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Cavalary

Reviews

Hero of the Kingdom II (Windows)

By Cavalary on November 5, 2023

Circle of Blood (Windows)

By Cavalary on October 7, 2023

King of Dragon Pass (Windows)

By Cavalary on August 12, 2023

Venetica: Gold Edition (Windows)

By Cavalary on February 3, 2023

Materia Magica (Terminal)

By Cavalary on January 15, 2023

Materia Magica (Browser)

By Cavalary on January 15, 2023

The Stuff Fairy Tales Are Made Of (Windows)

Pretty good for a free RPG Maker game, its less common features being the better ones.

The Good
Let's start with the positive aspects that RPG Maker brings to the games created in it, beginning with a certain level of familiarity. Yes, there are some titles that break that mold, but in the vast majority of cases there's no need to learn not just the basics, but also most common gameplay systems and features, and this style of gameplay remains in use after all this time because, for the most part, it just works, at least for this type of game. And, while The Stuff Fairy Tales Are Made Of does do some things differently, and those differences actually tend to be its strong points, the general rules still apply, so you can pretty much jump right in, with no need for a tutorial or trial and error. Still, a plain text file with some basic instructions exists in the game folder, for those who need it.

But I mentioned differences, and it may be said that those include the fact that the main character, Paul, is a scholar, not an adventurer, and that he learns magic from scrolls instead of at certain levels, automatically. And it may also be said that there's a general emphasis on learning, which is also reflected in the journal, which isn't just an otherwise fundamental feature of RPGs that, at least to my knowledge, is far less common than it should be in RPG Maker games, but which, in this case, also includes information about enemies and bosses alongside quests. And sometimes you can learn about an enemy before encountering any, or learn their weak spot, if they have one, before killing ten, which is how that information and the possibility to use the corresponding ability normally appears.

The ability to learn and target an enemy's weak spot also makes Paul more useful in combat even before learning or without using magic. But, while boss fights are different and also show that a fair bit of care and effort was put into them, when it comes to regular battles, the difficulty is rather low, the game not aiming to be challenging in that manner. That may bother some, but for me it was a positive aspect and, coupled with the low MP cost of Adele's healing and the fact that you can save anywhere, which I still say should be mandatory for games simply in order to respect the player's time, before getting into debates about difficulty, meant that I never even made use of Paul's ability to make a space safe to rest. That doesn't work everywhere, but sometimes it's an additional option for those who find themselves in a tight spot, want to recover before a tougher battle or merely want to save the time needed to get back to a designated resting spot.

Successfully escaping combat is also pretty much a certainty, but there's a section of the game where it's necessary to do so each and every time, and another where it's highly recommended. Both of these fall under differences from the typical formula and they're implemented well, the first such section, when the game plays more like an adventure game, probably deserving a special mention, both because of the manner in which the effect was implemented and because of the little discussions you can have with various NPCs during that period. And that's not the only twist in the story. Admittedly, the others shouldn't really surprise anyone, but they're welcome nevertheless.

The Bad
One less common aspect that I'm uncertain about, on the other hand, is making potions. Yes, gathering ingredients for potions that, in most cases, can't be obtained otherwise can be a nice enough change of pace for a while, and it may make the difference in boss fights, but the implementation leaves plenty to be desired. For one, there's no journal section for the potions, so you need to memorize or write down the necessary ingredients on your own. Then, contrary to what you might expect, you can't make potions yourself, but need to rely on NPCs. Worst, however, is the tedious process of gathering those ingredients, as they tend to only appear in one place and in low quantities, some require resting before reappearing, others have a rather low chance of dropping from particular enemies or fishing...

Also, while I'm at problems with the game's less common features, there seem to be some bugs when it comes to the bestiary entries for some enemies that you learn about before encountering, or encounter but escape from, without killing, since in some cases the entries appear even in those situations, for example after learning about chimeras, and in others they don't, for example after learning about skeletons or fleeing from man-eating plants. And, while I seem to have read something indicating that for some reason this is intentional, I'd also consider it a bug that if you use a scroll for a spell that Paul already knows, the message that you learned a spell still appears and the scroll is otherwise wasted. But the bigger problem when it comes to this aspect is the missed opportunity of providing the other characters with a more realistic method of learning their skills and spells, since the typical system of gaining abilities when certain levels are reached, automatically, applies to everything except Paul's magic.

And since I got to typical RPG Maker systems, I must mention the fact that you need to select combat actions at the start of the round for all party members, so you can't react to what happens during a round and can even perform actions on targets that you really wouldn't want to perform them on, since if the chosen target is no longer available, the chosen action will be performed on the first one that is available. Past that, I wonder whether the fact that status effect durations replace each other, so an effect can have its duration lowered if it's applied again before expiring, is also enforced by RPG Maker, or at least by this version of it, or there would be a way to avoid it and the developer failed to make use of it. And the same goes for the fact that the remaining duration of status effects is only displayed for enemies, not also for party members, and that only two status effects are displayed for party members, while more can be displayed for enemies. On the other hand, the fact that Mana Barrier doesn't seem to work, not preventing status ailments from affecting the party, is clearly a bug.

Otherwise, a significant part of the time spent playing this game will be spent in a castle with one hundred floors, which is not optional. Yes, the floors are small and there are a few secrets that allow skipping far ahead, but using them may mean missing out on useful items and good sources of experience, and the whole thing feels like the developer wanted to check a box somewhere and having to spend several hours grinding away in that dungeon before you can finally move on really breaks up the game. In addition, while some attention to detail can be seen, there are also moments when the developer seems to have gotten about as bored as the player is likely to get and seeing the same room models just keep being reused after a while only makes it worse, the fact that the characters point out multiple times that they're repeating not making much of a difference. And, while they do reduce the area that needs to be covered and the number of places that need to be checked if you don't want to miss any secrets or loot, I still found inaccessible rooms frustrating and kept thinking that a way in probably existed but I was failing to find it.

Past that, some of the graphical assets struck me as rather poor, some objects looking rather weird, especially in interiors, and some enemies facing forward instead of right, appearing to be intended to be used for a battle system with the other view. But I'd call that a minor issue, and the low difficulty and easy healing also makes the fact that so many enemies poison and for a pretty long time you're not able to cure poison by magic less of a problem than it'd otherwise be, though it remains annoying. Other than that, I'm not sure whether going farther north, after defeating Death, is counterintuitive in a poor or actually rather smart way. And I'm also uncertain what to think about having a priest who can revive but not heal or cure anything. And then there are some even smaller issues that I'll nevertheless mention here, such as skipping straight to the dialogue for completing the quest from Rabstein's hunter if I did so without actually receiving it first, the inn at the docks not offering an option to rest, or the word "possession" in the store interface, which actually made me think that it was some ability that I didn't know how to access before realizing that the number of items owned was displayed there.

The Bottom Line
I'm quite sure that this is the first time I play a game made in RPG Maker VX Ace, and in fact I think that I never played any made in any version other than 2000 before, which is also the one that I used when I tried to make a game, way back. I did also make an attempt in RPG Maker XP, but that was mainly limited to working on the database and trying and failing to learn the scripting, so it doesn't really count. As a result, while it's pretty obvious that some of the game's problems and limitations are the result of the engine that was used, I can't be certain in every case, and I definitely don't know how many could be eliminated, or at least mitigated to a greater extent, by scripting.

Overall, The Stuff Fairy Tales Are Made Of does some things differently, and those tend to be its better aspects, while many of its problems, with the notable exception of the sheer size and repetitiveness of that dungeon, probably have to do with the engine and, at least in my view, are mitigated to a fair extent by its rather low difficulty. That some of those less common features weren't developed even further is a missed opportunity, but I'd say that, even so, it's pretty good for a free RPG Maker game.

By Cavalary on December 24, 2022

Jazz Jackrabbit 2: The Christmas Chronicles (Windows)

By Cavalary on December 6, 2022

Fantasy General (Windows)

Still worth playing despite the turn limit

The Good
The first positive aspect I made a note of after starting the game was the music, the soundtrack being one I can just listen to even outside the game, and it’s also included separately in the version I played, from GOG.com. And that’s a good thing even if you just want to make sure you can keep listening while you play, because the music tends to die at times in the game, so in that case you can turn it off in the game and just play the files.

But what truly matters is the gameplay, and it does let you get carried away through the battle, for better or worse. The fact that, even though you can save and load at any point, I often tried to go through scenarios start to end in one sitting or, if I didn’t, it was mostly because I had to quit the game to do something else, should be proof enough of that, considering my need to do things “just right”. There were some situations when I did save before what seemed like a turning point, and others when I made use of a save made because I had to quit after a number of turns in order to not restart the scenario from the beginning if things went bad, or simply because plenty of times the right thing to do seems to be to try a battle once, get an idea of it, and then have a proper go at it the second time around, but I often did restart in such a situation and can’t say I was too bothered by that, which again is saying something.

One thing that helps a lot is that units, with the exception of mechanical ones until or unless you gain the ability to repair them, can recover. Most regular units are actually squads that take damage in the form of injuries or kills, with the injuries healed by resting for one turn while not next to an enemy or by magic and kills being replaced by recruiting while next to a friendly town without an enemy also being in the immediate vicinity, while in case of heroes and the other units that are also single entities it’s even simpler, all damage being considered as injuries. That means you can press forward and fight hard without needing to sacrifice your units, and doing so is actually necessary, considering the importance of experience.

This balance between pressing forward and preserving units is already a major tactical element, but there are many others, tactics, and therefore the player’s skill, truly making a difference. The manual offers the necessary information, but the road between theory and practice is always long, so you’ll be learning as you go along and will see the difference once you apply what you have learned. Admittedly, some tactical aspects become less relevant when the units involved are more powerful, and the few units with the Raise Dead ability will let you get away with a lot once you’ll get them, late in the game, but even then that may be counterbalanced to some extent by the need to care for a weaker replacement or volunteer unit. Overall, while it was likely thanks to the strength of my units that part five of the main campaign seemed much easier than part four, good tactics will always be necessary in order to obtain a good outcome, so a victory with no or at least no unacceptable losses, which is the only kind that counts, seeing as units carry over, remains an achievement throughout the game. And I’ll also mention here that Burel’s Wall stood out for me, needing to attack an entrenched enemy making for an interesting and different kind of battle.

Still on the topic of the actual battles, seeing the estimated outcome for an attack is definitely useful, at least to get a general idea. At times it can be way off, but there are certain situations when it’s more likely to be off, such as when support is involved or when there’s a significant difference between the experience levels of the units, so you can take that into account on your own before deciding what to do. And the fact that you can undo moves allows you to check multiple possible attack options, and maybe also get some idea of what you may need to defend against on the enemy’s turn, before committing.

On top of all of that, there are decisions to be made between scenarios as well. That includes choosing which units to purchase and how to allocate the magical items in order to have the best possible army, considering the available funds and slots, but in the longer term the research aspect is crucial, and that involves allocating funds, separately for each unit type, and therefore balancing between gaining access to better units sooner and having enough left to actually make use of that research, by upgrading or purchasing new units, and also to replace lost units, plus the small amounts needed to replace kills by recruiting during battles. And, with the possible exception of light infantry, all unit types have their uses, so you can prioritize according to the strategy that works best for you, but a varied army will always have benefits. What’s more, in some cases even different units of the same type may have their own uses, so immediately upgrading all units, assuming it’s possible, may not be the best idea each and every time. That’s obviously the case for spell casters, each of them having a completely different purpose, but it can apply to some other units as well.

Otherwise, it’s good to be able to toggle showing hidden units, and also AI moves. As far as I’m concerned, the turn limit leaves no room for searching for enemies, so having everything visible at all times is necessary so the game won’t be absolutely impossible, but those who want the insane difficulty added by the fog of war can leave it on the default setting. Anyone who manages to beat the game like that deserves some sort of award though, as far as I’m concerned.

The Bad
Since I mentioned the turn limit, let me just say again that it sucks! Yes, I managed to deal with it and enjoy the game in spite of it, and the scenario descriptions tend to offer justifications for it, but it’d have been so much better to not have it and be able to play at my own pace, use my preferred defensive tactics, outlast the enemy, train my units as well as possible and make sure I’ll always be able to completely wipe the enemy. And it’s also the turn limit that makes the random number generator have a much more significant impact, since there’s less time for things to even out during a battle.

Speaking of that, on top of the RNG’s heavy influence on each attack or spell, there is randomness in maps as well. Even in case of those that seem to be quite fixed, with named locations of interest, the starting locations of enemy units can vary, which can make a huge difference. But other maps seem quite generic, with the type of the locations of interest, as in town or reward location, being determined randomly at the beginning, which will obviously change things even more. And the rewards received when you capture a reward location are also random. A few have some special effects that are specific to a particular scenario, and it’s possible that those are fixed, but otherwise when you capture such a location anything may happen. You may find a random amount of money or a random magical item, the unit may be improved in a random manner, a random unit, ranging from regular volunteer units to generic heroes to named heroes, may join, but you may also find nothing or a random enemy unit, sometimes even a particularly powerful one, may appear, this sometimes happening in combination with any of the other rewards.

Not sure whether it’s good or bad that if you happen to capture a reward location when you kill the last enemy unit and a new enemy unit appears from it, you still win immediately, even if the enemy is no longer wiped out at that point. But what’s definitely bad is that, if you start with a reward location, you need to let the enemy take it and then regain it in order to get the reward.

Since I mentioned magical items, it’d have been better if you’d have been able to allocate them to units during a scenario as well, not only between them, but what’s worse is how easy their are to lose and how hard they are to gain, seeing as whenever a unit carrying one is lost, so is the item. So you lose any magical item carried by one of your units if it’s killed and don’t gain any if you kill an enemy unit carrying one, so with the exception of the few that are obtained at the end of certain scenarios, the only way to obtain one is to have the RNG decide to give it to you when you capture a reward location. And you also lose any magical items carried by any generic heroes that leave at the end of a part of the campaign.

That brings me to another issue, which is that your army is weakened at the end of each part of the campaign, so the beginning of the next part brings quite a difficulty spike. It’d have likely done so anyway, seeing as you have to deal with a new enemy, with new powers and new units that you need to adapt to, but also losing units at the same time makes it worse. And while all regular volunteer units leave, so you can at least plan for that to some extent, and those units also can’t be given magical items, so they won’t take any with them, sometimes one or more of your generic heroes will also leave. It’s possible that it’s not random, the weakest ones being chosen, but I’m not at all certain of that and either way you can’t know before the scenario exactly which one or which ones will leave, also taking any magical items they’re carrying.

Still on the topic of your army getting weaker, something you’ll need to deal with on a regular basis is the fact that new recruits are inexperienced, and for the units that aren’t single entities, kills are automatically replaced at the end of a scenario. So, while during a scenario you may choose whether to recruit in order to replace the kills, restoring the number of attacks but possibly losing a level or maybe even more, at the end of it that happens automatically, even if sometimes you may prefer to keep the level at the expense of the number for a while.

Moving on to UI and design choices, it’s all too easy to accidentally end a unit’s turn, or cast on the wrong one if walking and flying units share a hex, so on top of being able to undo moving, you should also be able to undo ending a unit’s turn, including resting, and casting on a friendly unit. But the UI in general makes the age of the game obvious, perhaps more so than anything else, requiring some getting used to if you want to play the game now. There were moments when not having the current turn and the turn limit displayed at all times was a bit annoying, and it also struck me as particularly strange to see what should be settings mixed with the other buttons, while on the other hand many UI slots remain unused in the deployment phase, when the left side could have easily been used to display the list of units that are yet to be deployed, allowing you to select them in the order you wish without switching to another screen each time.
A problem that quite clearly has to do with how this version runs, under DOSBox, is that the map scrolls pretty much instantly if you move the mouse to the edge of the screen, so you can’t move to a certain spot like that, needing to switch to the tactical view for that purpose. What doesn’t have to do with this specific version, however, is that if you do switch to that view and then switch back without selecting a location, the view doesn’t return to where it was before you switched, but instead goes to the center of the map, which is even more annoying when combined with the scrolling issue.

Still on this topic, needing to choose the next area to attack based on name alone, since you can’t go back and try another after you click to read the description, is a bad design choice, as is the fact that you can’t know which areas you’ll still be able to attack if you don’t choose them the first time and which will no longer be available. Yes, at least when it comes to the choice itself, you can go ahead, end the deployment phase without deploying any units, load your save made before you clicked and try again, but that’s tedious and shouldn’t be necessary. And it’s also unnecessarily tedious to load a game between scenarios, the button not being available then, so you must return to the main menu if you want to load at that point. In addition, I don’t know whether this has to do with this version or not, but the manual states that the details of a saved game should be displayed, yet that area remains empty.

Otherwise, seeing as the game is hard enough as it is, I’ll list the fact that the AI is decent but won’t win any prizes, particularly when it comes to making good use of magic, under miscellaneous negative aspects. I’ll also mention here the fact that the color scheme for the terrain in part five looks rather bad and that, while a lot can otherwise be seen if you check the detailed information for a unit, the movement method, open or closed, is strangely absent, being only available in the manual. And the only thing I really have to say about the expansion also goes here, and that’s that I’d have preferred it to start with more advanced units, though in some ways I understand why that isn’t the case.

The Bottom Line
Kept meaning to play Fantasy General ever since grabbing it back in 2017, when it was given away for free, but the turn limit was scaring me away… Until I saw it listed in the “time travel” thread for 1996 on the GOG.com forums and decided to finally go for it after all, managing to finish it with fewer difficulties than I feared and enjoying it more than I thought I would as a result. Even finished the expansion, which sounded truly daunting at first but ended up seeming probably less difficult than part four of the main campaign, albeit after accepting to settle for winning the scenarios in a “good enough” way, without wiping out the enemy after the first one.

Overall, Fantasy General was a great game when it was released and remains a good one to this day. There are a few poor design choices, the RNG may be too powerful, the turn limit is infuriating and it shows its age in particular when it comes to the UI, but when it comes to the actual intended gameplay, the tactical battles themselves, it's still enjoyable and likely to make anyone interested in the genre get carried away, the importance of tactics and therefore player skill leads to a satisfying feeling of accomplishment when you win, or even advance in a significant manner in a scenario, and for me the fact that units can and should be cared for and preserved is another important positive aspect. It may be found lacking in various aspects when compared to newer games, but if I could finish and actually enjoy it despite the turn limit, which I’d normally see as a deal breaker, it must still be well worth playing.

Later edit: The GOG.com version of the game was updated on October 11, so two weeks after I wrote this, and the changelog claims that the scrolling and audio issues were fixed. But I reviewed what I played at the time I played it and didn’t try the updated version to see whether those claims are true, so the review stays as it is otherwise.

By Cavalary on December 6, 2022

Fantasy General (DOS)

By Cavalary on January 1, 2022

Fantasy General: Challenge Continent (DOS)

By Cavalary on January 1, 2022

Betrayal at Krondor (DOS)

By Cavalary on December 4, 2021

The Purring Quest (Windows)

Warmly recommended if you like cute cats. Also a pretty good platformer, albeit short.

The Good
The Purring Quest is a niche game, aimed at a particular audience, the content, the “characters”, and the aesthetics mattering more than the actual gameplay, to the point that the primary genre could probably be said to be cute cat game and not platformer. And from that point of view it definitely delivers, with lovely graphics, accurate animations, fitting music, relevant messages sprinkled throughout the game and, for those who are into that sort of thing, appearances by several famous Internet cats. And I’ll also mention here that the main screen updating according to your progress is another nice touch.

The above may even be all that needs to be said about the game, as long as it’d be playable, which it is… Even if it might not have been at launch, since on top of some bugs and other lesser issues, the initial release only included the high jump mechanic. But double jump, which I for one would consider the game unplayable without, was added in version 1.4, released five weeks after launch, which is a pretty short amount of time to alter the gameplay in such a significant, and positive, manner. And since I’m reviewing the fully patched version I played, which allows the player to choose between the two jump mechanics, so I obviously chose double jump, I won’t hold the game’s launch state against it, especially since it’s an indie game, made with limited resources and for a cause.

Still on the matter of the actual gameplay, but from another point of view, it must be said that each of the five stages differs from the others, not just in terms of the setting, but by introducing new elements that fit together well and altering similar ones in ways that need to be taken into account, so the game never gets dull. There are mice that just walk, frogs that hop and pigeons that fly and may also drop “bombs”, if you know what I mean. There are objects to hide behind and objects to move, and some to knock over just for the fun of it. There are crumbling, moving and bouncy platforms. There are creepers, sprinklers, windows that open and close, and old ladies that peek outside. Eventually, there are even cameras and lasers. And the end of each stage is completely different from the others.

Seeing as some types of damage, such as being struck by small animals or objects, don’t break your progress but others, such as being caught by dogs or falling, send you back to the last checkpoint, some developers might have been inclined to send the player back to the beginning of a stage after losing all lives, with more sadistic ones even erasing some or even all progress. In The Purring Quest, however, you continue from the last checkpoint whether you lost one life in a “bad” way or all of them, the difference being that if you lose all lives they’re restored at that point, so losing all lives may even be recommended sometimes, especially before tricky sections where you’re likely to take a lot of “regular” damage, like the end of the first three stages. And if you find after completing a stage that you missed some collectible, you can restart it and only get what you missed, not even needing to reach the end again.

The Bad
Still, I’d be nice if all progress would be saved, as in killed mice or frogs and, in most cases, moved objects. And I’d have definitely wanted to be able to save anywhere, checkpoints that get to be too far apart meaning not only that you may have to go through too much of a stage again if you take “bad” damage or lose all lives, but also that you can’t quit whenever you may need to. And only having the single, automatic save means there can’t be more people playing the game on the same account.

Then again, it’s a short game, and while I wouldn’t have wanted the stages to be any longer, considering how different they are from each other I’d say the game wouldn’t have overstayed its welcome if each would have had a second part as well, adding more content even if more truly different stages wouldn’t have been feasible. Of course, that’s not really the point of such a game, which I’ll say again is mainly meant to be cute and support a cause, and others may prefer it as it is, but in my view it would have been better that way.

Moving on to the negative aspects of the gameplay, I’ll just get it out of the way and start by saying that the high jump mode is basically unusable, so I pity those who wanted to play the game soon after release, before double jump was added. But it was added, so that doesn’t matter anymore, what’s more important being that carrying momentum in jumps makes them imprecise. That’s another thing that I gather was worse at launch, and the fully patched version makes quite a few allowances compared to what being truly realistic would mean, the fact that I managed to finish the game relatively quickly being proof enough of that, but imprecise controls in a precision platformer tend to cause frustration.

And, speaking of frustration, the end of each of the stages can definitely cause plenty of that. The first may be a rather typical boss fight, so after figuring out what you’re supposed to do it should go well enough, but the second is tricky even after you do figure it out. Not sure if describing exactly what I’m referring to would count as a spoiler, but I’d rather not and just say that even if you do what you’re supposed to be doing, it often won’t work, so you just have to avoid losing all lives until it does work enough times. And then you have a particularly tricky platforming section at the end of stage three, which you’re likely to need to keep trying until you learn well enough, since I doubt anyone can simply react in time. And another tricky platforming section comes before the end of stage four, but in that case the actual end is completely different and the one part of the game that didn’t seem to fit at all with the rest, since we’re talking about a rhythm game, and quite a long one at that! At least you’re allowed several mistakes in that rhythm game, while at the end of stage three there are a few spots where you can stop and rest, but the end of stage five takes everything away, each mistake meaning that you have to start over, and a few collectibles pretty much requiring you to sacrifice the chance to complete the stage in that run, so all you can do is keep trying, hoping to get a bit farther each time and learn it so well that the correct moves pretty much become muscle memory.

Otherwise, I did find myself wondering why seven lives instead of nine. And how high you can fall from without losing a life. Or why there’s no option to replay the ending, not to mention one to see the credits, needing to go through that tricky part at the end of stage five all over again if you want to do so. And I’ll also add under negative odds and ends that the foreground scenery can sometimes obstruct the view and that Kimchi gets bored quickly if idle and the first command given after one of those animations starts is ignored, which is quite a problem if you need to wait for just the right moment to move. Since that may make some sense in a way, I’m not sure it’s a bug, but the one clear remaining bug I found has to do with hiding from dogs after they spot you. Usually it just requires a bit of patience, the screen remaining black for a few seconds before the game recovers and you find yourself back at the last checkpoint, but once, when Kimchi also for some reason ended up “hiding” next to the hiding spot and I tried to quickly get out and hide again only to be spotted by the dog in that brief moment, the dog ended up turning back and forth in front of the hiding spot and Kimchi wouldn’t come out, so I was stuck and had to force the game closed.

The Bottom Line
Even if one were to look at it just as a game, The Purring Quest, fully patched, would likely be seen as a pretty good platformer, offering plenty of variety, though it is rather too short. But that’s more of a bonus than the relevant conclusion, seeing as it primarily aims to appeal to cat lovers, support and inform about a cause, and look and feel cute start to end. And from those points of view it thoroughly delivers, so feel free to ignore my complaints if that sounds like something that would appeal to you.

By Cavalary on November 20, 2021

Fantasy General (Windows)

By Cavalary on October 12, 2021

Venetica (Windows)

Decent, forgiving combat and a few interesting ideas, but also frustration and inexcusable bugs

The Good
Much of the game hangs on combat and fortunately that works out quite well. I liked how they seemed to take inspiration from The Witcher and make fighting flow in a similar manner, even to the point of offering the same cue for the right moment to click for the next strike in the chain. Maybe it doesn’t work quite as well, but it works well enough, and it’s definitely much more forgiving, clicking at the wrong time not breaking the chain, which is something that many seemed to have a problem with in The Witcher.
Then again, there are plenty who look for a challenge in games and those will likely have a different view of Venetica’s combat. However, I personally liked how forgiving it was in general, because most fights are quite easy in themselves once you learn a few things, finding beds isn’t an issue early on and keeping yourself healthy should hardly be a problem once you get the skills to absorb HP, and, if all of that fails, as the game progresses you’ll get to resurrect more times. That doesn’t even include phase two of the boss fights, where being killed just means starting over right away, without it counting as a death or bringing any penalties, but the fact that being killed in any other more difficult battle or if you happen to get surrounded when you can’t use the skill again just yet will actually put you at an advantage, as you’ll be able to move to a better position while the enemies, with the exception of those ghosts, can’t see you, then continue the fight on your terms, likely starting with a sneak attack. And then you just need to use the Moonblade for the kill to regain the lost Twilight energy.

Character development may be seen as forgiving as well, even if you can’t undo earlier choices. On the one hand, all attributes increase by one point when you gain a level, so even if you concentrate the points you can freely allocate, Scarlett won’t be left as weak in other aspects as may otherwise be expected. On the other, the forgiving combat means you can make do with few skills until you decide which to train, and I didn’t train many at all until the end of the game, while at the same time the lack of a hard level cap and the respawning of the enemies from certain areas, and of those that appear on city streets at night in particular, mean that if you do feel the need for more points, you can always obtain them without the respawns becoming too annoying if you don’t need them. Yes, enemies do seem to stop respawning after you reach level 31, and in some areas even earlier, but on top of any quests not yet completed and areas not yet cleared at that point, if you want to go even higher there’s still the Necropolis in Africa, likely in combination with the weapon that grants additional experience. And Scarlett does learn awfully fast, doesn’t she?

Otherwise, liked the unlimited inventory, and being able to instantly loot bodies, including during combat, helps as well. Combat music also struck me as quite fitting, though I’d say that the nicest piece of music in the game is the Skullbreak Tavern song, which also has a point, as seen towards the end. And, since it can be said that I’m at odds and ends, I’ll also mention that the bard in the Outer City Marketplace is a nice touch, even if his performance is likely to no longer serve a practical purpose by the time you’ll feel completely comfortable paying for all of it. Oh, and I might also point out that at least the plate armor actually looks protective, so the developers were at least capable of moving away from the “female armor” trope for one of the suits… Does look odd when Scarlett swims so well while wearing it though.

The Bad
If I started the positive aspects with the combat, I’ll start the negative ones with something that affects it, which are the problems with hit detection and clipping. You can strike or be struck through walls or have strikes pass through enemies without registering. Enemies, and possibly also NPCs, can fall through floors or get stuck in walls or water or scenery, or sit on nothing. Scarlett can also fall through, or end up walking above the ground, and once I seemed to have ended up in a noclip situation, walking above the floor and through everything. Much of the time, these problems appear in combat, when a strike knocks an enemy, or Scarlett, back and through something, but ladders can also cause such issues with Scarlett, and at other times they seem to just happen, possibly because characters are occasionally created at a wrong location.

The AI also seems rather rudimentary, enemies mainly following attack patterns, but that’s quite clearly intentional and fits with the combat that’s forgiving once you learn a few things that I mentioned above. Another clear issue that negatively affects combat, on the other hand, is the camera. In short, it’s quite a pain, causing problems even when simply moving, and worse ones in combat. It can get backed up against walls or scenery, too close to let you really see what you’re doing or pushed to a wrong angle, which obviously changes everything when the direction of movement and the target are relative to the camera’s position. And it’s also annoying that it faces you after changing areas, making you turn around if you go forward, which may well lead to unintentionally returning to the previous area if there’s no door and you’re uncertain of your bearings, or are rushing and don’t notice.

Speaking of returning, getting back to San Pasquale when you need or want to is tedious… And you’d think they’d have rebuilt at least a little bit by the time you need to go back for the dress, or that they’d recognize that they’re under attack by Necromancers in some way. But those are little issues, a worse one, if I’m to stick to what’s tedious to get around, is that this can be said about Venice itself as well, especially when you’re above street level. And it’s annoying how restricted movement is, that Scarlett can’t jump or even lift a leg except on stairs, or squeeze anywhere, that she’s blocked by all sorts of things that shouldn’t normally block movement… Using ladders can be frustrating as well, on top of potentially triggering the bugs I already mentioned.
The even bigger problem, however, is that after a while there’s little reason to put up with all of this, exploration no longer feeling sufficiently rewarding, and after a certain point I found myself no longer really caring to find everything anymore, which is very odd for me. But if you’re not thorough you can miss plenty of things, many of the more important ones obviously late in the game, so just when you may have a harder time caring.

Back to bugs, there were also crashes, albeit mostly early on. When it constantly crashed in a certain spot if I tried to turn back from Windmill Tavern, on the way to Venice, I worried I’ll never be able to get back to San Pasquale, but at least that issue fixed itself once I finished the chapter and the map changed partially. The crash caused by talking to Leon about reputation remained constant, however, so don’t lose reputation and end up in a situation where you’d need to regain it in this manner to advance.
The major bug that you need to be aware of throughout the game, however, is that NPCs may vanish if you load a save from an area where they exist. I saw the warnings about it and also experienced it when I wasn’t careful, and depending on which NPC vanishes the severity may range from irrelevant to game-breaking, so don’t risk it and only save in areas where there are no NPCs, which also means no skeletons. I “managed” to make one NPC vanish in another way as well, but that was when I tried something I probably shouldn’t have, and there’s no reason to do so, yet that obviously can’t be said about saving and what makes it worse is that the early part of the game, when you’re at your weakest and may need to save more, is just when finding a “safe” place to save is hardest. Later, secret rooms, cleared Rogue Quarters, caverns and a few other places are available to you, so it may be tedious and cause you to lose some time, but it’s a less serious problem if you’re careful.
Another bug I experienced was that I bought some treasure maps from that vendor, then reloaded once I realized I already had one of them, and when I got back there I saw that the maps I had purchased were no longer available for sale, and of course they weren’t in my inventory either, so I had to quit the game and try again to be able to purchase them again. Still, I tried several times to reproduce the bug with other vendors, buying a number of items, then immediately reloading and going back, and couldn’t.
Otherwise, I had the impression that bugs were piling up in the Arsenal District, but that may simply be the result of having advanced in the game. Once ghosts appeared they tended to remain stuck where they spawn, not moving and with bodies and “flames” never removed after I “killed” them, but they also appear in the Outer City and I noticed the same thing there too. Back to the Arsenal District, when I reentered one of the Rogue Quarters I got that dialogue again even though it was cleared, and at least that didn’t happen in any other place. That noclip situation I mentioned above was in the Arsenal District as well. Also, in Skullbreak Tavern, the rebels say they’ll let the people know after you complete their quest, which suggests a reputation increase, but there is none, then the Juma clanspeople remain there even after they also get back to their homeland, and the workers also remain there after they agree to go to the mine, though I guess it’s somewhat less certain that this is a bug, since they may be meant to be lazy. But, to again point out that such issues appear in other places as well, though these may be considered minor spoilers, I’ll also add that in the Inner City rogues kept appearing at least from one of the Quarters even after clearing out both, alongside the marauders, and that it’s not just that the guild headquarters don’t look burned at all after they should be, but the marauders are still at the entrance after it’s done, and if you talk to them you’ll automatically tell them to burn it down, at least in case of the Net of the Mask, since I wasn’t in the others to know for sure.

Speaking of marauders, they respawn way too quickly, so while I mentioned these limited respawns as a positive aspect, nights become rather annoying in the Outer and, especially, Inner City once they appear. Then, to continue with the issues that mar the positive aspects, once an attribute reaches the maximum of 100, that point that should be automatically added each level is lost, so putting too many points in one attribute, or even in two of them by the end, will result in a somewhat less powerful character after a certain point. And I’ll also mention here that some sorting of that unlimited inventory wouldn’t have hurt… And the additional attributes of the weapons that have them should have been clearly specified, yet in some cases they’re not listed at all, while in others they may be included in the description, but in a way that may still be unclear, and certainly doesn’t provide the actual details. And I also thought that there were too few types of armor available, and the fact that most are meant for specific uses means that there are even fewer armor upgrades.

Otherwise, there are plenty of differences between speech and subtitles, and also some moments when the speech cuts early and moves on to the next part, so you have to read the subtitled text ahead. There are also times when the speech is even entirely wrong, and a few conversations with lines in an entirely different voice, showing that they were added later. But the bigger annoyance for me is the fact that Venetica also follows this trend that has been going on for a long time now, games no longer displaying what the character will actually say if a dialogue choice is selected and what each choice actually means may well be unclear if you go by what’s displayed. Worse, in Venetica’s particular case, the ending is determined by many choices made in dialogues throughout the game, and you’ll only see what it all added up to at the very end. And I also made a note about the real options for the last stage of gaining the Steward’s trust and what follows, which are definitely unclear, and the journal entries don’t quite fit what happens either, something seeming messed up. But the Palace seems rushed in general…

While I’m at it, I’ll add that the quest that opens the Western Villa really seems thrown there in a hurry as well. And, to continue with the issues I couldn’t quite fit elsewhere, some quests have wrong information or markers, or markers are missing, which also means that much of the time that skill can’t be used. A couple of treasure maps are also very misleading. And, on the topic of maps, it seems unintuitive that the map only moves when you move the mouse to the edge, not if you click and hold and move the mouse, or maybe also with the direction keys, especially when you often need to click it first, as otherwise moving the mouse to the edge won’t do anything either.

The Bottom Line
Got interested in Venetica since I read the review in the March 2010 issue of what was at the time the last remaining gaming magazine from here, which I had just bought because it came with Gothic 3… Which I’m actually yet to play. Back to Venetica, it was only in October of 2019 that I got and started playing it, but by the end of November I stopped and only returned to it this January, finally finishing it in April… And it took me until June to review it as well, as you can see.

Overall, Venetica is probably hurt by a lack of resources during production, certain bugs, most of all the one with the vanishing NPCs when you load a save, are inexcusable, and there are various other reasons for frustration as well. However, if you know what to watch for and aren’t particularly looking for a challenge, it can be a quite enjoyable game that doesn’t make you feel pressured and features decent combat, a few interesting ideas and a setting with a fair amount of potential. That the developers couldn’t exploit this potential even better is a pity but, again, assuming that they had limited resources to work with, it’s a decent enough game if you take it for what it is.

By Cavalary on June 13, 2021

Neverwinter Nights: Gold (Windows)

By Cavalary on January 31, 2021

Syberia II (Windows)

By Cavalary on January 31, 2021

Neverwinter Nights: Platinum (Windows)

By Cavalary on January 31, 2021

Neverwinter Nights: Kingmaker (Windows)

KM: Complete but frustrating. SG: Poor even as a prologue. WW: Memorable, but incomplete.

The Good
Getting right to it, on top of being the only included module that's actually complete, containing the entire adventure, Kingmaker also tries to do some interesting things. Even the, if I may use the term, initial beginning may fall under this category, but I'd start with the first "character" introduced after what is in fact the real beginning, which is another talking weapon, taking good cues from Hordes of the Underdark but improving upon the concept, as this time around you get to choose the type and it also improves as you level, the improvements also being chosen by the player out of the available options. Then, there's something to be said about the manner in which choosing companions is handled, and they all have their own personalities and stories, all of which can gradually be revealed, at least for the ones that are chosen, and the voice acting is also competent. And then there's the overall story, which does try to have interesting elements, and twists towards the end, though how successful and engaging it ends up being is likely a subjective assessment, a matter of personal preference. One manner in which you can fail, angering your weapon, is a nice touch though.

Moving on to ShadowGuard, I unfortunately don't have many good things to say. Some interesting things are done with the cutscenes, but probably the one moment that truly is notable is offered by the book that is "played out". Other than that, I definitely appreciated being able to have unlimited uses of the best damage cantrip on the staff, plus other items with uses per day, even if just one most of the time. And I also welcomed the attempt to limit resting by making it require food, though mostly as a concept, since food is cheap and more than enough, at least in my view, can simply be found.

By contrast, Witch's Wake shows immense potential, alongside creativity and attention to detail, much effort being made to push the editor. A long list of custom subraces are supported; there are custom models even for some of the basic gear and common enemies; experience is granted bit by bit, little of it for combat and more for advancing the story, learning new things, entering new areas or obtaining important items, which also makes the low character level much less of an issue; there seems to be an entire system, a small game in itself, for dying and resurrecting; there are a lot of checks in many situations and they're clearly spelled out; crafting also seems important, or at least intended as such... Above all of that, there's good writing, there's lore, there are hints of depth and promises of many twists and turns to come, and it all really feels like a story, which is greatly aided by the manner in which it is narrated. Choosing this form of presentation, relying on a single voice, that of a narrator, is a risk, but in Witch's Wake it works beautifully and she delivers a stunning performance every step of the way.

The Bad
Again starting with Kingmaker, I wasn't keen on the actual gameplay. It's rather straightforward, with tasks to complete in order to gain the required support before advancing to the final confrontation, and there's choice when it comes to the order or even whether to attempt some at all, but what really frustrated me was the time limit. It might be possible to do and explore everything if you make haste and also accept the experience penalty and actually use your companions, but considering how the passage of time is triggered, I'm not sure even then, and either way I ended up missing out on a few things despite using every trick to gain more time. Admittedly, much of my time was spent grinding on the weak enemies that constantly respawn and I'd have managed much more without doing that, but wonder if it'd have even been possible to complete those quests without the levels gained in that manner, seeing as I wasn't going to sacrifice even more experience and therefore didn't take my companions to help in combat. And what added to the frustration towards the end was that, if you complete a quest's objectives but can't also turn it in before the vote, you can't do so later, even if the NPC in question is still available and you talk to them.
I'd actually call this last issue a bug, and the same goes for the fact that the viewing angle is left in that "cinematic" one after cutscenes. Having all weapon upgrades available from the beginning may be another bug, seeing as the dialogue seems to indicate that they shouldn't be, but at least that was a useful bug instead of a frustrating one. Other frustrating issues, however, had to do with constantly needing to hold my character back from rushing to Alias, and with how little money can be gained, how little loot is available, especially when it comes to useful loot, in my case the characters being rather naked most of the time and even so and despite only selling and buying at the end, to earn the most and pay the least, and obviously also reloading until I was sure I got the best possible prices, I was only able to afford a few things before moving on towards the ending.

For ShadowGuard, the negative aspects start with the very beginning, or more exactly with the fact that not even the slightest hint is ever offered about why it starts as it does. Of course, explanations were likely planned for later, this clearly having been intended as the first chapter or prologue of a much longer adventure, but that's in no way an excuse. It may be an excuse for the fact that it's so short, takes place in so few areas, is limited to low character levels and ends pretty much when the "real" adventure would begin, but that doesn't make those facts less frustrating either.
Speaking of frustration, high on the list of causes for it was not only needing to accept the experience penalty for having companions along, some enemies being impossible to kill otherwise, but also having plenty of kills "stolen" completely by friendly NPCs fighting the hostiles, plus one place where Markus automatically shows up next to you before the battle even if you left him behind and therefore "stealing" kills completely in that situation. Other than that, at the Control Stone it's likely a matter of repeatedly reloading until you happen to survive, and that definitely is the case with the slavers, while once you do you may find that you lost some weapons, if you were carrying too many around, and Markus won't recover his at all. In addition, there's no decent source of equipment left once things get nasty, until after the Control Stone.
Another issue was a particularly strange bug I only experienced while playing this specific module: I couldn't take screenshots, the file created whenever I tried being empty, having no extension and being replaced each time. And, while I'm at bugs, companions normally want to hold on to their equipment, but if you make one dual wield, you can then take the main weapon away, in which case it ends up being treated as a plot item, can't be sold and if you attempt to give it back, a copy will be created, creating infinite weapons if for some reason you care to. But equipment you give companions may also end up treated as theirs, so they'll refuse to give it back without using this trick, which may lead to other issues later, especially if you mean to take something back from one and give it to another. On the other hand, I guess the fact that it instantly autosaves when loading the game in some areas is intentional behavior, not a bug, but it makes the autosave slot pointless.

In case of Witch's Wake, the main problem is that it's incomplete. I checked and no continuation seems to exist, and what's here can't even be called an episode or prologue, as it just suddenly ends in a manner that brings more questions than answers and even leaves what seems to be this part's main quest hanging. In addition, as I repeated that final conversation, wanting to make sure I went through all the options, the very end failed to trigger more often than not, making me need to force the game closed. What's apparently an important side quest is also impossible to complete, and that side quest, if completed, struck me as possibly offering another method of gaining access to what you miss out on if you refuse to do what the Night Hag asks, the fact that you miss an entire aspect of the game in that situation being another thing that bothered me, especially since you can't know the consequences of the choices you make then, or what it may mean if you're told, and given, one thing or another, since there's randomness involved. Strangely, the journal entry states that you did accept even if you didn't, but then again the journal's not exactly helpful in general, even side quests not being listed, much less other information.

The Bottom Line
With this expansion consisting of three entirely separate modules, I reviewed each of them separately, tackling them in turn in this review's initial form, but also keeping the MobyGames review format in mind, to be able to relatively easily make the necessary changes and post here as well. One thing I need to make a note of, however, is that Kingmaker is the only complete module out of the three, with ShadowGuard being a first chapter or prologue and Witch's Wake downright incomplete, ending quite suddenly, but I finished it almost three and a half years after starting it, while I played the other two from start to end after it, within the past year, so details or aspects I'd have otherwise mentioned may well slip my mind, especially when it comes to its early parts, which I played before taking a break that ended up lasting over two and a half years.

Overall, Kingmaker is not a bad module, and it's definitely much better if played as intended instead of how I played it. But the way it's intended to be played is a way I'm not in the least comfortable with, so for me it was quite frustrating in plenty of ways. That said, the developers did try, and there are quite a few positive aspects as well, mainly when it comes to the characters and a couple of gameplay "tricks", and maybe to some extent also to the overall story.

On the other hand, ShadowGuard might have had some merit if complete, especially if those bugs and frustrating design choices would have also been fixed. As it is, however, with pretty much only those interesting moments offered by some cutscenes going for it and a couple of other storylines that seem to begin and then get completely forgotten, I'd say it doesn't even serve to create interest for a potential continuation, and I for one wasn't even curious enough to check whether one exists. Not that it'd have been much of an excuse for its inclusion in this expansion either way, a first part intended to generate interest in the full product being the basis of the old concept of shareware, meaning that it should have been distributed for free, while Kingmaker, as in the expansion, wasn't.

As for Witch's Wake, in terms of gameplay it can be seen as a brief demonstration of different things to do, creative ways of pushing the editor, but the obvious effort put into it and the story and all the depth and complexity it hints at seem to indicate that the aim was much higher. It oozes potential, showing effort, talent and creativity. If completed in a manner fulfilling all of this apparent potential, it might well have surpassed Hordes of the Underdark as the best content included in Neverwinter Nights: Diamond. Unfortunately, it seems to have been far too ambitious for what the developers could actually do, ending up abandoned but nevertheless included as it was, without even being given an ending suitable for an episode or prologue, leaving it a memorable but ultimately frustrating and underwhelming experience.

By Cavalary on January 31, 2021

Stargunner (Linux)

By Cavalary on December 31, 2020

Grim Fandango: Remastered (Windows)

Keeps the original's good artistic aspects and actually makes it playable

The Good
To start from here, the fact that point and click controls were introduced in this version made the game playable as far as I'm concerned. I don't know how somebody initially thought it was a good idea to make the player need to slowly move Manny all around, try to figure out what he was looking at and hope to avoid missing anything, but at least they came to their senses for this version. Or they partially came to their senses, but more about that later.

The other immediately noticeable improvement has to do with the graphics. For those who want to compare, switching between the original look and the enhanced one can be done at any point, with the press of a button, but graphics aren't such an important aspect for me and, as one of the bits of commentary also mentions, the game's art style actually suits those early 3D graphics in a way that very little else does. And the sound is another aspect that was handled well to begin with, the music being perhaps best described simply as being truly fitting, and the voice acting actually being great; no complaints from me about either. In addition, and in fact more importantly, the dialogues, characters and overall story are quite good. Wouldn't say great, this is no Planescape: Torment or Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, for example, but Grim Fandango may well be one of the better games from these points of view as well, all of these aspects put together also meaning that it may well be one of the better ones when judged on its artistic merits in general.

The Bad
Unfortunately, I can't maintain this good opinion when it comes to the gameplay, even in this edition. I already said that, from my point of view, the original game was nearly unplayable, but they could have improved it further in this version by adding a proper inventory, and maybe also a way to highlight what you can interact with, though the point and click controls admittedly make this only an optional helpful feature. A journal would have definitely been useful, however, the dialogue transcript being a poor substitute, its role being at most to add a slow and tedious way to partially compensate for the fact that you can't repeat dialogues in case you forgot something, or missed it in the first place.

On that topic of knowing what to do, there may be fewer examples of Moon logic than adventure games tended to be infamous for, possibly also in part just because there is no proper inventory system, and there are some parts of the game where there isn't that much you can do, so a bit of trial and error should be enough even if the puzzle makes little sense or you forgot what you should be doing and obviously don't have a journal to use to remember. At other times, however, the solution makes no sense and simply trying everything may not be a realistic option, year two probably being the most confusing overall, considering the number of locations, characters and items you may end up carrying at once, and the fact that it seems some context is missing early on, and possibly later as well, if you don't quite do or find some things in the intended order. Still, while I did need to read the full solution for one year two puzzle as well, when Manny needs to get strip searched, the one that struck me as the worst, simply impossible to either figure out or stumble upon the correct solution on your own, was in year one, to find the key for the way to Rubacava, the fact that the commentary recognizes it as a problem being little comfort.

Since I got to the commentary, it was quite messy, difficult to follow at times. They should have taken some care to speak better, and maybe more to the player than to each other, and at times even over each other or more or less to themselves. The fact that the text is often a bit faster than the speech only makes it worse, and you can't hurry it along either, just reading the text faster and skipping to the next line when you're done, that function not working on the commentary. In addition, there are quite a number of commentaries with tiny trigger areas, easy to miss if you don't make sure to step in pretty much every possible spot, and at least one place, when you get to the Florist in year four, where just playing the game normally is likely to lead to completely missing some commentary, as well as some of Manny's comments about what he sees, since you can't get back there. Otherwise, I personally liked that the commentary at times provided hints, but can see how many would dislike that as well, so there should have perhaps been a way to enable and disable such spoilers.

It struck me as odd when I spotted some wrong names in the transcript of a few of the first year two commentaries, and then there was the time when the commentary icon briefly appeared at the end of the car ride to the final area, when I doubt that pressing the commentary key would have worked during a cutscene even if I'd have managed to react in time. But those are tiny issues and I just mentioned them to connect the part about the commentary to this one about bugs, the important ones having to do with running to some things you can interact with or even to some area exits, which can sometimes require reloading or even forcing the game to close, and perhaps even more notably with manipulating the crane's chain in year three, the game hanging multiple times until it finally allowed me to get past that puzzle and freezing the display as it did so, so it's a good thing I knew how to "blindly" force it to close. As for other smaller problems, there are a number of objects that don't have point and click controls, though they all seem to be objects Manny will only comment on, not any that can actually be interacted with, and also a few cases where such controls seem to have been added where they shouldn't have been, clicking one such object causing Manny to move to another, though this again doesn't interfere with any puzzles.

The Bottom Line
I must say that this review was put together in a hurry and focusing mainly on the remaster and less on the game itself. I haven't played the original game, however, and also didn't care to try to play this version with the original controls or graphics, so I can't make a direct comparison, but some improvements, mainly when it comes to the controls, are so obvious and important that I don't even want to think about needing to play the game without them.

Overall, when it comes to the artistic aspects, the story, characters, dialogues, acting, music and art style, Grim Fandango was a good game to begin with, and this version retains those aspects and also adds graphical improvements, which can be toggled on and off at any time with the press of a button. However, I don't even want to think about having to play the game with the original controls, so I'll once again stress that, from my point of view, the point and click controls added in this version simply make it playable. There are other improvements which should have been made and weren't, and a handful of bugs that weren't fixed or were even added in this version, but changing the controls means it can be played as it is, and those positive aspects can be enjoyed. That's not to say that it can't still be frustrating at times because of puzzles that make too little sense or, in a few cases, are pretty much impossible without a guide, but probably less so than most adventure games.

By Cavalary on October 18, 2020

4D Sports Tennis (DOS)

By Cavalary on August 24, 2020

The Games: Winter Challenge (DOS)

By Cavalary on August 23, 2020

Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader (Windows)

Promises more than it delivers, but can remain enjoyable if you can tolerate some frustration.

The Good
I had this ordered very differently in my mind, but since I'm submitting it here as well, I'll again try to stick to this review format and start with the fact that I did rather enjoy the setting and the alternate history idea, including the use of known characters and events. Sure, it could have been much better, but it was nevertheless done well enough, and the presence of daevas and spirits and the little specific information about them was also just enough to make that aspect interesting as well, albeit mainly early on. While some might consider it an oddity, an annoyance or even a bug, I also found the fact that English soldiers have no spirits, no souls, to be a nice touch, making a certain sense if you think about it.
It is true that most of that atmosphere, most of the enjoyable and perhaps in some cases even memorable elements of that setting, are found in the Barcelona area. Since I mentioned that nice touch, even those few dying soldiers that can provide a little added context if you realize you can click on them are in Barcelona. However, by far the most important areas in terms of gameplay for an ARPG are the dungeons, and from this point of view it was the Montaillou Crypt that stood out for me, seeming more complex and created with more care than the others.

When it comes to good design choices, I must make a special note of the fact that you receive full experience for all kills made in your presence. It's so terribly frustrating when, in other games, it depends on who lands the killing blow, or having companions reduces the amount of experience received, or it even matters how many times a character hits the enemy or how much damage they deal, and kills made by allies that aren't party members or indirectly, for example by using the environment, may well grant no experience at all. However, none of that matters in Lionheart. If there's a kill and you're around, you will receive the experience.
Since I'm on the topic of experience, summoned creatures also grant experience when killed, so keeping enemy summoners around for a while can be desirable. Very importantly, there's no level cap and until the point of no return you can use the ethereal areas to grind if you so desire, turning those times when the teleport crystals malfunction into something potentially positive while also largely putting the player in control of this aspect. There are a few enemies that respawn in the regular areas as well, but that's also kept in check, not becoming a problem or creating that feeling that you're not really doing anything because areas don't remain cleared, and the crystals also malfunction relatively rarely and will in fact gradually become completely safe as you gain levels, so you'll be able to return to earlier areas without risking to waste time while still being able to specifically seek out such fights by using those that may still malfunction.

Otherwise, while there's no container UI, dropped items don't vanish, so if you so desire you can gather everything from an area, dropping items in a pile when you end up carrying too much, and then make multiple trips to sell everything off once you're done or just want a break from the fighting. In addition, inventory management only means caring for the weight, since there's no limit in terms of size, and the fact that stackable items have the same weight regardless of their number, while perhaps strange, helps as well.

Targeting and attack frequency would also be interesting mechanics, but those using fighter characters would be able to say more about that, as in my case it just meant that sometimes I'd select torso and calculated and hope to at least get the odd hit, while selecting hectic helped me cast faster when every little bit helped, which was rare. So I'd file that under positive odds and ends, albeit as something much more notable than the fact that the descriptions for the secret treasures you find struck me as a nice touch. Considering the character development system, I'd also add here the lack of a separate disarm skill, meaning that you can disarm any trap you spot. And, while I'm at both traps and design choices that mitigate problems caused by others, the fact that companions don't trigger traps and don't get affected by them is quite a relief.

The Bad
Also a relief is that I can now finally get to what I meant to start this review with, which is that what I most often read about Lionheart was that it has a pretty good first part, but after a certain point it all falls apart and all that's left is a tedious battle that may feel endless and is an exercise in frustration for anything except pure fighter characters, while for those it's too easy and boring. And there is truth in that, which I'll get to later, yet at the same time it wasn't quite as bad as those comments made me expect, and my Smite / Fortitude mage, Wielder, with 1 strength, 3 endurance and not a single skill point used on any fighting skills over the course of the entire game did quite fine.

I didn't need to get far in the game to bump into the first thing that really bothered me, however. In fact, that came before actually starting, during character generation, when I saw the SPECIAL system, which I'm not fond of at all. That may be in some part because I associate it with Fallout 2, which I couldn't get myself to enjoy at all and eventually abandoned, but I'm definitely bothered by needing to know exactly what skills you want to use from the beginning in order to tag them, stick to them almost exclusively, and being so very limited when it comes to raising attributes. The fact that there are diminishing returns for improving skills to high levels but the costs increase sharply makes it even more frustrating, feeling like a waste and a loss whether you choose to stick to a specialist character or spread the points around a little.
There are also some ways to lose experience and things that the perks that increase experience gain don't seem to apply to. Yes, you can grind until the point of no return, so you can make up for it, but the fact that you may need to remains unpleasant, and this method only works up to that point. Was definitely not keen on the very different rewards for faction quests and the different number of such quests either, and receiving up to 75% of the experience for killing an enemy for sneaking around them seemed like an odd choice, both because that's not exactly what you do in an ARPG and because it still meant you got penalized if you did try that route, since what you receive for sneaking is deducted from what should be granted for the kill, if and when you do kill the enemy. But what bothered me the most from this point of view was that there are pieces of equipment that increase the number of skill points per level, so those skill points are lost until you find and afford such items. Again, the game does allow you to make up for it, lacking a level cap, but it means spending a lot of time making up for what's essentially random chance.
One more thing I'll mention when it comes to character development is the way in which magic skills develop. While somewhat interesting, it means you can't focus on the more powerful spells, or get access to them earlier by sacrificing something else. And, on this topic, I kept wondering why Greater Resistance didn't also protect from cold, making it so there's no way to protect companions from cold. Can't protect them from disease either, but then again, there's also no way whatsoever to cure them of poison or disease, needing to just wait it out all the time and heal the damage as needed.

Speaking of companions, the entire concept seems tacked on and a complete mess. There's no information given about any of them in terms of attributes, you can't give them any commands other than to follow or not, they tend to wander all around a spot you'd expect them to stay in if they're around you, get stuck in tighter places, get in your or each other's way, stop where they are if they fall behind, attack whatever enemy they please, whenever they please, have no skills they can be instructed to use, also have no inventory and are stuck with whatever equipment they have by default, which you again get no actual information about, and if they die that's the end of it, there's no way to resurrect or otherwise get them back. Couple that with the fact that they never improve and you'll be making a lot of effort to just keep them alive, often being more focused on that than on the enemies if you want to keep them around for as long as possible. And the thing is that they're not some random, generic companions, but individuals with stories that you'll learn at least some bits of when they join you, which may make you, or at least made me, care about them to some extent and want to keep them around and alive, but once they join they do become completely generic, just a sum of some attributes you can't even know, not having a single line of dialogue or any use other than to mindlessly hit things.

Combat is also a mess, even without companions, though it of course becomes an even worse one with them. The option to reduce the speed may offer some relief for those who manage to make some good use of it, but the system is not at all suited for real time and it's not real time with pause, since you can't give commands while paused, so you'll often be struggling to click the right enemy, or even an enemy, as they run around at lightning speed, or to move somewhere and maybe avoid picking up an item that will make you encumbered or, more often, a spirit before you need it, leading to excess mana or health that will quickly drop back down to the normal maximum on its own and therefore waste what you could use later. With companions around, you'll also need to do that while hoping to avoid clicking on them, as that will start a dialogue even in the middle of combat, the only options of course being to tell them to keep following or stay behind. And you do need all that clicking, because the character won't even attack automatically, instead just standing there even when attacked in melee, and not doing anything else after casting or after the current enemy is killed. And there are also moments when casting just won't work without moving the mouse to some other spot on the screen that the game for some reason likes better, even if the spell doesn't require a target.
Complicating things further, there are way too few quickslots and for some reason buffs can't be reapplied before they expire. What makes it even worse for mages, however, is that mana regeneration is awfully slow, health regenerating faster even when attributes completely favor magic and early on, and health regeneration improves with levels and there are also feats improving it further, which is not the case for mana. The Magery equipment attribute would greatly help, but it seems among the rarest, so I for one had to make do with Spirit Regeneration, ending up with two items with it and still spending much of the 120 hours the in-game timer said I needed to finish waiting for mana to recover. Admittedly, there are plenty of mana spirits much of the time, but you tend to need to kill something first, and it's still far too easy to run out of mana over the course of a battle, which also encourages leaving mana spirits around in case you'll really need them at a later point and wait for regeneration even when there would otherwise be enough spirits available to allow you to just keep going for the moment.

Mentioned accidentally picking things up above, and that may well happen even outside combat, though at least you can avoid picking up spirits along with items or when you interact with other things if you move far enough for the spirits to no longer be visible. That range can be annoyingly short when you're actually looking for spirits though, as you need to be really close to see them. On the other hand, I have had a few items end up in unreachable places, which can be frustrating, and so is the fact that a small number of otherwise common scenery items can be interacted with, usually to obtain some items, but there's no way to know which those are except to hover the cursor over everything and notice when it starts spinning, which is hardly the most noticeable indicator that an interaction is possible in the first place.

Movement itself, simply going from one place to another, can be rather frustrating as well. The lack of a minimap doesn't help either, and neither does the fact that there are no map markers, not even for exits, or any way to add notes yourself, but what most often annoyed me from this point of view was the short maximum distance between the character and the destination. Click more than a screen or so away, or in a spot you can't actually move to, and the character won't try to get as close as possible or even just continue to the previous destination if already moving, but simply stop, which will also happen if you do anything while moving.

To finally get to those later parts that so many complain about, the game does indeed get worse after the point of no return, which you aren't even warned about, only suddenly finding that everything changed once you get back. Maybe also because of the low expectations created by what I had read, it didn't strike me as being as bad as I had been led to believe, but the design of the locations becomes, for lack of a better term, lazy, even most of the Barcelona area is no longer accessible when you return to it, you pretty much just keep fighting enemy after enemy and the English not leaving spirits does cause problems for magic users, even if that is compensated to a fair extent by more spirits being available from the beginning, and even some other ways to recharge mana.
That's not an issue in the desert, the scorpions leaving powerful spirits, but that desert is by far the best, or in fact worst, example of that lazy design. Yes, it is a desert, but it's a desert in a game and also comes between two so and so dungeons, so it should have been somewhat refreshing, yet instead it's just a large and mostly empty place, filled with swarms of giant scorpions. And the fortress that follows it was underwhelming as well, especially as a final dungeon. Maybe I'm no longer used to how such games were back when Lionheart was released, but while this can be understood and excused as standard practice in the rest of the game, entering that place and having all those assassins just wait calmly, usually in pairs, for you to pick them off at your leisure just seemed wrong.

Even those portals used to travel between locations once you get to the point of no return struck me as lazy design, but I was making a note of that ever since leaving the Barcelona area, the crystals becoming the only way to travel between areas. Admittedly, the large distances involved made simply walking no longer possible, but some other methods could have been used, DaVinci's inventions likely offering possible solutions. After all, he does make use of one himself... Even if that makes him end up being in two places at once from that point forward, which becomes three places since at least for a long time he's not removed from the vicinity of the machine but can be found in the tavern as well.
But these are little things, though probably the smallest one I made a note of was the fact that the icon indicating that you're encumbered vanishes after a while. Also found myself wanting some more detailed information when it came to the effective damage dealt by spells, separated per type, or wondering how come vendors quite frequently had better items in the regular stock than the special one. Something more notable would be that I didn't like the fact that vendor stock scaled with the character's level, and having enchantments make certain equipment types heavier was unpleasant as well. And something that kept being frustrating was the search mode being turned off when attacking or talking and needing to be turned back on manually each time even if there's no penalty for searching and therefore no reason to ever want it off, but forgetting to turn it back on each time meant ending up either running into traps or realizing I had to go back to look for any possible hidden treasures.
On the other hand, making so little use of the character's spirit was a wasted opportunity. It seems like it'd be an important aspect at first, but it pretty much just says a few things early on and warns you before meeting daevas. What bothered me more, however, was this implication that, despite the obvious questions about their methods, the Inquisition was on the good side, while the Druids, and possibly extending to Pagans, were clearly evil. The fact that the Inquisitors would have clearly been the best choice of faction for my character, considering the rewards offered, made it even worse, but I wasn't going to get on that path under any circumstances.

The Bottom Line
Overall, Lionheart is indeed a game of two parts, with a rather interesting setting and atmosphere that devolves into a chain of battles in areas plagued by lazy design after a point of no return that the player isn't even warned about triggering before it's done. It seems to promise more than it ends up delivering, but it can, for the most part, remain enjoyable if you know what to expect and can put up with some frustrating elements, even that second part not being as bad as some would make you believe, while at the same time the first part being equally plagued by the combat system that's unsuited for real time, the downright bad implementation of companions, the fact that magic users are at a disadvantage and various other design issues and quirks, plus that I personally rather dislike the character development system used. Nevertheless, there are some good design choices as well, some of them mitigating some of the flaws to some extent and a few, perhaps most notably the one ensuring that you won't lose experience in combat, even standing out in a good way.

By Cavalary on August 9, 2020

Ascension to the Throne (Windows)

Quite a power trip, with low production values and some bad design choices.

The Good
Ascension to the Throne does a few interesting things with the combat, and that’s even more important when the combat is pretty much the only aspect it has going for it. Well, that and the fact that it’s quite a power trip, which is good from where I’m standing, though those looking for a challenge will disagree. But I was talking about the interesting elements in combat, and the most obvious one is the fact that, while you can stack up to ten units of the same type in each slot, the units are displayed and treated individually, and this changes the tactics significantly.
The most obvious effect is the fact that each attacker dealing physical damage can only attack one target at a time. Then, the number of free hexes around each member of the target group determines the maximum number of potential melee attackers, offering ways to protect units. Ranged attackers don’t have this problem and their shots ignore obstacles, but each of them is still limited to shooting a single enemy unit at a time. In addition, while units can move and then perform a melee attack, and their movement range is even extended in order to allow striking any and all units in the target group if the normal movement range allows attacking at least one, they can’t both move and shoot, or cast a spell, in the same turn, and ranged attacks also can’t be performed if an enemy unit is right next to any unit from the group. Nevertheless, melee units that aren’t very fast may tend to become irrelevant rather quickly, though those that are very fast can be used to great effect, both for and against you. As for spells, the spell power and intelligence of all casters in a group is added together, but direct damage spells usually have a maximum number of units they can strike, the others in the target group being unaffected, while the power of other spell effects is divided by the number of units in the target group to determine the effect applied to each. This means it makes sense for magic resistance to reduce the power of the effects on each target, but it’s rather strange when armor acts in the same manner, reducing the total damage taken by each unit struck instead of the damage dealt by each attacker.
Your tactics need to take all of that into account, and what truly helps is that there’s no randomization, so you can truly calculate what will happen. There are no chances to hit, no damage ranges, and even the order of movement is set, the criteria used being, in order, speed, whether the unit is in the front row, and the exact position, counting from the top. If all are equal, your unit will move before the enemy’s, and there are actually a few battles that’d be unwinnable otherwise, seeing as it’s game over the moment the main character gets killed and the AI will usually prioritize doing so if possible. However, while not bad overall, said AI can easily be tricked into using spellcasters to attack other units, and I wonder if that isn’t actually intentional, considering the units faced late in the game.

As I already mentioned, while those looking for a challenge definitely won’t, another thing I enjoyed was the fact that the game is quite a power trip, and accepting some early pain, which isn’t really that much after the earliest stages, makes for even greater gains towards the end. Yes, in the beginning you will be searching for that next fight you can survive, and after a while there may be one battle that may dishearten you, which may lead to deciding to use a raft to get around it only to find that they only go one way and you’re stuck, too weak to either advance or fight your way back, but past that point it just keeps getting easier.
One thing to keep in mind is that, on top of the value of each skill point being equal to the level it was gained at, enhancing that feeling of power as the character improves more and more each time, the rewards also scale with level, so complete quests, use altars, open chests or do anything else that offers a reward as late as possible, leaving as many as you can afford for the very end if you want to end up with the best possible character. And you can also customize the benefits, each altar offering a choice of two attributes to raise, and some situations offering other choices, the only false choice being that offered by chests, as it’s never worth taking the money for yourself.
Even leaving all those rewards for the end, by actually buying the best units you can, swapping what you have for them if room is needed, you should usually avoid tricky situations, but it’s definitely possible to finish the game with few purchased units and little cannon fodder, keeping most of what you end up with around long after better options become available, creating a certain level of difficulty through your own choices and obtaining that feeling of sort of caring for the units, necessary for me to feel comfortable while playing. As a curiosity, the army I first finished the game with included a single purchased unit, the “mandatory” conqueror, the other six slots that are open at that point being filled with the one other more powerful named unit that may join and a handful of other units that join for free later in the game. It made for a difficult final battle and I died the first time, but it worked out on the second try, with a lot of care. And then, just to see what was possible, I reloaded the save from before that final series of battles and properly filled my army with a mix of powerful units, which made even those battles a joke.

Otherwise, a fair amount of attention was given to journal entries, and my complaints about the quality of the writing can’t really apply, since it’s supposed to be a journal, not a book, and it does look like one. But to return to the elements that ensure that the player is in control, another one is that, with the exception of a few scripted battles, you can see the enemies and they will turn to face you if you approach, but they will never attack on their own, and when you get close enough you’ll see a prompt asking whether you want to fight and listing the numbers and types of enemies, including how they’re grouped. Considering all these things, it’s not exactly necessary for it to autosave before each battle, but the fact that it does is another safety net for those who want it… And it may become necessary in order to continue in one or two places, due to bugs I’ll explain below. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to take the fact that units available to recruit completely replenish over the course of one day, so there’s no need to keep them alive if you can afford to replace them. But I can’t consider it a bad thing, since it doesn’t hurt those like me, who play defensively, and those playing aggressively will have one less thing to worry about.

The Bad
When it comes to the negative aspects, I must unfortunately start with the bugs. Nothing that will break the game if you’re a little careful, and perhaps make use of an autosave in one or two places, if needed, but there are quite a number of them and the reason why you need to be a little careful is that the things that should happen at the end of a conversation may not happen completely if you click through it quickly. Since it’d be far from the only text bug, I don’t know if this was the reason why I couldn’t talk to Conrad’s blacksmith after he told me to do so in order to get better equipment, but it was quite clearly the reason why the game froze at one point, and missing out on rewards is even more likely if you hurry. And it is, of course, possible for events necessary for continuing to fail to trigger, so you’re better off waiting for any other text that may show up to clear before clicking to end the conversation, and waiting for the last line to go away on its own or, if it’s a longer piece, at least giving it several seconds before clicking, if there’s no other text.
Another problem is that the game crashed quite a number of times, and a crash meant that it appeared to freeze, a window with an error appearing but needing me to hit Alt+Tab in order to see it and have the game actually close, after I clicked to close that error. These crashes usually happened at the start of battles and they were far more likely when there were multiple battles chained together, even more so if the character gained a level between such battles, and actually taking advantage of the level up animation in order to use those new skill points and/or rearrange your army made the crash pretty much a certainty. There was one place where using the autosave made before the last battle in a chain was the only way to continue, but I otherwise avoided loading autosaves, being able to do so since it worked at the second or third attempt in all other cases. The reason why I avoided loading autosaves was that I was worried that they may be somehow damaged, especially if the game crashed at that point, but also because if you load any save during battle, you’ll be faced with the prompt about starting that battle, as if you’d have loaded the autosave made before it, but all other data will be loaded from the save file you actually chose, so something seemed too strange. Had no problems as a result of loading that autosave though, nor with any other save files.
Other bugs I noticed included the fact that the character “teleported” a few times while walking, a short distance from where he was. Or that, if you have the combat instructor join you before being thrown there by the magic barrier, you’ll still have that conversation, looking like the air is talking back to you, but if you have the pilgrim join you too soon, there’s no way to get the answer to your question, though you’re admittedly able to ask for help when you reach the correct NPC even if you haven’t been told to see him. So a potentially worse problem is that the journal became unreadable, all entries appearing blank, a few times, I believe the reason being that a journal entry was added in a conversation that also allowed me to learn new spells and I did so, though it’s also possible that it was just another result of clicking to end the conversation too quickly. No idea if this can be fixed later, as I noticed it immediately and reloaded my previous save.
Moving on to text bugs, I’m sure there are more, but let’s see… The journal entry after clearing the enemies around Steelberg says you received a ring protecting against magic, but it’s in fact one protecting against physical attacks. The entry for closing the portals says that endless undead came out before you focused on the mages, but you only fight mages. You’re told to recruit as many troops as you can in Giantsville, but there’s no way to recruit any. And a particularly notable one has to do with the Old Temple quest, which seems to be a case of an idea being discarded but the journal entry being written before that happened and not changed, since said entry states that, as a reward, the monk offered to perform a ritual allowing you to resurrect if you fall in battle, but he doesn’t say so in the conversation and if you try to talk to him again at the temple you can’t say anything, can just pass by.
I’ll end this section with quite a chain of issues towards the end. You’re supposed to enter alone, without your army, and the journal entry says that you should be able to deploy it at a caravanserai, but there’s nobody you can talk to if you go there and will in fact enter with your army just fine. All conversations and journal entries will still say that you’re alone though, excepting the few units you can recruit inside. This may actually cause problems with what you can recruit, and I know it does for the group you receive when you leave, which is lost if you don’t have free slots, as you’re not asked to make some room and then try again. In addition, while a group leaves those you can see before the start of the battle, opening the gates doesn’t seem to actually affect the enemies you face in the battle itself. As for getting your armor back before that battle, I’d sure like to know how, because you’re told to meet the guy in a certain place and there would seem to be a way to get around the guards, but they still saw me even if I hugged the wall. And not that it matters, but it seems that you won’t get the soldier clothes, so the first and weakest equipment set, back when you do talk to that guy again.

I’m not sure whether a couple of oddities having to do with active spell effects are also bugs or bad design choices, so I’m adding them separately. One is that choosing to wait will cause that turn to count as two for the active spell effects, so the duration will be reduced by one, and in case of those particular spells the damage or regeneration will be applied, both when the unit’s turn initially comes and when it’ll get the next chance to act, after choosing to wait. And the other is that I sometimes got the impression that the duration of the effects is counted more accurately than in turns, so an effect with one turn left may vanish before the unit’s next move.

Something that’s clearly a bad design choice is that healing works just like any other spell, the effect being divided equally between the units in the target group instead of healing those that need it as much as possible, or at least working as an attack, allowing one specific unit to be selected, the game determining which others any remaining power goes to, prioritizing those with lower health. But now that I mentioned how attacking works, I must emphasize what an unbelievably bad design choice that is. Units are treated as individuals, not stacks, but when a group attacks another group, or when a spell that can’t affect all the units in the target group is used, you can only choose the first specific unit to target, the game determining the others, focusing on those that can be killed if they exist. If you want to spread attacks differently, possibly to “soften” a group in order to kill more with a later attack, you can’t. And, while I’m at it, movement works the same way, with only a single hex being selected as the destination, the exact positioning of the units in the group in that area being determined by the game. In addition, while when you attack you can at least see the damage that will be dealt as you hover over the target group, in case of movement you can only click directly, the positioning of the units at the destination being shown after you do.

Past that, the story is generic, mainly only there to push you from one battle to the next. But the feeling of power and the battles themselves can probably do that well enough, so it’s the conversations with NPCs that I’d consider more of a negative aspect, as quite a number of times they’re laughable, and by that I don’t mean intentionally humorous. Wonder how much of that is a case of lost in translation though, the developers being Russian. And, while I’m at it, a conversation is the only way to interact with stores as well. An interface for learning spells is created by adding a little more information to the one for casting them, and that for recruiting troops is similarly created out of the army one, but you can only talk to shopkeepers and ask them to describe the items they sell, one at a time. Admittedly, this doesn’t take long, since each shopkeeper has at most two items to sell. And no, with the exception of one suit of armor, you can’t sell anything back.

It does look like the developers had very limited resources to work with, and that shows very clearly even in Oganthar, which is by far the most developed area, the later ones clearly being rushed. The different regions follow pretty much the same pattern, and while the buildings do look different, the other assets are reused everywhere. It’s strange that some locations seem to lack some of the standard NPCs without any explanation though. But I’d say that an even clearer sign of rushing is the walk to Suntown or Arthur’s Castle, and then all the way to the back of Gilbert’s Castle and that quest location. That’s the last part of “mainland” Oganthar you’ll reach, and you’ll have no events, quests, NPCs or battles during that long walk.
What makes the exploration aspect even worse is that you can’t really explore even what is there. What would be obvious access routes are permanently closed off, there are invisible walls everywhere, can’t climb anything, can’t jump at all… Yes, if there’s nothing relevant past those invisible walls or impassable tiny obstacles, being able to go there might have done little to improve the impression. However, I found one spot, in Annaroth, where I could break through the invisible wall and wander all over the mountains, which offered some interesting views, and also allowed me to actually go to a ruin that I guess was just placed there as a piece of scenery to be seen from below. No rewards, no battles, but I rather enjoyed simply being allowed to freely explore for a while.

The graphics and animations also indicate the low production value, and the very short draw distance for scenery objects and textures, and the fact that they just pop in when you get that close, is rather strange, but that’s not something that can bother me in itself. What did at times get on my nerves, on the other hand, was that constant clinking of armor while moving. The lack of a minimap was also occasionally frustrating, but the map can be used to get your bearings well enough. And I’ll also add here that certain elements that seem intended for Valkyrie, such as rings from shops and even an altar intended for a ranged attacker, are placed in the game and unusable, the hero stating that they’re useless for him, though Eneya does take one ring you find in a chest… And that’s also the only time when a named unit improves while in your army, the other improvements to those you need to have with you happening when they return after some time away, while the optional named units never improve at all.

The Bottom Line
In the end, Ascension to the Throne is quite a power trip, and may be seen as a decent effort overall if the resources available to the developers were indeed the limiting factor. There are bugs, but nothing breaking the game, any quest or character development if you’re a little careful. The story is generic and exploration is severely restricted and not that interesting to begin with, but there’s enough content for this type of game and the gameplay is, after all, defined mainly by the battles and the feeling of increasing power. And Ascension to the Throne does a great job when it comes to the latter aspect, albeit too good of a job for those looking for a challenge. As for the former, there are some interesting concepts, even if part of the potential is wasted due to some bad design choices. Not a game you need to play by any stretch of the term, but definitely one you can play if you enjoy the genre.

By Cavalary on March 1, 2020

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