Aveyond is a new indie RPG by Amanda Fae of Amaranth Games. It is what is often referred to as a console-style RPG, like Final Fantasy or Phantasy Star. Amanda has previously created two other games: the adventure game Gaea Fallen and the prequel to Aveyond, Ahriman's Prophecy. Both these games are freely available from her site; Aveyond is her first commercial work.
Before I dig my teeth into the game, let me say this about console-style RPGs. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with them. Some, like Phantasy Star IV, I love deeply for their sense of adventure and exploration, their occasionally quite good stories and characters, and generally fun gameplay. The good ones have something really unique, a feeling that is hard to quantify but which too many games these days don't have any more. The bad ones, however, set my teeth on edge with bad humour, terrible (and linear) gameplay, and the fact that they consist entirely of clichés. Console-style RPGs are also quite popular with indie game designers; there tend to be at least fifty console-style RPG projects going on at any one point. Some of them are good — a few are extremely good, like Diver Down — and a lot of them are terrible. I'm sorry to say this, being a great supporter of independent games, but it's the sad truth. Games like Ahriman's Prophecy (as I said, the prequel to Aveyond) stand out for their quality.
So what about Aveyond? Is it worth buying?
Aveyond is the story of Rhen, a simple girl with an important destiny. Oh Gods, you'll say, here comes the chosen-one stuff again. And so it does — but, unlike most cases, the story is well-done. It's quite long, open, and has a number of twists and turns that are quite interesting, if not always terribly original. And it immediately starts out in such a way as to grab your attention. I'm not going to spoil it, of course — but there's a lot to do and experience, and as the website notes "your actions during the game will determine how the game will end: in redemption or destruction."
By the way, it's nice to see a female protagonist who is neither the sexy superheroine nor the inexperienced bookworm. The characters aren't terribly complex, but they're not annoying clichés, either. Well, some of them are annoying, but that's intentional.
The world of Aveyond is a fantasy world like those of many similar games; but, once again, it's the execution that counts. The world of Aveyond is detailed and consistent (not in that it has a detailed recorded history, but in the general atmosphere and the connections between things) and, save for the occasional hiccough, far removed from the patchy worldbuilding other games have annoyed us with. I particularly enjoyed the noticeable differences between the various cultures and the sense of place that the locations often exuded. This is, I've always thought, something that RPGs are good at: giving you the feeling that you are exploring another world. Aveyond succeeds at this quite well.
Aveyond looks very much like its ancestors that gave the genre its name: console RPGs. There's something about the colourful and detailed graphics that reminds me of old SNES or Genesis (Mega Drive) games — this, to me, is quite positive. Some people might point out that the graphics are vastly inferior to today's modern 3D graphics, or even to the pre-rendered backgrounds of a game like Baldur's Gate; I beg to differ. This is a different style and, at being what they are, these graphics succeed brilliantly. The style has certain advantages too. The graphics are simple, clear, and not as confusing as 3D ones often are. They are easily recognizable and create an appropriate atmosphere, and are also easy on the the eyes. On the other hand, there's not much in the way of special effects or physical realism. I don't mind that, but you might — if you're not certain, take a look at the screenshots or play the demo.
I thought the artists did a great job of creating a unique look for each location and each culture, and the various creatures that live in Aveyond look pretty good, too. The only two complaints I have about the graphics are minor. One is that the portraits of the main characters look out of place, being far too serious when compared to the cartoony style of the rest of the game. The other problem is that — especially when playing in fullscreen mode, there tend to be a few graphical disturbances here and there; but this is very minor and barely noticeable most of the time. All in all, I thought the graphics were quite good.
I was going to write that the music was good but not that memorable, until last night I found myself humming one of the tunes as I fell asleep, which makes me suspect I was wrong. Anyway — I like the music. The battle music tends to get repetitive after a while, but the rest is really fitting and gives each location an atmosphere of its own.
The sound is interesting. Unlike most console-style RPGs, this one actually uses background sounds that are appropriate to each location. At first this struck me as odd — mostly because I didn't expect it, even though Ahriman's Prophecy also did this — but it works quite well and improves one's sense of place or environment.
As for the sound effects — well, there's not much to say. They're there. Not a whole lot of them, but it doesn't really matter to me, and I doubt it will to you. As long as the basic stuff works and there's nothing terribly annoying, the player doesn't really notice.
This is probably the most important category after 'story', especially in an RPG. So how does Aveyond play? Quite well, actually, for a number of reasons. One of them is that despite looking like a typical console-style RPG, it has many original features. For one thing, it's not very linear at all. While you do have a mission, many aspects of that mission can be completed in the order of your choosing; furthermore, there are sub-quests left and right, and a LOT of exploring to do. The size of the world is another thing I particularly enjoyed - it's big! There are several islands, and each of them has several cities and other locations to explore, so if you want to see everything, you'll be quite busy. Not only that, but there's a bunch of fun things you can do that aren't really necessary - like buying a house and filling it up with pets of all sorts. It's details like that that show the love and care that has gone into the making of Aveyond and make it all the more fun to play.
As is typical for console-style RPGs, there's plenty of combat. The system for encountering enemies here is not the dreaded random encounter one where every few seconds you are thrown into a battle. Instead, the enemies are actual sprites that move around the game world, and combat is only iniated if you touch them. Some of them will actively hunt you down, while others will ignore you - a nice touch, I thought.
Combat is turn-based, thankfully; when controlling a group of characters, having the time to choose what to do is important. There is, unfortunately, not quite as much choice in terms of what you can do during combat as one might wish for, but surprisingly, I never got bored. Your mileage may vary.
Problems? Well, there always are. The fact that enemies regenerate each time you leave a location can be annoying, but it's far less annoying than the random encounter systems of other games. There's a lot of walking around to do, which can get tedious. And finally some of the quests involve the use of objects from halfway around the world, which can be a bit tiresome; but frankly, none of these issues kept me from having lots of fun, and that's what matters to me.
This isn't a game for everyone. Purist adventure gamers who don't have the patience to deal with statistics and combat (though both these aspects are quite simplified when compared to games like Fallout or Baldur's Gate) are unlikely to enjoy the game; the same goes for people who only want to use a mouse, as this is a keyboard-controlled game. Hardcore role-players who prefer to micromanage every aspect of their characters will find this game to be too simple for their tastes. But all in all, this is a very good game, so I suggest giving it a try. The demo on the homepage can be played freely for ten hours - that should be enough to figure out whether you want to buy it or not.
To put it quite simply: I enjoyed this game. Try it out - maybe you will, too.
You can purchase Aveyond at the Amaranth Games Website.
Copyright © Jonas Kyratzes 2006.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98+ (Except Windows 2000), Pentium II, 256 MB RAM, DirectX 8.0+.