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Still light, frozen promise

  • NTC3
  • 03/19/2017 12:42 PM
  • 145 views
As its title already tells you, Solstice is a combat demo that’ll be turning 12 this year. In fact, it’s the kind of a combat demo that has a 2,300 word README file, going through its systems and the characters' abilities one by one. It’s quite interesting, too - in some ways more so than the actual game.

Storyline



Kite: Like we weren't expecting it! (Shit, this is bad!)

It’s limited, as expected of a game that’s basically one long multi-stage battle. You play as characters named Kite, Serine and Eider, who have arrived at some palace (you are never told the name of any geographical location in that world) to assassinate Lapis, who is something like the ultimate evil. First, though, they have to make their way through 3 stages of battles with his loyal defenders, including a shadow demon Jade, Lapis’ daughter Pearl, and a couple of supremely skilled swordsmen. They all say a line or two as they join the fray, and as they leave it when their mortal coil is shuffled. Key attacks have additional dialogue associated with them as well, and you also get some extra background through employing Eider’s Akashic Uplink (basically a Scan) on each enemy, particularly if you do so twice. The game ends with what basically amounts to a "To Be Continued" as well.

Aesthetics (art, design and sound)

Well, there’s a whole range of various rips used for everything, many from the more obscure JRPGs. I mean, how many of you will recognize names like Last Blade 2, Nedango, Vampire Savior, let alone the particular sounds taken from them? Or indeed, graphics from Power of the Hired, or battle animations from Red Rose of Pain? There’s an occasional FFV/FFVI battle animation there, too, and the game over theme goes back to the very first FF, but most shouldn’t be easily recognizable. Either way, though, it largely coheres into a singular aesthetic, though not necessarily the most attractive one. To me, while the windowskin used is quite cool, all the graphics just look weirdly indistinct and subdued, especially when it comes to the animations. Sure, on one hand, an enemy's baneful stare that inflicts Dread (i.e. Paralyse equivalent) on a character is represented by a literal disembodied eyeball scanning them. On the other hand, a skill that insta-kills your entire party is represented by a slightly wobbling, single-character-sized yellow bubble.

Gameplay

Yes, there’s a total party wipe skill, used by the Lapis’ right hand, and formerly a close friend of Eider. You have a turn of warning before it happens though, letting you counter it with Eider’s Beyond Logic skill that disables attacks like this entirely. The first time I fought him, I countered that attack once, then let him use it the second time because I wanted to see what would happen. On my second try, he never used that skill at all, however, and instead preferred to regularly turn himself invincible but do nothing else, which obviously only drew out the fight, since the damage output of his normal attacks wasn’t all that high.This, in a nutshell, is the main problem with Solstice’s combat. It’s just too focused on hard “all-or-nothing” enemy skills and passives that mandate playing in a pretty specific way, instead of creating a more layered system that would be more open to experimentation.

Now, it does have some very nice ideas, but as the readme itself admits, many of them aren’t that necessary. For instance, Serine, the Bard character, has a skill that’ll “lock status” on a character, basically disabling status effects on them if they are healthy. Kite can switch between 3 sword styles. Eider needs to gather elemental essences from the enemies in order to cast the corresponding offensive magic. All of them also start with several passive skills, and can get more if they land an attack or two on the enemies they can attack safely. Most importantly, though, it doesn’t have the typical “characters can get K.O.ed and then revived indefinitely” and instead has something closer to what Pillars of Eternity did – each character has 7 Quintessence points, and they lose once their HP ST is null and they are knocked down (“Agony Mode”), and they will lose a point more if they get attacked while in Agony Mode. Losing all of them ends that one character for good, and nets you a game over. You can also use the Draw command to heal all of ST at the cost of a Quintessence point, which might’ve been a tempting choice when fighting a different sort of encounter. As it is, I’ve only used it once, by accident. Serine’s healing skill, Rhapsodie, which gives everyone ST regeneration for quite a few turns, is just too good, and you have 10 healing Somas to tide you over as well.




One of the passive skills.

True, I can envision how it might’ve been challenging. All that had to happen was for the player to start off by attacking Rubis, the most talkative enemy in the intro cutscene, and the first in the targeting order, and immediately get said character thrown into the Agony mode by his insta-kill parry, and probably get a hit or two on them as well. Discover that the demon Jade is seemingly immune to attacks, while Clair de Lune skill does nothing, and you might just panic. However, basing your design on the player making mistakes has the downside of them potentially not making them in the first place. Thus, I was lucky enough to focus Kite/Serine’s attacks on Coral, the only easily targetable character, at first, guessing she would be the most fragile of the group, and had Eider scan everyone to discover the key pitfalls in advance. Afterwards, I reloaded, and the first round went like this: Rhapsodie on the first turn, then Serine and Kite hit Coral while Eider takes care of Jade (immune to most attacks, but quickly slain by Eider’s blade), then Eider cast Earth spell on Rubis while the other two simply defended, not able to do much else. Rounds 2 and 3 were actually simpler, as neither Pearl and her guardian, nor Lapis’ apprentice can deal more damage then what Rhapsodie heals in 2-3 rounds, so they resort to poison (for which you have 10 counters available) or the aforementioned insta-kill attacks you get to block with Beyond Logic. Lapis himself is only made challenging because it’s suddenly a one-on-one with Eider. But, thanks to his apprentice spending so many turns becoming “Inviolable” and letting Eider gather a lot of Water Essences, I was able to just spam water moves (which Lapis is weak to) whenever I didn’t need to heal with the remaining Somas, and end the battle pretty quickly in that way.

Conclusion

Solstice shows off many interesting additions to the default rm2k3 combat system. Unfortunately, the battle itself does not fully take advantage of them, and far too much of it is spent on defending/gathering/using default attacks in lieu of the truly superior options. This might’ve been one reason why its most interesting experiments, like the Quintessence system, largely failed to get picked up by other developers, when they probably deserved to. I would still recommend any aspiring rm2k3 developer to play it, in case they would like to adopt any of its elements to their game. A regular player, though, is probably better served elsewhere. Even as far as the “single-combat demos” go, I would say the (much more recent) Delusions of Duty provides a considerably better experience.