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Arvale: Journey of Illusion Review

Developer: PDAmill Publisher: PDAmill
Release Date: February 10, 2005 Also On: None

Arvale was hyped as the RPG for all PDA owners. PDAmill set out to take the crown that Legacy has owned for about a year now. Did they succeed and live up to the expectations? That is actually quite a hard question to answer.

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One thing that they sure as hell did do right is the story. Okay, so we are in fantasy land again, like in every other RPG on the market. Sure, there are dwarfs and elves and of course your role is the one of the legendary hero. You even have to fight a dragon. But wait. The story is far from normal. After a few minutes into the game the story turns around completely and you are surprised with humor and jokes about almost every RPG cliché ever established.

The quests are not really more varied than get item x, kill monster y or talk to person z, but that is not a problem. The sidequests (and there are quite a number) all have some funny little story, so you never get the feeling that anything is repeating. The world design is also very good because it manages to surprise you sometimes. You do not get what you expect too often. Some things are easier than you would have expected in an RPG, others are more difficult.

It never gets boring, you always want to see what is next. On the other hand the graphical variety is a little low. The world is designed as varied as possible with the few tilesets there are, but it still has too few tilesets. For a sequel I would wish that towns look and feel a little more unique and that there are different landscapes and special locations.

A thing where Arvale really shines is the sound. There are nice sound effects for lots of little things. What is so great is the music. It enhances the atmosphere a lot and there are enough different tracks. It sounds very professional; it is at least as good as in a technically comparable console RPGs. The only problem is of the technical kind. Sometimes there is no music. This might be a tool to increase the tension sometimes, but in Arvale there are cases where it is simply missing.

There are other technical problems. The quests are a little buggy, sometimes you get a crash if you do something you are not supposed to. Knowing PDAmill, I am pretty sure that they will work hard on correcting this in the next months. A thing that is not corrected as easily and much more annoying is the awful path finding and collision system. If you steer the game with the stylus like most Palm users will probably do, you will notice that your character has problems walking where you tapped. He often gets stuck in things. If you steer him with the analog stick of the Zodiac, you will notice that the collision system is really complex. It is a nice idea to get away from the big blocky collision of games like Pokemon or Zelda, but it does not work well in Arvale, because it is not clear enough where you can walk and where not. You have to try if you can squeeze between two things to get to the bookshelf before you know if it is possible.

Another smaller control problem is the menu. It is designed to reuse the same layout multiple times, probably to save graphics, but that makes it lose its intuitivism. It would also be a good thing if items of the same type stacked and it is annoying to have to cycle through weapons during combat, especially if it is so easy to accidentally hit ‘use’ in the progress. Some sort of popup menu could help here.

The combat system of Arvale is not the best. The rock-paper-scissors principle of weapons and magic is cool and it is a good idea that your items all get worn out after some time and that you constantly have to buy new weapons and armor. Character development is a little too simple, because you never need magic abilities in the whole game. It would have been nice if at least a sidequest would force you to use magic.

Also, the combat system is too simple. It’s like Pokemon (single player): Attack all the time and take potions if you need them. Fights do not get more difficult like they should but in fact easier. The last bosses are no challenge anymore. If you do most of the sidequests and dungeons, your character gets too strong. Maybe a dynamic level of enemies would help here so that they are always as tough as they need to be to challenge your character, or simply make them a lot stronger, so that players who run through the game without looking at things at the sides have to train before they are able to go on.

Now I have said a lot of negative things about this game. Maybe a little too much because Arvale still is a very good SNES style RPG despite the little flaws it has. They prevent it from being better than Legacy, but it is a close second place. You should not forget that they are very different RPG’s. Some people might prefer a 2D RPG with an actual story to a first person RPG without. Try the demo and see if you like it or not. If you do there are 20 hours of the same stuff in the full version, perhaps even more because of the three different possible endings that you might want to see.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.5
Written by Ortwin Review Guide