Avalon Code (3): THAT plot twist (with massive chunks of SPOILERS!)

Before we start, be warned: this post is basically one huge spoiler. If you ever intend to play Avalon Code, avert your eyes, lest the impact of the most intense event of the story be entirely ruined. That being said, on with the show!

Well, well, well. THAT Plot Twist. That soul-wrenching, nerve-wracking Plot Twist. That Mother of all plot twists, which makes your head reel and your heart break. I definitely couldn’t avoid talking at length about the plot twist that shocked me the most since the one in Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Game Boy, twenty years ago. 

Plot twists are not uncommon in RPGs, and I’ve seen my fair share of them over the years. I can’t even say this one took me by surprise: as a matter of fact, I saw it coming from afar. When Chapter 5 started, with the Tournament looming in the horizon, I knew we had a plot twist coming. Call it experience, or intuition, but I was absolutely certain something would happen at the end of that fated Tournament. But despite being so sure and trying to guess what could be in store, I certainly didn’t expect that. Not in a million years. This plot twist is astonishing in more ways than one, and here’s why.

Too much of a bad thing

Story-wise, what happens in Avalon Code's god-forsaken plot twist is not really that original. I mentioned the plot twist of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening earlier, which actually happens to be a highly original one; but I would be hard-pressed to find the same amount of sheer originality in Avalon Code’s plot twist events. Everything that happens in the course of that plot twist has been seen before in other RPGs, sometimes much more than once. Let’s review it all: 

—Your best friend makes an alliance with the enemy, backstabbing you in the process? We’ve totally seen this before.
—Your lover is ripped away from your loving arms and left for dead? We’ve seen that too, sure.
—Your town is destroyed by the enemy, and you end up being wrongly accused of being the source of that disaster? This, too, has been seen before.
—The whole town turns against you and everybody line up to spit their anger, hate and despise to your face? Humm, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before.
—The most important item in the whole game world is stolen from you, and the faithful guardian spirits who were always by your side are scattered all around the world? Well, there are likely some variations of this around.
—You lose all your weapons, equipment and items? This is a bit more unusual, maybe, but I’m sure it’s not unheard of. 

So, there is nothing unseen in the fabric of that plot twist, no event likely to shake you by virtue of its massive originality. We’ve seen all of these elements before, without a doubt. 

But we’ve certainly not seen all of them unfold at once, in the course of a single plot twist. 

This is the first stroke of genius of that plot twist, and the first factor that contributes to the huge emotional impact of the whole event. What you see in that plot twist is basically the painful and total unraveling of your life as a character. All hell breaks loose, and you have to sit and watch powerless as everything you patiently built during the first half of the game is being torn to pieces and tramped down before your very teary eyes. I’ve never seen a plot twist go that far in terms of stripping the main character of everything they care about and strived for, and you certainly have to give the developers kudos for having had the guts to go to such lengths for the sake of emotional impact and storyline consistency.  

More gain, more pain

So, the developers designed this heart-breaking plot twist to start with; but you, as a player, also lent a hand in making it so devastating, although you may have been totally unaware of it at the time.

This is made possible because of the peculiar nature of the 5th chapter of the game, which precedes that fated plot twist. Unlike all the others chapters, the 5th is not tied to the clearance of a dungeon; it’s somehow a “breather” chapter, in which you can spend time interacting with NPCs and run errands for them, as well as initiate the romance process. In fact, you are very explicitly encouraged to do so by a certain NPC, who even lets you know that you can indeed get a sweetheart before the Tournament; and if you like the game, which is obviously the case if you’ve come that far, you will want to indulge into these interactions. You will definitely want to clear as many sidequests as possible, and to dive head first into the romance thing, hitting on your favourite bachelor and handing over presents like there’s no tomorrow and no overdraft limit. You will crave for that, and you will work hard on it, o yes indeed, precious.

And by doing so, you will pave the way for your own misery when the plot twist comes your way: for the more you involve yourself into this 5th chapter and pour your heart and soul into these interactions with the NPCs, the more your heart will ache when all hell breaks loose. You will have to endure the searing pain of losing your newfound sweetheart just after you worked so hard to woo them, becoming quite fond of them in the process. After you’ve grown attached to the townspeople without even realizing it through numerous interactions, it will be incredibly painful to watch them accuse and accurse you unfairly for the destruction of the town. There is a nearly perverse mechanism at work here, and once again, kudos must be delivered to the developers for having arranged things so neatly and designed this 5th chapter so very cleverly, making it another stroke of genius. It is a bittersweet treat, which is bound to bring you both joy and pain; and the higher the joy, the deeper the pain, really. 

You took it for granted, didn’t you? 

But that’s not all, folks; for your misery goes even further and deeper than this. In the course of that soul-shattering plot twist, not only do you lose your lover, your best friend and anybody else you may care about, along with the trust and respect of your fellow townspeople; you also lose the Book of Prophecy and the Spirits. It hurts to have this Book, which you’ve been carefully taking care of and came to consider your own, brutally ripped away from you, especially since some of the pages are torn and lost in the process; it basically feels like all your hard work until now is being tramped down without pity. Seeing the friendly Spirits being scattered away is also quite heart-breaking, especially since there’s nothing you can do about it. 

While this event obviously inserts into the in-game storyline, the impact of it goes much further than that, for it drastically alters the gameplay itself. You suddenly find yourself unable to fight with your weapons, heal yourself and equip your gear, much less scan enemies and objects and modify them at will; and instead of being accompanied by the constant babbling of the Spirits, you are now left in a complete, slightly surreal silence. This is a major rupture in the game, all the more so as by that time, you have grown accustomed to the use of the Book, and essentially take it for granted.  Once again, this is a very bold step taken by the developers: it’s not so often, if ever, that an element in the storyline translates into a change at the meta-level of the gameplay itself. A third stroke of genius, and one bound to remind the player in the most shocking way that the Book is definitely more than a mere menu interface, should they have forgotten it. 

I’m a poor lonesome hero

The aftermath of all this mess is immediate, and desolate: you find yourself in a nearly complete solitude, forlorn and dispirited—literally—as you try to get your head around what happened. The game then gives you a glimpse of relief when Lauca Meia and Heath take you under their wing and help you, respectively by offering you shelter and teaching you a new fighting technique, and Rex comes out of the blue, seemingly ready to make amend for his damn stupid behaviour by retrieving the lost pages of the Book. But this warm companionship is short-lived indeed, for you soon find yourself alone again after everybody part to follow their own way. This parting left me disappointed and slightly anxious, yet there was no choice but to move forward.

What follows is one of the most intense moments of the game, as you find yourself going through the unknown Eastern Desert in order to reach the Ruins and retrieve the Book, which is currently in Olly’s hands. You have to do so bare-handed, using this new fighting style that you’re still trying to grasp; and you have to do so nearly blindly, as you can’t count on any map to orientate yourself.  This, added to the desolate surroundings and the eerie music theme, creates a very powerful sense of fragility and insecurity. During this trip, your head is reeling with mixed feelings and emotions: sadness, resignation, resolve, and even a pang of guilt, especially regarding your lost lover, who you seemingly wooed only to drag them into this mess. 

I have to say that this desert trip, and the emotions it elicited, reminded me a lot of my post-plot twist experience with Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I felt the same mix of sadness, resignation and resolve as I went through the Face Shrine dungeon, with its convoluted design and eerie music, my mind still reeling from the impact of the devastating plot twist. There was also an similar feeling of guilt; though not about some misery I did bring upon the people, but rather about the unavoidable misery I was about to bring to them by going forward with my quest. All in all, two very similar experiences, both incredibly intense and memorable. 

The road to recovery

At the end of this feverish desert trip, you fight Olly and finally recover the Book. To do so is an exhilarating experience: at last, you are able to equip you weapons again, to orientate yourself and to scan like there’s no tomorrow, not to mention that hey, it’s your precious Book after all, right? This is the very first step of a long road to recovery, in every sense of the world: from now on, you will have to set everything right, first by hunting for the Spirits and the missing pages in order to gain back the Book’s full power, then by beating the bastards who created all this mess to a pulp. A heavy agenda, indeed; but after enduring such misery at the hands of Kullervo and his little cronies, you’ll find yourself incredibly eager to recover what you fought so hard for in the first place. In fact, I can't remember having ever wanted that much to set things right while playing an RPG.

The rest is history, as you’ll go through dangers and dungeons, reclaiming the faithful Spirits, the trust of the townspeople, and even your lover in the end, and finally erasing Kullervo from the face of the world. And when everything is said and done, you will undoubtedly remember that plot twist as one of the most striking, intense and mind-blowing that ever unfolded before your eyes. Hey, it’s THAT Plot Twist, after all.

Here ends my praise of Avalon Code. There would be plenty more to say about many more matters, from the romance to the hidden secrets of the game, but there are tons of excellent FAQ around there dedicated to this very purpose and doing a much better job at it that I could ever do on that blog. My task was to praise that game and shout my love for it to the face of the internet, and I definitely feel that the deed is done. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Avalon Code (2): Lovely idiosyncrasies

I love when my RPG strays from the classical path and offer some original features. And with Avalon Code, I certainly got my fill of such things. There would be tons of interesting details to mention; but for the sake of brevity, and to avoid spoiling too much of the game, I will only expose the five points which struck me as the most original and endearing while playing Avalon Code. There are no major spoilers here, so you can proceed unworried!

1—Gone with the wind

Take a good look around: nearly everywhere you go in the world of Avalon Code, you can see pieces of grass and leaves gently floating in the air and being carried away by a seemingly endless soft breeze, while your own coat is constantly moving in the most graceful way. When you walk next to some trees, you can see flocks of birds take their flight. All these lovely aerial animations give the game a touch of sweet, poetic liveliness that is entirely enjoyable. 

2—Night trespassers—herm, suitors

The world of Avalon Code is indeed a strange one. Guess how potential love interests who are smitten with your declare their flame? Not by offering you flowers, taking you out for a romantic stroll, offering you dinner, or any other classic way. Instead, they sneak into your house at night, coyly greet you with a “Guess Who?” and demand that you actually identify them from the sound on their voice asking that question alone; and if your guess is right, they will then profess their undying love for you. Now, I wonder if this is supposed to be taken literally: are these freaks really trespassing on your property in the middle of the night and standing next to your bed while blurting out their confession like creepy stalkers, or is it supposed to be something more allegorical? Like, a projection of your own affection for them, or maybe some kind of telepathy? Guess we’ll never know for sure. But at any rate, it’s certainly original and quite memorable.

3—Courtesy is SO overrated

Maybe this whole night trespassing is falling into a larger pattern of general callousness that prevails in Avalon Code’s world, after all. For let’s face it, people in this game are downright rude. Some NPCs will sneer at you and hand over good doses of sarcasm, all the while seeming to enjoy it immensely, if the smug expressions on their faces while doing so are to be believed. Others will simply repeatedly refuse to speak to you and rebuff your communication attempts in the bluntest manner. Others will purely and simply insult you and belittle your abilities—and that category includes your supposed best friend and your sword master, of all people. Talk about keeping your enemies close. But don’t start thinking that your character is the only pure, gracious, courteous little lamb in a flock of rude, bullying rams, for that is not quite the case. As a matter of fact, your character gives others a run for their money by being, every once in a while, as rude and blunt as the rest of them. During several cutscenes, your character will basically and literally turn their back on a NPC in the middle of an explanation and start to walk away, visibly bored to death by the drone of the said NPC. I kid you not. You have to see it to believe it, and it’s actually somewhat of a light jaw-dropper, for being so uncommon in the RPG world, where heroes are always eager to listen to whatever woes are plaguing poor, unhappy NPCs. Still, don’t get the wrong idea and let this put you out: all this lack of courtesy belongs to the goofy side of the game, and is handled in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner that will often have you smile and grin. And let’s face it, it’s a refreshing and quirky change from the classic goody-goodiness and immaculate politeness boasted by heroes and friendly NPCs in most RPGs.  

4—Bookworming galore

The Book of Prophecy is, well, a book. And as such, it contains tons of interesting data. You have codes and maps, of course, but there is actually more to be found. By poking your stylus on the areas looking like lines of text in the pages of the book, you can uncover some information about the content of the page that you’re poking, from enemies’ weaknesses to the particular piece of lore linked to a certain spot. Uncovering this data is as exciting as flipping through the pages of a good encyclopedia in real life, and it adds a lot of depth to the game world; it also brilliantly shows the love, passion and dedication of the game developers, who went to great lengths to create a fully-fledged and deep game world. 

5—Pixel hunting

As you start playing Avalon Code and roam the game world, you may notice very quickly that by pressing the A button while standing in certain spots, you can trigger hidden captions describing elements of the scenery. Those captions are cleverly concealed in every piece of the world map outside of dungeons, and uncovering them can raise the value of the Book of Prophecy and sometimes reveal hidden items. This is some kind of secret feature, for it is mentioned neither in the instruction booklet nor in the paper-thin in-game tutorials; and yet, for some reason, every Avalon Code player seems to know about it. And while uncovering these secret captions is by no mean a mandatory task, it can still become surprisingly addictive. In some areas, the dispatch of the captions follows some logic, and discovering this logic can be thrilling; in others, it turns to random pixel hunting and can really test your patience. But at any rate, it adds some depth to the game, by virtually turning every section of the map into a mini-game of its own, and shows once again the dedication and care poured by the developers in the creation of the game world.

Bonus: When darkness falls (light spoilers)

Remember that moment, at the end of The Two Towers in the Lord of The Rings book trilogy, when a dark cloud creeps out of Mordor and spreads all over Gondor? Well, there is a similar event in Avalon Code. Towards the end of the storyline, darkness spreads across the whole world, accompanied by a perfectly fitted piece of music, all ominous double bass and burial bells. Pretty impressive, and very efficient in reminding you that, you know, the end is near. Brrrrr.

Bonus: Welcome to the Matrix (light spoilers)

At some point in the game, you have to learn a new fighting style, which is taught to you in a way that is very reminiscent of Morpheus’s martial art lesson to Neo in The Matrix. Just like in The Matrix, it happens at a point in the storyline where your vision of the world have been shaken to the core, and is certainly one of the finest and most well-crafted moments of Avalon Code. Not only is it bound to have a great psychological impact on the player, but it’s also highly enjoyable to play, for the said new fighting style is quite sleek and smoothand very Matrix-like in style, indeed.

Like I said, there are many more original and endearing details woven in Avalon Code’s virtual fabric. If you’ve played the game, let me know which ones struck you the most! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Avalon Code (1): The brightest hidden gem of them all

I am in LOVE with that game. Completely, deliriously, ridiculously in love. 

Avalon Code, developed by Matrix Software and released in 2008(jp), 2009(na) and 2010(eu) for the Nintendo DS, is the classic example of an underrated game. It’s a great and polished RPG that, for a number of reasons, went mostly unnoticed at the time of its release and then very quickly slipped into obscurity. 

Before I purchased and started playing this game, I browsed through a few reviews out of curiosity, just to know what kind of game I should expect. Those reviews painted a basic picture of a slightly-above-average game, with somewhat gimmicky and occasionally cumbersome mechanics. A game that was indeed good, but by no means extraordinary, and would certainly not rank amongst the best RPGs for the DS. And thus, my idea was made. I expected a game that would offer me a nice experience, but would ultimately not be that memorable, and would certainly not enter my personal RPG hall of fame.

Boy, how utterly wrong I was.

I fell in love with Avalon Code within the very first minutes of playing. It totally blew my mind, and swept me with an overwhelming sense on wonderment, elation and giddy joy that I had not experienced with such intensity since my Solo Run of Dragon Quest IX. In my eye, this game feels like a true work of love, and an impressive one at that. I want to give it the praise I feel it rightfully deserves, and hopefully make more people eager to discover that beautiful, sparkling hidden gem. 

But before that, I want to try to figure out how such a great game came to be so little known and underrated, while explaining at the same time what Avalon Code is all about. For it seems to me that the reasons why this gem slipped through the greatness radar and fell into obscurity are somehow linked to the very nature of Avalon Code’s concept and gameplay. 

That (in)famous Book of Prophecy

Avalon Code’s most distinctive and unique feature is the so-called “Book of Prophecy”, which you receive at the very beginning of the game. Long story short, it’s basically the most important item in the game world, highly coveted by several villains, and it allows you to record data from people, monsters and others objects of interest. This data is made of so-called “codes”, shaped like Tetris pieces, which you can recombine to your liking in order to change said people and monsters’ attributes, as well as create all sorts of weapons, accessories and objects to help you during your adventure. The Book’s very existence and presence is of course justified by the storyline, which puts you in the role of the “Chosen One” who will have the important role of recording into the Book everything valuable before the world comes to an end, and then decide what the new world will look like. 

This very distinctive feature is also the most universally lambasted by critics and players alike, who ramble endlessly about how cumbersome and inconvenient it is, and about how it turns out to be a really uncomfortable and unpractical menu system. And here is, in my opinion, the first great misconception that tipped Avalon Code towards that undeserved fall into obscurity: to reduce the Book to a mere menu interface, while it is actually so much more than that. While the menu is actually contained in the Book, the Book itself can definitely not be described as only a kind of glorified and somewhat gimmicky menu system. At this point, we have to remember who created this game in the first place: Avalon Code is the brainchild of producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto, of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory fame. The similarities between these two series and Avalon Code cannot be ignored and overlooked, as they share the same basic principle of nurturing, organizing and tilling a defined space in the game world. That defined space is pretty figurative in the Harvest and Rune series, as it happens to be a farm where you have to grow crops and tend animals, and more abstract in Avalon Code, where you are in charge of rearranging Tetris-shaped pieces of codes within the pages of a Book; but the idea at the root of the gameplay is undeniably similar. You are expected to take charge of the Book and to organize it to your liking, for instance by grouping similar codes together in some pages in order to make them easier to retrieve when they become necessary. Unfortunately, because the Book is so often seen and presented as only a mere menu interface, most players don’t dare to modify it as much as they could, thus making the search for specific codes unnecessarily harder and depriving themselves of the joy of mastering the Book and making it their own. It certainly doesn’t help that the whole concept is so abstract; in fact, the abstraction of it all may very well have fuelled this unfortunate misapprehension of reducing a key gameplay element to a mere menu gimmick.  

Three games in one

This reduction of the Book of Prophecy to a menu interface while it’s actually so much more is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the net of misapprehension surrounding Avalon Code. The game is nearly universally presented as an Action RPG with a few gimmicks, including the Book of Prophecy; but a closer look at it shatters this idea. Avalon Code is no mere Action RPG; in fact, it’s technically not even a full-blown Action RPG to start with. Upon careful inspection and play, Avalon Code turns out to be a genuine mix of three different gaming genres, represented in fairly equal proportions. 

Now, that certainly makes the whole picture harder to apprehend and fuels further dislike of the game. While many of us can gladly accept a twist on a familiar genre, approaching and appreciating a true mix of genres can be much more challenging, especially when the said genres happens to differ wildly and when the player is expected to switch from one genre’s style of gameplay to the other on the fly, which is precisely the case in Avalon Code. As for the three genres, here they are:

When dealing with the Book, the game plays like a Puzzle game. You are expected to use visual memory and strategic thinking as you cleverly reorganize codes in order to create new items and make the Book your own carefully tilled field—albeit a rather abstract one, granted. As you progress through the game, you will obtain recipes to create new items, the most valuable of them being presented as sliding puzzles that you have to solve first in order to get the much coveted recipe. Basically, as puzzle-like as it can get without turning straight into Tetris.

When on the field or in dungeons, the game plays like an action-adventure game, similar to the Zelda series. You are then expected to slay enemies on the go and solve practical puzzles entirely based on skill and good timing. You can handle two different weapons at the same time, just like in Zelda games, and even pull out a sword attack which is virtually a rip-off of Link’s Spin Attack. 

When interacting with NPCs, the game plays like a glorified and expanded romance sim. The romance that you can initiate with a few chosen NPCs is only a piece of that juicy expanded romance sim pie: in fact, by handing over presents like there’s no tomorrow, you can deepen your relationship with virtually every single character in the game and get to know them better through cutscenes, on top on getting interesting items that they will gracefully hand you if you do their bidding.

Like I mentioned earlier, these three styles of gameplay constantly overlap: as a result, Avalon Code is much more demanding and harder to master than a game sticking to a single genre. This is also a bone of contention when it comes to criticizing the game, as many reviewers and players felt the whole thing turned out to be messy and confusing, without really being able to pinpoint the exact reason why it felt so. But when all is sorted out and when one knows what to expect, it’s really just a matter of being patient and dedicated enough to learn how to master Avalon Code’s complex patchwork of a gameplay.

From giggles to tears

Another point that rubbed some reviewers the wrong way is Avalon Code’s unevenness when it comes to its general tone. Most RPGs choose a type of atmosphere and stick to it all along the storyline, whether it’s dark, solemn, melancholic or light-hearted; but Avalon Code is a game that stubbornly refuses to commit to a single mood. In fact, Avalon Code may very well be the ultimate gaming incarnation of mood swings: here is a game that switches shamelessly from one tone to the next in the blink of an eye. 

Let’s first tackle the bright side of the Force. Avalon Code is a game that is unashamedly goofy. Goofiness basically pops up in every place, and no place or circumstance is sacred enough to be spared by this invasion. It pops up in the middle of fights, with the deliciously ridiculous Judgment Link move and the equally deliciously ridiculous dedicated music that accompanies it. It pops up in the peculiar dressing style of many characters, which will make your eyes bleed. Heck, this is a game in which minotaurs don kilts and in which your very character themselves are dressed like they basically jumped into the first pieces of clothing they drew out of the closet. It seeps from tons of cutscenes and one-liners making fun of characters, so much so that in the end, everybody gets their fifteen minutes of shame. Yep, even the king of the country, and even your main character. On some occasions, the goofiness even takes a step further and gets a corny edge. This corny edge, as you may imagine, appears mostly through the romance scenes. I have very little interest in romance in general when it comes to fiction or videogames, and tend to be rather blasé about it; and yet, I found myself grinning stupidly more than once as the romantic scenes unfolded. 

But as the Force, this game has a much darker side. The overall story actually has a rather dark tone to start with, casting you as a character whose mission is to save valuable things before the world’s imminent destruction, rather than to prevent that said destruction itself as in most RPGs. That very story then throws at you one of the most shocking plot twist I’m ever seen in a videogame, leaving your character in absolute misery and yourself in a whirlwind of conflicting emotions (and as you may expect, there will be a post about this). Towards the end of the storyline, the atmosphere gets darker and darker, both literally and figuratively, as though the game feels compelled to remind you at every second that, you know, the world is going to end soon; and it does so in a way that is incredibly effective. And yet, at the same time, you can still practice the silly Judgment Link move in combat, or get corny love confessions.  

So yes, this game has mood swings; and so will you when you play it. This is a game that will make you grin and giggle like a teenager at times, and feel sad and miserable at others. You will go from peaks of elation to pits of misery in the course of a single playthrough. Like it or not, that’s how Avalon Code is, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially since it’s so craftily executed. 

And all that’s in between

Apart from all this, Avalon Code’s road to glory may have been hampered by a few other elements that set it dramatically apart from the current trends in videogaming. 

This game is HARD. It’s not one of those RPGs that will have you brag about clearing a whole playthrough while dying only twice. You WILL die in this game, and you will die a lot; so much, in fact, that you soon won’t bother keeping track of your deaths. You will die because enemies are numerous, vicious and determined to knock you dead, and your life bar starts off as miserably tiny. On top of that, the weapons take some training to get used to, and even the seemingly ridiculous Judgment Link move is quite hard to master, causing you to die again and again at the hands of enemies until you become an expert in all thing fighting. Still, this is no Ghost’n’Goblins: Avalon Code remains fair in its hardness and shows some mercy, allowing you to start again from the point where you die and to save your progression at any moment. So while there is undoubtedly an element of patient die&retry here, it’s thankfully not a punishing one.

This game is CRYPTIC. Tutorials, when there are any, are reduced to a bare minimum, and even the manual is far from being exhaustive when it comes to game features and mechanics. Thus, you are left having to figure out a lot of things by yourself, by exploring and poking your nose and stylus all around the place. (Once again, quite a Zelda-like feature, in my opinion.) 

This game is DEMANDING. Not only is the learning curve steep, but it also branches out in different directions, due to the mix of gameplay styles at the core of the game. It requires patience and dedication, and a lot of practice. On top of that, Avalon Code doesn’t flaunt its secrets easily: in fact, if you want to see all that the game has to offer, you will very likely have to tackle more than one playthrough. Even more than two or three, for that matter. Some items are basically too well-hidden to be discovered on a first playthrough, and may only be discovered on subsequent ones, as your knowledge and understanding of the game’s logic increases. On top of that, Avalon Code boasts a resolutely conservative approach when it comes to romance, allowing you to date only one character at a time. It also offers different types of romantic scenes, depending at which moment of the game you woo potential sweethearts. This, combined to the fact that you can play as a male or a female character, means that if you want to see the unfolding of all the romance events for all the potential bachelors, you will have to replay the game numerous times. Plain and simple. And unashamedly demanding. Now, of course, this can also be seen as high replay value; and replay value is good, o yes precious. 

So, while these points don’t lower the quality of the game by any means, one has to admit that they are not exactly in touch with the mood of the times. In a gaming era that gave birth to games like Final Fantasy XIII and Beyond: Two Souls, which play virtually like interactive movies, the notions of die&retry, meticulous exploration, patience and perseverance are not likely to make a hit. These are concepts that hark back to the old days of 8 and 16-bits gaming, when difficulty was not considered a major deterrent to gaming; and I strongly think that difficulty of this sort still shouldn’t be a deterrent to gaming and get in a game’s way to greatness. 

So, this is what Avalon Code is all about. I really feel that most critics approached that game with a set of mind that was too narrow, reducing it to less than what it actually is and brushing it off way too quickly. This is definitely a shiny hidden gem that needs to be rediscovered, appreciated, cherished and, last but not least, played to death. I’m not done yet with that game, both on this blog and on my DS; oh no! There’s more coming soon!

Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Dragon Quest IX-The Elusive Solo Run (4): Tips and tricks for the road

Here come the fourth and final post of my Dragon Quest IX Solo run feature, in which I will provide a few tips to help you make the most of it, before giving my final thoughts on the matter. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Tip#1: critical hits are a loner’s bane

The biggest threat to the smooth progression of your Solo Run lies in the critical hits, which can be devastating when fighting a boss. These dangerous blows can drain your HP in tremendous amounts, forcing you to waste precious time and resources to heal yourself—that is, if they don’t knock you out entirely in the first place. Since critical hits are bound to land on you during every single boss fight, you cannot count on luck alone to avoid them, and must find a surer way to do so. And fortunately, there is one in the game. The only way to forever get rid of the critical hits threat is to raise your Shield Skill to 100, and then equip a shield at all times. By doing so, your shield will automatically deflect any critical hit aimed at you, leaving you totally unscathed, with the added bonus of the enemy losing one turn. You don’t even specifically need to trigger this skill during a fight, for it remains active at all times—which makes it even sweeter, if that’s even possible.

Tip#2: become your very own private tank

In a classic Party Run, you can have one character acting specifically as a shield and protector for the rest of the team by taking all the nasty blows aimed at other party members. This character is usually referred to as a “tank”, and sure enough, there is a class dedicated to that function in Dragon Quest IX, which is the Paladin. The problem is, you cannot use this class to protect yourself in a Solo Run, for it is specifically designed to protect others. Yet, you still have to protect yourself as efficiently as possible. It’s especially true in some of the boss fights: some boss have regular hits that are nearly as devastating as critical hits in term of HP cost, and can basically force you into a vicious circle of having to heal every single turn without ever being able to attack them. The best way to avoid such a nasty turn of events is to make good use of what I would call the “deflecting abilities”. There are two skills in the game that are designed to fire the enemy’s blows back at them, leaving you fresh and untouched while hurting the enemy in the process. The first one is “Back Atcha”, available in the Shield Skill Tree at the 82 points mark, which deflects physical attacks. It only lasts one turn, and has to be activated again for further use. The second one is “Magic Mirror”, also available in the Shield Skill Tree at the 40 points mark, which deflects magical attacks. Its effect lasts for a few turns, allowing you to conveniently land hits in the meantime. Those two skills should be put to good use, for they offer great protection to the Solo Runner and can even allow you to win boss battles that may have seemed impossible at first. 

Tip#3: Spear, Axe and Silver

One of the most beloved staples in the Dragon Quest series in the presence of the infamous Metal Slimes. These elusive beasts, which are seldom spotted and are notoriously prone to escape, can reward you with a ridiculously high amount of experience points if you manage to take them down. But that is not a feat easily achieved, for these slippery metalized slimes have a strong tendency to flee from battle after only a handful of turns. The most common way to beat them on a classic party setting is to have your whole team ganging up on them with attacks tailored against anything metal and destroy them before they can even stand a chance to escape; but that is obviously not a viable option for a Solo Run. You will usually only have two or three turns to attack before they run away, and no metal-tailored attack is strong enough to take them down in so short a time. In order to do so, you must resort to a duo of very specific attacks, designed to aim a critical hit when they succeed, the probability of doing so being of 50%. It may seem low, but it’s a much better and surer way to wipe out metal slimes than any other attack you could use. These two attacks are “Thunder Thrust”, available in the Spear Skill Tree at the 58 points mark, and “Hatchet Man”, available in the Axe Skill Tree at the 58 points mark. They come quite cheap compared to the amount of goodness they can reap, and landing a successful critical hit on a huge Metal King Slime by using one of these two deadly moves will bring a tremendous amount of satisfaction, along with an equally tremendous amount of XP. 

Tip#4: be Swift

Agility is an important ability that tends to be often overlooked. Your Agility stats, compared to the ones boasted by your foe, determine who will attack first: the one with the highest Agility gets the first turn. Now, you can imagine how crucial high Agility stats may become in a Solo Run: it can basically make the difference between a good and a bad start in a fight, by giving you time to cast a welcome shielding ability before your foe gets the chance to land a hit on you, or slice that Metal King Slime in two before it manages to escape. The best way to raise your Agility is to get 100 points on the Martial Artist’s Focus Skill Tree. Doing so will grant you 100 extra Agility points, which will be enough to give you an edge over virtually every single enemy, including Metal Slimes. 

Well, that will be it for the tips! Hopefully they will be of some use to any aspirant loner, and will help turn a future Solo Run into a great and memorable experience. I really encourage any Dragon Quest IX fan to try this way of playing at least once, especially since it may very well have been the very way the game was designed to be played in the first place. Now that may seem a little weird and far-fetched to assume such a thing, but think of it for a second: it’s fairly well-known that Dragon Quest IX was originally intended to be a more action-oriented RPG, with a strong focus on multiplayer. It would then seem logic to assume that it would feature a single character created and trained by the player, interacting at will with others characters also created and trained by others players. (This makes even more sense given that, as I mentioned earlier, Action-RPGs usually tend to be solo affairs.) This direction was then abandoned due to irate fans protesting against it, and Dragon Quest IX ended up as a fairly traditional turn-based RPG, much like the other entries in the series. Yet, the possibility of recruiting your own party of computer-created characters strongly feels like it’s been added only as an afterthought to content long-time fans and make them feel more at home. Had it been planned from the very start, the teammates would have been included in the storyline, much like in Dragon Quest IV or VI. Yet they are not, and are actually little more than a pis aller for players who want to play the traditional way on their own without resorting to the multiplayer option. So here’s my point: by playing Dragon Quest IX solo, you may actually be tapping at the game’s forgotten and deeply buried roots, and rekindle the way it was supposed to be played in the first place. This is only my own theory, and I may be entirely wrong; but the Solo Run is such a smooth and rich experience that it’s really hard to believe that the game was not, indeed, initially designed to be played that way. “Try it and see for yourselves, and have loads of fun doing so!” will be my final words on the matter, concluding this Dragon Quest IX Solo Run feature. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Dragon Quest IX-The Elusive Solo Run (3): Why it is so good

Here comes the third part of my Solo Run feature, in which I will focus on the various reasons that make a Solo Run such an enjoyable and unique experience. A Solo Run of Dragon Quest IX is, indeed, a rather fascinating experience, which sheds a different light on the whole game. Some elements tend to be magnified by it, others reduced or entirely erased, creating a different game experience from the one you would have playing with a full-blown party. Here are the reasons that make this experience unique and well worth-trying:

The “Chosen One” factor

A Solo Run tremendously reinforces the feeling of being THE Lonely Hero who bears on their frail shoulders (or maybe not so frail, as we’ll see in the next paragraph) the responsibility of saving the whole world. Wandering alone on the huge world map is an experience like no other; it casts you as a lone ranger in a massive world and makes you truly feel like a full-fledged explorer. On top of that, it makes your experience more cohesive with the story and the cutscenes, where you always appear alone, and removes the unsatisfying experience of having your party members starring virtually no role in the storyline and never appearing in the said cutscenes. 

The “Overpowered” factor

As I mentioned in my post about the misconceptions related to the Solo Run, there is definitely a sweet and exhilarating thrill in controlling a single character that may ultimately become able to wield every single weapon in the game and to master every spell, attack and ability, which is achieved by raising both the weapon and passive skills stats to 100, along with tackling all the sidequests related to the access to extra classes and special attacks. Even more thrilling is the fact that you can reach this ultimate and comprehensive mastery much earlier than you would while playing with a full party, due to the faster leveling-up process. I personally managed to get the twelve available classes and raise ALL my stats to 100 after roughly 65 hours of gameplay, thus gaining access to this delicious state of mastery, and then spent the rest of my playthrough toying endlessly with the many possibilities that were offered to me and enjoying them to the fullest. 

The “Get the Best Gear” factor

This may be a mere detail, but it is one that definitely has some importance in RPGs. By playing Solo, you will always have enough monetary resources to buy the best equipment available right away in every new town you visit, being thus as fully prepared as you can for the unavoidable local challenge that lies ahead and avoiding the frustration of being taunted by tempting yet unaffordable items, lest you spend two hours grinding for money.  If you’ve ever been playing with a party and struggling to make ends meet, all the while despairing to see your party donning lousy mismatched equipment, you know what I’m talking about. And believe me, that may be but a detail, but it’s a very sweet one indeed, and one you may definitely appreciate. 

The “Menu Navigation is so deliciously sleek!” factor

Ever been trudging through the menu system after you recruited your party, going from menu to sub-menu in a tedious, time-consuming attempt to get things done? Ever been stranded in a shop, wracking your brain in a desperate attempt to keep your focus and get whatever gear suits each one of your character without ending up entirely confused and lost in the process? Ever raged and fumed about the whole unbearable unwieldiness of anything related to menu navigation?  If yes, then the Solo Run will undeniably make your life better, o yes precious. One Character, One Menu to rule them all: plain and simple, and definitely enjoyable. 

The “Fresh Strategies” factor

Playing Solo will definitely lead you to use creative thinking, and come up with specific strategies tailored to that way of playing. Instead of going for the traditional “buff-debuff-attack-heal” combo, you will have to figure out the most efficient way to take down foes with a more limited set of abilities, since you can only don one class at a time; doing so may involve a class change in order to get the most fitted abilities to beat a specific boss, or the resort to some moves that you would never have used in a classic playthrough with a party. It globally forces you to use your resources and abilities to the fullest, and creates some very interesting challenges that make a Solo Run all the more interesting and exciting.

The “Originality” factor

Traditionally, Turn-based RPGs are party affairs, while the whole “lonely hero” thing rather graces the realm of Action RPGs. The juxtaposition of a single hero and turn-based battles that comes forth in a Solo Run is thus a highly innovative configuration, and has to be enjoyed as such. One again, this may be a detail; but in the RPG landscape, where most titles tend to routinely recycle the same features and characteristics, any change that brings a new and fresh experience to the genre is always welcome. 

That will be it for the good reasons that make a Solo Run enjoyable. In the next post, I will conclude this feature by giving a few useful tips for the road. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!