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The Relics of Ladon vs. Pepsi Ranger
The Relics of Ladon
Download: 504 KB
Pepsi Ranger
Review # 22 for Pepsi Ranger
Them's Fightin' Words
    What obsessions roam the countryside? What instances befall the very nature of fate as we know it? Is it something that's in our own hands, or is it something that's placed into the hands of another? What divides fate from obsession? Who decides? Who cares? Who knows?

The world that's delivered on a platter in the "Relics of Ladon" is shaped like any other. Except for the obvious fact that the terrain is blocky. But how does that affect the very nature of fate for Megethos and his rebel band of courier businessmen? Perhaps fate is something that is irrelevant to them. As it seems, life is just as it is. Colin ventures off to a town and disappears, Kyle wonders what the deal to his secret is, and Megethos doesn't have anything better to do than to do whatever Kyle tells him to. This is what fate means to them.

But what about the overdue schedule of arrival for the courier known as Colin? Why hasn't he returned to town after his latest delivery? Why does Kyle the boss insist that Megethos cut his vacation time short by going out to look for the man? And why does Kyle insist on joining Megethos for the search? Is it really fate, or is it just Murphy looking to enforce his law to the letter and get a really big laugh out of it? Who does it really affect, and who can turn it around otherwise?

Regardless of how Megethos feels about fate, he heeds his boss's request to search for the missing comrade, even though the mission is one that he is not trusted to take alone. As the storms loom in the horizon, so does the course of Megethos's adventure through the countryside. And so does fate's story unfold.

But is it fate telling the story? Or is it the work of the overpowering game creator who sets the quest on a linear scale, abandoning most hope for the freedom of exploration? Where does the dividing line draw itself?

Okay, well enough about the theme of the game. It's pretty obvious that the story line wants to enforce the idea of there being no freedom for tomorrow, unless the one holding the cards decides that such liberty is acceptable. And the game's design reflects this notion as well. But before we examine all that fun stuff, let's see where the author offered this game some strength.

Let's take a look at the story elements first of all. When we break the game into detailed events, it's best to decide if all the pieces come together accurately. But to make such a decision will require identifying what the elements are. So let's break it down, shall we?

As any game is expected to have, this game has its share of heroes and villains. We commonly like to refer to these people as characters. Often times a story should have both protagonists and antagonists. But when we attach labels to each character, who is it that we find to be the true heroes and obstacle makers? So far, we are led to believe that Megethos is the protagonist, since he's the main hero, and Diastasi is the antagonist because he is the nasty, nasty villain. But are these labels appropriately attached to the right characters? And if they are, does their role effectively serve the context of the events at hand? If the game is about true heroism, then Kyle would seem to be the greater protagonist, since it is his ambition to rescue his imprisoned employee (which is actually a very nice thing for a boss to do, since signing the termination papers and recruiting another employee would be a lot easier for most bosses). As we find out from the very beginning, Megethos's only reason for leading the search is because he is more or less forced to. If not for his boss's uncanny guilt trip factor, Megethos would most likely spend his day fishing or sleeping. But this game doesn't seem to want to head in the direction of pitting heroes versus villains. It seems to want to play the tug-of-war game between the holders of fate. If Diastasi's underdeveloped, but nevertheless twisted plan of doing whatever it is that he'll plan to do in the updated version conflicts with the fate of fishing that Megethos thought he would have that day, then something's seriously wrong with the world, and our labels of protagonist and antagonist are appropriately placed. But, if that's the case, then Kyle is a bit of a villain too. Hmm...

So what's this have to do with the positive side of story development? Let's look at some other event elements.

Once the search begins, Megethos's main goal is to reach the city that Colin was last known to visit. However, getting there means traveling through some filthy sewers and possibly reeking of sludge and rotting frog carcasses. Even if he didn't have a problem with gutting fish (assuming that he actually enjoys fishing, which is never clarified, but I suppose flipping burgers would be just as much of a viable example, so we'll stick with fishing), it seems traveling through the tunnels of waste is one step below what he would consider classy and enjoyable. But he does it anyway because his boss tells him to. To this extent, we can see that Megethos is the type of person who will travel through all kinds of crap to make his mission a success. He is after all a deliveryman.

Now doing things because the boss says he has to makes him nothing close to a hero. But the fact that his servantship is strong enough to go against his own comfort makes him a doer of fate (at least in this context), and in the respect of the game's theme, it seems that perhaps his character is right on target. Of course, there is definitely a streak of secret defiance in him, but for now his reasons for being are justified.

The fact that he is a doer of fate also leaves him room to travel lands that most people would consider crazy, so his choices of exploration don't have to seem so unrealistic. After all, if his boss instructed him to jump into the belly of a volcano, we can safely assume that Megethos would do it, despite his discomfort. And this brings us the fiber of an RPG hero who takes reaction more than pure action.

For the cohesion of the story's theme, this type of hero and system of characters work. But, I do have to say that the author took a huge risk in utilizing it. I cannot say that such a choice made the story impressive or interesting, but at least it holds together, so it suffices. In any other game, I'd suggest that the author make his hero a man of action, rather than of reaction, but this is not any other game, so we'll leave it alone for now.

The problems I have with the story as a whole however deal expressly with the fact that things just sort of happen for the sake of giving the characters a place to go next. Villains have no real motivation (which the game actually addresses at one point), and even in a game about unrestrained fate, such a reason is enough to lose interest in the story's drive. For example, we learn that the town that Colin became trapped in was taken over by a militant group because the town's defenders were off doing rounds somewhere else. That's fine for explaining why the group was able to infiltrate the perimeter and take over, but there's still no firm motivation for the group to want to take over the city. Maybe it's the cool thing to do, but I'm not sure the player is ready to feel that. Just because it is hinted that Diastasi can control the fate of the world, doesn't mean he should. One example that the heroes consider is that maybe he's just greedy. But if the villain only needed greed as his motivation, then he could just as easily demand the surrender of all Domino's Pizza stores to his command. To let greed be the reason of using fate to one's own advantage is weak and cliché. If this story's overall purpose is to put something grand into the hands of an evil villain and have the very existence of life threatened, then there has to be a deeper motivation. Fate or no fa te, no one does things for the express purpose of demanding a hero to rise up and stop him. Motivation is something that's driven by madness, and madness is something that's triggered by an event. If Diastasi decides to threaten fate because fate robbed him of a child or an election, then we'd have a clearer motivation. If he threatens fate because he woke up with a crick in his neck, well, that would just be weird. So, instead of accepting him as a villain of the people just because he's the chosen one, it may be better to put him in a place where he wants to get back at those who voted for the wrong guy because they didn't follow the arrows to the right candidate. This is the best excuse to buy fate as a threatened item that must be saved. Any other way is forced and uninteresting.

As far as the technical and reasonable elements of story go, I'll have to say that the author did a decent job with making his dialogue readable. There are definitely spelling errors in quite a few places, such as "balence" for "balance" and "tomarrow" for "tomorrow" to name a couple examples. But the author's misspellings are not so bad that the words become lost and confused, so it's okay. The dialogue format is also acceptable in that lines are not crammed together to conserve space. Even though it still utilizes the irritating practice of having the same character speak twice in the same dialogue box, just to have the monologue run off into the next one, it does it with line breaks so it's not terrible. I would still encourage most authors to stop trying to cram more than two lines of dialogue in a box at a time when there's only two characters speaking, as it is not only distracting for the aesthetic feel of the box and inhibiting to the view of action behind the box, but also because most professional games don't do this. And why should we make ourselves unprofessional? The point is, this game can be a good example of dialogue format, but it's still not the best, so take it for what it's worth.

As far as actual dialogue content goes, we find this game's first truly noticeable folly. In truth, the dialogue is dull. I appreciate the fact that the author tried to flesh out his main character by giving him a "whatever" kind of attitude, but it falls flat in the long run. My best advice for making interesting dialogue is to play out the conversation as if you are a part of it. If for any moment the dialogue feels as if it might be unnatural, then I can promise that it is unnatural. And when we break down the characteristics of unnatural, we'll find that unbelievable and uninteresting are among the fruit. If this or any other game is meant to be interesting, give the players a reason to find it interesting. Gameplay in an adventure goes a long way when the story captivates the player. If the player is to be captivated, he must be able to identify with the character and immerse himself into the action. Failure to do either will cause the story to crumble. And the story of "Relics" is on the verge of crumbling. That would be my strongest advice for the next revision.

Other troubles come in the details of specific events. Even though I'm not going to get into everything, I will say one thing. Sending a hero on a quest to track down a missing person and bring him back home will work when the hero's boss doesn't decide to go along with him because he doesn't trust the man in getting the job done. Unfortunately, this game doesn't choose to use such a working formula. So, how about we look at it this way? If the boss only trusts Megethos's productivity when he goes along for the adventure, why doesn't he just do it himself? Even though it gives both heroes an excuse to wrap themselves into the quest, it doesn't make it any less a logical fallacy. If Kyle has to be in the party, let him be the one who does the recruiting, not the joining. Such an unrealistic element sent me over game poth ole number one.

Anyway, that's probably more than enough information about the story elements, so how about we take a look at the graphics? As usual, I don't particularly enjoy going over the details of graphics, so I'll keep this short. But for the brief examination I will give it, I'll gladly praise the author's style.

The first thing I noticed when I started playing this game is that the author really likes using the polygon style of terrain design. I know that Dimensions III and IV both utilize the sharp-angle style of graphics that the author is quickly making his trademark, and this is no different. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this game used imported tilesets from the other games. But the thing I really like about this style is that many objects still come equipped with textures that work for me. The example that still sticks out in my mind is the waterfalls in the back of the opening town. Even though they can't boast the quality of something we might find on the Super Nintendo, or even the old Nintendo that many of us old people remember as being the advancement of gaming technology, they do manage to compliment the sharp texture of the cliffs they fall from, so I'm a fan of the author's efforts. I will have to warn that this graphics style is unconventional, and will not be attractive to everyone, but for the sake of this review, I'm gonna give it my vote of approval. If anything else, the mountains look like mountains this time.

But even more impressive than the maptiles would have to be the characters. Both walkabouts and battle graphics are nicely drawn and appropriately animated. I did notice that the overworld enemies were lacking certain animation, but if they were driven by the wind, then I don't particularly care. All in all I think the author did a good job with these.

If I were to say anything bad about the graphics, I'd say that the backgrounds are less than inspiring, and most of the textures aren't complete. For example, the sewer graphics are not too bad. They even have lights on the brick walls, and pipes that are stunning to look at. But there aren't any dripping pipes that I can recall, and the shadows are either limited or absent. Again, these aren't details that I particularly miss, but having them would make the map scenery nicer. And even those waterfalls I like could have more watercolors in them. It's all good, but not perfect.

So then where does that leave us? How about gameplay? Just how good or how bad is the gameplay? Let us explore this, shall we?

The first thing that stands out about the gameplay is its innovative design. Where most RPGs use the standard tried and true methods of gaining experience after battles, this game goes right for the status improvements. So, what role does experience play in this game? I don't know, maybe it's brushing up on its card-playing skills. Essentially, the experience system is abolished, and status is effected randomly (or so it says). For example, when the heroes engage an enemy on the battlefield, the player is first asked if he or she wants to fight or run. According to the author's rulebook, if the player wants to run from a fight at all, this would be the time to do it. Once the battle begins, it becomes a fight to the death. Then fate takes over.

But does the new system work? Honestly, I have certain skepticism about it. Here's the thing--I like what it tries to do. I think it's creative. I also appreciate that the game gives the player the choice to fight or run. It's a refreshing change from the games that interrupt a player's pace by throwing out yet another random battle for he or she to fight. In a genre that uses this system to death, I value the author's decision to do something that's less conventional. But not effectively seeing the changes can make the psychology of improving skills a bit disturbed, and that's one of two points th at lend this style some difficulty. The other point that may or may not allow this system to work is the potential to leave battles imbalanced. In other words, if the player reaches a boss, but the random stats didn't improve his health at all, then the battle could turn into a war of the cure potions, and that would effectively turn the battle into its own epic. I personally spent over five minutes fighting the end demo bosses because I had to throw out at least one cure in every turn to keep my heroes alive. Even though it's acceptable, it's not exciting. So, this new system is nice for the refreshment, but certain author control may need to be established to make sure players can finish the game.

So that's the new system. But how about the old? The one element of game design that I admire in all of this author's works, including this one, is the map design. I think he has a true talent in developing overworld and dungeon maps. Even though the placement of certain enemies may or may not be logical to the conventions of dungeon design and story development, the actual map layout is uncanny to anything I typically find in other OHR games. I really think this is one area where this author has a professional quality to add to his games. If there's any reason to recommend this game, it would be to study how the author put his maps together. Check it out to see what I mean. I really think this is the guy to call for questions and advice for map and dungeon design.

Anyway, even the professional quality has to suffer under the weight of one glaring weakness. And that would have to be from the severely lacking freedom of exploration. Now, I'm not saying that every map is set up to be straightforward, since some maps offer the player to search the crannies for item bags, but for the most part, the player doesn't have to worry about the consequences of walking into the wrong place. For the sake of linear urgency, a lack of freedom is acceptable, but sometimes the freedom is cut short so deeply, that the player will occasionally find himself walking into wallmaps that cut right across an open field. This can be distracting, and even disappointing.

Again, I'm not suggesting that improving the range of freedom is absolutely necessary to make this game awesome, but it would be a nice implementation for all those would-be explorers who believe in the principles of killing the cat. This game certainly has nothing to lose by trying.

And that should just about cover my thoughts on this project. Let us move into the scoring section to finalize all opinions that I have for "Relics of Ladon."
Final Scores
Graphics: 6.5/10.0
As I stated before, I appreciate the style of graphics that this game utilizes, even if it's less than conventional, and in some cases, even newbie-like. I guess you could say that I find it daring, but fitting. I will not agree that the graphics have enough detail to make the adventure an aesthetic experience, but it gets the job done, so it's good to go. The quality of the walkabouts and battle graphics are also enough to add a point or two to the overall score, despite the dryness of the backgrounds and the limited map detail. So to summarize my graphical opinions, I think it's subtly eye-pleasing, even if only in raw form.
Storyline: 3.5/10.0
It's a shame that the intro was so impressive because the rest of the game's story lost inspiration. The characters could be stronger, but the circumstances are in the most need of improvement. A point of motivation is what this story needs (from the villain's standpoint), and a sense of logic to human rationalization (such as accompaning a man to do a job you send him on because you don't trust him to do a good job by himself) is also necessary. Tighter characters make for a tighter plot and a better story. But for now...I don't think so.
Gameplay: 8.5/10.0
Although I find the gameplay as the strongpoint here, I'm still torn between what works and what doesn't. Since the innovation is something worth checking out, I am willing to give a positive score on this behalf. But if I'm to go rave over anything in the gameplay category, it's gonna be for its intelligent map design. Just like all of Cube's games that I've played, this one boasts some outstanding dungeons that can turn the heads of even the professional game designers. The only places I might say this fails are the limited range of exploration and the formula use of dungeon bosses. I'd like to see a little more creativity in these two areas. But otherwise, very nice.
Music: 4/10.0
The soundtrack is not my favorite, but it's okay for the mood of the game. I'll admit that I liked the first town's theme song quite a bit, but a majority of the music got so repetitive and loud that it got on my nerves. I guess you could call it a mixed musical score, so I'm gonna give it a mixed literal score. One good song plus moodiness equals decent rating, but severe irritation knocks it out of Gold Medal position.
Overall Grade: C
Final Thoughts
    I like this game for the most part. Rather, I'd like to see where it's going. I will say that for all the hope I had going into it, I didn't finish it feeling completely satisfied. However, I still found elements worth playing with and even thinking about, so I'll recommend it for educational purposes, and possibly even for some entertainment value. But I'd bank more on the education right now since the story isn't very interesting yet. Not too bad otherwise.  

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