• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

Beliefs of adequacy

  • NTC3
  • 08/29/2015 08:16 AM
  • 965 views
Delusions of Duty was made as an entrant to a Fundamental RPGology contest, which tasked its contestants with creating a battle system stripped down to the RPG fundamentals, in a short timeframe. You could argue that expecting something exceptional from such a contest game is unrealistic, and usually, you would be right. However, Aegix_Drakan had already managed to surprise me before with Illusions of Loyalty, which was originally also made for a two-week contest, yet it’s now one of my favourite games. Unfortunately, and in spite of having thematically similar name, not only is there no visible relation between the two games, but the overall ambition is markedly lower. Illusions of Loyalty was a distant, sober look at the futility of war, and the consequences of sacrificing people for one’s beliefs, which could nevertheless be enjoyed for its gameplay alone. Delusions attempts a shorter, tighter story, but its tale of two former friends driven by circumstance to a duel to the death might sound great in theory, but it just isn’t anywhere near as compelling in practice.

Aesthetics (art, design and sound)

Like Illusions of Loyalty, the game is made entirely with publicly available resources, though this time Ace RTP appears a little less prominent. The skill icons might or might not be custom; I’m not entirely sure. There isn’t much else to say, other than that it all fits and the battler for your enemy, Lyle Chase, is quite good. Unlike Illusions of Loyalty, the facesets now also change in relation to speaker’s emotion, and it’s done quite well. The sound effects are mostly fine: one that sticks out negatively is the “death” groan when either of the characters is killed in the post-battle cutscene: it sounds like someone knocked out, and doesn’t have any of the anguish and finality of death. The effect used during one other character death, though, is perfect.

Storyline

A beach, at night, raining. One man approaches the other from behind and says there’s nowhere left to run. The latter turns around and they speak for a little bit. The pursuer is Lyle Chase; the hunted is Samael. We learn that they both used to serve under the same master, before Chase became a mercenary, while Samael is hunted because he murdered a princess. He’s unrepentant, and refuses to come to his death (and there’s no longer any mercy for him) willingly. So the battle begins, as you take control of Samael.

Yes, Samael. Aegix_Drakan seems to have a penchant for exploring borders between anti-heroes and outright villains, and so we have to fight as the seemingly more evil duellist of the two, whose defeat triggers a perfectly satisfactory, if conventional, conclusion, as Lyle Chase wins, finishes him off and walks away, convinced of his righteousness. Of course, things aren’t as they first seem, and once you finally win as Samael, you’ll not only get to see him kill Lyle to cover his tracks, but also a flashback once he’s safely on board a raft headed out of the country, one that explains the reasoning behind the “murder”. Underneath the spoiler is the transcript of what happened, as well as my interpretation of why it doesn't work that well.


Essentially, Samael was the bodyguard of the princess, fully devoted to her, so that when she chose to run away from an arranged marriage, he accompanied her. While on the run, however, she was bitten by a snake, and with the wound obviously fatal, there was nothing for him to do but cut her suffering short. At the same time, the pursuers from her family house caught up and saw him just after the act, drawing their own conclusions. On the bright side, this does show you weren’t playing a villain: on the other hand, the scene, and the surrounding dialogue, raises a lot of questions, with very few concrete or meaningful answers.

If what he has done was essentially a mercy kill, then surely it ought to count as honourable (and there’s plenty of honour talk, before and after the fight), and thus not a crime, especially since snakebites that turn blood black aren’t exactly hard to miss? Perhaps, the noble house doesn’t really care about honor as much as they want to have a clear villain in this and avoid blame for creating the situation about arranged marriage. However, since we know nothing about it or the house, it’s basically empty speculation and not really meaningful. Same applies to finer points of Samael’s character. If he had moral justification to do what he’s done, why does he still call it murder, and rebuffs the boatman (unaware as to whom he’s really transporting) when he tries to mention his belief in the alternative? If this is a coping strategy, it’s a strange one. Moreover, why say “She would have thanked me” when Lyle first accused him of murder instead of telling the truth directly or not offering a motivation at all? Did he just decide to play the role of the villain others have given him, because he doesn't feel anything else would work?


If you followed this closely, you might have seen a problem here. The game is constructed around this single duel, which takes up the majority of the running time no matter how you play it. Yet, Lyle Chase, your antagonist in this battle, is secondary to the plot and has nowhere near the influence on it the dead princess has. If the battle is to be present, it must be pivotal to the experience, and yet, it doesn’t appear to change anything about Samael’s character. If he managed to get on the raft without encountering Lyle, he would’ve probably still had the same flashback and conversations, as it’s all about the princess, and not Lyle. Sure, you could say that guilt over Lyle’s death coloured his perception in that scene and led to him sulking more than he would’ve otherwise, but even so, it’s still secondary influence on the plot, rather than the main driver of it.

This is exactly why I prefer the third, “bonus” ending you get after finishing the battle as Samael for the first time. You unlock the Story Mode, and its ability to just watch cutscenes without much interruption, the outcome of a battle reduced to a single choice. Samael can win, Samael can lose… or he can surrender, and try to walk away. Lyle promptly stabs him in the back, but he’s left wondering about Samael's motives, and why he would do such a thing. He appears to shrug off it by the end of the scene, but it had still clearly planted a seed of doubt in his mind, one which’ll likely grow and influence him later on in life. The action leads to a change in character; exactly what the main ending (and the “lose” one, for that matter) had been missing.

Gameplay

For the actual battle, there are three difficulties, Fortunate, Normal, and Cursed, as well as the option to skip the story and just do the battle. Since I’ve just recently beaten Illusions of Loyalty on its highest level, Legend, without dying once, I decided to try my luck on Cursed, but lost the first time around, by a considerable margin. Next time, on Normal (90 health, instead of 75, to Chase’s 100), was also a loss, though with minimal difference this time. Third time was finally the charm.

Essentially, you’re in a duel, where both Samael and Chase have exactly the same skills, and the only difference is Chase’s health and speed advantage (explained by Samael being wounded from the previous night’s battle with an unmentioned adversary.) Thus, victory has to be gotten by outsmarting Lyle, as nothing else would do. In order to do so, it’s crucial to pay attention to the mood read-out next to Lyle’s name, and react accordingly. Aggressive means he’s about to attack normally, or use a direct offense skill. Focused means he’ll either employ a Support or indirect Offense skill, Wary means he’ll Guard or use some direct defensive skill like Parry or Flourish, and Anxious is a cross between Wary and Focused.

On the most basic level, this means you ought to Guard or use special defensive skills when he’s Aggressive, prepare buffs like Charge (more damage dealt, as well as taken) and use stronger attacks when Wary, and react on the fly with the last two. In order to do that, you should try estimating what skills he might have active (Sense read-out gives you the number of active Offense and Support skills, but not what they actually are), and build up your own chain of skills. Yes, the combat works on a unique principle, whereas you might have a dozen skills in each category, but only 2-3 can be used at the start (and same is true of Lyle). The rest is unlocked by using other skills: one skill will always unlock two others, those will unlock two more of their own, etc. It might sound easy, but in practice, not all skills are equal, and many would only give Lyle an opening if used at the wrong time. Because of it, you’ll rarely have more than 4 skills active in each category at a time, and having no skills at all in one for a couple of turns is also not uncommon. The design of a system is quite clever, and obviously had plenty of thought put into making sure it’s balanced. I’m not sure whether such a system could work for a longer RPG with more than one battle and/or with multiple enemy types/party members, but what is there works quite well, although I can’t say I was blown away by it.

Conclusion

Delusions of Duty is competently made, and worth playing through if you have some spare time. You could do a lot worse if you wanted an example on how to design a short game, or how to think outside the box for a battle system. Just don’t expect anything particularly impressive or meaningful on its own terms.

Posts

Pages: 1
*double take* Wait, someone reviewed this one?! :o

Oh wow. 3 stars is pretty generous for this one! Thank you for the in-depth review!

Sorry the story is a little...Meh, compared to Illusions of Loyalty. I spent most of my development time on the combat system (Especially the pseudo AI I had to develop for it), so the story kinda got rushed. I also lost the editable files, so I can no longer go back and update this one. :(

I AM sad that I didn't give Lyle Chase more time/dialogue to develop him, but that's the way it worked out. :(

Anyway,
Yes, it IS a coping mechanism for Samael.

The promise he made is the only thing keeping him going. He sees himself as a villain, so he acts like it most of the time.


Pages: 1