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An Honest-to-Goodness College Try with a Great Concept

1873, by ChaosProductions, is an RPGMaker 2003 game with a neat setting and lots of neat features. It's perfectly playable, and the heart of the author is visible in every part of the game. However, 1873 represents the "college try" at its finest - aspects of the game just don't quite stack up the way the audience would like them to.

The best part about 1873 is its setting: the United States frontier region in the year 1873. It is an Eastern Role Playing Game and a spaghetti western. It does not have magic or ancient demons; it has only outlaws, bounty hunters, and the people caught in-between. Your special abilities and healing items in battle are appropriately named after the gunslinging and field bandaging that they should be. This is extremely cool and a welcome departure from the usual RPG tropes.

Unfortunately, the characters do follow their usual roles. Your main character is a hardened bounty hunter who is interested in adventure and reward. He is accompanied by an experienced matronly figure. The bad guys are nameless bandits who serve very little role in the narrative than to provide you with a mission to complete. That said, 1873 is a spaghetti western. It isn't unusual to see these characters performing their familiar roles within the setting. Unfortunately, 1873 lacks the self-awareness to seem like either a celebration or a parody of the thematic material that inspires it - the game is just another entry into an established setting.

1873's gameplay is good enough to keep you playing, even if the events during the intro are not. Notably, game progression is built around passage of time. A handy in-game calendar allows you to schedule dates and keep track of upcoming major events. jRPGs almost always rely on change in geographic location to propel the narrative forward, so this is a refreshing change. 1873 also features a robust character creation system in which your main character's combat abilities are determined by how you guide him through events in the game's narrative. Small tweaks like these take a staid formula and inject some interest into them.

Regrettably, 1873 misses on essential number-crunching in its staid jRPG formula that, in the end, will convince you it isn't worth finishing. All enemy encounters are too hard, and most of them are too long. Boss fights are grueling, but not in the right way - the only reason they are long is that the boss has a lot of hit points and your inventory has a lot of healing items. Defeating a boss does not leave you feel like you have accomplished something. Rather, it leaves you feeling like you have endured something. Furthermore, while the change in setting lends to a great aesthetic change, it does not change that the core jRPG is here and is eminently generic. Careful balancing would ensure that the generic formula stays fun, but 1873 hardly has any balancing at all.

1873 is not a failure. It is a work-in-progress that is full of heart and has a bright future. The setting is interesting. 1873's date-based game progression system has a lot of potential versus competing dungeon crawls and epic conquests. 1873 features a lot of custom graphics, especially in battle (even though not all of them are very well-drawn). That said, 1873 is not a success either. It is rough around the edges. It crashes sometimes. Its battles drag on for way too long. The dialogue needs a lot of revision.

My final judgment would be to wait on 1873; it isn't very good in its current state, but every release is a cut above the previous one. ChaosProductions is dedicated to constantly improving as a developer, and he transfers those skills into his project. Most importantly, ChaosProductions acknowledges and adapts to all negative feedback. If development stays its current course, 1873 will almost definitely be a smash hit when it is finally completed.

Posts

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Holy shit, Abley. You just rescued this game.
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