Avalon Code Hands-On

From the creative minds behind Rune Factory and Harvest Moon comes a new role-playing game in which you slam a book over people's heads.

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There definitely isn't a shortage of role-playing games on the Nintendo DS, and it looks like there will be quite a few on the horizon in the coming months. One of them is Marvelous Entertainment/Xseed Games' Avalon Code, developed by Matrix, the same group who remade Final Fantasy III and IV for the DS. This action RPG takes a unique approach to the usual hack-and-slash formula by introducing a special book, one that you slam--with full force--over people's heads. Japanese RPGs always seem to have some bizarre twist, and Avalon Code is no exception. We liked what we saw though, because the book concept is definitely original and is implemented in a peculiar way.

Meet a cast of colorful and delightful characters.
Meet a cast of colorful and delightful characters.

You begin by choosing the gender of your protagonist. Regardless of whom you decide to go with, they play the part of the silent hero or heroine. We went with the girl and were treated with an ominous opening, which talked about the end of the world and other depressing things. Soon we zoomed in on our heroine, lying in a field by a large monument as a red bookmark floated down from the sky. In the events that follow, you'll learn that you have been chosen to hold the Book of Prophecy and it's your duty to record anything and everything to save or doom the world. To help you is Rempo, a powerful fire spirit who has quite a personality and is shackled to the book. Rempo acts as your guide and guardian as you explore the world and collect valuable information with your book.

Every time you bring the giant Book of Prophecy down on someone, whether it is an enemy, a non-player character, a flower, or another random object, the information is automatically recorded in the book and you will be able to see its code. It's like the genetic makeup for that person represented by small puzzle pieces laid out on a grid that can be removed. Fortunately, no one is hurt in the process since they can't even see that you're dropping a whopping textbook on them. For example, after thumping the book down on a particular flower, you might learn that it has fire in its code. You can remove the fire code and put it on your sword instead so that your weapon has fire properties. You can even heal the wounded by finding specific codes that will enable you to remove the wounded code from them. If an enemy is too strong, whap them with the book and remove their properties so that their hit points go down. This creates an elaborate customizing system because you manipulate virtually everything. The touch screen is where your book lies, and you can look up everything you've come across in the index as well as use it as a map. There's also a good balance between button and stylus controls so that you're not relying too heavily on one and not the other.

Battles are fought in the upper screen and in real time. You can equip a sword in each hand and swing using the X and Y buttons, and you can perform a spinning attack by holding X or Y. B is to bookslam, and the shoulder buttons are used to evade attacks. Once you learn how to do a judgment link, you can use the A button to toss your enemies in the air and then, in minigame fashion, see how long you can keep them up. What's also very interesting is that when you explore dungeons, you aren't just navigating from one screen to the next. You enter what seems like an arena of minigames, in which you need to clear each screen before moving on to the next. You are scored based on the time it takes to complete the objective, which could involve flipping switches or clearing enemies.

Fight in real-time and then whap enemies with the book.
Fight in real-time and then whap enemies with the book.

Visually, Avalon Code looks very much like Final Fantasy III with detailed characters and similar textures when it comes to the environment. The opening sequence is lovely--the artwork looks hand-drawn and is accompanied by a beautiful Japanese ballad sung by a female vocalist. There is also a surprising amount of voice work, which is nice. The music serves its purpose and provides a good backdrop for this story. Other than the opening song, we haven't come across any tracks that stand out, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This action RPG looks very promising, and it's nice to see Matrix try something new and original on the DS. Bookworms should keep an eye out for this one when it is released in early March.

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