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Brilliant Demo, No Cutting Corners

Luxaren Allure review
(as @ 31st Mar 2014)

Although you probably already knew that.

Pre-warning: beware -- may contain spoilers or spoiler-esque comments. pls be warned

What Is It, Though?

Luxaren Allure is an RPG created using the RPG Maker VX Ace engine that follows main protagonist Karuna and her rag-tag troupe of tally-ho's trying to rid the land of the Evil Overlord Darkloft's oppressive clutches. The demo runs at ~1.5hrs from my playthrough and features a story complimented by custom graphics. The story employs yuri (lesbian romance) themes, without going sexual about it, nor stressing these themes too much. These themes are dealt with tastefully, and in no way do they ruin the experience for those who simply aren't into that kind of thing. Simply, one can enjoy this game even if one isn't "into" lesbian romance.



Story & Concept

The story revolves around childhood friends Aurelie and Karuna of Erdengard. It begins with a prologue regarding the two friends entering a cave to help a lost boy. An unexpected turn regarding Aurelie's nature sends the plot into motion. Karuna must go on a journey with her friend Chisa in an attempt to quell the newfound evil. Their journeys involve a Naga Kingdom, where they meet Merel, who is a spellcaster type that can cast blaze to burn away enemies. Their objective is to fulfill the prophecy of Luxaren, which involves the Queen of the Naga giving an item as a seal of approval for them to vanquish the evil kingdom.

Characters in the story are introduced efficiently, with a prologue and backstories to drive their motivations. Scenes of dialogue are brisk and well-paced, which is one of the major advantages of this game - it never slows too much to make you bored. Constantly whisking through the story, the pace ensure there are interesting things to behold at every turn, whether gameplay-wise or story-wise. Pacing here is like a bullet train piledriving through Tokyo's cityscape - you get to the place you want quickly enough, but without enough time to gawk at all the sights and wonders. As Housekeeping stated in the comment section, scenes could portray a more cinematic tone, especially slowing down the important stuff and letting the players *feel* emotions instead of being jerked to the next plot point prematurely. To its strength, it's far better that the game has a brisk pace than a slow, trodding pace, which makes it refreshingly different from most amateur games.

From the beginning, Aurelie and Karuna have this nice relationship, until Aurelie becomes drawn to the evil in the cave and everything goes haywire from then on. Dialogue between the characters is natural, ranging from appropriate to overly saccharine. Karuna has this little inward dissonance going on between her desire to kill the baddie, but also the desire to reconcile with her love for who the baddie used to be (her best friend).

Chisa has this need to protect every oppressed person she meets. As soon as she meets Merel, she feels for her persecution and is drawn to her in a way that peaks Merel's interest. As a result, Merel ends up having a romantic air going on with Chisa, because Chisa really just wants to protect people who are easily hurt, and that makes Merel feel valued.

The main thing that is lacking in the story is inherent importance in anything that the heroes are doing thus far. Yes, they're trying to vanquish evil, but why is it so important? So far the world seems really at peace right now, and the status quo is not so bad. Perhaps if we were treated to more of the inequality between Naga/Humans in a very violent way, or see more people oppressed in a larger number, then we could perhaps feel the weight of the importance of this quest. Otherwise it's a bunch of people frollicking about, trying to save the world from an unseen evil. But what evil is there? Let that not discredit the well-written story, but I did wish sometimes for some greater degree of importance for the things that I did.



Audiovisual Presentation

One of the major strengths of the game lies in its custom resource and art-style. The tileset of this game lends an artistic touch that separates it from other games. The maps that are often constructed are also logical in nature and feature several levels of elevation. The Naga castle in particular is one of the nicest indoor maps that I have had the pleasure to walk around. It is logically structured, and has tons of little passageways leading up and down the castle. You really get a sense of the height and breadth of the structure while still being filled with interesting details.

The custom character portraits, in-game and in the general art, garnered in me mixed reception. I am not an expert in such matters, but I thought the black lines were often too thick, and the limbs wonky and disproportionate. I was not a fan of the large round nature of the eyes, and the weird mouth, either. But these portraits are sometimes used well, e.g. there are a lot of different emotions portrayed through the facesets. Something about the tree-large mushrooms, and the camp European sketchy art style and aesthetic makes me feel uncomfortable. Depth in the tileset isn't always fully realized either. You often find yourself asking yourself the question: "Is that a cliff or a water tile?" or "Is that a cliff or a gorge?".

The enemy battlers are fantastic, and even have small animated touches when attacking or being attacked that give the game a really well-polished feel. The beach in particular is a beautiful tileset that I wish to see more of in the future. The soundtrack is funkaayyyyyy, filled with some kind of electronic techno or trance beats, that are positive in nature and very uplifting. So many things make sense in the Naga kingdom. For example, you can ask the question - why are there rivers inside a castle? Oh, of course - Nagas love water. But why are the beds looking so long? For the Naga's tails to fit in, of course.



Gameplay

Luxaren employs a sideview battle system and elemental weaknesses/strengths to make combat interesting. For example, fire spells being good against bugs but bad against other things makes for some interesting strategic decisions. The balancing of the game is good, and eases you into the flow of the gameplay easy. There are chests in hidden-away spots that reward the curious and those who take the time out to explore the nooks and crannies.

Dungeons are rich maze-like structures, and well-designed to test the skills of the player in navigating large spaces. Often you don't know exactly where you are, but it is a good kind of disorientation that tightens your resolve. It forces you to think about where you're going, something that is rare in an RPG dungeon.

All encounters are represented as on-screen monsties that you can try to dodge, and have about a 50% chance to succeed if you are good at dodging. They move quickly enough that they can catch you easily, but also slow enough that you can avoid them if you are lucky. Skills progress at a good learning curve so that there is always something new to see and apply. You can save at any time.

The battles, for the most part, are logical and dungeons are well laid-out. There is a lot of very good design decisions that are employed - such as the "yellow mark" to indicate that an object is interactable. It makes it so I don't have to check out every single little object for a description when it won't work. You only have to interact with the objects that have a yellow mark on them.

If anything, most battles are a bit easy, but this is somewhat good because it keeps the pace brisk and quick. That said, the bosses actually require some strategy and grinding (the good kind). Some battles are legitimately difficult and require strategies of buffs, revives and the such like.

Tidal Zone had the potential to be brilliantly designed, but I never experienced the tidal wave because it was too easy to escape the bottom floor within 17 seconds. I would recommend making the Tidal Zone a bit harder to not get swept away, and to perhaps include more parts inside that Tidal Zone, since it was fun rushing around.



Conclusion

Luxaren Allure is a very promising demo with all the right decisions made. Graphics are entirely custom, and whilst it may be off-putting in the way of weird proportions in the sketching/style, it is imaginative and vibrant. The world is inviting, and draws you in. Sometimes I wish like there was more of a reason to care about the characters, but overall the game is consistently designed and makes many brilliant design decisions.

I have subscribed and thoroughly await the next demo installment. I am willing to update this review when that comes out.

Thanks for reading.

Posts

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unity
You're magical to me.
12188
Thank you so much for this review! :D I'm so glad you enjoyed the game!

Your point about the evil being largely unseen up to this point is very true, and I'll do my best to address that in the next updates. There's already a little bit of that planned especially in a certain village, but I'll try to put even more in. Much of the rest of the game is less fetch-quest-y than this first part as well, so hopefully that will help.

author=CashmereCat
The custom character portraits, in-game and in the general art, garnered in me mixed reception. I am not an expert in such matters, but I thought the black lines were often too thick, and the limbs wonky and disproportionate. I was not a fan of the large round nature of the eyes, and the weird mouth, either. But these portraits are sometimes used well, e.g. there are a lot of different emotions portrayed through the facesets. Something about the tree-large mushrooms, and the camp European sketchy art style and aesthetic makes me feel uncomfortable. Depth in the tileset isn't always fully realized either. You often find yourself asking yourself the question: "Is that a cliff or a water tile?" or "Is that a cliff or a gorge?".


I completely agree with your critique here. This is my first time drawing my own tilesets from scratch, and I have a lot to learn. I'm hoping I'll come out of the final project with a much better understanding of how its done. The facesets are also not up to the quality that I wish they were; I've been drawing for about ten to twelve years now and I still feel that I'm very much on the amateur side of things.

author=CashmereCat
So many things make sense in the Naga kingdom. For example, you can ask the question - why are there rivers inside a castle? Oh, of course - Nagas love water. But why are the beds looking so long? For the Naga's tails to fit in, of course.


I'm glad you noticed! :D The stairs are also just ramps, as I'd imagine that stairs would be a huge pain in the butt for Naga folk.

author=CashmereCat
Tidal Zone had the potential to be brilliantly designed, but I never experienced the tidal wave because it was too easy to escape the bottom floor within 17 seconds. I would recommend making the Tidal Zone a bit harder to not get swept away, and to perhaps include more parts inside that Tidal Zone, since it was fun rushing around.


I actually scaled back the tidal zone's wave time, which was originally 15 seconds, from feedback from friends who found it difficult. I may have gone overboard in retrospect. Although, I may keep that area difficult and reuse the gimmick but on a much shorter timer for a future dungeon.

Again, thank you so much for this review. I'm really passionate about this project and getting a full review of what's been released is a huge honor! ^_^
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
11002
Well my critique was actually aimed more at the drawn portraits rather than the tileset. The tileset was great. I don't know why your friends found it so hard in the Tidal Zone; I never got swept away once! But other than that, this game is brilliant.
unity
You're magical to me.
12188
author=CashmereCat
Well my critique was actually aimed more at the drawn portraits rather than the tileset. The tileset was great. I don't know why your friends found it so hard in the Tidal Zone; I never got swept away once! But other than that, this game is brilliant.


In retrospect, they aren't hardcore RPG players, so I should have taken their criticisms with a grain of salt. For some reason, one of them found the Tidal Zones nail-bitingly difficult and gave me a lot of grief over them; I guess I worried that if other players had a similar experience then they might not get through the game. Oh well, live and learn. ^_^
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
11002
Maybe he didn't know how to use SHIFT!
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
19779
author=CashmereCat
Maybe he didn't know how to use SHIFT!


No-no-no. It's "Oh, man, you have got to be SHIFTing me!"


Sort-of-on-topic comment: I don't recall if I made the comment previously, but, the sequence where Meryl joined the party felt a lot more fluid than it did with the original demo.
unity
You're magical to me.
12188
author=CashmereCat
Maybe he didn't know how to use SHIFT!


Haha, that was also my first assumption. But he clarified that he was, indeed, using shift. I think in the end he just happened to really not be good at that sort of gameplay, and assuming he'd be anywhere near the majority of players was a mistake on my part.

author=Marrend
Sort-of-on-topic comment: I don't recall if I made the comment previously, but, the sequence where Meryl joined the party felt a lot more fluid than it did with the original demo.


Thanks a lot! :D Red Nova gave me a lot of pointers for that part, so he deserves a lot of the credit there!
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