Thursday, June 28, 2012

Avalon Code (video game)

Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: Matrix Softwares
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Release Date: March 10, 2009

I'm one of maybe four guys in this world who couldn't give a damn about Legend of Zelda games. I liked II - you know, the one everyone hates - A Link to the Past - got bored after reaching the Dark World - and Twilight Princess. That's it.

A main complaint I've had is that while details may change, it feels like the series has never done enough to evolve or keep my attention. It feels like the same game every time, to the point that different games may have the same basic dungeon names or themes. Before you say "well Mario does it too", he kind of doesn't; the lions share of the main games change things up all the time and manage to keep from feeling stale.

Avalon Code feels like what would happen if you took some of the very basics of Zelda gameplay and did something radically different with the rest of it. The world map is done in square sections traversed by going to the edges, the view is top down, you use swords, shields and bombs, so on so forth. Hell, your character is even silent, though you occasionally choose responses to NPC's. The rest is new, building off that tried and true play style with something truly unique.

The story is that you play as a boy - or girl - plagued by vague, apocalyptic nightmares. But one day, after one such nightmare, you find yourself bequeathed with a strange book. Turns out, it's the Book of Prophecy and it only shows up when the world is about to end. When things go too far south in the world, someone is chosen to chronicle the things in the world and decide what is worth saving for the new world you will create. Guess who's the chosen one?

Much of the games uniqueness centers around the book. The bottom half of your screen is filled with the book at all times, which you may traverse at will. You scan things, people, items and weapons into the book. Each page carries its own grid, where you place the titular codes, which range from elements - fire, ice, you know, the standard stuff - to animal types - bird, dog, so on - to concepts like hope, justice and freedom. Through arrangement of the codes, you can change the properties of pretty much anything.

This is, ultimately, pretty damn cool. If you're having difficulty with an enemy or boss, you need only get behind them to scan them into your book. Then you can change their codes around at will, which effects their stats; remove things like metals from their page and both their defense and hit points will drop, then put a bunch of Ill codes on the grid to plummet their hit points, to give just one example.

Weapons and items are switched about much in the same way. You can scan "recipes" for different items all over the game world, allowing you to change, say, your broadsword into Excalibur or some other cool blade, while you're measly old hammer could become Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor. As a bonus, the different recipes have unique looks that translate into the game world, instead of only being seen in a portrait in the book or something like some games might lazily pull.

There are also some RPG elements to the game. Obviously, in changing the properties of your weapons and armor, you change its effectiveness and damage. But there are also hitpoints and MP to worry about. Plus you get along with people in the world by giving gifts. Slide your way in with some of the girls - or guys if you're playing a girl - and they might just take a hell of a liking to you. Most residents - especially the romancables - also have their own worries and sidequests to take care of.

As you can probably tell, there's plenty to do. It's a pretty hefty little beast, especially for an action RPG. I got a good twenty or thirty hours out of it, just dicking around, changing everythings codes and screwing with the Book of Prophecy. It's a pretty good time.

If there's a downside at all, it's that you can only carry four codes in your inventory at a time. That means you're going to be dumping a lot of codes on any empty spaces on different characters pages and switching codes around. That means flipping back and forth between pages while you take the codes you need out, put them where they need to go, take the unnecessary ones out of the page you're changing and so on. Most of the time it's fun to screw around in the Book of Prophecy, but occasionally, it gets just a little bit tedious. I don't think there would have been much harm in giving an extra slot or two to your code "inventory"; it would have eased the process a bit at times when you need to switch around a lot of codes without sacrificing anything.

Other than that, the game is pretty spiffy.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

I checked this title out on a whim, mostly because it sounded interesting. What I got was a fairly unique little action RPG that stood out from the pack. I'm a little surprised it's not better known. Aside from a few issues, it's definitely worth tracking down if you can. Definitely recommended.

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