Crescent Moon take on the RPG with this ambitious 3D Adventure RPG…
Rather funnily, Aralon has been dubbed as the anti-Infinity Blade, due in part to some gamers on the Internet complaining about Infinity Blade’s restrictive on-rails movement.
Well, the verdict is out on Infinity Blade and it turned out that, as a game heavily skewed towards sword fighting and less so on the RPG side, the on-rails element worked out just fine.
However, those itching for a fully fledged RPG, filled with expansive open environments, varied characters and creatures, all wrapped up in a story of revenge and magic, have been hoping that Aralon will deliver… and… In short, it does just that.
Based in the fantasy world of Aralon, you take up the role of the saviour of the land. Having just learned that your father wasn’t who he said he was, and that he had actually died trying to free the land from evil, you venture forth on a quest to avenge him.
Much like games such as Zelda, you start out in an out-of-the-way village as a bare bones character, with little knowledge of the world beyond. And so, you must build your characters strength and skill along the way, as you journey throughout the land, chatting, trading, working for, and of course fighting with the characters and creatures you meet.
Before you do all this though, you must put a face and name to your hero. The game gives you the usual choice of Human or Elf, plus a Troll (who would want to be a smelly troll?) and then dependent on your race, what skill you have, be it a warrior, rogue, ranger or mage. These four skill styles vary mainly in how you fight, with warriors and rogues best at melee combat with swords, daggers and axes, the ranger with bows, and the Mage with magic and a trusty bow staff. While the game itself doesn’t change based on your choice (you still come from the same village), your experience with the game will.
Of course, how you control your character, whatever their race and skill set, is what can make or break a game like this, and thankfully it’s pretty good for the most part. By default the game puts you in third person (fixed) view, this allows you to control your character in all directions with the onscreen d-pad and the camera fixed behind you. You can move your viewpoint by swiping the screen, much like many FPS games on the system, but in this mode it doesn’t quite work the same, with your left and right swipes also affecting your characters turning… i.e. the d-pad isn’t used for strafing. The second option is the same viewpoint (3rd person) but with a relative camera. Here your d-pad controls are the same, but the camera does not automatically rotate with the character, so you’ll need to do this manually with your right thumb/finger. While this second option feels more natural, you do lose the ability to walk backwards… a useful technique when targeting and engaging enemies at arms length without them striking, whereas with relative mode you must turn, run away, and turn back again to fight.
There is a third mode, first person, this works just like other FPS games out there, with your d-pad allowing for strafe, and your right side controlling your look direction. Primarily useful for getting a better look at the surrounding environment, this mode is actually pretty difficult to use in combat situations, where a fight with more than one foe becomes almost impossible. Unfortunately, you cannot switch between these control modes on the fly. Instead you must save the game, exit to the title menu and then access the options there.
Controls for actions and inventory work very well, and without such a robust and easy to use system the game would be a chore. The action buttons work contextually. So, if you are near an NPC then a chat icon will appear, which when tapped will activate a conversation. Likewise, the icon changes to a sword, as well as a shield, when an enemy is near, warning you of an impending battle, but more on fighting later in this review.
At any time during the game you can access your inventory by tapping the knapsack icon. Here you an see an overview of your character, as well as a menu of items you are holding in your generously oversized bag. Unlike some RPGs, you do not have to expand your bag, instead it already offers three pages worth of storage, holding up to 36 items. If this isn’t enough you an also store items in the many chests dotted around the environment, though these are not universal, and so you’ll need to remember where you stored a particular item should you want to retrieve it. Generally you’ll want to keep important items such as powerful weapons, magical runes and objects necessary for the numerous quests.
To equip items you simply drag them onto your character, or tap equip in the pop-up item info box. The item will then appear next to the appropriate part of your characters body. So, for example, a sword and shield (or secondary weapon) will appear next to their hands, and a tunic or armour will appear by their torso. The are ten slots in all around your character, and you’ll want to fill them and upgrade with newer and better items as and when you collect them during your adventure.
In addition to your knapsack, you can also store up to ten items in a quick access menu available in your HUD. Here you can activate spells, attack styles, and equip items and weaponry at anytime.
The controls are not all good though. There are few niggles here and there that prevent them from being prefect. The first is there is no analogue control. So you cannot go from a walk to a run, you always run. This is fine for the majority of the the game, however, there are some instances where you must traverse some perilous terrain, with a spider queen’s web being one of the situations where more precise control is needed.
Another are the contextual action buttons. For the most part these work very well, but occasionally you’ll want to open a chest, when all the game wants you to do is chat with a nearby NPC. You can sometimes get round this by repositioning yourself, but it can become a bit fiddly, particularly with the previously mentioned lack of true analogue control. Of course you can always kill the NPC, by activating an attack skill, though that carries a penalty of becoming an outlaw.
So, despite some bugs here and there, getting around Aralon is generally very good. As mentioned before the game is big, and you could spend a lot of time roaming on foot. Thankfully you can take a ride on a variety of animals. The majority of these are horses of course, but you can also ride wolves and dragons. Unlike Zelda games, it’s not long before you have a noble steed of your own, and for a relatively low sum of money (and you’ll have no problems earning it) you can pick up a deed for a horse. This piece of paper sits in your inventory and, if set to your quick access bag of tricks and activated, will summon up a horse at anytime (as long as you are outdoors). There are various horses available, with the more expensive ones offering you more speed. Riding is as simple as walking, just faster, though it does come with a few drawbacks once more, which to me again seem like bugs. The first is that occasionally your horse will appear within the geometry of the scenery and will sometimes will fall though it… no doubt to the depths of horse hell. The main problem though is with the horse’s collision detection which is bit on the sensitive side. Clash with a small tree or shrub, or even a rock or a mound, and you’ll be thrown from your mount. It’s annoying but you soon get used to it.
So, onto the meat and potatoes of the game, and that is fighting. This is no doubt something you’ll be doing a Lot of, as while there are many peaceful folk in the world of Aralon, the majority of people/creatures you will meet only want one thing from you, and that’s your blood!
As mentioned above, depending on what race type you select from your character will dictate your fighting style. If you are a warrior or rogue you’ll be fighting hand-to-hand, whereas if you are a mage or ranger then you’ll be mainly dispensing long range attacks with a bow or magic.
For all types, the basic melee attack is what you’ll use a lot, and that is activated by simply mashing the attack button (sword icon). A shield button also allows you to block, and should you have a secondary weapon available, you can parry too. Generally, fighting close quarters with a foe is more of a button mashing affair, with the outcome based more on your characters level number being higher than that of your enemy’s, than the use of skill. Something where Infinity Blade experience is quite the opposite. Still, with the parry system it is quite possible to out-skill a more powerful opponent, but be prepared to die a few times and restart from where you last saved before you are successful. The best way of course, is to stick to fighting enemies closer to your level, until you earn enough XP to level up and grow stronger.
Of course an RPG wouldn’t really be a proper RPG without the staple of XP and levelling up, and it is no different here. As you earn XP through fighting and completing quests, your awarded both stat and skill points. Stat points are used to level your character up in the areas of strength, agility, endurance, intellect and spirit. While skill points are used to learn and train new fighting abilities. Again, depending on which race you chose will decide on what abilities you can learn. It is then up to you which of these skills you wish to focus your points on to master them, or you can opt to distribute the points evenly ensuring that towards the end of the game, you are a master of all.
These skills are basically special moves, which when combined with your melee attack will help you out hugely in a fight. For example with the Warrior, a special move called ‘Whirling blades’ will knock all enemies nearby down and cause more damage, or if you are a Mage then the ‘Summon’ special move will summon a fire elemental (fire spirit) to aid you in battle. These skills when learnt and trained up can be treated like items and linked to your mini inventory HUD for quick access during battles. It’s this system combined with the great menu controls that prevent this from becoming a mindless button masher, as you eventually (on hard difficulty at least) rely on these attacks to defeat the more powerful foes and bosses you meet later in the game.
The other staple of an RPG are of course the quests, and the over arching storyline encasing them. While the story isn’t exactly original (which I won’t discuss here to avoid spoiling it for you), it is at lest a fun adventure. Quests range from story based activities that generally require competition to advance the story, or secondary quests, which are purely used to advance your XP. These are, for the most part, fetch quests, where you must find a particular item, or person, and return it to them in return for loot. While the story based quests revolve around taking out certain enemies and retrieving important artefacts they are hiding. Unfortunately this is the games biggest downfall for me. Don’t get me wrong, they are fun, but they do tend to get repetitive how ever they are dressed up. The quests where you must take out the chief or king of a particular faction, be it Orc, Witch, Gnome, Giant etc, despite being different in their abilities, still end up following the same recipe of action. That is, enter lair, slay minions, slay leader, and repeat. Yes, I did say repeat, and by that I mean that once you have slain the leader of each group in the depths of their lair, you will find that on returning to the exit, you’ll have to fight the re-spawned minions all over again. This becomes a little more than a chore in most cases.
There are a couple of challenging dungeons to keep you entertained however, which include some puzzles… particularly a pretty challenging temple. But, again these do mainly require multiple and repetitive battles with the residents. And like I mentioned before, without the varied skills to learn this would become just a button masher.
Crescent Moon have done a great job realising the world of Aralon. You won’t find yourself marvelling at a particular beauty spot like you did in The Epic Citadel demo, but then Aralon is a far larger world and to create it on the same detailed level as that would be a huge task, and most likely not possible on the iPhone (not yet anyhow). So, while it’s not the prettiest world seen in an RPG, it is a believable one. The landscape flows from forests, to great plains, deserts, coastlines, citadels and cities. Textures are of a high quality, though they tend to look like scans or photos of real world elements instead of being stylised in a particular look and feel seen in games such as Fable or Zelda. With the human characters also looking a bit uncanny valley, the game tends to lean towards the Second life look and feel, which I find to be lacking in personality. Having said that, the main citadel is a standout, with its shopping district, royal quarters, sewers and port… It’s always nice to return there after a long trip in the outer lands.
This brings me onto the characters, and again I assume this is due to limits of the platform, or the development time/deadline, because while they are varied in species, they lack any redeeming features within that species. Individually this isn’t a problem, but when you are attacking a den of around ten witches, it would be nice if they looked slightly different each time. Main characters do get their own individuality, such as bosses and nobles, but generally when engaging in either chit chat or battle, you will get a feeling of de’javu.
Unfortunately the same problem rears its head with some of the dialogue. Main characters always have something new to say, but visit secondary NPCs and you’ll soon grow weary of the same chatter. It doesn’t seem to matter which tavern you visit, the barman always has the same dream to tell you about! It’s not a deal killer, but it does take you out of the moment at times. Thankfully you don’t have to listen to what they have to say, with voice over work limited to the introduction cut scene to the game, and greetings from NPCs such as “hello” and “Good morrow”.
Generally mobile games are all about pick-up-and-play, because of this they are usually quick, ‘bam thankyou mam’ experiences. Aralon is the other side of the coin. I lost count of the amount of hours I put into this game, but it was many hours over many days, so a guess would be around 16 hours for the main story. Once the story is over, the are still plenty of things to do, as well as playing the game as a different class. The first thing I did when completing the game though, was to start a fight with a friendly NPC, become an outlaw and then slay the entire citadel including the King!… Sick? Yes, but thoroughly enjoyable!
I will end this review in the same way I began by stating once more that Aralon is an ambitious game. To come to market, especially a crowded one such as the AppStore, with a new IP that strives to deliver what RPGs on the big daddy consoles offer was always going to be a challenge. So did this ambition bear any fruit? Yes. The game is a success for the most part, and despite the teething problems outlined above, the game is thoroughly enjoyable. Despite having to play games from beginning to end for reviews like this, I actually wanted to complete it. And more often than not I couldn’t wait to get back to Aralon to see what happened next. That ability to grip you is paramount for a game of this genre…. and grip me it did.