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A Framework Waiting to be Filled

  • kumada
  • 07/10/2012 11:38 PM
  • 207 views
Overview:

I won't lie. This game needs some serious meat on its bones. It is, at present, a rattling skeleton, made of only the most essential design elements. Golden Ark has a story, but only in outline form. It also has gameplay, but that gameplay is strictly on rails. With a little work, this could become a very polished project. In the meantime, it feels more like an effective proof of concept than something a person would sit down and play.

Plot:

Golden Ark starts with an info-dump. I'll summarize it here for you.

There is a magical sword. Also some stones. Together, they make a weapon of world-nuking ferocity. There is a noble line that guards this sword, and another line of noble ghosts that guards the nobles guarding the sword. One day, one of these ghosts goes nuts, assassinates a bunch of people, and pins this on the person it's been guarding. It inherits the kingdom, and then it starts trying to conquer the world.

This all comes out in the first two or three minutes of the game, and really threw me for a loop. I like the lore, and I think the concepts there are clever, but it's a little too much at once, and it happens during a time when the writer should be trying to hook the player and get him asking questions. I think a cold opening would work much better here, and that info-dump is full of the kind of plot points that could be revealed slowly over time, making the behavior of the crazy ghost an intriguing mystery rather than a simple fact.

For the next twenty or so minutes of play, things follow a fairly traditional route. The imprisoned princess breaks out, teleports the sword (which is the only thing that can kill the crazy ghost) away, and some teenage kid from a distant village discovers it. His town is promptly murdered by an imperial superweapon, he swears revenge, etc etc.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of plot. It's the backbone of most epic fantasies. However, it needs time to breathe. The events that I've just listed happen quickly, one after another, with characters getting introduced and murdered in the span of five minutes. I would love to have seen this story decompressed a little, with a starting village to wander around, a little bit of world-building to explain where I am, or even some interaction between the primary characters to set up their relationships. As things stand, I know that two of them are rivals, and that's about it.

The one thing about the plot that totally took me by surprise (in a very positive way), happened almost at the end of the game. The player finds himself in a forest, and is told not to walk down a certain path because of the horrible monster that lives at the end of it. However, it is entirely possible to decide to walk down that path. If you do, the monster jumps you, and you get to fight him. He doesn't instakill you, and he actually drops an item that could be significant later. In a narrative this linear, any choice at all is very welcome, and there's something very appealing about letting the player make mistakes, learn from them, and then rewarding him for it.

XRazorBlackX, if you're reading this, I would love to see more content like this.

Gameplay

According to Golden Arc's profile page, the design goal for the gameplay here is to be fair but challenging. From what I've played, I can safely say that that goal was accomplished. The numbers on attack damage, defense, speed, and healing have all been carefully tweaked to the point where nothing is overpowered, and combat is neither an attack-mash-a-thon nor a frantic scramble to pour potions down your throat while a flaming gorilla chucks bricks at you.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of complexity in the combat system that Golden Ark chose to go with. There are physical attacks, but they do little damage. There are spells, and they're all elemental. The proper way to win a combat is by figuring out which elements an enemy is weak to, and then whacking him over the head with those spells. There are no buffs, debuffs, complicated equips, limit break systems, timed actions, or anything else to spice this system up.

So, while there is nothing overtly wrong here, there is nothing compelling, either.

Visuals, Music, and Atmosphere:

The look and feel of Golden Ark is really a mixed bag. On the one hand, it uses rm2k3 graphics in a very samey way, leading to lots of maps that are featureless paths. On the other hand, it uses highly detailed, fully animated sideview sprites during combat, and these are quite pretty to look at. The music is high quality, even if it's cribbed from published games, and lends an extra layer of enjoyment to the extremely frequent cut-scenes. The actual staging of the cut-scenes isn't very interesting (there's a lot of walking, and occasionally people being blown apart,) but it didn't break my immersion in the game, either.

At A Glance

The Good:

-Lovely music sampling. Tracks from Chrono Trigger, FFVII, Terranigma, etc. Always feels appropriate to the mood.

The Bad:

-Stripped down 2k3 graphics.

-Some spelling issues/awkward phrasing. ("Will he live?" "Yes, he is." 'infromants' instead of 'informants', etc.)

The Bugs:

-Passability in the top walls of the house after fighting Gaia Soldier.

-Torch color puzzle in the castle works no matter what color you set the torch to, so long as you have it change colors once.

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