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Charismatic but Clumsy

It's hard to come away from a game like Love and War without a considerable amount of respect for the team who put it together, and the sheer amount of work they put into it. The game is clearly a labor of love, put together, revised and re-revised over a period of years, with several former players being enticed by the experience into becoming full members of the development team.

I would have loved to experience that same level of enthusiasm over the game myself, but in execution, I found it to be very much a mixed bag.

Although the prologue of the game is fantastical in nature, the core plot of Love and War takes the form of a political drama. This could be refreshing fare in a genre which more often presents "threat-to-the-world" type conflicts which are typically lacking in nuance... except that the geopolitical setting of Love and War feels more suited to a typical fantasy conflict than a political drama. The world of Terra, in which the game takes place, is divided into five countries which have, for the last three hundred years, been at peace due to the institution of the Commonwealth which oversees the relations between them. While this kind of setting might be serviceable in a traditional fantasy adventure where the core of the conflict is some malign power threatening the world, and the world's political climate isn't meant to attract attention, in a game where international relations are central to the narrative, it's sorely lacking in verisimilitude. For the people of the world to consolidate into a mere five nations (with what appears to be a total of two religions between them,) and those five nations, despite their major cultural differences, to acknowledge the authority of a unified governing body and remain at peace for three centuries, quite simply defies the character of human history, which is problematic in a story which tries to take the flavor of a historical thriller. There are a number of other elements, such as most of the countries in the world maintaining regular armies which are outfitted according to advancing military technology despite the fact that the gaps between any military deployment, let alone international deployment of troops, seem to range from decades centuries, which simply do not make much sense in the context of the setting.

For all these complaints, the story does contain some engaging originality, and as of the end of the first act, it's unclear what direction it's going to take. But that originality suffers for all the details of the story which serve to hamper its credibility.

Love and War has a large and varied cast, and even many of the bit characters show not just significant personality, but signs of progression in their own lives which make them appear as more than simply decorations on the narrative of the main characters. Sadly though, I often found myself enjoying the interplay between the main characters less than that between the main characters and the bit characters, or even between the main characters and the environment. Wandering around talking to random NPCs or inspecting objects was usually a rewarding experience, but some of the major players in the plot really failed to sell themselves to me.

Lavie, one of the most prominent players in the narrative, felt very much like a stock character (the sweet childhood friend who has long been infatuated with the main character, who has never thought to see her as a romantic prospect,) and the other characters teasing her as "annoying" carried heavy elements of Ha Ha Only Serious. I found myself gravitating to the side of Marianne, Ryan's ex girlfriend who cheated on him before the beginning of the game, if only because he was clearly happy when he was together with her, whereas Lavie's company rarely seems like cause for enjoyment. Juno, another of the main characters, is simply baffling. Many games feature some kind of rival to the main protagonist, who butts heads with him over the course of the story, but Juno takes this to a bombastic extreme, delving into near cackling villainy, and even outright murdering Ryan in one nonstandard game over. While I can appreciate the author preserving some mystery on the matter of why Juno hates Ryan so much, I feel like the issue of why he acts like a total lunatic could really have stood to be addressed within the course of the game so far.

While the two above characters have it the worst, or at least the most frequently, nearly everyone has dialogue which occasionally comes across as affected. The writing is usually at its best when it's being silly and whimsical, rather than when the characters are trying to address serious and heartfelt issues, thus leading to the bit characters outperforming the major players.

The gameplay within Love and War is simple but serviceable, with exploration being more the centerpiece of the game than combat. This suits it well, since offering an interesting environment to explore is probably the game's greatest strength. What combat there is, though, is pretty well balanced, and offers an interesting degree of resource management challenge, given the limited availability of funds and absence of healing magic in the game.

If I had to describe Love and War's graphics in a word, it would probably be "eclectic." The game features some well drawn cutscenes, and some finely rendered main characters, but graphical resources for other elements of the game are cribbed rather haphazardly. Nearly every NPC in the main character's hometown of Davenport has their own portrait graphic, but this cast diversity is achieved by drawing graphics from multiple games and generators, whose visual styles are clearly distinct. Some major characters share the faces of major characters from other games, but no individual game contributes a great enough portion of the character graphics to constitute something like an overall visual style.

Compared to the character designs, the game's mapping is far more consistent, and
features some appealing environments. While perhaps none of them can be described as really stunning, considering the sheer number and breadth of the games locations, the game delivers about as much visual appeal on this count as one could reasonably ask of it.

Battle graphics lie somewhere in between these two, clearly drawing resources from multiple commercial games, but with significantly less of a clash of visual styles than the character designs.

Overall, I found Love and War an enjoyable game, but with significant reservations, and many of those reservations are tied, not to technical issues which could easily be addressed in yet another revamp of the first act, but to central and fundamental elements of the game. I am, guardedly, looking forward to future installations, but hope that within the constraints set by the existing plot, the author manages to shore up some of these issues.


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"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
Interesting comments on the political and social setting; such a critique honestly hadn't occurred to me before, as I was totally immersed in the game itself. But, yes, 300 years of peace is little short of miraculous, unless the citizens of Terra are humanoid but not exactly human, and hence better able to use their frontal lobes. =)
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