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A magical experience!

How does one write a review for a Game of the Year? What can be said that hasn't already been said?

As it turns out, plenty.

Luxaren Allure is a testament to the fact that old-school gameplay and production values, if done right, can still provide an amazing experience for both the casual and the experienced player. It is also a shining example of the virtues of "show, don't tell" when trying to tell a simple-yet-complicated story, especially one with a romance angle. Instead of dividing the review into the usual sections (gameplay, graphics, story, etc.), I shall instead talk about what are - to me - the Ten Commandments of a good RPG experience, and how Luxaren Allure managed to tick off all the points on that checklist.

1. Hear, O Designer: Your game is meant to be played. It is not a tract or an abstract art form. It is a game. If it cannot be played, it shalt be best expressed in another medium.

Given the polarized and politicized nature of at least some gaming circles these days, it would be natural to approach Luxaren Allure with some trepidation if one has certain preconceived notions and prejudices. Would it be an exploitative, "pr0n with plot" game like the average dating sim? Or an uncompromising exploration of the politics of gender and sexuality with an excuse for a game tacked on?

If you guessed "neither of the above", then you are right. While Luxaren Allure is a game about same-sex romance, and while plenty of implicit messages can be found for those who'd like to look for them, at heart, it is an excellent game. It can be enjoyed simply as a Final Fantasy IV throwback in which a team of heroes face numerous obstacles en route to an evil overlord - and it can also be taken as much more. To simply look at this game as "LOL Yuri!" misses the point: there are several other important issues, such as inter-racial relationships, prejudice, depression, free will vs. destiny (to name just a few off the top of my head) that are touched upon. Of course, none of them are explored in great depth or detail, but they are there if you enjoy such elements - and they can be almost entirely ignored if they are not your cup of tea. We're off to a flying start here.

2. Thou shalt not try to pack as many genres as possible into a role-playing game. It is an RPG. If the player desireth to play a space shooter or a crappy racing game, she would not be playing thy RPG.

Mini-games are like sugar. Too little, and your game is boring. Too many (and too many that are tied to essential plot progression or the acquiring of essential skills) and your game can induce nausea in the unfortunate player. It's why so many reviewers talk about enjoying The Way more with the puzzles turned off, or about how "Escape from Lashe City" in A Blurred Line borders on being a game-breaker. While there are a few non-RPG elements thrown in here and there, especially during the Love Labyrinth, none of them are so tedious or difficult as to induce a rage-quit in the player. The only elements that comes close to being a nuisance are the "tidal caves" sequences, but we can always pardon a single transgression, can't we? On to...

3. Thou shalt respect the conventions of the genre and not treat the Player as either an idiot or someone with too much time to spare.

A deplorable trend in modern RPGs is the idea that something straightforward and "traditional" from a gaming perspective cannot be good, that people want to watch interactive movies rather than play games - and the result is ultra-linear games that can be won by mashing a few buttons. In reaction to this, some developers create games that completely take away the element of enjoyment in favour of making every single battle as devilishly hard as possible, and then implying that players who can't "take" these games are somehow inferior or stupid. Luxaren Allure does neither and achieves a happy, golden mean. It has something to offer everyone. While it is linear, it is not offensively so - if you want to grind, obsessively collect every single item in the game and craft every cool weapon available, you are free to do so. While it is challenging, it is not annoyingly so - you can choose between a variety of difficulty levels, ranging from "very easy" to very hard indeed. While it does require strategy, it does not feature the kind of "Guide Dang It!" puzzles that made the finale of Chrono Cross such a pain in the neck. By managing to be all things to all potential players, Luxaren Allure does itself a huge favour.

Moreover, at no point does the romantic content come off as gratuitous or exploitative. This is also refreshing, because offering gratuitous fanservice to distract the player from a mediocre plot or gameplay is simply another way of treating him like a buffoon. Instead, Luxaren Allure's romance elements are integrated seamlessly into its RPG storyline, with no sense of a genre clash.

4. Thou shalt not pack thy game with gratuitous Mind Screws and plot twists pulled out from thy large intestine.

Again, this is something that has become de rigeur nowadays. Every hero has to have an identity crisis / be Dead All Along / be a villain in disguise; every plot has to resemble a multi-dimensional Mobius strip, and so forth. While Luxaren Allure does deliver a few memorable "Oh!" moments and turns that are not telegraphed in advance, its basic plot is sensible, logical and free from the gaping holes that are often a blight on this genre.

5. Thou shalt not kill the Player's interest by giving them no compelling conflict, quest or mission that they feel obliged to complete.

While I'm all for plots that go beyond the simple "Warriors, collect the Orbs of Light!", I am also against plots and writing that give you no reason to care for the story or its outcome. If the heroes and villains are indistinguishable, if there is no real reason to care for them, if there is no conflict, then where's the incentive to keep playing? Luxaren Allure does this right: the heroes are flawed but immensely likeable, Lynette walks the thin line between both sides without ever falling into self-parody, and the villains are refreshingly old-school without being totally generic "KILL KILL DIE DIE I HATE EVERYONE!" characters. As a result, you (the player) are always clear about what you have to do next and what your final goal is. (Some might enter a caveat here on behalf of Darkloft's characterization and his aims as arch-villain, but Darkloft works well if you consider him a villain in the Tolkien tradition.)

6. Thou shalt not steal to the point where thy game is a slavish "tribute" to another, well-known game.

Storytelling is a dynamic, fluid art: every writer makes use of tropes and devices that have gone before her, and stands on the metaphorical shoulders of her predecessors, be they giants or pygmies. However, when the use of such tropes and elements is too glaringly obvious, you end up having a Final Fantasy / Chrono Trigger / Xenogears fan work in all but name, and what's the point in that when you might as well play Chrono Trigger again? While Luxaren Allure is very much an old-school RPG in the vein of FFIV or Chrono Trigger, it is also very much its own entity, with an original aura and flavour of its own.

7. Thou shalt make thy game visually and sonically appealing.

What's the appeal in a grey-scale game in which tiny creatures ponder the meaning of existence while going on boring fetch-quests? Or a game that revels in its own ugliness? Or music that makes the RPG Maker RTP sound like Mozart, Beethoven and Eddie Van Halen rolled into one? Even if battles and puzzles are what drive a game, it should still be pleasant (or intriguing) to look at or listen to. It doesn't have to be pretty (see Middens), but it has to hook the player in. Luxaren Allure plays to its strengths - it makes excellent use of the best of the 16-bit RPG visual ethos, and goes one better by adding a very innovative soundtrack, consisting of techno and rock tunes rather than the usual "fast battle theme / slow ballad" dynamic.

8. Thou shalt respect thy characters and not make them simple caricatures, straw men, or plot devices.

Luxaren Allure's cast of characters are a large portion of its appeal. We learn more about their backgrounds as the game progresses, and none of them come off as one-note or forced; rather, they are all human figures that we can relate to, with their strengths, flaws and insecurities. Even minor characters like the villain's two minions, though hardly well-rounded, are memorable and have a personality of their own. (Eelinoth reminds me of Cave Story's Balrog for some reason.) By creating memorable personalities that the plot is built around, Luxaren Allure keeps the player invested in them and their fates right up to the end.

9. Thou shalt, with all thy heart and soul, avoid shoe-horning whiny angst into thy game, lest it become a bad Linkin Park CD rather than an RPG.

Given the nature of the main plot-line and its tale of unrequited love, this was a very big trap that Luxaren Allure avoided with verve and aplomb. While each character goes through their own personal dark night of the soul, the game does not dwell on this needlessly, or use it as an excuse to derail a character and leave the player feeling frustrated at her misuse. Special points to the game on this one.

10. Thou shalt accept feedback graciously, while at the same time staying true to thy vision and not becoming a doormat to those who want your game to become Cloud/Sephiroth hentai.

Honestly, the way Unity - the lead developer of this game - has handled criticism and comments in the aftermath of this game's release has impressed me almost as much as the game itself. Legitimate criticisms (such as the length of a particular battle) were addressed, but at no point has the author felt the need to apologize for creating an old-school RPG or concede that there is something "inferior" about such a game. In a world where too many developers fall into the trap of either "get lost, fans, you're going to do this my way" or "Waaah! You're all meanies who don't understand my masterpiece! I'm leaving forever!", this is to be highly commended, and should serve as a lesson to those of us who hope to complete our own games one day.

I award this game 5 stars and a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Highly, highly recommended. You're magical to us, Luxaren Allure.

Posts

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CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
11002
And this is a brilliant, shining review. I love it. This one is going in the favourites cabinet.
Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
Thanks a lot for your kind words! Glad you liked it! =)
unity
You're magical to me.
12188
Thank you so much for this well-written, glowing, thoughtful review! This was quite a treat to read, and I'm so happy I made a game that did so many things right in your eyes! ^_^ (Also, even though it was unintentional, now that you mention it, I can totally see why Eelinoth reminds you of Cave Story's Balrog XD)

I'm going to keep working hard on making games, and I hope I can keep making games that strike a happy medium between elements of gameplay, story, and the over-all experience! I'll have to come back to this review when making new games and see if what I'm making measures up to your Ten Commandments of a good RPG experience!

Thanks again, so much, for this wonderful review! :DDDDDDDDD
Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
No, thank you for creating an awesome game that I shall soon begin replaying on the next difficulty level! (I used "easy" with "very easy" for the tidal caves, because I'm lame that way. ^_^)

Now I really must get back to playing Weird and Unfortunate Things, which I downloaded a while ago but simply got too busy to play in earnest. Toddlers tend to have that effect. =)

Looking forward to your future games, and don't sweat my "Ten Commandments" stuff - since I'm not a God of any sort, they can probably be broken with impunity under the right conditions. ^_^

One silly question, though: why "Allure"? I love the title, and it's certainly way better than, say, "Luxaren Quest", "Hero of Luxaren", "Luxaren Prophecy" or "Luxaren Fantasy", but what was the idea behind it? =)
unity
You're magical to me.
12188
author=Professor_Q
One silly question, though: why "Allure"? I love the title, and it's certainly way better than, say, "Luxaren Quest", "Hero of Luxaren", "Luxaren Prophecy" or "Luxaren Fantasy", but what was the idea behind it? =)


I often have trouble coming up with titles. In this case, I thought the word Allure both spoke to the romantic aspect of the game as well as capturing the feeling of a somewhat remote island land that would (before Darkloft) have enticed many. I wanted both the setting and story to be somewhat "alluring."

Whether or not that's the best word for what I was trying to capture, I can't say. But it clicked with me and I thought it sounded nice ^_^
Sooz
They told me I was mad when I said I was going to create a spidertable. Who’s laughing now!!!
5177
It's because we thought it would be the last game we would ever produce as a company, and it was a fantasy game.
Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
author=unity
I often have trouble coming up with titles. In this case, I thought the word Allure both spoke to the romantic aspect of the game as well as capturing the feeling of a somewhat remote island land that would (before Darkloft) have enticed many. I wanted both the setting and story to be somewhat "alluring."

Whether or not that's the best word for what I was trying to capture, I can't say. But it clicked with me and I thought it sounded nice ^_^


That's a wonderful explanation! I sort of figured it had something to do with the romance aspect of it, but the rest of it eluded me. Thumbs up! ^_^

author=Sooz
It's because we thought it would be the last game we would ever produce as a company, and it was a fantasy game.


Ah! Now the truth is revealed: in ancient Naga language, "Luxaren" means "Final", and "Allure" means "Fantasy"! Thanks for the translation tips, Merel! =)
Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
Whoever selected me for the What's Written on the basis of this review, thank you very much! I think you really do like me! (hat tip to Sally Field. ^_^) (The credit should go to Unity, though, for making this awesome game.)
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