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Leaves Much to Be Desired

  • amerk
  • 08/15/2014 12:47 AM
Here’s another game that I’ve recently played and expected great things from, only to walk away disappointed. Spirit in the Mirror had a great concept going for it, some pretty decent ideas, competent mapping skills, and twists that I didn’t see coming – all the ingredients for an epic rpg. And yet somewhere along the way, the execution fell flat.

Okay, the gimmicks in the game were kind of interesting and fun… at first. You get skills by one of two ways.

The first: The main character, Anthea, and later your secondary character, Merdaht, gain skills by collecting gems and equipping them in the Sanctuary, which serves as a sort of hub for the party. The gems are usually guarded by monsters that are more like mini-bosses, expertly hidden, and each dungeon has unique ways of discovering these gems. You eventually can get hold of a relic that makes these available to the eyes so hunting around becomes less of a chore.

The second: Outside of your two main characters, everybody else gets their skills through memories. Your main character Anthea is able to recruit souls from grave sites and get them to join. Afterwards, you interact with items that triggers various memories from the recruits, and these in turn cause them to gain skills.

There is a party changer of sorts, based upon the amount of souls you collect, and you can swap them in and out at the Sanctuary.

Late in the game (as in, near the game’s end) you’ll also get a boat that lets you access some areas you couldn’t before, and there is a sort of map/teleport option so you don’t have to sail everywhere.

All in all, pretty nifty, right?

Until you realize that these features don’t enhance the game in any way, and most of these mechanics you will either never use, or never use to their full potential.

For example, the recruits. Outside of my main heroes, Anthea and Merdaht, and my two initial recruits, Luthar and Ombar, I had no reason at all to change the party during the game until close to the end. Each character in my immediate party had a certain level of skill that made combat fairly easy, and with the amount of free restoration you get from each save crystal, the game encourages you to spam your strongest “hit all” attacks in order to wipe out most troops in a few hits. What my add-on party couldn’t handle, Anthea could, considering she had access to just about every skill available (depending on how many gems she’s collected and equipped). Because of this, I never felt the need to change my party unless the game forced me to.

The gems would have served a better purpose if I could equip them at my leisure. But instead, I can only do this in the Sanctuary, of which I can only access from save points. You’re limited in the amount of gems you can equip, so if you equip a set and then halfway through the dungeon the monsters change to where a different set would be more effective, you’re out of luck until you can get to a save point, meaning you’ll either have to rely on the rest of your party to take out certain baddies, or you’ll have to run from battle.

Considering that combat is easy enough, this doesn’t make it anymore harder, just tedious and drawn out. I really couldn’t understand what purpose the sanctuary served for equipping gems, when this system could have just been part of the inventory.

Combat goes straight from “easy breezy” to “tough as nails” without any real middle ground. The last area especially. For players like myself, that’s not too much of an issue, since I tend to grind even where combat is easy enough. But for others who might feel the ease of the game means grinding is optional, they may find themselves suddenly having to halt their journey to grind for several levels once they get access to the final stages. A consistent battle system that utilizes a bit more strategy would have been optimal.

Outside of that, I do applaud a near bug-free game. The only bug I came across was in the mining portion of the final dungeon, going to sanctuary and then back from the save point caused the game to go white and I couldn’t see my character. Knowing where an exit was – close by, thank goodness – I blindly made my way through and back, and the tint corrected itself.

The game is strictly linear. You’ll never be faced with more than one new dungeon at a time, and you’re usually confined to one town for any given area. Considering the size and scope of the world map, which is largely open and empty of life, adding a few optional areas along with some side quests would have been nice. As it stands, the only real side quest in the game is to recruit souls and collect gems.

My rating for Game Play is 2.5/5. It works, with hardly a glitch, and it features some decent mechanics. However, once the initial excitement wears off, you realize just how shallow in terms of content the game really is, and how tedious the game plays. There is nothing that begs the player to keep playing.

I’d like to say that in place of a mediocre game play we are given a magnificent story, but unfortunately that’s not the case here. Okay, to be fair, the story was interesting and it did have its share of twists, but once again, the concept looks better than the execution and I wonder how much thought was really put into the story.

You play the role of a female character, Anthea. This is a nice change of pace from the male leads. You live your life in boredom in a village that seems to be separated from the goings-on with the rest of the world. You are a burden to your family and neighbors, who’d rather you go away and read a book, you have some sort of aversion to sunlight, and you spend your days wishing to explore the world.

One day you get your wish while visiting the ruins of an ancient church and you are whisked away to another part of the world. From here, you quickly team up with a spirit named Luthar and a soldier named Merdaht, and you find yourself caught up between the politics of two rival nations while also preventing a demonic invasion.

Anthea is your main character, but she has got to be one of the dullest I have ever played. She’s constantly being belittled in her village and never stands up for herself. She has some sort of abnormality against sunlight (and there are hints throughout the game she may not even be human), but this aversion to sunlight is practically non-existent when she’s outside of her village. The reason for this is never explained, nor the reason for why she even has this aversion to begin with.

Likewise, she follows everybody she meets without question, even though she’s never been around strangers in her life, and she quickly resorts to the “happy go-lucky, love-struck teenager” the moment she meets Merdaht. And when I say “happy go-lucky” I mean just that. She’s always giggling, even in the face of danger:

I can take a soppy romance, and I can deal with clichés. But damn, that giggling just got to me after the first few times, and only makes her appear more immature than she probably is.

Merdaht is plain grumpy. He’s never happy, he’s bent on revenge against the man that killed his parents (can we count the clichés?), and he only thinks of himself.

Luthar started off the best amongst these three, and I had high hopes for him. But once you realize he’s a spirit and you can recruit spirits, he quickly loses steam and seldom says anything outside a brief line of thought whenever his memory is triggered. And that’s pretty much how all the spirits you recruit are. They serve no purpose to the story, and the only way to utilize them is to find objects to trigger their memories (and get some ancient backstory on them), and that gives them their skills. Outside of that, the spirits don’t say or do much at all.

If that’s not enough to force you through a sluggish game, then try chatting with the NPC’s. They are about as wooden as you get, saying things that don’t apply to you in any case. For example, one boy constantly talks about wanting to go fishing, another lady talks about doing laundry, an old man is looking for something, but what that is and how you can help him is never explored. And they say the same things over and over again.

The real problem with the story, however, isn’t the mundane characters, the useless NPC’s, the spelling and grammar errors. It’s that the story doesn’t really make sense, there is no rhyme or reason behind it, and things are left unresolved.

Here are the larger issues I had with the plot. Only open this if you want to be spoiled:

1. Why can’t Anthea be out in the sun in her village, but the rest of the world is okay. Just who are her villagers, really, and if they have the power to hide from the rest of the world, why couldn’t they have the power to defend themselves?
2. Why is Merdaht helping out consider the dark secrets revealed in the prologue? It’s never even clear by the end of the game what his goal was (outside of revenge), or even whose side he was on. And he acts surprised when the demons show up to fulfill their part of the bargain for a contract he himself signed.
3. Why is Anthea able to recruit and talk with spirits? What role does she even have? She can break the chimes which harnesses the power Merdaht’s kingdom is craving, and it’s hinted at that she may be in league with the demons. We find out too late just what the chimes is hiding, so that could be a good theory, but she also appears to be nothing more than a pawn for the demons’ own agendas. So is she or is she not a demon? If so, would the demons turn on one of their own? If not, where did she get her powers from?

Now, in some fairness, it seems that the game still has a bit of story left to be told (perhaps in a sequel), but there has been no hint by the developer that this is the case, and considering the way the game ends, I wouldn’t count on it.

My rating for Story is 1.5/5. It's very incoherent and silly. Characters have very bland and somewhat immature personalities. And there are more questions than answers.

If there is one thing I can applaud the developer on it’s his mapping skills. While the overworld map is left begging for more, the inside of dungeons and towns works well, and the atmosphere is great, especially in the dirty poor-infested Draygor. These maps were easy enough to navigate while still providing a certain level of challenge, and none of the maps were ever super long.

The music works, but is easily quite recognizable from other commercial titles that immersion is somewhat removed as a result. Still, it was a bit memorable, and exploring your surroundings is one of the better features this game offers.

The only real drawback, as said above, is that the overworld is largely devoid of anything outside of singular towns and dungeons.

My rating for Atmosphere is 3/5. It’s not perfect, the overworld could use a bit of a face lift, and ripped music infests the mood, but it’s also decent and consistent and comes off looking nice.

If you’re new to RPG Maker or rpg’s in general, you may consider trying this game. It might also serve as a tool for teaching you how to make certain mechanics without the use of scripts. But there are far better games available that offer much more enjoyable content.

Final verdict is 2.33/5.


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"It's frustrating because - as much as Corf is otherwise an irredeemable person - his 2k/3 mapping is on point." ~ psy_wombats
It pains me how much you missed out on the storyline because that's the game's true selling point. Maybe you were expecting a "I'm the hero and I do hero things" sort of story?
No, just expecting characters who don't act so wooden, NPC's with a bit more style, a more mature heroine who doesn't follow the cliched tropes of most female characters, and a story that actually makes sense.

I'm not exactly sure what you think I missed out in the storyline, and my review pretty much explains the issues I had with the plot, considering so much was left unanswered, and so much made little to no sense.
Thank you for your time to review Spirit in the Mirror. I appreciate the input you gave.

I understand that RPGMaker 2000 is a limited engine. This project was a personal challenge to me to make the best use I could with these limitations. In the future, I will use something more modern.

Also, I realize I have left out some critical details of the story. I had a plan for an alternate (and happier) ending, but I can't promise that I will find the time to implement it with life being busy. It would answer the questions you have about Anthea.
The engine itself isn't the problem. I like the 2K look, and I'm happy whenever people create nice mechanics out of the system without having to resort to a modern program for scripts.

However, I didn't feel the mechanics offered much outside of looks, and this coupled with an unresolved story (as you've mentioned in the post above) made me question the purpose of some of the features.

You can recruit spirits, but why? They offer nothing to the story, and they only talk to you whenever you are in the sanctuary or when you trigger their memory from something past that has nothing to do with the story being told. The recruiting could have been more enjoyable if:

1. There was a reason to swap characters in and out of the party or an incentive to do so. But with my current party, I could pretty much tackle any obstacle that I didn't feel there was much reason to change.

2. You could help the spirits. I had the feeling (at first) they were there because of unfinished business that needed to be resolved before moving on. Getting the back story through memories was fine, but without any connection to the main story or the main characters, and not being able to help them to find peace or right the wrongs of their past, it just seemed pointless. I suppose in the end they were there mainly there to help Merdaht make better choices, and they seemed to acknowledge how they wasted their life, but it seemed Merdaht was already doomed considering everything that was against him that any potential for change was already out of the question. If the spirits' experiences (through memories) could have been used to improve the main characters (either through the story or through stat growth), I think it would have offered better incentive and purpose.

The skill equipping gems was a nice touch, but it's all too easy to equip the wrong set and then get halfway through a dungeon where you have to run from combat or drag your feet with inferior attacks, and no means to switch them out until you get to a save point.

By all means, I encourage you to use the older systems. It shows how creative a developer you have to be to rely on your own skills in events versus another person's scripted code. At the very least, if you do decide to use a newer maker, at least you have the experience to still make some great events and game mechanics. But features have to have a purpose and the player has to have a reason for using them, but also be able to use them efficiently.
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