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Not the brightest spark.

  • nhubi
  • 06/23/2015 04:20 AM
The game starts with the slowest text dump I have ever seen. It takes almost 90 seconds to display 4 text boxes worth of dialogue. Each individual letter painfully appearing accompanied by the sound of an old typewriter with a delay after each box. What's more the developer has chosen to use a non-standard font that he didn't bother to include in the game files. I actually already had this font on my system so I could read it, but when I was playing this on a different machine that didn’t have it all I got was blank text boxes. If you want to play this, and you probably won't after reading this review, you'll need AR Essence, you can get it here http://fontzone.net/download/ar-essence.

So after that unpromising start, but with a dire warning that war is on its way we find ourselves in an idyllic hidden village, nestled securely on a mountaintop. Well it would be secure from land based forces, unfortunately for this village and its inhabitants its doom comes in the form of a large and angry dragon who decides to burn the place to the ground and then settle in for a bit of a kip amongst the flames and ash and charred bones. At least that's what we are told, the entire attack happens off-stage, so it's very much a case of tell not show.

If you say so.

After the devastation we appear in a classroom, surrounded by bored students and a lackadaisical teacher and we are introduced to the hero of the tale, Jack. A 16-year-old malcontent who's just been informed he has to do a make-up test on the weekend. He's understandably annoyed but luckily his friend Andy is around to cheer him up with a spare ticket to the local museum's new exhibit on ancient relics. Not quite sure just how boring life in this town is when the highlight for a teenager on a Friday night is a trip to a museum but hey that's where the developer wants me to go, so off I go.

There are a couple of different graphical additions to the mostly standard RTP used in the game, most notably the face-sets for the characters, though they are single static images, not a full emotive set, and the interestingly applied pedestrian walkways on the roads in Jack's home town, you simply can't cross the road without using them which makes the trip to the museum longer than it needs to be, but does force you to go past the two houses that you can enter on the way.

The prime exhibit in the museum is the last of the dragon swords and what do you know, the sword reacts to young Jack which in a moment of rare natural reaction freaks him out to the point that he leaves the museum like the hounds of hell are on his tail. No automatic understanding that he must take up the sword and free the world from tyranny here, just a 16 year old kid deciding that weirdness is not his thing and he's heading in the other direction. Of course, as destiny has a hand in this that situation will soon change, but it's nice to see an honest and realistic reaction.

So after another run in with the museum curator who definitely knows more than he is saying, Jack gets abducted and wakes up in an underground storage facility after hearing voices. Wandering about to try and discover a way out gives us our first combat. The developer has opted for an ATB, but with the wait mechanism set as default so it's not as frantic as it could be, especially as Jack is fighting solo against multi enemy parties. There are a couple of extra scripts in use in the combat scenario, enemy HP bars and damage indicators being the most obvious. There is also two separate after battle scripts running for some unknown reason and they clash with one another revealing the same information at both the top and base of the screen in different formats and fonts.

You don’t have to tell me twice.

So after finding your way out of the remarkably poorly stocked storage facility and discovering just who it was who kidnapped you, you are given a quick exposition on the importance of both the blade and yourself and you get to meet a dragon, who it seems is the blade's rightful owner. Though just how it is that a dragon is supposed to be able to use a human sized sword as anything other than a toothpick for getting those irritating bits of knight out its teeth is beyond me.

Still with Xearoth the dragon as your sidekick the battles are over much quicker. Not that they are anything more than a button mash at this stage as no-one, not even the dragon has skills available. So as you are button mashing your way through the much too frequent battles in the grindfest downstairs your BFF Adam is hunting the town for you, and running into trouble of his own. But you really don't have time to concentrate on that, as you're too busy trying to stay alive. It's not that the combats are difficult, they are in fact remarkably easy, but the sheer number of them means you are depleting your very limited healing resources with alarming speed. With no healing skills available, the only thing that gives you even a chance of success is the fact that the game has complete heal on level up, but that leads you into the catch 22 of needing to fight in order to heal. The developer really needs to look at reducing the frequency of random encounters in order to cut down on player frustration.

About halfway through the dungeon Jack and Xearoth get separated and Jack decides to do something sensible, take a nap. Hey sleep and eat when you can, you never know when you'll get the next opportunity. So, a quick trip to dreamland and suddenly Jack is face to face with the exposition fairy. I mean that. She's a fairy and she basically lays Jack's predetermined destiny at his feet. He understandably thinks she's got the wrong guy.

Yep, that's generally how it goes, didn't you read the manual?

Now there are some problems with the plot of this game, some clunky exposition and odd motivations, but Jack has got the 16-year-old confused malcontent vibe down perfectly. He has no idea what is going on, no warning of any of this and he's been thrown almost literally into the deep end and given no choice in the matter. He's confused and annoyed and pretty much disbelieving and it rings as very true. He's rolling with the punches as well as he can, but he's still getting punched.

There is an upside to this little encounter though, Jack's innate magical ability has now been unlocked and he can start to learn skills. The game has a skill tree system, points are supposed to be awarded at each level jump and those points are then put towards skill growth, some skills are straight up points dependent others need both the points and the learning of lesser skills before they become available. However the skill rewards system appears to be broken and apart from the three 'dragon points' awarded by the exposition fairy in the dream sequence, no more appear for use by the party, so Jack's only skill is the low level fireball, and Xearoth is never granted any at all.

So when Xearoth reappears on the scene Jack has a few things to tell him about their shared destiny and the roles that have been mapped out for them. Xearoth doesn't take it any better than Jack though for a more jaded reason, humans by and large are pretty much just irritating animals to Dragons, and the idea of being stuck with one isn't something that sits too well. It's not the traditional response and I appreciate the different take on the origin story of these two.

Oh, Xearoth, you say the sweetest things.

So with Adam who has managed to track down his missing best friend watching on and promising to keep an eye on the titular Dragon Spark whilst the dynamic duo are away, the two bonded partners step through a portal to another time, and end up in a forest. So it seems this portal works in space as well. Oddly it is at this moment that the developer decides to throw in a tutorial battle sequence, as if the characters hadn't been fighting both separately and as a team for the last 5 levels worth of experience.

A tromp through the forest on the way to the nearby village sees the party running up against monsters that spam poison attacks, and I mean all of them, spiders, hornets and even plants hit the party with poison, and you have the sum total of one poison nullifying herb in your bag and no skill to alleviate the condition. Just like the previous dungeon the encounter rate is set annoyingly high, add to this the fact you have no ability to save whilst in the forest as the save journal you were given by your teacher disappeared a while back and the trip becomes interminable and frustrating. Oddly it was whilst trying to find anything that may help with the frustration levels that I ran across a hidden player benefit. Hidden in that whilst it is listed in the menu, there is no explanation for its use. This is the 'abilities' section, and unlike the skill tree which did have a tutorial, you are left to work this one out on your own. You have a pool of CP (no idea, character points maybe) which you can assign to character specific skills. These don’t appear in your skill menu in battle so I believe they are simply passive skills that change the calculations in the background. Unfortunately none of them reduce the chance of being poisoned, which is the reason I went looking in the first place.

That skill would have been useful in the catacombs against the imps, in the forest not so much.

There is a helpful glitch in the forest however; a non-ending optional encounter indicated by a flickering sprite against a small group of spiders that nets you a couple of rare and useful potions each time. Finding that is actually what made getting out of the forest alive possible. Once you reach the village and gain a new piece of equipment the game runs into a missing resource bug which seems to corrupt the latest save into the bargain. Renaming another sprite sheet to 'dragon' in the characters folder allows you to continue but the demo finishes soon after with no real direction or sense of accomplishment.

This game needs a complete overhaul in regard to battles and balancing, including clear direction to the plethora of additional skill options, (skill tree, Ars Ability, passive abilities and scroll use), or better yet the removal of so many options and the consolidation of the skills; fixing of the broken dragon point awarding system so skills can actually be learnt by the party members; reduction of the number of custom scripts employed, or at the very least the ones that duplicate or clash, and a look at the frequency of random encounters. However given the fact that the last communication with the developer was a few years back and the website he touts as the place to read the pre-published novel of his game world is defunct, I doubt any of these changes will ever be considered.

It's a shame because amongst all the mistakes made by inexperience is a somewhat decent grasp of character, the story still needs a lot of work before it comes together into a coherent whole, but the characters of Jack especially and Xearoth to a lesser extent are fairly well fleshed out with realistic and understandable motivations for their actions and interactions.

Still the good points are very heavily overshadowed by the bad, and so given its current, and probably final, state I really can't recommend anyone spend the two hours or so it takes to complete this game.


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nice review,i don't have the talent to make this type so i leave it to others :3
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
I'm glad you got something out of it.
was gonna leave a comment but this review was the exact same as my experience playign this game, though mine was cut short early because I couldnt find the guy in the village at all so I decided it was over by then. I didnt have that font so I had to download the earlier version of the demo. And that one long fetch quest for a bucket of water that wasnt even needed made this stay in the catacombs way way longer than it was already. I'd say 70% of the game was the catacombs against rats and bats
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