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Faery: Legends of Avalon
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 7.5
Sound: 6.7
Control: 7.3
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 7.2

I’m always amazed at just how far downloadable games have come in a few short years. A game like Faery: Legends of Avalon is very large and although the environments aren’t gigantic, they are colorful and imaginative. And yes, for all you old-school role-playing aficionados who are wondering, the gameplay features a classic turn-based system, something we almost never see anywhere outside the handheld realm these days. As far as I’m concerned, that’s reason enough to give it a shot but fair warning: the game isn’t quite as involving as I would’ve liked, primarily due to some pacing issues and a sense of tiresome repetitiveness that goes along with most side-quests. The story isn’t really worth talking about, either. That being said, we do have a surprisingly in-depth RPG mechanic (taking into account the limitations of downloadable titles) and if you enjoy this style, Faery is worthy of your attention.

As I said, the environments are very colorful and some are even quite impressive in terms of detail and creativity. There’s no frame rate stuttering when flying around – remember, you’re a faery – and there’s a lot of good design to be found in both the characters and enemies. It’s not as crisp or polished as its bigger-budget cousins and the special effects aren’t all that “special,” but these are minor complaints and easily overlooked if you can become immersed in the fantasy. Some of the landscapes feel a little intimidating and frustrating, simply because you’re so small and your surroundings might be quite large in scope. Still, you’ll see quite a few sights as you wing around a variety of different locales; just be prepared for a few less-than-eye-popping sections. It’s not overwhelming but this visual presentation is more than passable from a digitally delivered standpoint.

The sound is found lacking mostly because the music and effects seem to reside somewhere in the background at all times. Both the soundtrack and combat effects fit the production well, and I did enjoy a lot of the classical orchestral themes, but none of it is brought to the forefront. Also, as there are no voices, there is no spoken dialogue of any kind. That’s a throwback to the olden days of RPG gaming, of course, and while it didn’t bother me, it might annoy others. But without voices, this means the music and effects have to pick up the slack and really enhance the experience…and they don’t quite manage to do that. It’s one of those cases where there’s nothing wrong with the audio, per se, but you just wish the developers had done more. I liked the soundtrack plenty and a few of the bigger skills and abilities hit the speakers hard, so it’s not really a matter of a flawed production. We’re just missing that requisite “oomph,” you know?

The game is indeed a true-blue old-fashioned RPG, almost from top to bottom. The one major twist on the formula is the fact that you’re always flying: you’re a faery, so you zip around on your wings; it’s easy to do and the camera works quite well. You move as you normally would if you were on the ground (left analog to move, right analog to aim in the desired direction) and for an extra boost of speed, you just hold down the left analog. If you need to, you can hit R2 to rise and L2 to descend but for the most part, you can just use the left and right analogs throughout the adventure. This mode of transportation works quite well but there are a few irritating quirks. While the camera does function normally, it can obstruct your vision in certain situations, and sometimes, you need to reach just the right altitude. This results in some minor in-air adjustments that sort of slows things down, but it’s not a huge deal.

So you fly around, exploring your fantastical surroundings that can range from darkened dungeons to lush outdoor areas. Along the way, you will meet plenty of interesting characters, many of which will provide you with helpful advice or ask you for personal favors. You can earn experience and a good reputation by helping people out and these side-quests are a definite fixture. You can find chests scattered around and fight enemies that show up in the area (they’re not random battles, but you do switch to a separate battle screen when you encounter foes). Once in battle, the standard turn-based rules apply, with specific features like the point system that dictates how many moves you get per turn. For instance, with three, you can execute three actions, or you can execute one big skill. It’s a nice, simple form of strategy and it’s fun to experiment. Character advancement is also straightforward.

As you might expect, I really love the turn-based style and this kept me playing for quite some time. I liked having a party, I liked talking to all the NPCs and doing a lot of side-quests, I liked the very diverse environments, and I liked the inherent strategy and combat challenge. However, the pacing really did start to get to me. You start to spend too much time dealing with simple, even silly, favors done for the NPCs, and the game is more linear than you might expect. You can explore each given area but they’re not big and for the most part, you just follow a set path through the game. You do have some options in terms of progression and where to go but it’s limited. Furthermore, I didn’t like that I only had full advancement control over the main character; your other party members sort of have pre-set abilities and skills, although you can at least control them during battle.

The story isn’t engaging enough to keep us intrigued, the characters can be charming and cute but none of them stand out, and the small limitations can be irksome. For instance, you can’t run from battle and you automatically enter the combat screen when going anywhere near a group of enemies, and even meaningless battles seem to take too long. This is because all your characters regain their health after every encounter, so the developers decided to make each encounter quite challenging. That’s not a bad idea but it does slow things down and eliminates the strategy of maintaining the health of your party while traveling. And while the atmosphere does change significantly in certain places, you do spend a large amount of time in any one area, pursuing all the side-quests and favors and gathering info. Without good pacing and an intriguing storyline, RPGs start to lag and they begin to feel like more of a chore and unfortunately, this happened to Legends of Avalon. It's not crippling but it must be mentioned.

That all being said, I have to say that if you have the patience, you love the turn-based format, and you’re a fan of the faery/fantasy setting, this is a game that will reward your interest. It’s very long, especially for a downloadable effort, and despite the lack of voices, I thought a lot of the writing was impressive. There was a time when we had to read in our RPGs, you know. But anyway, with colorful backdrops, a true-blue role-playing setup complete with a bit of exploration, classic advancements, and NPC interaction, the game will certainly appeal to the hardcore who sort of miss the old days. I just wish it was more dynamic and more involving throughout. The technical elements are decent for the digital world, the control is good, and there is an acceptable challenge involved. There isn’t so much in the way of micromanagement but there’s no mistaking traditional RPG fare.

Faery: Legends of Avalon will only appeal to a certain niche group, but if you’re in that group, you’ve been in it for a while. It doesn’t excel in all areas and actually disappoints in others but it’s still a lengthy, turn-based fantasy RPG that has it where it counts, especially where fans of the genre are concerned. And I think that’s important to note for a lot of our readers.

The Good: Classic and traditional role-playing elements, including turn-based combat. Colorful, various environments. Decent character and enemy design. Solid control. Quest is of a very healthy length.

The Bad: Sound is lacking. Story is a little bland. Pacing is erratic. Several small limitations and restrictions that can chafe.

The Ugly: The game crashed on me twice and came close to freezing a few more times.

1/17/2011   Ben Dutka