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Tale of Expiry

  • Dyhalto
  • 08/25/2014 05:42 PM
When I first played this game back in 2010 or 2011, I was blown away. It was visually stunning for it's time and the storyline was rife with political struggle in a bleak atmosphere, which is right up my alley.
But now, in a more recent and critically minded playthrough... some of my previous enamor isn't there anymore.

Visual: 4.5/5
This game is beautiful; that much can't be denied. It's a dark world created with the best imaginable use of Suikoden and Rudra tilesets ever seen. Nighttime scenes are especially impressive as street lamps cast out sanctuaries from the darkness and light beams from the midnight festivities of a tavern. The city where Act 1 spends the majority of it's time is a form of perfection.

My gripes lie in the spriting.
Uniformity is one half: Our hero's head is hands-down the biggest in the world, and his armor is drab compared to the rest of the population's flamboyant use of colors. Choice of sprites is the other half. It's normal to "borrow" villagers from another game to fill an indie game's village, but Queen Zeal walks down the street as a non-descript NPC. Off to the side is Elle having a conversation with a palette swapped Elle. The heroes of Star Ocean are having a drink at the bar.
But maybe I'm just nitpicking. It's just... there's something about Queen Zeal telling me to have a nice day that irks me.

Audio: 1.5/5
The first thing anybody would notice after double clicking the EXE is a quick "DUUH du..." before cutting abruptly and being replaced by the true title screen music. It then resumes when accessing the Load menu. This derp will nettle a player every single time they go to play the game or reload a botched battle, and yet is a mind-bogglingly easy fix. How it was left in the final delivered product is beyond me.

Otherwise, the music is drawn from a limited selection of popular franchises and doesn't offer a lot of variety. Too bad.

Storyline: 3.5/5
We have but Act 1 of 4 to this day, and that's probably all we'll ever get. A shame, as storytelling and the world which bedrocks it are magnificent.

It opens in a forest at night with two NPCs who forever remain nameless, despite being considerable driving forces of the plot. They yammer, bicker, and generally bemoan their robbery gone awry, while at the same time introducing the player to a few concepts and nuances of the world they're about to plunge into.
It expands like a flood from there. Talking to the cityfolk of Estalion, you'll begin to see the workings of a stratified society where every man has his concern. Lowly wage-earners complain about the rising price of milk, whereas more privileged nobilitas discuss scandal and reputation. Amid the macro scheme of things, a thirty year governmental treaty is about to expire and feudal aristocrats conspire to extend it by nefarious means.
The sheer amount of loving detail placed into this world is enormous. I mean, just reference this screenshot.

I'm going to be tested on this knowledge later on, aren't I?

There is a fatal flaw, though.
The main character, Adam (the default name), is a mercenary known as the Black Claw. Or rather, we're told he's known as such, despite everyone he meets having never heard of him.
Minor foible aside, he also has the game-breakingly lethal fault of suspending immersion at virtually every chance. In contrast to the rich and detailed world he resides in, his random musings and mannerisms reflect too many present-day values, as if he's removed from the setting and providing critique from afar. It frequently turns Tale of Exile into Marty Stu Goes To The Castle. If Act 2 onward ever happens, I'll pray this gets rectified.

Gameplay: 3/5
Beautiful menus, a sterling if clunky and slow TBS, and some neat achievements to be had. It's all glorious... at face value.
If you're making a custom menu anyway, why have certain functions accessed by using items, then store those items on page 10 of the inventory? Notepad and Map will be used plenty often. I shouldn't have to scroll down through a trough of empty inventory just to access them.

The TBS is well designed. It begs for proper usage and realization, but throughout Act 1 not a single ally is enlisted. It'll always be Adam vs a gang of zombies/thugs. Being outnumbered is par for any TRPG course, but 4vs1 is flat-out obnoxious. Not having an ally also moots any attempt at strategy beyond "Go for the Mage/BigOne/SmallOne/Exit", then hoping your HP/Heal Potion total outnumbers theirs.

There's also an interesting achievement you can get if you answer consecutive questions properly during the courtroom event. "Orator" is added below your Reputation counter, which is pretty unique. Problem is, the only way to realistically get it is to try one menu option, then if it's not the right one, reload and start over. The answers aren't intuitive in any way, though to be fair, maybe it was lost in the translation. It takes about 30 to 40 retries to get it, and when you do... well, what did you really do to earn it?

So despite great technical accomplishments, the practical delivery of Tale of Exile is ho-hum. A little less fantastic than an inexperienced eye will find.

Overall: 3/5
I began writing this review expecting to unhappily criticize Tale of Exile Act 1 and tell you why it's really not that great a game, but in truth, it is. If the entire saga was ever seen through to completion, it would probably stand as one of the RM scene's titans.
But if it's 2014, and Act 2 still hasn't been released, then this shall remain the sole evidence of another grand project unfulfilled.