Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage Preview
Besides Natsume's decent effort with the recent Harvest Moon 64, the RPG genre has been unexplored for Nintendo's current console until now.
The N64 courted a painfully average RPG known as Quest 64, created by Imagineer and published by THQ during the summer of '98, and as if to scare away the likes of similar-minded developers interested in making RPGs for the system, that was pretty much the first and last role-playing effort on the N64. Conspiracy theory? Perhaps. However, besides Natsume's decent effort with the recent Harvest Moon 64, the genre has been unexplored for Nintendo's current console until now.
Enter THQ (once again) with an RPG being developed by H2O Entertainment, the makers of The New Tetris and Tetrisphere - two great puzzle games on the N64. The developers are calling Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage the first traditional RPG for the N64, and they have big plans of backing that up with a strong storyline, innovative magic and battle scenarios, and a bevy of well-developed characters.
We asked Andrew Brown, a producer for H2O Entertainment's Aidyn game, why he thinks the RPG genre on the N64 hasn't been explored at all. "I think one of the most important reasons is that, typically, console RPGs are created in Japan and localized for US audiences," said Brown. "Certainly, that's been the case with the vast majority of PlayStation titles. Since the N64 has not sold well in Japan, there aren't many developers over there creating RPGs for the platform, so there aren't many coming over here, either. THQ saw that and said, 'Hey, there's an audience here. If no one in Japan is going to make a killer RPG title for Nintendo 64, then we will!' And thus was born Aidyn Chronicles."
In the game you'll play as Alaron, an orphaned kid living in a world called Aidyn, who was eventually adopted by the king and trained to become a knight. In the game he sets out to discover his lineage. Alaron will act with a party of three other selectable characters (ten to choose from altogether) who'll assist him with magic and in battle sequences. We asked Brown to tell us about the game's characters.
First of all, there's Brenna, who like Alaron was orphaned as a child. "Brenna had to learn to make her own way in the world before being taken in by the king. An accomplished thief - though don't call her that to her face! - Brenna is Alaron's closest companion and truest friend, even if they do fight constantly!" Then there's Abrecan. "The very essence of a knight," said Brown. "Abrecan is the captain of the guard, sworn to the defense of the king. Devotion to honor and duty is his life. His gruff exterior belies his concern that Alaron's promise as a knight will go unfulfilled. Abrecan's strength and skill with weapons is unsurpassed."
Another character is Rheda, Alaron's teacher of magic spells and rituals. She is one of the younger wizards and spends a good deal of her time trying to cure her friend from wizard school, Niesen, who was cursed by a necromancer and is in the uncomfortable position of gradually becoming undead. Godric is the castle's alchemist and, according to Brown, is "a few beakers short of a flask. He's brilliant, but more than a little erratic - as anyone who's been unfortunate enough to be near one of his more incendiary experiments has discovered. Still, no one in the castle knows more about herbs and potions, making him useful, if eccentric."
Keelin is an expert thief and a female with an eye for Alaron. Becan is a knight who saved the king's life once, then retreated to live peacefully. He's a tracker and woodsman as well as a valuable fighter - although he doesn't really want to be anymore. And then of course, there's Arturo. There seems to be an Arturo in every game. A beefy, not-so-smart guy whose brawn outweighs his mental strength or magic. That's the case here too. Arturo wants to be a knight really, really badly.
The last two party characters are Donovan and Baird. Donovan is a "swashbuckling duelist who doesn't understand the meaning of the word surrender - or the meaning of the word caution for that matter. Supremely confident, his prowess in combat just might equal his boasting... but there are greater dangers ahead than can be dealt with by sword alone," said Brown. And Baird? Well, Baird is best described as "part poet/part barbarian." These characters will assist Alaron with their various skills and experience levels. The game takes place in a singular world, Aidyn, with 19 distinct, original locations, three separate races, and several different societies. The locations include desert territories, mountainous regions, monster islands, and seaports, to name few. The gameplay will be nonlinear and will push you to explore, with cutscenes interspersed to push the plot along. We asked Brown how developers plan to make the gameplay itself progress logically with a nonlinear plot. How will it happen that you won't run into a top-level boss before your skills are built up?
"Thanks to some forethought on the part of our designers," said Brown "we have an amazing amount of control over that aspect of the game. Essentially, we can tune the enemy encounters based on the level and experience of the party. Now of course, we won't make it so that you can walk through the whole game at Level 1 - there's plenty of checks and balances built in - but you won't ever find yourself either blowing through enemies like nothing or getting your butt kicked (unless it's appropriate to the flow of the game, that is)."
Brown went on to describe the game engine and the Aidyn battle system. "The gameworld is fully 3D, similar to Zelda. You control a party of four characters at once, but in a traditional RPG style, you see only your main character when running around in the gameworld. During combat and character dialogues, however, you will see all of your party members onscreen.
"We're really excited about our combat system, actually. It's similar to that of Parasite Eve, with a turn-based component as well as freedom of movement, but instead of just controlling one character, you can control up to four. In addition, there are terrain features that you can use to your advantage, like hiding behind a tree to protect yourself from an enemy with a bow, or gaining the high ground to give yourself an attack bonus.
"Each character has an area of movement during his turn, which is determined by his or her stats (which you build through experience points) and equipment. A bulky knight wearing full plate is going to have a smaller movement rate than a nimble thief wearing light armor. But we've balanced the game so that the knight doesn't need to move fast - he can just lumber in and start smashing the bad guys. A thief, on the other hand, can move around quickly to flank an attacker and maybe even sneak up behind them to get double damage from a backstab attack. Part of the fun of combat is figuring out how to use your characters' diverse skills to the greatest effect.
"There are a variety of weapons, both melee (like swords and axes) and missile (bows of various kinds). There are also lots of spells, and not just the usual Fire, Ice, and Lightning. We've spent a huge amount of time balancing the effects of the different spells so that every one is useful and effective in different situations. Haste, for example, is a spell that seems underutilized in other games - why not just fireball the guy, right? In Aidyn, if you spend a round casting Haste on the right party member, believe me, it's worth it! We've actually got a designer who's working on the combat system full-time, just playing around with different combinations of characters and enemies fighting against each other and using all the different items and spells, so everything is going to be tuned to perfection by the time we're ready to ship." The magic-to-brute-strength ratio seems as if it will be fairly balanced in Aidyn Chronicles. And this is best expressed in the way you choose your characters. As mentioned in the brief character bios, each character has his or her own specific skill set, whether based in physical strength or in magic. Obviously, if you want magic to dominate over physical strength, you should select characters that have abilities in that area. And vice versa. We asked Brown how he'd advise players to proceed. "Generally speaking, selecting a blend of the two will probably be most effective, especially since we have a lot of spells that are useful when not in combat, such as Open, which can unlock doors. Our spell list is quite extensive; in fact, we have 60 different spells in the game right now! We have a variety of offensive spells that attack the enemy directly with fire or acid or other powers, spells that raise your party members' stats to enhance their effectiveness both in and out of combat, spells of protection and shielding, controlling magic, counterspells that dispel other magic, detection and unlocking spells... there's lots of variety for the player to explore."
There's nothing cryptic about the Aidyn combat system. If you're an RPG fan, the gameplay should make sense. The economic system or resource management is traditional as well. You'll earn treasure when you overcome monsters and opponents in battle as well as when you beat your quests and find hidden areas. The treasure will allow you to then buy the things you need, like armor, items for magic and protection, weapons, transportation, and so forth. As in most RPGs, you'll buy and sell at various town locations.
While H2O may have a world of uncharted territory to explore and define by creating an N64 RPG, it also has a lot to prove. More PlayStation RPGs have been released within the last two years than most gamers could reasonably find time to play. So, RPG-hungry N64 owners aside, making Aidyn stand out will be a chore in and of itself. We asked Brown about H2O's plan, and he gave us a list.
Full 3D world. "Most RPGs on current platforms still retain a very 2D look to them. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think that with the advances in technology and the games we've seen on Nintendo 64, there are a lot of advantages to doing things in 3D. While we're not the only 3D RPG game out there, we're aiming to be the only one that's going to really capture the true RPG experience."
Advanced combat system. "We've worked very hard to make combat intuitive and fun to play but at the same time give the players far more tactical options than some RPGs where you just stand across from each other and trade hits. It's a huge cliche, but I think we've nailed that elusive 'easy to learn, difficult to master' quality, and I think that players are really going to enjoy it."
Storyline. "Raise your hand if you're tired of saving the world again! In Aidyn Chronicles, the focus isn't on saving the world from some huge evil force (although, of course, it wouldn't be an RPG without an evil force around...) - it's much more personal. There are moments of pain, betrayal, and death but also lots of humor and even romance. All of us working on Aidyn Chronicles have always taken the position that the story is the most important thing in an RPG, and I'm pleased to say we've achieved what we set out to do in that regard."
Character building. "Recent console RPGs seem to have gotten away from the whole fantasy role-playing experience a little bit. With Aidyn Chronicles, we really wanted to get back to the idea of customizing your characters as you see fit. When your characters level-up, you can distribute experience points any way you want, building up certain attributes more than others, specializing in certain skills, or taking a more well-rounded approach. In addition, characters gain more proficiency in weapons or spells that they've used a lot, so if you fight with a sword all the time, you'll see your skill with that sword increase more than with, say, a battle-ax. You can customize your characters' attributes, weapons and equipment, skills, and spells (if they can use magic), which gives the player a ton of cool options to tailor their game experience to their own desires."
Customizable party. "Each character has a complete story and dialogue, so each time you play, if you select a different character, you'll get a different perspective on the game. In addition, the characters themselves have different specialties, which means you can tailor your party to the play style you prefer. Don't like that wizard and want a fighter instead? It's up to you."
Aidyn Chronicles is currently scheduled for a spring 2000 release for the Nintendo 64. We'll have more screenshots as the game progresses.