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Silver Lining

  • nhubi
  • 06/16/2015 08:31 AM
  • 1410 views
Silver Town has an interesting backstory, 20 years ago the people of colony of Silver Town rose up against the cruel dictatorship of their emperor and under the leadership of Heathcliffe, an indigenous 'beast man' they won a decisive victory and formed their own nation, but in the aftermath of that victory Heathcliffe and his people suffered a crushing defeat. They were betrayed by the leader of the new kingdom and instead of the freedom they had been promised were forced into indentured servitude in the mines that gave the newly christened Silver Kingdom both its name and its prosperity.

Now, 20 years on the mines are overrun with some unknown force, spawning monsters and other horrors and the beastmen refuse to continue. Emmet, Heathcliffe's son, is tasked by Nidale, the woman who betrayed his father, to rid the mines of this malignant influence. Does he refuse her command due to her earlier betrayal, or does he answer the call and seek to defend the place his father gave so much to create?

He refuses, and she, showing she has changed little in the two decades that have passed, pushes him into a position to ensure his compliance. So against both his will and judgement he goes out to try and save a town full of people who consider him and his kind to be expendable labour and little more than bipedal animals.


*Sigh* of course I do.

That's how it is portrayed on the game page, the game itself has a slightly different focus and it's obvious from the opening cut scene that the 'unknown' force infesting the mines are supposed to be agents of the defeated emperor seeking to bankrupt the new kingdom and bring it and its growing wealth back under the control of the Human Empire.

Casual institutionalised specism is rife throughout the game and it's portrayed fairly well, but there are some odd moments. The first of your own kind that you meet is a humble shopkeeper, too old to work in the mines and soon to be subjected to some of that casual specism. I know that the language is being used as a verbal short cut to the communism vs. capitalism shtick, the oppressed working class and the fat cat (though cat is blatantly wrong here) overlords, but the language choice is jarring. Comrade you can get away with, it's become a pretty universal statement of the mindset, but bozhe moi is non-loanword Russian, and this is a fantasy world with elves and dwarves and beastmen, not an alternate Earth or even Earth colony, it just rips you right out of the world every time you read it. One thing I do find interesting in this regard though is the specism isn't just a human/beastmen dynamic but there is tension between the two major classes of beastmen shown, the canine and feline, though in Emmet's case that is more leonine, indicating a level of awareness of the sort of damage that internecine conflicts can cause.

Still cultural mismatches aside there are some really great elements in the game, the graphics are from a variety of sources but have been edited to make them blend pretty well overall, the beastmen sprites are all custom work as are the emotive face-sets for them and the battlers likewise have been chosen or created to give an overall seamless feel, though I will admit that Willard doesn't quite fit the mould and looks like he's been drawn by a different hand. There are some great responsive images as well, such as when Emmet changes his outfits his sprite changes to match, which is something I've seen before in games, but it's a rarity. The only downside of that is the character has very limited choice in regard to equipment, he's basically handed the next piece and it's locked to him without the ability to swap it out. This forced equipage is explained in the first instance as a method by which he is bound to the will of the High Priestess through a Geis (though not a gease as spelt in the game), but it still rankles a little to have the ability to customise curtailed.


Damn it, Jim.

Still clad now in the armour of a warrior of St Cuthburt Emmet has a much better chance of garnering information in regard to the threat in the mines and to the township as a whole and lifting the geis so he can go back to being a simple woodcutter. Of course he can't do it alone and he is soon joined by Willard, a priest of the major deity Pelor and general wiseass. Both of these characters, and Shade the mage who soon joins the team, even though she's specifically ordered not to do so, are well fleshed out. They have distinct and different personalities, quirks and foibles. It's difficult not to actually care about them, so I didn't try. In fact the world itself is almost another character in its own right. Fairly well established, it gives a real feeling of a slice of life, as if this space has a history and lore that was in place long before this story was told and will continue, changed or not by the events of the game, long after the story has been played out.

Shade also brings some very useful skills to the game, she starts at the same level as the existing party members, therefore avoiding the annoying need to grind her up to match which means she goes into battle fully equipped with a range of defensive and offensive spells in her arsenal as well as one of my, and it appears Emmet's, favourite mage skills, Scan though in deference to FF it's called Libra. Combat in the game is the classic turn based, but the skills each party member brings are well thought out and are obviously designed to be complementary. Most of the combats aren't particularly difficult and drops are fairly frequent so they are more fun than frustrating, and give you a bit of leeway to experiment with the different effects you get from mixing up the skills you use. Though the battles do get a little frequent in some dungeons and given they are random enemies rather than on screen there were a few moments when I was wishing they'd just get out of my way so I could get to the boss. Boss battles do ramp up the difficulty somewhat, especially in the corrupted cave, but that's because that involved a cascading battle with no let-up until the dungeon boss had been defeated. Most of the other Boss battles are single instance fights.

There are unfortunately a few fourth wall breaking moments, and I know from reading a bit of the developer's posts that he has no issues with them and has included them specifically so whilst I personally don't like this many of them I concede they are a considered stylistic choice. It does help that they are used subtly, with the exception of the after battle conversations which are lifted almost verbatim from D&D manuals, and when used are generally funny. Especially for some reason when it is Willard breaking the wall, he has a 'voice' that seems to be able to carry it better than the others. Willard definably fits the role of the dry wit of the group.


Luckily there's a handy broken wall to allow forward momentum.

The game follows a pretty basic D&D type scenario, one sub-quest leads to another which in turn presents another, all of which give pieces of the item or information you need to defeat the main quest objective and gain your freedom. Along the way of course are clues both subtle and blatant of another deeper mystery that will have long lasting effects on our party of adventurers and may in some small way reshape the world in which they live. But that is for the end of the game, before then they must fight their way through haunted towers and treacherous swamps, brave undead forest dragons in their den, solve puzzles and answer riddles to protect their secrets and defeat enemies both of the body and of the mind.

Not to mention sarky antagonists, this game is full of sarky antagonists.


You've got to give them points for politeness, if not subtlety.

Along the way an interesting dynamic comes into play between the Emmet and Willard, a bond that transcends gender and species and simply speaks to the people we are when all the superficial differences are rendered meaningless. It's a sensitive topic and whilst there are a few less than deft scenes, by and large it's handled with both care and a smattering of humour which works remarkably well. Speaking of humour the last member of the party joins about halfway through the game, a lupine beastman with the knowingly admitted unoriginal name of Wolfe. As well as being remarkably self-depreciating he's the thief of the party so I hope you've been paying attention to those occasional locked chests you've run across on your travels because now is the time to go back and open them.

In relation to our newest party member, the dev has made innovative use of one of the most unused options in VXA, the formation option. Wolfe can open those locked chests, but only if he is party leader, it doesn't change anything else in relation to combat or story but at least it does give a viable reason for using the command.

So now that we're up to a full complement of the classic D&D foursome fighter/wizard/cleric/rogue it's time to hunt down the next piece in the puzzle and unfortunately around about this point is where the fun of the game begins to dissipate. During the course of the third dungeon Shade learns a new spell, Meteo, an all enemy fire based spell and it's ridiculously overpowered. Especially in light of the fact that the worst enemies that the party ever has to go up against are generally versions of undead and all are susceptible to fire damage. From this point on almost all combats are over in a round and the only strategy is making sure that Shade's MP is kept up. Add to that the fact that a couple of the items she can equip half MP cost and she's able to cast this devastating spell 10 times in a row without needing a mana potion. The Dev has mitigated it to a small degree by having level caps kick in at level 20, which you generally reach before you've made it to the last dungeon, a pet peeve of mine, but even that does little to prevent all the combats simply becoming a repeat of the ones before. Whilst I understand given some of the later dialogues that the nuclear option of Meteo is meant to be something of a joke highlighting the overpowering of mages in the D&D world it doesn't change the fact that Meteo is a balance destroyer on every level, and the game would have been much better if it had not been included, or made so much more expensive or restrictive to cast.


Yeah, you're toast...again

In addition to the destruction of what had been a fun combat situation, the storyline also begins to fail at this point, with too many hints and odd character interactions that don't appear to be in keeping with what has transpired before, especially in relation to the burgeoning relationship between Emmet and Willard, which before had been treated with a level of finesse and now feels like you're being bludgeoned with that hammer of Mordaine that you had to go through a dungeon to find. There is also at least one game play change which is irritating in the extreme, in the fourth dungeon the random combats are now possible in puzzle areas, and since you've already reached the level cap by this stage and you've got the enemy wipe spell at your fingertips combat simply becomes an annoyance preventing you from solving a puzzle, not something you want a player to experience. Luckily the escape mechanic works most of the time so you don't have to spend another pointless round wiping the floor with random monsters too often.

This noticeable decline in the quality of a game the longer it continues isn't that unusual, though it is always a little frustrating. The slow build and reveal of both story and game play elements is something that generally only comes with time and experience, and this game is an early one for this developer. So whilst I am a little disappointed with the diminishing of the enjoyment I felt in the earlier stages of the game I can see that the potential is still there for the dev to go on to a more rounded and balanced experience as his game making skills improve. I'm not sure there is much that can be done with this one other than looking at the last couple of chapters with fresh eyes and reworking it, and whilst I would appreciate it I wouldn't recommend that happens. As it stands the game is still a fun one, it has some lovely aesthetic elements with only a few mismatches, approachable characters, well written dry humour, an interesting world and for the majority of the game offers a level of challenge to the player. If I could offer one easy suggestion to improve the balance, it would be the toning down of Meteo, everything else would probably involve more commitment than I believe is warranted for the benefits received.

Posts

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I'm really impressed with how well your review is written and that you enjoyed elements from my first game.

Yes, I am very early in development and it shows. I am glad it wasn't too off putting to enjoy the story and elements there in. I'm extremely happy for having something as in depth and generous as your review is and it really brightened my evening, thank you.

I am please Libra was useful. I was so worried about this skill and it saw a lot of changes and it's own custom script to give it enough flair to rival the player wanting to use it first over blindly mashing buttons. Meteo in itself was meant more as a pull, and during the original game was
sealed by the rival Empire's mage.

In fact a great deal of the game, around 5 hours was cut where Shade assembles an army and brings a still living Heathcliff and nation of mages to it's knees to give Emmet the backing to save the town all without the use of Meteo. Sadly no one likes an excessively long RM game, and it was difficult to finish as my father was dying of pancreatic cancer at the time of it's development. So I rushed the ending, as you plainly saw.

Chuckles was meant to be revealed as Heathcliff in disguise, and Willard's own identity was meant to be more of a story in itself as well making the game even longer.

At this point I realized for the first game a maximum of three hours was preferable to get the widest audience possible and still tell a story.
I admit you are right it does dissipate a bit towards the end, but I am learning as you said and I am willing to improve this situation.

I also wanted the former Avatar to be more of a teacher to Emmet as sort of a human father figure. I lost a lot of good opportunities because I am a weak story teller who focuses on humor and dialog to really grasp a player. I like showing more than telling, but I focus too much.

Yes the definite friction between beastmen are those who serve and try to assist the humans like merchants as opposed to forced labor like the miners who will have none of them. The Russian accent was more of a stigma that showed Ivan wasn't from the same country and passing through. He unfortunately got caught up in the war and was forced to stay.

Wolfe originally could detect traps etc in the lead making him necessary to have in the castle, which was visit-able at any time before the last build. It was a death sentence without him and I felt if the player wanted to explore and die, they should. After my friends play tested the game in front of me, going there at level 3 with the boat and intentionally trying to break things and go against the switch array I decided to make scene flow more concise and give it a definite structure.

I intended the player to reach the level cap by that point due to the need to focus on story elements, and it seems that was a poor choice on my part.

You are absolutely right. Had I done it differently I would have had the player reach max level by the time the battle with Nidale took place to make things a bit less anti climatic.

Hearing you say that about the world and it's characters is just overwhelming. Thank you deeply. I am so very happy they had some impact, if only briefly.

Props to you for taking your time to tell me what worked, and more importantly what didn't work. I am very eager to learn and improve and your time here today helped me vastly with some fresh perspective. Thank you again for taking the time to bring about a well thought out, and written piece of criticism.

It is so very important to have something this precious from you and the other players. I can only hope my next project: Wheels and the Leg Girl! will be all the better for it.
Well, that certainly sounds like a pretty interesting game. I've now added it to my ever-growing list of games to check out and eventually review. Thanks, nhubi.

If there's anything else to say, it's that the review feels more like a 3.5 one, but I guess that's just difference in our reviewing styles. I also wish more was said about the ending(s). Was it good? Did it give much closure, or leave a space for continuation? The tone suggests it dissapointed, but I would've liked more clarity.

EDIT: I wrote this in an old tab, and so didn't see the creator's comment before mine. I can now only say that it's a pity such a large section of a storyline was cut, since there's a difference between excessively long and long enough to develop a proper story. There have been quite a few devs on here who started with relatively long projects that were still acclaimed when they did come out (Max McGee and Iron Gaia is a good example.) However, I certainly understand that you were at a difficult point in life and this affected the project.

Looking forward to reviewing the game and playing Wheels and the Leg Girl, whenever it's ready.

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