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An enjoyable, but flawed, experience

  • Scourge
  • 01/28/2018 05:56 PM
  • 718 views
Legends of Illarion 2: Sins of the Gods, by Dyluck, is a game that does a few things well, but still has a lot of room for improvement with other elements. I'll break my thoughts on the game down into four broad categories and give individual scores for each before giving an overall score.

Writing: (3/5)

From the start, Illarion 2's writing didn't exactly grab me. At the outset of the game, we learn that Moshran, one of our playable characters, has killed a man in a clan contest and is being sent on what seems like a fool's errand to atone. It's an interesting setup and one that, unfortunately, everybody wants to tell the player about. Moshran's accidental murder is the subject of an introductory scene and the dialog of almost every NPC in his tribal village. Thankfully, NPCs also have other areas of conversation - e.g. the changing climate and the problems with the nearby river - that were also covered in detail in the introductory scene. It's an unnecessary amount of repetition that does improve later, but every now and then Dyluck slips back into it. For example, an NPC in the city of Gynko has certain dialog when spoken to and then repeats that exact same dialog, word for word, in a cutscene moments later. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, but the player is actually encouraged to speak to every NPC in the location when entering.

It's minor issues like this that hold Illarion 2 back. Small grammatical errors, like missing commas, occasionally pop up, while plot threads are sometimes left hanging, and certain sections feel rushed while other drag on. One example of this comes in the desert kingdom of Salamakia (I think I may be spelling that wrong) where the party enters town, participates in a festival gone wrong, gets a new party member, and then enters a rather lengthy dungeon all in the span of about 15-20 minutes. More time to breathe would have helped the plot here; the new player character joins without any time for the player to get a good feel for his personality or motivation (though the same could be said for other characters as well) and the entire sequence feels like a speed bump. The reverse happens on the other side of the dungeon, where the city of Gynko offers a drawn-out series of plot developments, dungeon-crawling, and sees 2 (or 3 depending on how you look at it) new party members join up. After the previous blitz of a sequence, it feels far too long. A balance needs to be struck in regards to pacing and plot development, and Illarion 2 does have some bright moments which are highlighted in that lengthy sequence.

Your characters frequently respond to NPC dialog, which is a nice touch, and their interactions with other party members are typically entertaining and reveal more about them. Character personalities are also well-established, which can often be a problem in RM games, and they rarely act in strange or unpredictable ways. The downside of this is that character development sometimes feels lacking or awkward, but not enough to make the writing any worse, or better, than average.

Gameplay: (3.5/5)

Gameplay is both Illarion 2's strong suit and biggest area for improvement. There are a lot of positives here. First, items can be equipped and managed all from within store menus, which takes some hassle out of dealing with inventory. Battles take place using the map as a backdrop, kind of in a similar fashion to Dragon Warrior, which leads me to a reoccurring theme for this game's gameplay: good ideas not implemented well.

The battles can sometimes look awkward because enemy sprites move about on the screen, which can sometimes lead to monsters floating through trees and over cavern walls while player sprites might sometimes appear standing in a river or even off the side of a cliff. Enemies are triggered via on map encounters, good, but they pursue the player very slowly, to the point where I didn't think they did pursue the player at all until I happened to mention it to Dyluck, not good. It would have been cool to see encounters notice the player and change their speed and frequency to chase after them, which, iirc, Visions and Voices did, so I believe it's possible using RPG Maker. Bosses typically have a variety of abilities and require some strategy besides 'find weakness, spam powerful attacks,' which is good, but many of them have mountains of HP and feel like a grind, which isn't good.

Disclaimer: Dyluck recently released a patch that lowers boss HP. I was already almost done with the game at the time, so I think it made the last few fights a bit more manageable. However, I can't say for sure how it affects about 90% of the game so I'm sticking with what I experienced.

Meanwhile, crafting materials are usually plentiful and easy to find, good, but crafting never really felt like a useful pursuit and I didn't even open the menu until I was about 5-6 hours into the game, so it never felt like a great design choice. Similarly, equipment upgrades were ubiquitous in every town and treasure chests in dungeons contained upgrades as well, great, but this had the notable downside of making equipment feel superficial. 'Oh I found a cool helmet in this dungeon - this will last for another half-hour and then I'll buy another new helmet in the next town.'

Some elements that don't fit into the good/bad dichotomy: enemy variety was a little weird, especially early on, where the first boss is a dinosaur and you fight alligators in a snowy forest, but the game gets better at this as it goes; battle balance felt almost perfect and the game never really seemed too easy or too challenging, but I never had a boss fight or random encounter that hit the sweet spot of tense and rewarding combat; and there's no fishing/gathering/mining minigame which is a great decision because I'm not a fan of unnecessary minigames in my RM RPGs.

All in all, I found gameplay enjoyable, but I was haunted by the possibility of a really great experience that could happen with a touch of polish.

Map and World Design: (2.5/5)


This is an area where the game struggled. Exterior maps, especially the city of Gynko, are generally big and bland, with huge houses and obtuse layouts that sometimes forced me to spend time searching for the inn to heal my battered and bruised party, while interior maps are, to be frank, non-existent. Most towns had interiors for a plot location, like a pub or a manor, shops, and an inn. Want to see how the dwarven people live? Too bad, their city is devoid of houses. Feel like exploring a shanty in Gynko? Again, too bad, you can't enter any homes. While this may be realistic (I certainly wouldn't let a stranger into my apartment), it does take a lot of the joy of exploring out of the game. Plus, when interior do appear, they are sometimes a direct copy/paste of another interior. One example of this is again in Gynko (I apologize for being a broken record, but really, the mapping in Gynko is not good), where the two shops in the city are exact replicas of one another, straight down to NPC placement. While I don't have a problem with copying the layout or size of a map to make things easier, I literally exited one shop, walked into the other, and walked back out again because I thought there was a bug and the event had accidentally taken me back into the first shop. Despite these gripes, dungeon design is pretty solid with tight corridors but also plenty of room for exploration, but the lack of interior maps and confusing exteriors is a big blemish on the game.

Music and Graphics: (4/5)

I don't have much to say here. The soundtrack is solid, if not especially memorable and, at one point, I actually muted the game for a little while and listened to Spotify instead, but didn't feel like I was missing anything. However, there are some real bright spots here. Portraits are somewhat animated which was a really cool touch, but a lot of characters had similar facial structure and features to the point where I wondered if Moshran and Adron might be cousins. There's some voice acting during battles, which I liked, but it was sometimes hard to hear over the other sound effects and music.

Overall:

Legends of Illarion 2 offers an enjoyable RPG experience, but it's held back by a lack of polish in some areas and certain design choices that don't feel completely thought through. I still had fun and there were times where I could see the game's potential and how a minor adjustment would make a big positive impact which left me wanting more from the game. If RMN allowed for quarter stars, this would be a solid 3.25: above average, but not in a big way. Instead, I'll go ahead and round it up to 3.5 stars.

Rating scale for the curious:

0: Either not in a position to be scored (e.g. an unfinished game) or so irredeemably bad that there are no positive qualities.
.5 - 1.5: Bad. A game that suffers from frequent and serious errors and lacks any semblance of fun.
2 - 2.5: Below average. A game that struggles mightily in some areas, but shows, at the very least, potential or a bright spot mixed in with the bad.
3 - 3.5: Average. A game with some pitfalls and weaknesses, but one that has more, or at least an equal, number of good design choices, well-made maps, or intriguing and believable characters to balance out the bad.
4 - 4.5: Great. A game that does a lot of things very well and is polished and enjoyable. Might suffer from some minor issues that prevent it from being extraordinary, but is fun to play.
5: Amazing. A game that is a true joy to experience in all areas. May suffer from small issues still and isn't perfect, but any problems are so tiny that they have little to no impact on the overall experience.

Posts

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Hey Scourge, thanks for playing and reviewing my game. With the city Gynko, I've been getting a lot of similar sentiments, so I'll be sure to make some changes there to make it look better and easier to navigate. And yeah, the pacing suffered a bit since I had to cram in so many characters into a relatively "short" game, so I'll try to make some adjustments on that aspect.

Can you tell me more about why you didn't use Crafting? For example, the second dungeon (Snow Mountain) gives you sheep's wool to craft better armour, and the third dungeon (Gemstone Cave) gives you wood to craft a stronger staff. Why did you feel it wasn't useful? Did the first dungeon give you the impression it was only for making bread?

Thanks for the feedback!
Scourge
So I can type anything here?
1403
author=Dyluck
Hey Scourge, thanks for playing and reviewing my game. With the city Gynko, I've been getting a lot of similar sentiments, so I'll be sure to make some changes there to make it look better and easier to navigate. And yeah, the pacing suffered a bit since I had to cram in so many characters into a relatively "short" game, so I'll try to make some adjustments on that aspect.

Can you tell me more about why you didn't use Crafting? For example, the second dungeon (Snow Mountain) gives you sheep's wool to craft better armour, and the third dungeon (Gemstone Cave) gives you wood to craft a stronger staff. Why did you feel it wasn't useful? Did the first dungeon give you the impression it was only for making bread?

Thanks for the feedback!


Of course! Thank you for making the game. With crafting, I did see, at first, that it was just for bread and so when I found new materials I didn't think to check the menu because it seemed unimportant. It would be nice to have a scene, or even just a line of dialog, in those dungeons where Moshran or someone else says 'we found something, maybe we can make something new." Obviously, that doesn't need to happen every time, but I think it would put the player in the mindset of 'I found a new crafting thing, can I make anything cool?'

Even after that though, I didn't worry about crafting too much because, as I said, it felt like equipment upgrades didn't mean all that much. If I could craft something, I was probably going to be able to buy it in the very next town about 10 minutes down the road.
Hmmm ok, I see. Actually there are quite a few craftable armours for Irmorom and Oldra that can't be bought (since humans don't sell armour that fit their size =P ), but maybe I'll make all the craftables unique and not purchasable, to set a consistent expectation from the start.
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