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Good? Sure. Best freeware RPG? Not quite.

  • NTC3
  • 01/17/2015 04:04 AM
A Blurred Line is one of the oldest and most famous RPGMaker games. It's well known for both feeling notably unique and distinct at a time when many thought RPGMaker could only be used for FF fangames, as well as having a narrative that was non-linear in both meanings of the word: both starting near the conclusion you never got to see (and incorporating many flashbacks that often completely change your perception of the characters involved), and possessing actually significant player choice, when the decisions actually change whole stretches of the game. It's also infamous for being left unfinished for more then a decade now, the concluding third, Line's End, basically being rmk's equivalent to Half-Life 3. However, that is also not the only problem of the game as it is.

Aesthetics (art, design and sound)

Level design is variable in quality, but can often be quite complex, with the maps that possess many twisting pathways and various nooks and crannies. The graphics are typical rm2k RTP, but they create the feel for each area well enough. There’s the occasional weirdness like static candles and fireplaces with no animated fire, but that doesn’t detract much from the experience. There’s also impressive use of interactivity that further increases immersion: details like talking to a some desk clerk in a far corner to end up collecting Talan’s final paycheck at Delcentric, hearing Sector 35 crowds make (wrong) guesses about the Director’s assassin and listening to conversations about Lashe City in Sorbe Village and Yun Town are very memorable moments, and make it really worthwhile to just poke around every inch of the map, talking to people and finding more interactive things.

The prologue in particular makes great use of this, where attempting to interact with minor items on their way to the control room yields short conversations between the trio. Then, some areas can also only be accessed on certain playthroughs as the result of choices made by the protagonist (more on that below), and it really helps to make each one of those “bonus” areas feel more valuable. Unfortunately, this hard work to create believable world in the populated areas is frequently brought down in the slums/wilderness by the over-abundance of treasure chests. There’s some attempt to make their contents area-specific (i.e. chests within the burning forest containing fire-element weapons and Hot Sandwiches, or chests in rarely-used tunnels containing Stale Pita instead of more common Fresh Pita), but the sheer frequency still breaks all immersion. It really makes no sense to walk through a 2-screen long wooded area and find 5 treasure chests, or, indeed, to have lots of shiny metal boxes in the dirty and decayed Rat Tracks. Just because Final Fantasy keeps getting away with it, it doesn’t mean other creators have to replicate their errors, and relying on chests instead of drawing representative graphics for the collectibles in question hampers immersion more than anything else here.

A Blurred Line also has a proper world map, and in contrast to the detailed, and sometimes over-stuffed levels, it is often jarringly empty. You can walk through a stretch of desert with some standing stones and not find anything interactive, or, indeed, to reach a far corner of the map only to poke your nose at the wall of woods. That’s never a good thing, but it especially hurts here, as ABL is supposed to be set in a world that has barely recovered from a Shortage of resources caused by over-consumption, and Lashe City is the epitome of grimy, polluted cyberpunk. It makes no sense when the area around such a huge, overpopulated city has only 2 small villages, an army base and a small mining camp. Radio towers; ports; trading camps; broken-down caravans you can loot; large-scale farms; just put something around the map to make us believe in this world. Offloading excess items from existing maps into the new areas would have also been a good way to solve the immersion problems listed above. Also, it feels really wrong when green, rolling plains and pristine forests start immediately after the dark blot on the map that is Lashe City, with no stretches of marshes or otherwise polluted land you would expect to surround such a place.

Finally, the midi soundtrack is outright great in places, and only mediocre in others. The one-time music played during the really important events is generally great, and I still listen to some of those themes. The battle music is also very good, but the background themes don't always live up to that standard; the Paradise them in particular feels like it could've come from anywhere.


The most notable thing about A Blurred Line is the way it introduces genuine choice into the narrative with clear short and medium-term consequences. It begins early on, as choosing whether to take the tram or walk to Delcentric determines not just whether you arrive late (and miss your chance to talk to people and collect some items) or on time, but also the companion you’ll have for the first half of the game, with the choice to walk branching further to result in a total of three possible companions. Not only do they fight quite differently and require unique equipment, but the personalities are also different, changing both the dialogues you’ll hear and certain segments of the game (i.e. getting past the Agency blockade on the bridge).

The second big choice is between three professions at Paradise. It determines what the next two chapters of gameplay will be, and while you’re still required to fight in all three, the areas are different, and so are the enemies and goals you face. At the conclusion of second “chapter” the story again charts the same course, but you’ll again end up with a different companion. The dialogue doesn’t change too much, but you’ll get a chance to see unique flashbacks for each of those characters, and it’s worth replaying and/or reloading your save in order to see them all. I would say that the Actor storyline was the best, because Abandoned Theatre has very strong presence and cool enemies, Lerle fights better than the other companions and performing in a play, where you choose actions from a dialogue tree based on how Talan’s comic relief character is supposed to behave, is very rewarding. Farmer is also good, because Radin is the strongest character and his ability to dig up ingredients and craft potions and bombs is cool, even if unnecessary.

Some choices (like whether to accept help from Boss Wick) don’t matter because the game is unfinished, but the thought still counts. Unfortunately, these choices are welded into a storyline that’s not actually very good. I admit that it has a few moments of brilliance, like the aforementioned character-specific flashbacks, the dialogues with various bystanders, Core’s death/wounding in the prologue or the portrayal of Surl’s destruction. The way the storyline actually develops, however, feels poorly thought out, and the many of the key events are clichéd, full of holes or both. I figured out what should’ve been a tragic surprise a couple of hours before it happened and the motives for doing so, and when the actual event came in fire and doom, I was annoyed rather than moved. Most tragic events come off like that, actually: when the Catch Colony is disconnected in the prologue and sent to drift into space, its workers practically doomed, the main thing on my mind was “Couldn’t they have guarded it better and not make it so easy to disconnect?”

Then, the title and prologue promises interesting moral ambiguity to chew on, but the game soon makes the Agency into practically cartoon villains that are ultimately responsible for every bad event out there. You’re supposed to see Talan turning into more of an anti-hero and potentially outright villain throughout the game, but this doesn’t happen because it’s famously unfinished, ending on a huge cliffhanger and trailer for a sequel that never came. The Talan-Emily romance is an important element of the story, but its execution is really hit-and-miss. It’s partly because I had Arden as my companion during that playthrough, and was surprised by Talan going all “love-at-first-sight” over some suicidal girl when he failed to develop feelings of any kind for a woman who actually fought for him and assisted him on many occasions. That aside, I just couldn’t believe Talan would be this clueless with Emily after slaughtering hundreds of various creatures in his travels. That’s another thing with Talan, actually: for someone who was a shy factory drone, he’s oddly unaffected by killing, not just of monsters, but of actual people, too, never sparing a thought about them after the combat is done.


A Blurred Line tries hard here, but unfortunately its combat side is a triumph of quantity over quality. Sure, there’s enough equipment in the game to rival commercial RPGs of the yesteryear, and even more enemy types to use them on. The enemies are also always nicely drawn and the combat backgrounds are again very good. However, 90% of the enemies lack skills of any kind and so only differ in their stats and the loot they drop. Talan himself starts with no skills at all, and is eventually given the “Aura” mechanic to compensate. Essentially, all enemies can have one of six different-colored auras, and using Detect Aura and then Absorb Aura in battle allows Talan to use one or two spells of their Aura in that particlar battle, by which time it’s probably almost over regardless. He can permanently absorb them after enough uses, but it takes a long time to do so. The other companions are not much better, most only having one combat skill of questionable usefulness.

It doesn’t matter too much, though, because the game is very easy; enemies deal little damage and die in a couple of strikes, and while enemies do get stronger over time, Talan and co. level up at roughly the same rate, and so the encounter difficulty remains unchanged. In fact, the game actually gets a lot easier once Talan absorbs the mass-healing spell Invigorate (and it’s typically the first or second spell to be absorbed). Since checkpoints fail to heal, in the early game you’re at least constrained by the number of healing items available. Once Invigorate is absorbed, Talan can easily heal himself and companions whenever they get too damaged, its SP (i.e. mana) cost rendered irrelevant by the fact he rarely needs to cast anything else. Thus, the vast majority of combat is essentially spacebar-mashing, interest maintained only by the diversity of sprites used (pretty much every rm2k RTP battler is worked into it somehow) and music, as well as the chance to encounter rare enemies. Only the spellcasters are difficult enough to require healing mid-fight, since their spells always ignore defence and deal full damage.

There are also bosses, but these can also be hit-and-miss. Some, like a Minotaur called Lair, a Degenerated Humanoid or Paratroopers, are also boring, with one attack and one ability to use, the slight challenge derived only from their stats. Others are a lot cooler, with 3-4 abilities and good battle backgrounds. However, even the best ones aren’t really great. Gigas Worm is well-drawn and fights well enough, but it comes out of nowhere, with practically zero introduction. The Mulsantir battle is uniquely challenging because it constantly buffs itself, but the second stage is disappointing, because reduced stats aside, you don’t really get the feel of a wounded, desperate beast. Agency Tram battle has great build-up and the background of a burning forest is awesome, but that battle is just too short. The fact you can destroy something airborne with melee weapons from the ground, and also inflict poison and bleeding effects on a vehicle breaks the immersion as well. Lastly, the Agency Captain boss fight is properly difficult and has uniquely melancholic spirit, but you’re meant to lose that one, and game will automatically stop the battle after 10th turn or so.

Finally, I have to mention the shoe-horned minigames and other such segments. Nearly all of those are an outright liability for ABL, and the game would’ve been better off with them removed. The only good bits are the play performance that I have praised earlier, and a relatively well done stealth segment at the Lazer Teeth base, where you have to be aware of the guards and break the lamps with stones to make it dark enough for you to pass unnoticed. There’s mediocre escaping from burning forest, where your group takes no damage from radiated heat and the only “challenge” is in finding as many chests as possible before the timer runs outs. Then, you’ve got a questionable obstacle traversal segment at the military base, one that’s made irrelevant with a conversation afterwards, and a play on Pac-Man at the very end that has zero consequences to either winning or failing.

Those are still not as bad as the cyberspace segment that successfully parodies classical RPGs/adventures up until you get killed 20+ times in dark, almost identical rooms because you couldn’t see skeletons in time. Last and not least, there’s the horrific driving minigame, where you need to pass through a long stretch of the highway at very high speed, using up and down arrows to change lanes and with one crash instantly restarting the whole thing. The perspective is so close that you don’t see the obstacles in your way until you have 2 seconds to avoid them, and when some cars can unpredictably change lanes, it’s a flaw that’s outright irredeemable. You can skip it if you fail five times, thankfully, and I have no idea whether it’s even possible to complete, let alone get a top score at the end.


A Blurred Line was undeniably ambitious, and there’s a lot to like about it. If being unfinished was its only flaw, I could have had still given it a perfect score. However, there is just too much of the storyline that’s insufficiently thought out, and the gameplay is too monotonous and unbalanced to consider a score higher than 3.5 stars.


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Just out of interest, NTC3, if you don't like ABL so much, what do you think IS the best freeware RPG?
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