The classic top-down role-playing game, made famous in the ’80s and ’90s is making a valiant return. Not only are experienced developers reinventing the genre, but RPG enthusiasts and hobbyists are getting in on the action, thanks to accessible software engines like RPG Maker MV.
Presenting Echoes of Aetheria, developed by Dancing Dragon Games and published by Degica. The game is obviously polished and modern, yet at the same time preserves some of the dusty features found in the old classics.
As the curtain lifts in the game’s intro, we take our seats at a wedding ceremony. It seems that our own Princess Soha is marrying the Prince of a newly allied nation. As the bride and groom kiss at the alter, a group of soldiers stroll in, scoop up the bride and casually walk out with her; leaving the wedding guests and VIPs stunned. Yes, it’s all very Marx Brothers. However, this is where you, the player enter the picture. You take the role of Lucian, a faithful soldier of the realm. In true RPG fashion, you begin with some basic stats and a small inventory of items. You also have a couple of active weapon skills. As your adventure continues, you’ll pick up additional weapons, as well as armor and other objects. Some of these items contain “sockets”, into which you can place gemstones to enhance their effect. The real power though comes from “passive” skills you learn along the way. These are great because you don’t need to press a button or click the mouse to activate their effects; they’re always working for you.
Of course, Lucian is the one who must venture out to rescue the Princess and fight off many foes along the way. Shortly into the adventure you’ll meet Ingrid, your first battle companion. When you encounter adversaries, position both Lucian and Ingrid carefully on the floor’s built-in combat grid. Assign attack orders to each character and remember to use healing and revive potions when necessary. As you gain experience, you’ll receive skill points with which to improve your abilities.
This brings us to the combat system itself. While intuitive, it seemed a bit unbalanced at times. For example, the AI would often subdue Ingrid before she had a chance to execute her orders. Your characters do heal after each battle, but no experience is awarded to those who fall in the skirmish.
In addition to honing combat skills, the game also has you solving puzzles and locating collectible items. Pick up all shiny objects and press every wall button you see. While neither a side-scroller nor a platformer, Echoes of Aetheria often feels like both. Also, while the story is quite linear, I didn’t feel “on rails” as I have with other games in this genre.
So is Echoes of Aetheria worth it? Yes, it is. Priced fairly on Steam at $15 (USD), it delivers a solid, if not somewhat modernized take on the classic top-down RPG.
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