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Sunday, March 20, 2011

RPG Maker VX game review: The Lore of Lorewyn

The Lore of Lorewyn is a good case study for showcasing how effective music can be in RPGs. The game itself is middling, but the game designer, Christian Clinton, has considerable musical talents, and the result is a lengthy quest that you'll be able to play through to the end.

It's getting hot in here

The game starts by introducing Tywin, who is apparently you pulled into an alternate world, and a quest that prophesy compels "you" to fulfil. It's a plot we've seen before in commercial games, and while Clinton struggles to make much of this set-up and the game quickly settles into a standard, old-school RPG plot, it's inoffensive enough.

You'll gather your party of heroes quickly enough, but you won't be quite sure why. Character motivations here are a little suspect, with some very random decisions that we're just expected to accept. Clinton has wisely left his cut scenes short and to the point, but as we've seen in great works like Final Fantasy VI, short and sharp dialogue does not necessarily mean logic holes.

Some very tough clouds to hold all that weight up

What redeems the plot is a genuine sense of humour and a love of puns. Enemies come from the Dragon Quest school of humour with some very funny names (heck, the very first thing you'll run into is a 'slime ball'), and from NPC conversations right down to investigating wells, there's a self-depreciating comic value that means its hard to take the game too seriously.

The world Clinton has built is quite large, and travelling from one end to the other is going to take a long time. But by the same token its largely empty and travelling between locations quickly becomes an exercise in tedium. Once again, there's some logical flaws (why would there be a hedge maze occupying roughly a massive portion of the world?) and the random tile placement doesn't necessarily create a believable geography, but thanks to a relaxed encounter rate, at least wandering around is not a frustrating experience.

Someone needs to make a Harvest Moon game using RPG Maker

The combat system pushes RPG Maker to its limits - it features a full ATB-action system. Each of the character classes has very different progression paths, so there's a degree of strategy in utilising the team to its optimal abilities. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy IV through to IX, you're going to have some fun messing around with this, even if the difficulty level is generally pitched quite low.

On the other hand, those character classes are completely against archetype, and therefore confusing. The 'healer' actually hits harder than anyone else on the team, the 'soldier' actually performs more like a rogue with fast, weak attacks and disruptive special abilities that drop the enemy's attack or defence ratings.

I hate when he does that

It's fine to go against the grain, but the game does a poor job of explaining why it is going against the grain, and how the characters should be used. Given that the game keeps reminding us that the 'healer' character is bad with swords and not a fighter, for instance, imagine the shock when equipped with a club he one hit KO's an enemy.

All of this is forgivable thanks to the music, however. The soundtrack is of a genuinely high quality, with individual tracks suiting the setting of the dungeon, the overworld, the towns and the battles perfectly. You'll find yourself ploughing through the game, not necessarily because its compelling, but rather because it's such a pleasant experience.

Do you think there's something important in that chest?

Lorewyn is not a professionally-developed game, and it shows. But then, that's part of its charm - and many professional RPG developers could learn a thing or two about how to work with music from this little project.

If you're keen to experience this game, you can download it from here:

RPG Maker VX game review: The Lore of Lorewyn
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