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I've fallen and I can't get up.

  • nhubi
  • 06/04/2015 07:50 AM
Alter Legend: For our Fallen is a huge game, and I don’t mean in play time since I completed it in around 6 hours, I mean in size, it's a 722 Mb download, which is daunting for a RPG Maker title. But there was something about the game page that always caught my eye, something about the characters and the story and the general feel that brought me back to it numerous times before I saw the game had been abandoned and I knew I really had to download it and satisfy my curiosity as to what was included that made it both so intriguing and so large. The latter answer was easy to discern, the game dev included 3 mysterious and seemingly unnecessary test files in the download package that totalled almost 300Mb and a further 260Mb was in the audio, though those tracks are not what I would consider unnecessary.

The game starts with a suitably cinematic opening, a panning shot in the rain with a haunting and familiar theme playing, and then the voiceover, and suddenly the size of the audio folder made sense. There is no wall of text to introduce you to the personal story of the game, just a solitary conversational voice, recounting events that changed his life. You have no idea at this point who the people are he mentions, or the events he fleetingly details, but the ramifications are obvious and as far as a hook goes to draw me in, it's a successful one. You know somewhere, somehow things have gone horribly wrong and the story of how that played out is one you want to explore. The problem is that the rest of the game doesn't manage to live up to the potential of the opening, or indeed the lure of the gamepage.

After a somewhat more traditional textual cutscene featuring what appears to be a Faustian deal between two as yet unknown players, we are introduced to our main character, Alek as he tumbles out of bed, late for a test of some kind and off we go into the story.

The graphics in this game are lovely, used well in just about every instance, though there always seems to be a slight mismatch in some of the shadows used, but the maps were in most cases still a pleasure to walk through and experience. However you do on occasion run into passage errors that allow you to slip behind the walls and get stuck in the spaces between or make it impossible to reach a certain part of the map as overhanging foliage is marked as impassable.

This is pretty but irritating, because you can't get to those chests.

There is a mix of standard graphic, some edited work and some custom and original work, and it all blends fairly seamlessly. The larger sprites that the dev has employed look great and whilst I have no problem whatsoever with the standard chibi's the more realistic proportions are always a pleasure to see. In addition to the lovely mapping and individual facesets, the developer has also included some of the more aesthetically pleasing scripts out there, especially Moghunter's menu script and the Ccoa's weather script which give the game a very polished look and feel.

The text leaves a little more to be desired with frequent misspellings and grammatical errors, and by frequent I mean they are spread throughout the game not just in dialogue but in item descriptions, spell names, sign posts, you name it there's an error somewhere but whilst they are very noticeable, they don’t deter comprehension in any significant way other than making me wish the dev had taken the time to run the text through a spellchecker.

You should always know where your towel is, especially with that dye job.

The story progresses at a reasonable pace, a little exposition heavy in a few section and very heavy on the melodrama as one of the other characters lets loose with a moment of cathartic unburdening, which for me comes a little too early in the piece. Whilst I have no problem feeling a connection between the two characters that have been presented thus far, I don’t feel one myself with the secondary character as yet and the revelation that she holds herself personally responsible for the death of her entire family over something which is quite ridiculously trite just sounds a wrong note. If it had played out more slowly I think it would have had a greater emotional impact, not to mention the mechanism that leads to her family's death was simply unbelievable and therefore made the entire scene feel more like a farce than a tragedy.

Still Arenna's tear-filled temporary departure does lead Alek to a discovery and the addition of a much more down to earth character with a wicked sense of humour and mean streak a mile wide. Vance is a blackened Knight, which I think is in reference to his honour rather than his humour though both are an accurate description. With Vance in the party we get our first taste of combat and the introduction of another pretty script, the chain attack. It's a basic idea, each physical attack has a timed component on release, hit the action key when the gauge is in the hot zone and the attack is combined and double or greater damage is done to the enemy, miss the zone and you run a higher risk of doing no damage at all, or let the attack play out without attempting a combo and allow normal damage modifiers to apply. Each combo attack also has the added challenge of speeding up the timing for the next one so creating a chain of multiple combination attacks becomes progressively harder the longer the chain progresses. In addition the art we've seen thus far displayed in the sprites and other visuals are also on display with the battlers. They're mostly custom work and the animations on them are very well done. I would have been happier however if Vance's battler sprite actually matched his walking sprite and face-sets as has been done with the other party members, and the generic swirling battle back is always a bit of a let-down but more so in a game that contains so many graphical additions and alterations.

The first series of combats are actually fairly tough with some nasty enemies who adore spamming poison attacks, but they are also, with the exception of the first combat, optional. There are no wandering monsters in the first section, just mimics masquerading as treasure chests, so if you want to avoid combat you can, but you also have to give up on possible treasure. That or make use of the fact that save is always on and avoid the camouflaged enemies that way. Still given the fact that very few battles in this game are easy it's probably best to grit your teeth and fight through, you're going to need the levels.

Die evil chest!

Once the first dungeon plays out to its conclusion and Alek and his new companion part ways you get some hints as to the overarching theme and find out just who one of the players in the original devil's deal cut scene is, with all the political ramifications that entails. Unfortunately this is when the story starts to peter off in terms of cohesion. It's pretty obvious that the developer has a well constructed back story for a lot of these characters and the way they interact both now and in the case of at least a few of them how they did in the past, the problem is all of that is in the developer's head and it's influencing the way these characters act with one another in the present without giving the player any clue as to why. Arenna, our melodrama queen from the earlier exposition scene reappears in a convenient but narratively inconsistent place and not only knows Vance but has an apparent torturous past with him, which allows her to climb back on her melodrama horse for another canter through, before predictably tagging along with him. A new party member appears who is completely unknown to the main character but swoops in just in time to aid him against someone who up until that point had never given any indication of being an adversary and not only doesn't Alek look askance, he doesn't question the fact that this new character has by his own admission been watching Alek for a while in a stalker like fashion, and simply invites him along on his journey.

These two mini parties then go about various small fetch quests before eventually coming together, and conveniently forgiving acts of betrayal and attempted murder decide to join forces. Which is understandable at the moment it happens since it's on the verge of a deadly combat, but the ease with which it is dealt in the aftermath is not so easily rationalised. It's very contrived and unfortunately makes none of the characters interesting, with the possible exception of Kenta, the stalker who has some great lines attributed to him. Unfortunately he's taken out of the picture fairly early on in a combat over which the player has no control, which is irritating.

Creating an interesting past for a character is a good thing, but throwing so many personal demons and motivations on all of these characters (except oddly the main one) just makes them feel like cardboard cut outs on which narrative devices and tropes have been inscribed, not fully fleshed people that the player should feel a connection to or empathy towards.

Once your party is up to full strength it's time to go after Amstrad, the duplicitous villain of the piece, except it isn't. The developer has a fondness for the random split party mechanic and creates situations where the characters go off on a foolhardy quest or two on their own. Now that's actually a perfectly legitimate mechanism for character growth, and one that can be highly successful. Unfortunately the developer doesn't combine the single player party with a reduction in the strength of the enemies they face. They seem to rely, at least from this player's perspective, on being able to successfully multi-chain combo attacks to overwhelm the enemy. This is fine in theory but doesn't work so well in practice, especially when the miss rate of combo attacks is oddly high. My highest single chain was 8 and of that 3 missed (in that they missed the enemy, not I mistimed the combo), which is ludicrous. The success of a chain attack is based entirely on reflexes and that curtails the number of players who are going to be able to successfully use that mechanic. Not everyone picking up this game is a 14 year old with lightening reflexes, the chain ability should be a bonus to combat, not a vital component without which you cannot hope to succeed.

That I'm about to die is unfortunate, that I'm going to be killed by someone who can't spell is insulting.

In fact a few of the mechanisms within the game are reflex based, the other most obvious one is the locked doors and cabinets. It employs Moghunter's chain commands script and requires you to hit a certain number of keys within a limited time frame which is fine if you're looking at around 10 or so keys but almost all of these door and cabinet locks require upwards of 20, which whilst feasible to complete just becomes fairly tedious fairly fast. Whilst most of those locks open areas with a higher grade of treasure and therefore can be sacrificed without losing anything from the game, a few of them are barriers between you and side quests and additional characters so there really isn't an option to just skip them.

A few hours in you get some insight into the motivation behind Vance's actions, though the motivation for that motivation is still missing. In that you now know why it is he has turned against his former comrades and is following a different path but you don’t know why that path appealed to him in the first place. However this sequence also introduces you to a helpful if slightly self-destructive Goddess, an instant travel process and a skill growth system. Unfortunately as the game has been abandoned the skill tree has very few branches and is quite rudimentary, but it does offer you a small number of new skills that your party can learn after you collect a number of soul orbs from specific combats and side-quests. Trust me anything that can give you an advantage in combat is to be taken, no matter how thinly fleshed it is. I would have liked to see where the developer was intending to take this system in the complete game as it appears to have a bit of potential, but in that as in a few areas in this game I'm only setting myself up for disappointment.

The music in the game is used haphazardly, and by that I don’t mean badly, in fact it is anything but. All of the themes chosen are great and appropriate to the situation in which they appear. Almost all of them are taken from other games or artists like Two Steps from Hell and they work. The problem is that the developer has made some errors in their use in game. Certain music will only start if you enter a map from a particular entrance, otherwise you get the music that was playing in an earlier section or silence, certain climatic scenes have brilliant music, and others have none at all. The worst offender has to be the lack of battle music at certain junctures, especially boss battles like the showdown with the Brakarr leader. It is fought in silence which really detracts from the experience, especially in counterpoint to the boss battle you fight before then against the Cave Keeper whose music is Electric Daisy Violin by Lindsey Stirling and it is wonderful, so much so I'm glad the battles are tuned based so I could actually stop the fight just to listen. Though the developer needs to grab a copy from somewhere other than youtube since he's caught a section of Shadows by the same artist just before the loop.

For a dead dude this guy hits hard, but his battle music is epic.

So after spending a few more hours traipsing through a wide range of environments, though never the snowy landscape shown in one of the screen-shots on the gamepage, and gathering clues as well as the odd hanger on along the way you eventually manage to overcome most of the obstacles thrown in your path, and confront the manipulative pretender who started all the problems, but then the game developer drops a Deus ex machina of the highest order and doesn't even bother to actually allow either an onscreen confrontation or any form of conclusion. In fact it gives you this.

Well that's a lie.

This game was going to get a 2.5 from me, it had some excellent sections which gained it points that were then reduced by sloppy work in other areas giving it an average feel overall but that ending loses a half star all on its own. Deus ex machina is a well established device and when done well can be an integral part of the plot designed for a specific purpose, here that is not the case. This felt like the developer just wanted the game to be over so contrived a situation in which that could happen in the fastest way possible. It taints the good points in the game and highlights the flaws that were evident throughout.

In the end I cannot recommend this game, even with the lovely visuals and music and the obvious effort the developer has gone into in those sections. The lack of cohesion in the story, the slapdash way motivations are presented, the melodrama and the nonsensical plot make this into an experience that for me lacks the most basic of game playing motivations - entertainment.