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Hungry like the wolf.

  • nhubi
  • 04/18/2015 12:12 PM
  • 1527 views
Nachtheulen was produced for the RPG Maker VX ACE Lite Cook-Off competition wherein a game had to be made to the restrictions of the engine and within a fortnight.

Nacht heulen translates as night howl, though since it's German that would probably be more accurately rendered howl night, but either way it does bring to mind the image of wolves and the moon, which is beautiful conveyed in the opening graphic of the game, and gives you an idea about the sort of world you will be stepping into, one set in the darkest hours where monsters are free to roam and humans huddle in their beds and pray for the dawn.

The interesting thing, well actually one of them since there are a few, is that you play as a couple of those monsters, actually vampires. Leander, who hails from the Germanic regions of the Holy Roman Empire, and since that lasted 850 years he's got a bit of flexibility with his age, and Fionn a classic red-haired green-eyed Scot who unlike his companion doesn't have even a trace of his native accent displayed via his dialogue. These two vampires hire themselves out as mercenaries to protect a nearby village from the other things that go bump in the night and when you need to hire vampires as security you know you live in a dangerous world.

The game opens with a haunting and lyrical melody as night is falling and our two protagonists are lately risen from their daylight slumber and are contemplating the night ahead. Their home is small but not without elegance, from the rich fabric of the curtains girding the single window to the golden candlestick gracing the kitchen bench, but they don't stay long and are soon on their way to the forest beyond their cabin door. I have to do a shout out to our vampiric duo's home. It's not a masterpiece of intricate and gothic curlicues, with gargoyles leering impressively from ramparts and a flock of bats nesting in the rafters. It's a wooded cabin with only one window and that is barred and locked. You know why, because it's in a wooded clearing and two sunlight challenged individuals live there. It's a perfect example of form follows function and it just makes me smile to see that level of care.


That's a vampire's house if ever I saw one...and those are the cutest vampires ever.

Once into the forest the reality of the dangerous world in which this game is set becomes manifest in a rather neat little dynamic. The forest is broken up into a series of zones. The safe zone is a pleasant and calming shade of blue where you will not be attacked and you have access to your save function, green falls into the normal zone when enemy encounters can occur but they are rare and not overly dangerous, amber moves you into the caution area with harder foes but as the game says, you're vampires so you should be fine and then finally red the danger zones where things will actively and usually successful try to kill you. The upside to this zone is it is where you will find all the chests and other treasures, and whilst the monsters in this zone are tough, the rewards are commensurate. However the downside is the fact that if Leander falls in battle you get a game over, or at least you do in the Phantasmal setting which is the one I chose to play through.

The zone you are in is displayed via a colour coded message on screen which sits clearly in the top right hand corner. Paying attention to that little indicator is vital if you want to make it through the zones in more or less once piece, and remembering just where the safe zones are can save you a great deal of frustration and backtracking, because you can only save in the blue zones when you are in the dungeon areas.


Grab the loot and run.

Combat is the classic turn based front view without any real tweaks or additions, though each of the combatants has strengths and weakness and it's a good idea to try and balance those if you are going to survive. Fionn has an automatic counterattack which can make a huge difference in combat so using it in conjunction with his taunt to draw the attacks of the enemy is a good idea. Later in the piece Leander gains the ability to chain his attacks which turn each of his basic spells into powerhouse moves.

Whilst the tileset and very cute sprites are from the DS packs, the brilliant and creepy battlers are mostly Cyan Yurikago and Mazeran, and they really fit well into the crepuscular world. You can understand why it is that normal humans would feel the need to offer a home to vampires in exchange for protection against some of these things.

The character portraits however are custom work, and they are used very well, the busts show quite a gamut of emotions and really aid in conveying the story, because although this is in some respects a dungeon crawl, it's a story driven one. Leander is a thoughtful fellow, as you would expect from someone who probably measures his age in the triple digits, he ponders his existence and the meaning of it, or if there is any meaning at all. Evaluating his condition however has to take a back seat when events begin to spiral out of control and the companions are accused of a series of heinous crimes by the townspeople.


That is never good.

Once more on the road they begin to see a pattern in events in villages they pass through on their journey. The dev has also added a few graphical clues to ensure that the player pays particular attention to certain features of the towns, and therefore is able to gather all the clues they need to try and solve the mystery that is slowly unfurling. This gentle exposition also provides clues about the nature and history of Leander and Fionn and at least in Fionn's case how it is he ended up living the (un)life he now leads and the terrible burden that is the curse of vampirism.

There is a particular sequence in the latter part of the game that is a little difficult to reconcile with the rest, as in it not only has Fionn going by a different name, but Leander has mysteriously lost his accent, which given this flashback is set only 20 years previously is hard to justify unless you assume the Germanic accent is just an affectation, which there has been no indication is the case.

Still apart from that minor hiccough the remainder of the story plays out well and you reach the end with some, but far from all, of the answers. However the dev has made it clear that this is the opening piece to a much larger play and that the story will continue in the next game in the sequence, Blood Rose.

Hopefully one day that will be available, for now, this brief foray into the world was an interesting one and quite an example of what can be done with the light version of VXA if you put your mind to it.

Posts

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Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4159
Thank you for the review nhubi! I've been wanting one for this game for a while so it was a great surprise for me to come back to (I've been on holiday for the last week).

The flashback...I have no idea why I made it that way, aside from possibly going 'I don't have time to do the actual version'. That reveal and some of the facts around it I have to retcon a little (or a lot), but it'll be a retcon of a retcon. I wrote Fionn's ACTUAL turning scene a long while back (its on my HDD somewhere, I may post it here).

As for Fionn's name change, for him it was kind of a rite of passage. The human he once was is very different to the vampire he is and the vampire he will become. Leander also ends up going by a different name, although much later.

Additionally, Fionn's appearance and basic 'mold' is that of the VX hero Ralph.


Which is why his former name is Ralph. Essentially, he had a deeper dislike of his origins than Leander did, so he changed his much earlier. Even in the future, Leander still occasionally uses his real name, whereas Fionn refuses to.


Leander's not old in this game-- about 45 years old. So a middle-aged man by modern standards and a bit on the old side by their standards. He was born in 1248. I'm wondering if I should dial him back a bit on the worldy knowledge (he knew a much older vampire for a long while before he met Fionn).

Thank you very much for the review! I'll keep this in mind no matter if I simply move on and make Blood Rose or if I ever finish adjusting this game.

I'm actually pretty pleased you're the one who played this, because this is in the same verse as Lucidity (albeit separated by six hundred years and a couple of reincarnations later, but still the same verse)



nhubi
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
11099
Hey Puddor,

I actually had quite a bit of fun here, though I will say that Leander does come across as much older, and due to the fact I wasn't sure when the game was set until the epilogue scene (I had a strange idea it was around the 16th century) which given the timespan of the HRE made him in seem older. By 45 do you mean 45 years as a vampire or 45 in total? If the later he must have made Ralph/Fionn very soon after he himself was turned which doesn't really feel right given their dynamic. You may want to think about upping his age a little. It's not just the worldly knowledge, which could easily have been gleaned from time with his own maker, it's the mentor/pupil dynamic he has going with Fionn. If he's just a few years older than him, given Fionn was made 20 years ago and was already a soldier so late teens early 20's himself, that doesn't come across in their interactions.

Also surely if he is that young himself his own maker would still be around or his break with him should have been hinted, though Ralph's turning scene does give clues that not all is right between them. Adding half a century to Leander would make no difference looks wise obviously but would reinforce his character interactions. Old enough to carry a level of mystery and deeper understanding, not to mention enough time to have built up that existential angst we get when we first meet him, young enough to still be a fresh face in the community and still be seeking answers as to his origins and purpose.

I actually did like the name change, it makes sense to me that if you are going to essentially die and be reborn you become someone new with a new name as well. Perhaps I was just looking for a moment where he chose that name or perhaps had it given to him by Leander.

I'm glad you liked the review though, you know how much I like Lucdity and I think perhaps I knew they were in the same 'verse, thinking about it there is a sense of similarity between them, so you've got a consistent vision or at the very least world feel going on there.

I'm looking forward to Blood Rose when it does eventually get made. (No pressure or anything).
Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4159
45 in total. Leander was 17 years old when he was turned and had been a vampire for a good ten+ years already when he met Fionn. So even though there's only a four years genuine age gap between them, Leander's been a vampire for a decade longer than Fionn.

So he's not particularly old, but he's been a vampire for close to thirty years.

There's also other things (such as his magic proficiency) that come from them being two different types of vampire. Fionn is a common breed and Leander is something else. Leander does not talk about his maker at all to Fionn or the circumstances of his turning. In short, Leander's maker didn't stick around, so he was left to fend for himself with disastrous consequences.

This is all stuff I want to rewrite and cover properly, because it is pretty damn important. In the working 'Complete' version I had Leander's past was covered in a bit more detail, but I got stuck.

I have documentation for both of these situations (I went and found Fionn's original turning scene last night because I was afraid I'd lost it). I'm still wondering why I changed it to be quite honest.
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