the Republic is currently fighting against. Much later in the game, after a number of important plot-events have occurred, an NPC will randomly ask you if you like the posters. If you reply that you do, he will then test if you really do know the posters he is talking about by asking you who the Republic are fighting against. Getting the question right awards you with "+success", the problem with this being that the player is unlikely to remember the answer unless they wrote it down, which they're probably not going to do unless they already know that the NPC is going to ask them about it (ergo, the player basically needs to be psychic). Plus, this assumes the player even managed to view the poster, since it isn't exactly something everyone is going to go and inspect.

Another similar NPC asks you for the name of an engine that is used in a particular type of plane, just to test how good of a former aviator your character really is. However, the name of the engine is a random string of letters and numbers that you have no chance of remembering unless you decided to write it down (and especially not when you need to take a break from the game to use the phone, which is what I did). What is the point in this irrelevant memory test!?

Yet another flawed gameplay mechanic is a time-based minigame were you're asked to input a series of commands to get your character to do a task. On one of these occasions, you are inputting a code in order to get your character to dodge some bullet-fire: However, even if you fail this event, the character just runs through to the next room without his injury ever being mentioned. It's as if the gunfire scene never happened, leaving me wondering, "What was the point?" Not to mention that this element of the gameplay is actually broken on one occasion, an occasion were you are required to dodge a spike-trap. At first I thought I had just put the code in wrong, but after I made several attempts at the code (just to make sure I wasn't being an idiot), I came to the conclusion that it was indeed bugged. Luckily, this bug probably didn't have any effect on the plot anyway since these minigames seem completely irrelevant... but it was an unneeded distraction nonetheless.

To be honest, I seriously don't understand why anyone thought these gameplay elements were a good idea and I can only imagine the plan is to get people to play the game more than once so that they can see the "secret ending" you supposedly recieve for a 95% "+success" score. I'm not a big fan of this sort of mechanic when it is done in such an obvious way, as it's a method that almost ensures a player's first play-through will be incredibly frustrating. I guess another criticism I have of these minigames would be that I get the impression the developers tried too hard to shoehorn interaction into the storyline. It isn't actually important to have gameplay elements if all you really want to do is tell a story and, as such, I think that this game would've been a lot better playing out as a visual novel without any dodgy gameplay elements to spoil the show. The broken game often makes it hard to concentrate on the plot since it's so frustrating, which only harms what I assume was the main point of interest (the storyline).

Although, truth be told, the storyline is a complete and utter mess too. The main problem is that the characters in this game have a habit of doing things for no particular reason, even though those things go against the personality they've been shown to have or against the ideals that they seem to uphold. It's kinda hard to go into details without spoiling the storyline for people, but there were numerous occasions in this game were I basically said to myself, "Lolwut?" One such occasion - an occasion that is unlikely to spoil anything for people who may want to play this game after reading this review - comes during the scene were Emmett is turned to the cause of the rebellion. I felt that the scene took a character who seemed rather happy in his support for the Republic's government, happy in the job that he had and generally happy with his life and made him flip-flop over to the side of the rebellion far too quickly and with far too few reasons. If fact, this scene is the least of the game's worries, as several other scenes are much worse. The ending scene and the scene that occurs before the aforementioned shooting scene are definitely candidates for the "Most Ridiculous Character Flip-Flop In An Amateur Game" award. The game's plot is basically a series of faulty justifications for Emmett being forced through another set of difficult circumstances (and broken minigames). I didn't enjoy it at all.

Some of the NPCs are actually kinda funny, but they can't make up for the terrible plot.

Ultimately, the only thing this game has going for it is how pretty everything is. Without the terrible, broken gameplay elements it might have managed to be a slightly below-par visual novel but, as it is, this game is nothing but a string of facepalm moments. 2/10.
 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hype: Backstage II

A fairly long time ago (2005), a game was released that I absolutely loved, that game being Backstage. Since Backstage was a survival-horror created using fairly cartoonish, 2D sprites, I thought that there wasn't a chance in hell that the game could scare me in a visual sense... and I was right. The graphics didn't really work and certainly didn't contribute to the amount of "horror" present in the game. However, the game still managed to be creepy, all thanks to a well-written plot and a cast of incredibly weird characters. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that Backstage contains one of my favourite NPC characters of all time, one Detective Wilks... you'll just have to play the game to see why else I'll spoil it for you.

 Creepy title screen? Check!

Anyway, this is fairly irrelevant since Backstage has been out for a while now. What is relevant is that the developer, Max McGee (who currently has one of his games, Iron Gaia, featured at the moment) has re-started work on the sequel, Backstage II, after a long hiatus. I couldn't be more excited! Sporting a new menu-system coded by Archeia_Nessiah, a vastly improved battle-system compared to the original and a set of graphics and maps that actually look like they belong in a survival-horror game, all Backstage II really needs to do to ensure its success is to replicate the terrific storyline that the first game featured. Here's hoping I'm not dissapointed if (when?) this game is finally released!

Better lighting effects and maps should make Backstage II a better horror game, at least in the graphics department.

You can check out the RPGMaker.net homepage for Backstage II here.
Or you can visit the developer's site, Ghostlight Games, here.
 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Devblog: The Fear


The closer I get to finishing my game, Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl, the more I wonder if I'm doing the right things. I'm usually pretty stalwart about whatever it is I'm doing, as you might have realised from the way I go about reviewing games, but that doesn't mean I'm completely ignorant to the comments that are made about my projects or completely immune to the fear of failure that developers develop the longer they spend working on a project. Unfortunately, and perhaps regrettably, this fear grows despite the fact that a lot of things have been brought to my attention regarding this game. Although I have attempted to fix some of the problems that have been brought forth, I have been quick to dismiss other comments as suggestions that didn't align with what I envisioned this project to be... which was perhaps stupid of me.

Of course, I'm not the sole problem here. On top of my stubbornness is a deeper problem: It is hard to know whether or not certain misgivings are only held by the few or held by the many. I'm painfully aware that comments are hard to come by in the amateur development community and this makes judging a general consensus a difficult task, so I'm making this blog-post in the faint (and perhaps vain) hope that people might give me a list of their problems regarding the Sore Losers: Riot Grrrl demo, however small they may be.

What will I do in return? I'll try my best to address, in some detail, what I think of those suggestions and why I think they are/are not worthwhile and - in doing so - I hope to eradicate some of the fear that comes with nearing the completion of this game. Also, I hope that it'll help people decide whether or not they want to play this game, since they'll get a better idea of what my vision is by me doing this.
 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

News: New Look And New Feature

Hey guys, just a quick update to be perfectly honest.

First the obvious news, that I've changed the layout of the blog. I think that the previous design was far too busy and that this made it hard to concentrate on the information contained within the posts, so I've made things a lot simpler and a lot cleaner. I hope it is to everyone's liking. Please note, the background is probably going to be changed to something less generic in the future, so consider it a place-holder for the time being!

Secondly, and probably more importantly, I'm going to be doing a new feature: Project Of The Week. Each Monday (or as close as I can get) I'm going to be updating the blog with a new project that I believe everyone should take a look at. These games might be games I've reviewed before, in which case I will link to my reviews, or they might be games that have simply caught my eye. In any case, I hope I can use this new feature to show you why I love the amateur development scene so much!

So, to summarise: New design, a new feature coming soon, things are going to start being more active around here!