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Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil?

Heresies of Discord by Aegix_Drakan is a dark RPG with adventure elements created in RPG Maker VX Ace. Depending on the difficulty you choose and how fast you are, you can expect a playtime of a little more or less than two hours. While it is a part of a larger set of games taking place in the same world, it's perfectly possible to play Heresies of Discord on its own.
The story follows Carol Towers, a Vanguard and servant of the goddess Mercy, one of the four deities worshipped in the game's world. One of her superiors, the high-ranking priest Saint Thomas, sent her on a secret mission to uncover the mysteries of an ancient shrine - despite the fact that even entering this Forbidden Shrine is already considered heresy, punishable by death. Together with the not so lawful "archeologist" and treasure hunter Amelia Kyes, Carol must descend deeper and deeper into the dungeons beneath the Shrine, where she may uncover things she never wished to know.

Graphics-wise, the game makes use of the RTP resources and other assets that fit this style. Depending on your preferences, it can sometimes be a little hard to take the VX Ace style character graphics completely seriously, but you get used to them fairly quickly. The mapping is good, though not absolutely stunning, and there's generally little to complain about on the field of graphics. The same is true for the music used: It's not extremely memorable, but every track definitely fits the mood and there's no moment when the music ever feels out of place.



Step by step, little by little...


The gameplay in Heresies of Discord consists of a clever mix of adventure-style exploration, puzzles and on-map action, RPG dungeon crawling and combat, and survival-focused resource management. All these elements contribute a lot to the game's atmosphere and complement each other well, so that there is no part of the game where the different gameplay aspects feel disconnected.
In order to advance the plot, the player needs to search around in the more and more dangerous areas of the Forbidden Shrine hunting for clues. These clues, usually found in the form of interesting objects or little snippets of information, are the key aspect of the game. Finding and picking them up is extremely satisfying in multiple regards, since they not only make you feel accomplished for having discovered them and often overcome the obstacles connected to them, they also help you piece the story together bit by bit, and each clue you find grants you a permanent Max. HP boost. Because in Heresies of Discord, there is no levelling in the traditional sense, and exploration and "detective work" are much more valuable than any attempts at grinding.

There is combat in Heresies of Discord, which uses a fairly interesting battle system, for that matter, but it is not the main focus of the game. In fact, the game actively discourages you from fighting a lot. Defeating an enemy will grant you some extra Max. HP and a consumable item, but you can neither earn experience nor acquire new equipment or learn new abilities. And since healing is sparse and limited, and all enemies are potentially dangerous and will usually cost you more health than you can gain from defeating them, you will not make it very far if you don't pick your battles very selectively.



A skill that would be rather pointless in typical turn-based combat might actually save your hide here.


Combat is handled by means of a pretty nifty active time battle system. All fights are 1vs1 duels with Carol as your only playable character, who has just the same set of six skills plus some combat items available throughout the whole game. And believe it or not, but the game really doesn't need any more than that.
During battles, a blue bar will fill up for each combatant, and they can act as soon as it is full. While the player is choosing what action to perform, the enemy however will keep acting or their bar will keep filling up. You can adjust the speed at which the bars fill up to correspond to how fast your reflexes are. But even at the slowest rate, learning to take decisions quickly is going to be of importance. The fact that you never learn any new skills actually helps the player here.
But there is more to this system: Often, enemies will not just throw normal attacks at you, but use powerful skills with special effects as well. When this is about to happen, enemies won't act immediately once their blue bar is full, but that same bar starts filling up once more, this time in red. This extra delay serves both as a warning and as a time frame during which the player can prepare for the incoming skill, for example by stunning the enemy, using an item, or guarding. And while guarding temporarily slows down your own blue bar, it only lasts until you are being attacked, which makes this mechanic - that tends to be underwhelming in many games - suddenly extremely useful.

Carol's skills do not require any sort of fuel like MP, but they all have a cooldown until they can be used again. Each skill can be used in clever combinations with other skills or items, so that in addition to the reflexes aspect there is always a surprising strategic depth to each battle, despite the seemingly minimalistic approach. However, it's also here where one of the game's most problematic issues shows itself: Every few seconds during battle, the game counts down a "turn." These turns are completely independent from the moments when Carol or her enemy actually act; their task is to regulate the duration of status effects and cooldowns. Unfortunately, since this turn mechanic does not take into account at what point during a turn an effect or cooldown started, this means that a status effect applied just before the end of a turn will last significantly shorter than one applied just after the start of a new turn. The same is true for Carol's cooldowns when using a skill. While this is not a severe or game-breaking problem, it definitely messes with the otherwise good balancing.

Again, though, the main focus of Heresies of Discord is not on combat. Due to the survival aspect mentioned before, a lot of the on-map action in the game actually consists of evading enemies to avoid having to battle them. This is generally fun, but as the game goes on, constantly studying enemies' paths and sprinting past them can become a little tedious. But there's also other kinds of enjoyable non-battle-related challenges and puzzles, some simple, some more elaborate and original. A somewhat stronger focus on these would have made the gameplay even better.



Yes, this might be the right time for the good old strategy of running like crazy.


The world of the story as well as the frame of the game that presents it have been crafted with a lot of care, and this shows not only in the main aspects of the game. There are many ways in which the game makes itself more accessible to the player while simultaneously enhancing and connecting the story, gameplay and other aspects. In addition to the mechanic of the clues itself, there's also a clue system in the menu that allows you to re-read the gist of every clue you've found so far and take a look at how many clues you've found where. Enemies are also logged after the first time you defeat one of their type, allowing you to get a quick reminder of their powers at any time. And then there's the fine details such as the barely noticeable but telling fact that Carol's face graphic in the menu actually changes every time you unlock a new floor of the dungeon (i.e. enter a new "chapter").


One more point that deserves special mention is the very interesting way endings are handled in Heresies of Discord. For various different reasons (not all necessarily gameplay-related), the player might at some point decide that there's no going further and it's time to retreat from the Forbidden Shrine. Depending on how far you advanced the plot before leaving, you will see a different ending, but only upon 100% completion the canon ending is shown. But what's very unusual and intriguing is that all these endings can even be seen as building up on each other, as each one of them sheds a new and different light on the whole story. So in order to experience the plot to the fullest, I can only recommend taking the time to go back after every "chapter" and take a look at how the epilogues change.
Do keep one thing in mind, though: Heresies of Discord's story is not going to go easy on you. This game gets dark fast, and especially if you've played other games set in the same world before, you will encounter more than one instance of medium-to-high level mindblow. With every step you take further towards the end, both Carol and the player find out something new about the game's world, its history and its religions, and will have to learn that not all is as black and white as they might have presumed.



Not the only moral dilemma Carol will have to cope with over the course of the game.


All in all, while it has some smaller problems, Heresies of Discord is a fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable game with lots of clever concepts and brilliant storytelling. If you like dark mystery plots and prefer adventure-style exploration and dungeon crawling over mindless grinding, then I highly recommend you give this game a try.

Posts

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:D I'm really glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for the many kind words!

"Medium to high level mindblow" XD I lost it when I read that. I'm glad it has the intended effect.

Oh, and BTW, the whole Turn timing for status effects and skills is intended to be gamed. You're supposed to consider how long you have until the next turn before you use a status effect. With good timing, you can stun an enemy for a VERY long time, or suffer only a second's worth of slowdown after using the Overhead Slash. :P
NeverSilent
Got any Dexreth amulets?
6133
You're very welcome. I'm glad I enjoyed the game so much, too. And I hope to play many more of your projects in the future.

Haha, well, that seemed to me the best way to describe how I felt when some of the revelations struck me. The fragmented narrative delivered through the clues really helped make the story more involved.

Yeah, I had suspected that maybe it was not an accidental side effect but an intended feature. To me, it just doesn't seem very intuitive or make a whole lot of sense balancing-wise, which is why I criticised it. But again, it's far from being a game breaker. In the end, it's probably more a matter of preference than an objective issue, but I did at least want to point out why it bothered me personally a bit.
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