Be it consoles that could make your eyes bleed, or controllers that would be more at home in a pornographic movie than your living room, we’ve been subject to a lot of crazy things. Gaming as a whole is in a state of utter and perpetual madness. And the latest in this long line of lunacy? Nostalgia. Every game company is looking to make a quick buck on our past experiences in some way or another. Whether it’s a poor port of a well loved classic like Sonic Adventures, or a retro-themed brawler that oozes class like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the aim is the same – to tug on your awesome memories to make a sale.
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“But Milo!”, I hear you whimper, “What the hell does this have to do with an indie RPG from an obscure little studio that shares it’s name with a horrific energy drink that has equally horrific ads?” Everything. Arevan: The Bitter Truth is an exercise in nostalgia and makes no qualms about it. If this wasn’t specified as a PC release, it would be right at home on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo (or more recently, Nintendo DS), sprites et al.
From the surprisingly crisp 2D graphics to the every second or third NPC looking the same (not a complaint, just an observation), I’m yet to see a game that packs so much of a retro punch on presentation alone. Complementing the old school eye-candy is a healthy dollop of original artwork. The character design feels fresh, as do the enemies, and the menu is pretty intuitive too. Adding to the retro-themed graphics is a very good soundtrack. It’s the sort that isn’t immediately likable, but it grows on you, and it’ll probably be playing in your brain before you know it. Great care has been taken to ensure each area sounds different, and this extends to the ambient track as well. So much so that inns in different cities all sound distinct. It’s a fine effort that’s marred by some abrupt looping during battles and within cities where there’s a pause before the track repeats itself, which takes away from the immersion.
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Speaking of things that hamper immersion, the lore of Arevan is almost non-existent. There’s not much in terms of back story about the world you’re trying to save. Considering how important locales and lore play in adding to the feel of a role-playing game, Arevan feels frigid in this department from the outset, throwing you into the world without any exposition or narrative of its history. The game places you in the royal shoes of Maurean, the prince of Arevan, who has set off on a quest to capture the person responsible for murders across the world. Like all role-playing games, this evolves (or degenerates, depending on how jaded you are) into a quest where there’s something more sinister afoot.
With additions such as a battle against a Transformer, a side quest that incorporates Harry Potter, and cameos by Maradonna, Shakira and Paul the Octopus, Arevan sports a rather campy, random feel, which offsets the lack of lore, but also makes you wonder what they were tripping on when it came to the plot and characterization, as barring Pascal, a firearm toting knight with a love for parlours, most of your party is your bog standard RPG fare.
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The game also suffers from verbal diarrhoea at the oddest moments. While I’m all for text in video games, it’s just a bit numbing to be flashed a gigantic wall of words that apparently form a character’s dialogue, or in most cases, a long, rambling monologue rather than a meaningful conversation between characters. Better formatting and presentation would’ve gone a long way towards keeping people from putting on their TLDR glasses. Did I mention that clichés have been sprinkled quite liberally? It’s as if the script was cobbled in the last twenty minutes before it went gold.
Dialogue and narrative woes aside, Arevan plays like your stereotypical Japanese RPG replete with turn-based battles, fiendish puzzles, and an almost masochistic level of difficulty for the uninitiated. But some sweet features make the formula a lot more palpable to both newbies and old timers. For starters, it allows you to go wherever you want from the very beginning, being one of the few RPGs that doesn’t believe in holding your hand till you’re 25 hours in (FFXIII, I’m looking at you). There are no random encounters that would stifle the pace of your gameplay, there’s a quest log (borrowed from Western RPGs) to ensure you’re never lost in terms of what to do next, and the Skill Pill system allows you to craft your party as you see fit. Think your metrosexual, manicure-addicted gunslinger should be proficient in conjuring ice spells? Just give him the right pills bought from a store or found in a dungeon treasure chest and he’d be freezing monsters immediately. The level of customization is simplistic that it’s almost elegant.
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The issue of backtracking has been tackled with equal panache. The time spent travelling across the world is negated by purchasing Runes. Each Rune is for a specific kingdom and there’s one for you to travel back to your boat, making it fairly easy to get out of tough spots or return to areas of interest without worrying about crossing through dangerous terrain that could result in you seeing the ‘game over’ screen. But see the ‘game over’ screen you shall, because while the level of freedom from the very beginning is a welcome feature, it does have one issue. You will land up fighting monsters that you’re completely unprepared for and end up dying an embarrassing death.
As mentioned earlier, the battles are turn-based with a front-view, and you have the ability to scan your enemies’ weaknesses from the beginning of a battle, much unlike the RPGs of yore that require you to acquire the right spell to make it happen. This makes controlling battles a self-explanatory, cohesive affair much in-sync with the controls of the game, which rarely demand an explanation. Overall, Over Cloud 9 has done a splendid job in the gameplay department.
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Considering that Arevan: The Bitter Truth was developed by a team of two, it’s quite an achievement. Over Cloud 9’s debut attempt is a pure shot of nostalgia, complete with an average plot, dialogue and cast backed up by solid gameplay. Throw in multiple endings, a DRM-free release and consistent developer support, and you could do much worse with your Rs 600-odd. Recommended for new RPG fans interested in a history lesson sprinkled with some creative liberties, and old RPG fans, who don’t have access to a time-machine.