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Excellent collaborative effort, but needs better direction

  • Gibmaker
  • 01/08/2014 04:05 AM

Love and War Act 1 is the first act in an as-yet-unrealized series of games taking place in the land of Terra. For the most part it is a run-of-the-mill RM2K game using default systems, with a few gimmicks. The most spectacular gimmick is, of course, the fact that all but the most utilitarian lines of dialog are voice-acted. It remains merely a gimmick, however, and can't compensate for the fact that the game is lacking in core areas such as pacing and balancing.

And this may just be a matter of personal taste, but I was also disappointed to find that, while the game proposes to be about the large, shifting battlefield of international politics, the bulk of the main character's preoccupations consist of stock RPG calamities and high-school drama.

Although sometimes politicians basically sound like this.

In preparing this review I found my reaction was overwhelmingly critical, and I come across as an ogre. It's clear that Love and War is a collaboration between many people who all take pride in it. The website is excellent and it took a lot of dedication for the voice talent to pump out over 1500 lines of dialog. But all this is just dressing, and I feel Act I makes some vital mistakes.

Given that the most memorable feature of the game is the voice acting, it's tempting to dwell upon it excessively. Giving a real voice to every major character adds a dimension that I don't think you can find in any other RM game of any generation, but its value is limited by how interesting the dialog is in the first place.

James Firkins certainly deserves kudos for his performance as Ryan and was well-chosen for the starring role. He has an excellent sense of humour, even in serious or tense scenes. Listen to his first meetings with Juno and Lavie for a taste of his range. His battle-screen dialog helps to inject a sense of urgency into battles as well.

Other actors tend to simply play charicatures, but this is just because that's how they were written. Armin is quite clearly the funny one; Henrik is the smart one. Juno's "sophisticated" vocabulary is clunky to the point of ridiculousness. And don't get me started on Lavie. She's one of those relentlessly childish and annoying tsundere characters who are nevertheless thoroughly loved by their creators -- look at the amount of Lavie art there is! When will we be free of females like this?

To best make use of the voice talent, the dialog should have been challenging and passionate, but most of it is quite bland. A scene where Lavie and her Gran wax sentimental about how happy they are and how much they love each other is not exactly exercising the chops of either player. Conflict please! (In fact, Lavie's solo section is the most conflict-free part of the whole game. I suppose because the beloved tsundere isn't supposed to have to exert herself?)

I feel this way too, constantly

Looking at the scenes that were selected for custom splash art, you might mistake this for a dating game. Once again, I must apologize for the fact that maybe this game was written for tastes different from mine -- but the fact is that the game explicitly announces itself as being about the byzantine mandates of Terra's five global powers, and this is not what you actually get. What you get is a ten-minute scene where Ryan laments to his ex how much it hurt him when she cheated!

I discovered that quite a lot of back story was created for this game, but it is only explored in dialog scenes in the Commenwealth council chamber (scenes in which Ryan Eramond has, at least in Act 1, absolutely no agency) and also, inexcusably, dozens upon dozens of "books". I don't want to tap through a parade of RM2K's little four-line text boxes, describing characters and events much more interesting than anything Ryan actually gets to do, then move over one tile to the next spot and do it again, and again. This is the laziest possible way to communicate a world's history! If all this history can be safely confined to books without consequence to the story, then what does that say about its relevance?

Ryan's actual business in the game consists of a series of package deliveries he performs for his father. Over the course of each delivery he solves some sort of problem at the destination, such as a snake infestation. That's all good, but it seems far removed from the premise of political warfare. Perhaps it's all meant to come together later in a butterfly-effect way; after all, your actions in the town of Glendale set the stage for the final challenge of Act I, and your final job of the act is given to you by the government. For the most part, though, your jobs seem like the same twee ordeals from any other RPG.

And the padding! The padding in this game is extraordinary! Dialogues are at least twice as long as they need to be. The plot grinds to a halt for a good half hour while Lavie looks for firewood for her grandma, through a series of steps so roundabout that it might as well be a Sierra adventure game. She has to win an archery competition before getting her hands on that firewood! I hope Anne has a blanket.

Balancing is also an issue. In the town of Alton you have to defeat a monster in the swamp. You guessed it; the battle was too hard for me. I figured that I was just not prepared for the battle and tried to backtrack, but the next-most-recent save point was in an area that wouldn't let me back out into the main world. I had to backtrack significantly through my save files, condemning myself to re-playing numerous sections of the swamp and re-watching numerous cutscenes, in order to try to better equip myself for this one difficult battle.

This was when I discovered that grinding is not an option in this game. After half an hour of killing mooks in the swamp, my characters had gone up barely one level apiece, and I had only enough money and sellables to purchase a whopping 2 healing items.

How else might I have tried building up the party? I'd stopped using Armin's thieving ability because it was barely ever successful. There is an item crafting system, but it seems half-hearted. Like the books, it is built entirely out of those 4-line dialog boxes. Every time you want to inspect a recipe, you have to click through a multiple-page description and then see the ingredients listed, before finally being asked if you want to create the item. It was so tedious (and reagents are so rare) that I never really took advantage of crafting. I think it should be a given that crafting systems always require a custom interface; text boxes just aren't good enough.

The point is, perhaps the crafted armor and weapons were essential for balancing and I was expected to have them for the swamp monster. But I'll never know. At any rate, my game got stalled for months at this point, and I finally hacked this battle in the editor in order to get past it.

(Tellingly, after my long hiatus from playing, the only details I retained were a general sense of the layout of the world and the characters' personalities. The books and books full of history? No sir.)

Another balancing issue: in a few sections you play as the secondary character Juno in a solo party, but you never get an opportunity to level up and customize this character in between these sections, so how can it be that he was too weak to survive his battles? The player has pretty much no control over the state of his abilities at any time, so it's not like it's possible for him to show up somewhere less prepared than the developer intended. (The only variable factor is the inventory, which Ryan's party can stock up but which is also accessible by Juno during his sections.) Especially in his last section, where he faces the toughest monsters in the act, alone; was I supposed to just keep repeating these sections until luck was on my side?

The map design does deserve a shout-out, though. A good half of the game takes place in forests, and the forests never get repetitive or boring. This game even handles caves and mines well; the little cul-de-sacs in the Lorea mines are actually intriguing locations to discover because of some of the features there. Towns and building interiors are a little less impressive. Special note should also go to the ships in port, which are actually correctly to scale for a change.

Proof that Lavie is not human

Once again, I feel curmudgeonly being so hard on this game when it's clearly the product of a devoted community, but it serves no one for me to be silent on the numerous problems.

It could be that, as the first act of a series, it is simply taking a long time to wind up to the interesting material. In that case, from now on the team needs to exploit the political setting more instead of relying on teenage love triangles to fill the time, and the large pool of voice actors could also stand to get some more complex material.

3 / 5

Best features:
Map design, James Firkins

Worst features:
Pacing and balancing, unwieldy crafting system

Best custom art:
Juno's close up, because it finally answers the question of how much that cloak guy wears under his cloak.

My new ringtone:


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Yes, this pleases me! Continue to review games that do not deserve high scores.
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
This is a well-written review by someone who obviously cares about game design a great deal.

As a counterpoint, I think Love and War stands - and falls - by its characters and the wealth of the background history that is built into the game. Admittedly, reading about it through book events may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it worked well for some players - self included.

Gameplay-wise, it may not set the Tiber on fire, but it works well enough within the framework of what it's meant to be, and the difficulty level is fair enough for the story to shine through. And to be fair, game mechanics and battles have been considerably upgraded in the current version, compared to the initial release.

As for the point about Ryan's love life and quests .vs. the political mayhem promised in the introduction, I think we need to give the creator time to develop this story. Think of "The Way: Episode 1" - it sounds like standard RPG stuff with a mysterious shadow thrown in, and then things get crazier and crazier (in a good way) until the breathtaking revelations of Episodes 5 and 6. Admiral Styles is an awoved fan of The Way, and I think he's working along the same lines.

One final point of terminology: surely Lavie would be a tsundere and not a yandere?
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
Plainly I am not up to snuff on my 'deres. Thank you.

I can understand that the books may have been intended as optional "extra reading" but somehow there seemed to be a tacit expectation that I should go through them all.
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
I'm not an expert myself =), but I was under the impression that a "yandere" was more psychotic (or at least mentally unstable), while the "tsundere" was the one who alternated between being lovestruck and angry / resentful. (Of course, Lavie could still show her true colours in later episodes, so you could be right...)

Some of the backstory is explored in the beta version of Act II, so I don't think it's compulsory to read all the books - in a conversation I had with the author, he said as much. (However, I can understand how tabbing through RPG Maker text boxes can be a bit of a chore!)
Thanks for taking the time to review Act I, Gibmaker! Indeed, the books are there for those who are interested in learning more about the background lore of the world. Those who aren't interested in that sort of thing can skip it. :) Ultimately, it feels like LAW falls into the "not your cup of tea" category, which is unfortunate but the sort of thing that is inevitable at some point, I suppose! Still, it was interesting hearing your thoughts, and thanks for sharing them (and I'm sorry that it was... downright painful for you at times? :'( ).
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
Well I'm glad you are not taking it badly. :'( ) I tried to point out things that are good too although sadly there is rarely as much to talk about when things are good.
Hello everyone I'm experiencing sound bug in Love and War ACT 1 game. During voice overs or even on start of battle sound in game is becoming painful to listen, its scratching whistling and static-like with faint voice over in background which is barely audible. All this makes game impossible to play even with voice overs switched off in game. My OS is Windows 7 64bit Home. I'm playing in RPG Maker games often and this never happened to me before, every other game works perfectly fine so I have no idea what might be the problem here. I would appreciate any help You can give me here.
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