Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Elminage Original (Vita)

Elminage is an interesting title in that it definitely targets a certain type of gamer and does so with generally very good results, but does have some notable missteps along the way as well.

The game was designed for the PlayStation Portable (and it is great to see games still getting released for this device), but is, of course, also compatible with the PlayStation Vita.

Elminage is set in a world where six rings contain the powers of the gods, but once the peace on this world is threatened, the barrier created by these rings starts to falter and you are tasked with finding them and defending the world from demonic hordes. The storyline is pretty traditional RPG fare, and did very little to stand out on that front. The game allows players to express their creativity through their party, if not the tale being told.

There are twelve races and sixteen classes at your disposal as you assemble a team of six to venture forth with. There are quite a few pre-constructed characters when you begin, if you simply want to grab some of those and dive into the action. I found a great deal more enjoyment in making my own party personally.

The game will remind most people of the Wizardry series, in that it is a first-person dungeon crawl. That means that in the central city you do not physically control characters as they walk from one location to another, but choose said destination from a simple menu. Once you enter the combat areas, you walk forward and back one step at a time, while turning side to side as the game creates a map of your travels. This automap is one of the things Elminage gets right. I remember playing older games like Wizardry, Shining in the Darkness and the first-person dungeons of Ultima: Exodus and going through a lot of graph paper. It is nice to see this game does that dirty work for you.

Another nice touch is the auto combat option. You can simply press the square button and your characters will all simply attack as opposed to having to plug in commands individually for everyone. There is a lot of grinding in this game, so these two options help streamline the process and smooth out the game.

The overall presentation is also quite good. Music is fitting in most places, and really quite excellent in a handful of others (in particular I liked the forest music). There is not a lot of animation to be had here. Scenery simply loads in a new image while in town, menus animate smoothly but with minimal flare and while the walls of dungeons scroll past while you walk, the landscape is not really animated. Creatures are generally pretty well varied in appearance with solid detail, but other than a bit of shaking or when combat effects take place on top of their images, they are inanimate. Still, there is enough detail and colour to make exploration entertaining.

Elminage is also pretty tough. This game does not hold your hand through... well, anything really. Character creation and class selection is a series of menus with almost no context about your choices. You only actively travel with six characters at a time, but you can have more. Remember those old Dungeons & Dragons games? Because death should be a penalty, if your character is slain (which can be easy to do if you are not carrying the right potions with you), there is a chance your character will be turned to ash upon resurrection attempt. Try again to revive that character from ashes (at an even greater cost in gold) and again it could fail and your character is lost forever.

Many people would no doubt simply restart from a save point when this happens, but even then time and effort are then sacrificed for keeping your characters around. Like many of the older games of this kind, characters are in fact killable. Your created characters may be important to you, but none of them are of singular importance to the actual storyline or progression of the game. This sort of thing can really upset players, especially in a day and age with frequent checkpoints and character respawns, so consider yourself warned.

There are a handful of areas however, where Elminage does not hold up quite as well. For one, there is the matter of localisation. Games like this are a huge undertaking for localisation teams, but this one can be pretty poor at times. Some of the races are mismatched (humans and elves are alright, but I noticed that picking a gnome actually reflected a different race in-game than what I was choosing at the start).  Some of the dialogue is off-center. Sometimes the English is simply broken. The important things are there: hover over a spell's name in the menu, and you can see it does fire damage for example. However, the translation does feel very rushed at times and that is a shame because while it is not a deal killer for me, it was often a distraction.

Lastly, I just could never get the 'Face Load' option to work, and from what I have read online, I am not alone. This is an option where you can import a 48x48 image to serve as an icon/face graphic for a character. However, there is quite a bit of confusion over this feature. The directions that come packaged with the download state that you need to add them to the PSP memory stick under a folder called "PICTURE", but that never worked for me. I found another site that said it was "PICTURES" - with an 'S'. I found another forum that said you needed to create "PHOTO". This seemed the most likely, because the PHOTO folder at least allowed me to view the images from my PSP menu.

The directions also stated that you can use PNG or BMP formats, but I found a handful of posters who said they could only get one and not the other to work. The directions also say 48 x 48 'dots', though everyone assumes they meant pixels. The directions also say that not all PNG and BMP formats are supported, but they fail to say anywhere what kinds are. I used four different programs to create mine, and none of them worked. I tried contacting the Customer Service team via email about a week or so ago, but still have not heard anything back yet.

In the grand scheme of things, it is a relatively small feature, but when your game's first three menu items include this option among them, I would expect it to work with clearer directions available and people who can support a new release that has some buzz about it.

Elminage is a game with its fair share of flaws, but it also does more things right than not. I can appreciate the challenge and will take somewhat difficult to understand text over no game at all. There are rumors that more of these games are coming out down the road, and despite the hiccups along the way with this first title, I am looking forward to more.

- Nick H

 


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