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I'm trying to think of a pun concerning the word "wager" for the title of this review. I didn't come up with any, unfortunately.

ENGALIA: THE WAGER
A review


NB: This is for the version of the game dated 3rd July 2015, so I have changed the star rating to N/A. When I get time, I will re-review it.



Engalia: The Wager is an RM Venture contest game, created during February 2014. It was originally made in one week, and slightly patched over the next 2 or 3 weeks. You choose from a cast of 14 RTP characters, redesigned graphically as little chibis. Zack is compulsory, but the other 3 party members are optional. That's a total of 1716 (1x13x12x11) possible options!

Unfortunately, the abundance of options seems to have made it nearly impossible to balance. Regarding battles, once I'd figured out which spells were strongest, I usually spammed SPACE BAR on them until won each battle. If there is some specific strategy that is most effective on certain enemies, I never noticed, because they were all defeatable by the one that I chose.

Story
A trio of sellswords think they're being hired by a couple of black mages to enter the Nyodymous cave where a pair of heroes did. They aren't being hired, they're merely being informed of the situation. I found it weird that the black mages would approach them to tell them about the situation in such a peculiar manner, but hey, it's a contest game, made in the space of virtually a week, it's not that big a sin.

The fact that character dialogue existed for any combination of characters you chose, in scenes regularly repeated throughout the dungeon experience, created personal moments that were actually quite a nice touch.

However, battles in this game comprise so much of playtime that the story becomes secondary to the gameplay, which I will briefly talk about now.



Gameplay
I won't mince words - gameplay in Engalia: The Wager is incredibly tedious. After the first few times I was okay with it, but because battles were starting to become a hindrance to exploration, then the wait became even more noticeable, and it wasn't just at the start, but at any lull in combat. A few have remarked about the slow bars that are required to fill before you can make a move. This makes battles ultra-slow, with multiple waits of 3-4 seconds within battles, where they should generally be short and snappy in a dungeon crawler like this, and a test of strategy. A test of strategy they are not. At first you are given very many skills to get your head around, which makes you think of all the gleeful possibilities, but it seems like a lot of these skills feel like carbon copies of each other. The problem is, that with so many classes, and each of them having so many different skills, they just don't synergize in a way that lends to any sort of strategy.

I usually find myself to be sucking at RPG battles, but in this instance I was breezing through. I think it has to do with the builds. I must have just chosen a good one. I chose Zack/Ardis/Alyssa/Cynthia. Girl power. The healer has a "heal all" spell that she can just heal everyone almost every single turn, which keeps everyone at full health, then I just spam "attack all" attacks by others until the enemies are dead. I didn't die once.

There are limitations in the 2k3 engine that bug me concerning gameplay, too, such as the inability to see how much MP you have from the main screen. In a battle system that requires so much on the "Recovery" move when your MP gets low, I believe it becomes important to see how much MP you have at all times. But this is not allowed, by some restriction of the engine, and it's frustrating and leads to button mashing.

To top it off, the encounter rate seems so high that exploration becomes a chore. The reason why I say encounter rates seem so high, is not that they are (Sated qualified that the step rate is 25-30 steps per encounter), but that they seem too high given the very linear nature of the dungeon. The paths are so linear, without many optional paths to make it interesting, and even when there are, some of them have "mimic" chests at the end which make the 5-6 battles required to get to such a position all the more frustrating because there is no reward other than... experience, I guess? Yay?

To illustrate my point of dungeon design being flawed, I created a graph of possible walking paths for the first dungeon:

Warning: Possible spoiler. Contains full map of first dungeon.


It seems there are only 4 points of choice here, and they are widespread apart. There aren't very many points of interest or choices to make, so it just feels quite linear. This means you'll go between interest points, having about 2-3 battles in between each interesting decision, however the interesting decision is: "which path would you like to take, 1) or 2)? Which isn't that much of an interesting decision, and it kind of robs the idea that you're exploring, but more or less walking down a narrow corridor of battles. For a game like this focussed on gameplay, I was depending on the dungeon design being interesting as well as the battles, or at least one of the two. So perhaps the random encounters were a chore because the map design made it so.

You don't acquire that much equipment throughout the course of the game either, mostly just hordes of items you barely use. Equipment customization would have at least added some element of strategy.

The puzzles aren't all that difficult either. I beat the ice sliding puzzle in the first dungeon the first time I tried, without even thinking. I just thought, "I wonder where this goes?" and I finished it. The dragon boss battle was also long and boring, and his assists (the clerics) lost within a very short time span (2 attacks) but the dragon itself took much longer to kill, making negligible damage on the heroes, but taking very many hits to kill too. In other words, a long, arduous and monotonous boss battle.



Also, apparently the above screenshot was supposed to be a bridge that you could walk under. I walked back and forth fending off random encounters for 10-20 minutes only to realize this is something you can actually walk under. And this was on the critical path. I don't think something so critical should be hidden so mischievously.

Summary
The story and the characters were likable, and I liked the concept. The fact that character dialogue existed for any combination of characters you chose, in scenes regularly repeated throughout the dungeon experience, created personal moments that were actually quite a nice touch. However, the battles were such long and arduous experiences, and dungeon delving felt like a worse chore than the once my parents have once forced me to do. All in all, this game didn't feel fun to me, but I acknowledge that time constraints would have factored into this, and if given more time, it could have been a more balanced and breezy affair.

I give this dungeon delver a 2/5.

Posts

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Sated
puking up frothing vitriolic sarcastic spittle
5402
My thoughts are here:

A few have remarked about the slow bars that are required to fill before you can make a move. This makes battles ultra-slow, with multiple waits of 3-4 seconds within battles.

This I can look into pretty easily. Getting the RM2K3 battle-system to be the correct speed can be difficult and I'm so used to ATB systems that I don't notice that it's slow unless it's arduously slow. To be honest, waiting a couple of seconds doesn't seem that bad to me; maybe I'm just showing my age. What you've described doesn't sound any slower than Final Fantasy 9, to give an example.

To top it off, the encounter rate is so high that exploration becomes a chore.

This I can change quite easily, but the encounter rate shouldn't really be very high. I made the encounter-system myself, so you can't to get into encounters one-step after exiting a battle and other such things. IIRC it should take at least 15 steps before you can trigger an encounter, and that seems fine to me. I'm old though, and I grew up loving random encounters, so I guess I should ask: Are you someone who doesn't like random encounters in general? And what would you consider an ideal encounter rate?

The paths are so linear, without many optional paths to make it interesting, and even when there are, some of them have "mimic" chests at the end which make the 5-6 battles required to get to such a position all the more frustrating because there is no reward other than...

Mimic chests are the only chests that give you equipment (rings and amulets). They're also generated randomly (1/3 chests can be a mimic chest) so their placement is not something I've done intentionally.

Honestly, I feel like your frustration here is more to do with the problems you had with the encounter system/battles than the chests themselves, which is obviously problematic but probably doesn't mean there's anything inherently wrong with how the chests work.

The puzzles aren't all that difficult either.

I could've easily expanded on those sections whilst patching the game up, but obviously time-constraints made it difficult for me to think too hard about them in the original release. Since I didn't want to change the original release much bar for changing balance and fixing bugs etc. I left them as is. Something to think about, for sure.

A question: Did you get to the tile-sliding puzzle? I always found that difficult, but I'm bad at tile-sliding puzzles...

Regarding battles, once I'd figured out which spells were strongest, I usually spammed SPACE BAR on them until won each battle. If there is some specific strategy that is most effective on certain enemies, I never noticed, because they were all defeatable by the one that I chose.

I find this perplexing, because the original release was criticised for being too difficult. This led to the state the game is in now. There is definitely strategy involved, in that enemies have profound weaknesses and resistances to elements and attack-types (and in that enemy groups often have buff/heal/glass-cannon enemies who should 100% be killed first else the battle will be harder) but perhaps they all have too little HP for this to become apparent. I say too little HP because it sounds like you're killing them too quickly even without exploiting weaknesses.

Perhaps I've had too small a sample size of people commenting; after all, some people thought that Soul Sunder was difficult whereas I found it incredibly trivial...

Overall, pretty disappointing review, but I guess thanks for taking the time to write it. I was hoping to make more games in this game-world so I'll need to consider what you've said, although a lot of the criticism won't apply directly.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
9762
author=Sated
To be honest, waiting a couple of seconds doesn't seem that bad to me; maybe I'm just showing my age. What you've described doesn't sound any slower than Final Fantasy 9, to give an example.


Yeah, after the first few times I was okay with it, but because battles were starting to become a hindrance to exploration, then the wait became even more noticeable, and it wasn't just at the start, but at any lull in combat.

author=Sated
This I can change quite easily, but the encounter rate shouldn't really be very high. I made the encounter-system myself, so you can't to get into encounters one-step after exiting a battle and other such things. IIRC it should take at least 15 steps before you can trigger an encounter, and that seems fine to me. I'm old though, and I grew up loving random encounters, so I guess I should ask: Are you someone who doesn't like random encounters in general? And what would you consider an ideal encounter rate?


I don't mind random encounters. I think what makes the encounter rate grating is not the number, but the linearity of the paths. I created paths for the first dungeon:



It seems there are only 4 points of choice here, and they are widespread apart. There aren't very many points of interest or choices to make, so it just feels quite linear. This means you'll go between interest points, having about 2-3 battles in between each interesting decision, however the interesting decision is: "which path would you like to take, 1) or 2)? Which isn't that much of an interesting decision, and it kind of robs the idea that you're exploring, but more or less walking down a narrow corridor of battles. For a game like this focussed on gameplay, I was depending on the dungeon design being interesting as well as the battles, or at least one of the two. So perhaps the random encounters were a chore because the map design made it so.

author=Sated
Mimic chests are the only chests that give you equipment (rings and amulets). They're also generated randomly (1/3 chests can be a mimic chest) so their placement is not something I've done intentionally.


Oh, OK I didn't know that. For some reason I had thought the mimics were giving the regular items, maybe I was dumb in that way. That seems fine, then. I'm just adapted to the usual "haha tricked ya! It's a mimic!" and feeling stink about it because they won't give me the treasure that's inside.

author=Sated
A question: Did you get to the tile-sliding puzzle? I always found that difficult, but I'm bad at tile-sliding puzzles...


I didn't find it all that difficult, I tried a couple of options and got to the finish pretty quickly. But then again, I seem to find puzzles easier than most, it's my point of interest.

author=Sated
Perhaps I've had too small a sample size of people commenting; after all, some people thought that Soul Sunder was difficult whereas I found it incredibly trivial...


That was me. And I usually find myself to be sucking at RPG battles, but in this instance I was breezing through. I think it has to do with the builds. I must have just chosen a good one. I chose Zack/Ardis/Alyssa/Cynthia. Girl power. The healer has a "heal all" spell that she can just heal everyone almost every single turn, which keeps everyone at full health, then I just spam "attack all" attacks by others until the enemies are dead. I didn't die once.
Sated
puking up frothing vitriolic sarcastic spittle
5402
Thanks for the reply, it helps to clear things up.

I think you may have found the battles to be non-strategic because the game made it too easy for you to win battles without having to exploit the strategic choices available; probably because you had too easy a time healing yourself and so found no reason to kill enemies faster. It's possible to win battles a lot faster than it seems you did (based on your comments about tedium) if you exploit enemy weaknesses, but the game gave you little reason to do this and that's obviously a problem.

Ironically, buffing Cynthia (and other healers) was one of the main changes I made to make the game easier after I was told it was too hard (you can see that comment here: http://rpgmaker.net/games/6014/?post=524675#post524675 and there's a similar one above it). I guess I've over-shot the mark by both buffing healing spells and making enemies slightly easier to kill, thus making the game too easy. It's hard to balance things without a variety of testers; I really need to start getting more people to test my games before releasing them. That's the lesson here. Oh well.

I didn't find it all that difficult, I tried a couple of options and got to the finish pretty quickly. But then again, I seem to find puzzles easier than most, it's my point of interest.

Just to be clear, I mean this puzzle, not the ice-floor or arrow-tile puzzle.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
9762
I reckon it's also hard to balance things when you've got 1716 possible party options. Don't be too hard on yourself. But I do think that damage was about 300-400 still anyway, which made battles pretty long, but they were mostly easy because of that healing spell.

author=Sated
Just to be clear, I mean this puzzle, not the ice-floor or arrow-tile puzzle.

Oh yeah, sorry, the tile puzzle. I'm generally terrible at them too. They're sometimes a trial-and-error thing, but yeah, as a kid, I would agonize over them for ages before usually giving up. Especially the ones that were 5x5 or bigger. Those were terrible.

Sated
puking up frothing vitriolic sarcastic spittle
5402
It's of course not realistically possible to balance the game so that every combination of heroes is viable, or the same power. But it is possible to make sure that "good" combinations find the game challenging, which is what I hoped to do. Clearly I overshot the mark after the original release and made it too easy again.
Sated
puking up frothing vitriolic sarcastic spittle
5402
An updated version of the game has now been released that addresses some of the issues raised in this review. Or I at least hope so.

There's only so far an intentionally simple dungeon crawler can go; this was never meant to be a massive project, but I should at least try to make it the best it can be within the limits of the design scope!
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