Alas, Avalon

Earlier today I found myself thinking about Secret of Mana (which I first picked up 15 (!) years ago and played to completion over the course of three rentals during Christmas break, 1993). I started thinking about how much I miss games like that. Specifically, thinking about how much I miss the ineffable comfortableness unique to games of that vintage. And I’m not talking about a factor of nostalgia, but rather of game design. Despite featuring a fairly involved leveling system, Mana was brisk and easy to play; very little time was spent setting things up and jawing on about the grim fate threatening the world. You fell off a log, found a sword and were causing Rabites to get whacked in a matter of minutes.

Video games these days, though — especially those of the RPG ilk — they rarely manage that. I was happy when the first thing the developers of The Last Remnant told me the other day was that the first three hours of their game is an engaging and exciting — an attempt to draw players into the game world immediately. (Then Christian Nutt and I started complaining about Tri-Ace games, which never start out quickly; this caused the Tri-Ace rep at the table to clutch his face in mock horror and apologize. Good times, good times.) Still, it’s all well and good for developers to promise that, but few seem able to deliver. That’s one reason I like Etrian Odyssey so much — once you set up your guild, it’s straight into the thick of things for you. But such games are few and far between; the majority prefer to jaw your ears off and text your eyes out.

And then, a Christmas miracle: not 10 minutes after I was dwelling wistfully on the breezy stylings of Mana, an import copy of Avalon Code landed on my desk.

I was pleasantly surprised to boot up the game and find very little time was spent in tedious exposition. There’s an intro cinema, sure, but it’s part of the credits, and it’s beautifully rendered — reminiscent of the intro to Lunar 2, not least of all due to the glyphs that play prominently in the video sequence. Within a few minutes, I had control of my character and was beating the crap out of foes. That’s…wow. That’s nice.

But what’s even nicer is the fact that Avalon isn’t another of the low-budget anime crapfests that plague the Japanese RPG genre. Story sequences seem brief enough, but they’re rendered in 3D with actual character models interacting, not just half-hearted voiceovers atop static illustrations. I had high expectations for the game, of course, given that it’s the work of Matrix — essentially the Final Fantasy III/IV remake engine being used for a completely new work that plays out as an action RPG rather than a turn-based system. Happily, Matrix seems to have applied the same care and effort present in their Square Enix projects for Avalon to create the DS equivalent of a big-budget game. Maybe the rest of the game won’t hold up, but at the very least it starts off well.

What that translates to is the sort of thing that would have been a must-play 10 years ago on PlayStation…except without the load times. If anything, Avalon reminded me right away of Threads of Fate, which is a good association to make — action RPG, solid 3D graphics, choice of a male or female playable character. And to bring everything full circle, Threads always reminded me of Mana. Which means it looks like I may have been given the spiritual Mana successor I was pining for in a matter of minutes.

Seriously, the truth? This is getting so uncanny that I’m starting to frighten myself.

19 thoughts on “Alas, Avalon

  1. My interest is piqued, but one of the BIG DEALS for me about SoM was multiplayer support. Anything on the horizon that looks like it might fit?

  2. nunix: It’s 100% likely. It’s part of the Marvelous/XSEED publishing partnership thing.

    As for the topic: I have the same problems with tedious nonsense and exposition in the beginning of RPGs, but it’s a lot worse for me, extending to pretty much everything in the genre. If it’s more RPG-like than, say, an Igavania, then it’s GOD JUST LET ME PLAY ALREADY SHUT UP.

    One time a friend lent me a copy of Xenosaga…

  3. This is all too true. There are two reasons that I very rarely play new RPGs apart from the occasional older-styled DS game: first, because hackneyed stories that might seem charmingly quaint in an older game are kind of intolerable when they’re dragged into contemporary titles, especially given the excessive pomp and frippery that always seems to accompany them; and second, because I’m always being ordered to learn the pointlessly convoluted intricacies of some damned new gameplay system or other, and I just can’t bring myself to care enough to put in that kind of effort. Maybe if the first problem didn’t exacerbate the second, things would be better. But it does and they aren’t.

  4. Couldn’t agree more on the beginnings of RPGs (or really, any story-driven modern console game). I’ll actually sit on a new one for weeks or even months before finally playing, just because I can’t get past that dreadful feeling that comes from knowing I’ll have to slosh through 2-5 utterly dull hours of introduction before the real, fun part of the game finally begins.

  5. While there was a lot to love about Dragon Quest/Warrior 7, it’s hard to forget that it was THREE HOURS before you encountered your first Slime.

    For all the gloom and doom of Final Fantasy 6, it plunked you right into the middle of a conflict with very little setup. (Hell, 7 may be an even better example of that, but I prefer to use 6 because 7 doesn’t do nearly as good a job of keeping up that pace.)

  6. Parish – You have to play Matrix’s other new release, Winds of Nostalgia, it has everything you just mentioned about Avalon Code, except it’s got a much more late 16-bit early 32 bit traditional rpg feel to it, in my opinion the better of the two games(although I’m not finished with Avalon Code yet).

    Considering the game’s complete failure sales-wise in Japan and Tecmo’s apparently total lack of interest in bringing it state-side, you are that game’s only hope. Please take a look at it, if you get the chance.

  7. Winds of Nostalgia. Hah – funny. Listen bucko, why don’t you just leave Parish alone? Sure he may be a slave to the wistful years of his youth, but that doesn’t mean you can just make backhanded comments.

    Oh wait, that’s an actual game.

  8. Parish, are you implying that you are like that kid in the Twilight Zone movie that can will things into existence? If so, can you pine for a Rival Schools sequel with good game play and controls? Thanks!

  9. I’m not sure why we didn’t get a copy of Nostalgio No Kaze, but we should have. I didn’t realize it was out yet. But Japanese sales failures don’t seem to count for much in niche localization, so that one also seems a shoo-in for XSEED, Atlus or some other niche warriors if it’s as good as you claim.

    Also, I can only will things into being without meaning to. Don’t jinx it, guys.

  10. It took me a while for my brain to quite parse the anatomy of that monster in the large picture above. Rather than large clawed hands, I kept seeing those spiky things as the crest and tail of some Silent Hill styled rooster. o.O

  11. Good thing I’m not alone with the whole slow-starting-RPG thing.
    I love the Zelda series to death, but after Ocarina of Time, every friggin Zelda starts so slowwwwwww. You always start in a town doing fetch quests and “earning” your sword and shield. Please Miyamoto, enough, we get it.

    I wish Link would start in a dungeon right away (even if it’s an easy one), I’m sure we’ll get the hang of the sword right away. No need for mandatory practice areas.

  12. Really, if Parish could will games into existence, wouldn’t we have had Mega Man Legends 3 years ago?

  13. Twilight Princess makes you wander around a boring town for like two hours. The Legend of Zelda hands you a sword in the second screen and sends you off with “IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS.”

    The Legend of Zelda is awesome.

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