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Autumn Dream (demo) vs. Pepsi Ranger
Autumn Dream (demo)
Cloudburst64
Download: 155 KB
V.S.
Pepsi Ranger
Play Time: 0 hours and 30 minutes
Review # 1 for Pepsi Ranger "Careful, guys. This could be a trap."
Them's Fightin' Words
    There are many swords in the world from the katana to the scimitar, some priceless, some rusted, but all have a distinct purpose of slicing and dicing. Or at least, those that aren’t created exclusively for show and decoration. The Autumn Dream is neither slice heavy or price heavy, but it does hold the power of life and death for its user—a power that the evil Lord Harven wants for himself so that he can RULE THE WORLD!!! (maniacal laugh).

Fortunately our hero Randall throws the Autumn Dream off a cliff so that Lord Harven can’t get his greasy mitts all over it. Unfortunately our villain Lord Harven kills off the brave young Randall for his insolence.

And that’s pretty much it. At least for Randall. Cut to seventeen years later and we get to follow the adventures of another young man named Keero and his wacky companions Homaro, the Hawaiian shirt wearing, frying pan wielding fat guy, Luna, the red dress wearing, fist-a flyin’ neighbor girl, and the master of all the fighting masters, the walking stick smacking Master Lew.

And once again that’s pretty much it. Yeah, there’s some swordplay, and ninjas, and some stuff ripped out of the Sixth Sense, but it all more or less boils down Master Lew and the crew trying to rescue Keero’s mother and Keero’s spirit and to set everything right so that the bad guys will fail, and peace will return, and the Autumn Dream can rest in peace.

Oh, and Randall is really Keero’s father. (BUM BUM BUM!)

Graphics
    The graphics in this game were refreshingly good. I think Cloudburst’s strongest attribute so far seems to be in walkabout design and animation. Although the black outlines are missing in various points around the characters’ bodies (most notable Keero’s floppy strand of hair that sets above the rest of his mop), the fluid animation and decently pixelized people makes up for the minor flaws. And frankly, in the sea of poorly drawn characters that flood the OHR, this game rises above many, crying out to the masses that it will be noticed, and that gamers everywhere will love it. And it demands to be loved.

The character battle graphics aren’t anything more than reprints of the walkabout graphics, which really isn’t that bad of a choice. It has that old school Final Fantasy throwback that I kinda like, so I wasn’t disappointed by it. The attack animations and weapons placements were also finely tuned, so once again I’m pleased with the outcome there. The backgrounds were less than rich, even a tad cartoony, but I didn’t find them distracting in the least. Maybe those blades of grass could’ve been less Atari and more Nintendo, but again I didn’t find it too limiting.

The maptiles were above average for the most part, although most of the indoor sets were lacking details and object inventory. At most there may have been a couple paintings on the wall and some puddles on the floor, but I have a feeling that the unlumped version of DREAMS.RPG has room for a few more tiles to add to its tilesets. I can’t really make any complaints beyond that because there’s something nostalgic about the graphics style—something NES about it, and I’m all about nostalgia so I thought the existing maptiles were acceptable. If the author wanted to add more shadows and detail to the existing set though, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

One of the graphical things I appreciated about this game was the fact that the author took the time to script in some cinematic NPC animations to further the alleged drama that the characters expressed to each other, and to the audience whenever key events took place. My favorite scene would undoubtedly have to be the moment that Flick the ninja “scratches” himself off the roof and re-materializes behind our hero to reveal the deep intimidation level that he forces onto his targets. That’s something I wish more game creators would take the time to implement.

 
Storyline
    The story line is undoubtedly unfinished at this point simply because no bad guys have paid the price yet. Sure we’ve had at least two heroes die in the first chapter alone, and a good hard-working woman get kidnapped to add further insult to our team of fighters, but no bad guys have really thrown up their hands in terror and cried the dubbed voice of “I will get you for that, Keero!” in this short demo. Yeah there have been the occasional lackey homicides, which is the phenomenon where the villain’s low-ranked subordinates take a fall for the leader because their swords can’t handle the speed and prowess of the crotchety old martial arts master’s spinning walking stick, but none of the big names have really felt the sting of justice. At best we’re given a glimpse into the humiliated psyche of the ninja Flick after his shameless defeat in front of Keero’s house, but then he gets the last laugh (a cheesy one at that) by doing something dastardly (ambiguous to keep the surprise intact), and his dishonor ultimately makes him into the champion after all (which is naturally due in part to the fact that he’s a ninja).

Of course that doesn’t really explain whether or not the story at hand works. For a half-hour demo, there isn’t really a major need to kill off all the bad guys and to wrap up the entire game so that the player has some end of demo satisfaction. The only thing the game really needs to do at this point is to introduce the main characters and the conflict that they’ll face. And I think this demo successfully does that. We learn the story of the Autumn Dream and come to understand (sort of) how it relates to our main character. We’re given enough of a setup to know that ownership of the Autumn Dream, whether the owner is aware of his possession or not, will undoubtedly spell trouble. We’re also given a glimpse of the evil forces that want to take control of this powerful weapon, and we’re even left with a vague idea of what might happen if the said evildoers take control of it. So it seems that the author managed to keep up with his checklist of things to include before release.

But how well has all this been pulled off? Well, there’s another can of worms to open.

I’ll have to start by discussing the area that seems to trip just about everybody up. Dialogue. The thing about writing dialogue is that it has to be a step above a basic plot outline. In other words, don’t write dialogue that is so rushed that it removes the human element from the story. We’re not interested in reading a list of events and calling it a conversation. And even though this game does not quite sink to that cut and dry level, it comes dangerously close in too many areas. Here’s a piece from the beginning of the game to defend my point (cleaned up for grammatical correctness):

Master Lew: You need more practice if you want to be the best swordsman.

Keero: Yes, Master Lew.

Master Lew: Before you leave you will fight me. I will test your skills.

(They fight. Keero kicks his butt.)

Master Lew: Not bad, but you can be better. You can go home now.

Keero: Thank you, Master. Good-bye.

Master Lew: Good luck!

(end sequence)


Okay, now I know that this is a training session, and maybe the discussion about Keero’s bad acne being the probable cause of his getting constantly turned down by the pretty girls is not wholly appropriate for the scenario, but there could be a little more intensity added to make experiencing this moment a little more interesting for the player. Maybe Keero has been training all day and he’s irritated that he’s still just average. Maybe Master Lew can break his calm sensei composure for just a moment to reveal how frustrated he is that his student isn’t improving very well. It doesn’t matter how it’s handled as long as it’s holding the player’s interest. Also, the dialogue needs to make sense . What’s the point of Master Lew telling Keero “Good luck?” Does he need some extra encouragement to find his way home? Is Master Lew insinuating to the player that Keero is retarded, or really bad with directions? The one thing I’ve noticed throughout this game is that certain lines of dialogue seem to be haphazardly thrown in just to allow for character transition. Now, this isn’t a bad thing by any measure as long as the dialogue works. When Lord Harven calls Randall a fool after he throws the Autumn Dream off the cliff, Randall’s response is to laugh, and then Lord Harven electrocutes him. Okay great, but kinda sucky for a hero’s last words to be “he, he, he.” To me that line really annoys me because it tells me that the author couldn’t think of anything clever for the hero to go out on, so he just threw in the first thing he could think of and then left it alone. The best dialogue, and in effect the best character development, comes from working and reworking the existing material.

Here’s another grand excerpt to drive the point home (once again cleaned up for your reading pleasure):

Keero: Wh…who are you?

Homaru: I am Homaru. I found you outside my house.

Keero: Hmm? Whe…where is my house? I have to go right now! I have to protect my mother!

Homaru: Well you can’t. You are dead.

Keero: WHAT? So it was not a dream? But how can you see me?

Homaru: I can see ghosts since I was a child. I don’t know why.

Keero: Hmm?…That’s strange. Do you know where Naboru’s Forest is? That’s where I live.

Homaru: It’s not so far. You can find it to the east. What are you going to do now?


Keero: Damn…I don’t know…Oh wait, the Autumn Dream! I gotta find it. It’s in my house!

Homaru: What?

Keero: There’s a magic sword called the Autumn Dream. It can even restore the life!

Homaru: That’s amazing, but you have to know that now you are dead. You can’t touch anything.

Keero: Oh…then there’s no choice but to bring you with me…

Homaru: Are you sure? You barely know me. But anyway, I have nothing better to do, so…I accept.

Keero: OK, then let’s go!

Homaru: Right!

(and off they go for another happy adventure)

I shouldn’t have to really say anything about this excerpt since most of us can draw our own conclusions about the story line and dialogue style from this alone, but seeing as how it’s in the spotlight, it wouldn’t hurt to ask a couple important questions:

1. How is it that most sidekicks have “nothing better to do” than to go on a quest that could potentially kill them? Homaru can plainly see that the quest killed Keero. What’s gonna stop the same from happening to him? Rushed dialogue (or flat dialogue for that matter) creates a motivational problem for everyone involved when there’s no clear reason for anyone to take part in the conflict. Keero obviously has an important goal to protect his mother and reclaim the Autumn Dream, but what the heck is the fat guy supposed to gain from it? The exercise?

2. Secondly, why does the hero always have to protect his mother or his girlfriend? Whatever happened to locked doors and lost sheep? Maybe it might be more interesting (and slightly different) if the hero has to protect his whole village for once. Maybe the marauding troops are threatening the virginity of the village girls, or maybe some psycho is bent on poisoning the water system so that they have to buy all their water from him. There’s nothing worse than a maniacal ruler who looks to make a cheap buck from the victims he wants to eventually kill.

All in all the story has plenty of room to grow and is nothing more than a list of cliches right now. Perhaps if the dialogue fleshed the story out better and in effect made the characters more interesting, then at least the cliches would be tolerable. Without the well-written dialogue though, all the story can hope for is some unique twists to keep the player glued.

 
Gameplay
    If there were ever an OHR game that had outstanding gameplay, I probably wouldn’t recognize it because it all essentially feels the same to me. Autumn Dream models the standard well, adding a few touches to make the experience a little simpler than most. For example, save points have free lodging attached, so the player never really has to worry about dying (except for when the story line purposely kills off the character). The enemies show up through the use of wandering NPCs, so they can be avoided if the player really has no desire to fight (although it can be hard to outrun a rat that’s intentionally chasing you, which happens to block the path of escape). I think everything moves quickly enough plot wise to keep things mildly interesting, but there’s so much nothing occupying the world that to feel any slight form of adventure would be a dream in of itself.

If I were to break down the structure of Autumn Dream, it would look something like this:

Brief back story — Character introduction — Training battle — Journey home — Problem with mom — Another training battle — Ninja ambush (plot point) — Wake up in another house (recruit sidekick) — Return home — Discover lost weapon (first battlefield) — Break into separate teams — Journey through forest (second battlefield) — Discover new town (end of demo)

Nothing too adventurous here, but at least the plot advances through this structure.

 
  Battle
    I have nothing of major importance to say about the battles. They’re of the default style, which works for better or for worst. The actual fights are easy enough to win with a paperweight, but fortunately Cloudburst gave some of the battles (and the first level up) some purpose. The special attacks also show a significant change in power over the regular hits, so using skills actually pays off (which is good when you want to speed up the fight so that you can get on with your evening).

It doesn’t matter to me how the battles are initiated, but some may prefer that all the battles start from NPC contact. Those attracted to this style shouldn’t be too disappointed here. The only thing that may prove to be a let down is the fact that there are very few enemies to fight. Some people actually like to level up. I think I finished the game at Level 1.

 
  Map Design
    The maps are small and overly simple in structure, which makes for some quick traveling time. I think this is a bonus for the sake of speeding up the story, but a problem for things like detail and exploration. I’ll have to admit that I like the structure of Naboru’s Forest, which feels more like a park than a forest. But the small size potentially makes it forgettable in the grand scheme of Autumn Dream World, and certainly the bravest of explorers will find this world a dull one at best.

There’s also the problem of too much fantasy, which is the syndrome where a location is so unrealistic that it could only exist in a fantasy world. The big unrealism here is that houses (especially Homaru’s) do not come with all the essentials. It figures that the fat guy will have a huge kitchen that dwarfs his bedroom by more than double the size, but it’s disturbing how there isn’t even a hole in the floor to call a bathroom. What’s he supposed to do with all that food after he eats it? And what of Keero’s house? Where’s his kitchen? Sure, he has a secret sewer system behind his living room wall, but where the heck is he supposed to microwave some pizza?

Nothing in RPG land is ever the perfect model to the real world, but if Chrono Trigger can include adjustable curtains on the window, then I think this game can feature fully furnished houses. That’s just my opinion though.

 
  Balance
    I think the internal battle balance is adjusted well enough to keep the player from getting frustrated. But because the battles never increase in challenge (I imagine due in most part to the fact that there aren’t more than ten fights in this demo), it’s hard to say whether or not the formula will work in the long run. As of right now it’s okay for the most part.

The story to battle ratio is far too rushed on both ends to find it satisfying. Granted there’s enough battles within the story line to break up the dialogue a little, and there has been an attempt to include a couple dungeon-like areas to make this feel like a true RPG experience. Problem is that everything is so short and to the point that the player has no time to really grasp the intensity of the circumstances, so the balance between game and satisfaction is terribly off. Bigger adventure is the key to making this title more successful in the design department.

 
Music
    A lot of the music comes from the editor, so there isn’t a list of originality here. I do think the author picked mostly appropriate choices however, so I don’t have a problem with the selection. It would be nicer if the community had a lot more talented musicians eager to give out their services, and it would be nicer still if this game had made use of such services. But being as small as we are, we’ll have to take what we can, and this game has to take the default stuff, so love it or leave it.

 
Enjoyment
    Well it would be nice to say that this game was full of enjoyment, but unfortunately it takes something truly special to reach that enjoyment, and I haven’t found that appropriate level of uniqueness or depth to make this among the list. Diehard gamers may enjoy the classic story line or the occasional twist, but I guarantee most will be let down by the lack of character depth, the lack of exploration, and the lack of fighting fury. It might be nice to check it out for the graphical presentation—something of which I did find mildly enjoyable, but don’t expect Hollywood here. All in all this game was only slightly better than boring.

 
Final Blows
    Since there isn’t a better place to say this, I’ll have to talk briefly about the bugs here. This game had too many bugs to make even the enjoyable parts enjoyable. There are the usual minor glitches like a section of woods that can be passed through (as an overhead tile), but yields no reward, so the open spot seems pointless. There is also at least one account where the NPC is not reset after a certain action takes place (Master Lew’s NPC remains frozen by Keero’s house after he attacks the soldiers in front of Luna’s house if the player walks into Naboru’s Forest and then comes back before entering the house). But the worst bug of all is that if the player decides to go upstairs after Luna reveals the hidden passage, he’ll find that the entrance is closed off again when he comes back down, preventing him from moving any further. This is the one bug above all that should’ve been checked before release.

Also, creating a town with nothing in it (demo or not) is irritating. The game could’ve ended after Homaru and Luna reached the end of the woods. Or the player could just explore the world map until he or she finds the end of demo message outside of the mountain lair. Having every citizen remind me that there’s nothing in town to do because “it’s a demo” just feels like a sell out to me.

But because “it’s a demo,” I guess it’s okay not to expect a lot.



"Come on, Jimmy. We're sorry we made fun of your ninja outfit. Don't jump."
Final Scores
Graphics: 7.5/10.0
Unfortunately, the OHR curse is that the graphics are typically the best part about a game. Unfortunately still, this curse applies to this game. Fortunately though, the graphics are above average, so as cursed as it may be, it’s still nice to look at. The NPCs are some of the best drawn out there right now.
Storyline: 3.5/10.0
Well, it’s one big cliché after another. It would be nice to say that this game offered something new in the way of plot development, but it doesn’t. The only thing I found mildly different about this story line from all the others is that the main character gets killed off about ten minutes into the game. That’s kind of original for an RPG. But the blandness of dialogue makes it anything but interesting to me. Needs a rewrite.
Gameplay: 2/10.0
Wow, the maps are small, and the battles vaguely uninteresting. There’s no element of exploration, no puzzles to solve, and all the bad guys can be spotted a mile away. The quick navigation may be nice for some players, but the game design is nothing more than a glorified book that’s pretty easy to put down. The maps are also predominantly devoid of interactive characters.
Music: 6/10.0
Believe it or not I actually liked the music in this game. I guess it’s because I haven’t actually gone through the entire library of pre-packaged BAM files yet. The ripped stuff has been placed pretty well. Not much clash going on.
Enjoyment: 3.5/10.0
I think my first time through I found the game decent enough to not be upset by my decision to play it. I think it was after the fifth time going through to double-check my facts for this review that I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Overall Grade: C-
Final Thoughts
    Believe me, there are plenty of things out there that are less desirable than playing Autumn Dream. Going to work comes to mind. Catching the flu comes to mind. Paying the bills comes to mind. But obviously there are plenty of things that are more desirable.

I think my final thought for this game is this:

“It needs improvement to be a great game, but it only needs a willing player to garner attention.”

Some gamers will enjoy this for the sole reason that it’s an RPG, and some gamers just like RPGs that much. Those gamers will love this game. The rest of us may only find a slight tickling during the experience and a sigh of relief when it’s over.
 


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