Category Archives: Game Reviews

#amgaming: Stardew Valley, by Chucklefish Games

I’ve mentioned before that I spend a certain amount of time playing computer games, especially when I am trying to avoid doing any serious writing. Just like the books I read when dodging work, I love to talk about whatever game I’m playing.

Today I am reviewing Stardew Valley, an open-ended country-life RPG which was built by indie programmer, Eric Barone under the alias Concerned Ape, and published by Chucklefish Games. It was released for Microsoft Windows in February 2016, with ports for OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One appearing later that same year.

I love old-school, indie-built RPGs, and Stardew Valley is one of the more absorbing games I’ve played lately.

But first, the Blurb:

You’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home? It won’t be easy. Ever since Joja Corporation came to town, the old ways of life have all but disappeared. The community center, once the town’s most vibrant hub of activity, now lies in shambles. But the valley seems full of opportunity. With a little dedication, you might just be the one to restore Stardew Valley to greatness!

My Review:

The art and graphics are excellent and colorful. Each setting is fun to roam around in. If I have any complaint, it’s the amount of walking back and forth over the same ground that one has to do to complete the many tasks, and the game clock keeps ticking while you struggle to get your farm up and running. Fortunately, from day one of the game there are many places to forage from, and what you find can be sold to buy more supplies.

In this game, I always play a female character, but you can create a male character just as easily. You can choose one of five farm maps, each with different pros and cons. I prefer the one with extra foraging opportunities, but there is one with more mining resources and another with a fishing river.

In all the scenarios, the farm plot is initially overrun with boulders, trees, stumps, and weeds, and the player must work to clear them to rebuild the farm: you will be tending to crops and livestock to generate revenue so you can further expand the farm’s buildings and facilities.

I started over with different characters, once I figured out what I didn’t know when setting up the first character. That’s how I discovered the joy of having 4 completely different games going at once. (I laugh, but really I’m cringing.) Because I like each of the different storylines, I play whichever game I’m in the mood for, as none of the storylines are finished. I have married my each characters off to different bachelors, which generates a different storyline and completely different cutscenes every time.

There are ten marriageable characters, and each generates a different storyline. You can marry anyone you choose, male or female. If you marry a member of your own sex, you will be offered the option of adopting children.

Friendships are important, and you can gain a lot of friends by doing odd jobs which will be posted on the community bulletin board. Romance happens slowly because figuring out what the character you are wooing likes can be difficult.

The mines are difficult, with some tough monsters. The creatures are fun, and some are hard to beat, but you do gain strength, and the wise miner brings food, so nothing is impossible. Fishing takes a bit of work, and it’s not easy to learn, and figuring out how things work is challenging.

You will spend game time walking from place to place. A day on the farm typically takes 15 minutes of real time. Every task eats time—for instance, a walk to town consumes half an hour of the character’s game-day. Added to the challenge is the 3 hours (6-to-9:00 am or longer in game-time, not real time) you will devote to trying to get your chores done each morning so you can get going on cutting wood, fishing, or mining. All those tasks are important if you want to improve your farm.

This game contains many adult situations and isn’t really for young children. This game also teaches budgeting and planning, real-life skills many adults don’t have a great grip on. You do have to be careful with your gold. I suggest you add chickens and cows as soon as possible because, in Stardew Valley, mayonnaise is money—it’s the first reliable source of daily income, producing revenue even in the winter.

During recent weeks here at la Casa del Jasperson, the road of real life has been too rocky for me to write. Hence, I’ve found this game to be quite the enjoyable time-sink. As of this post, I have not completed all the side quests, but since May 13th I have put well over 100 hours into it.

I purchased Stardew Valley on Steam for my PC and play with an X-Box controller, but the game is available for the Nintendo PS4.

I give Stardew Valley 5 out of 5 stars, as it is an excellent example of indie produced RPG games.


Attributions:

Stardew Valley Screenshot, © 2016 Eric Barone, via Wikipedia

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#amgaming: Review of Aveyond 2: Ean’s Quest

I play a lot of computer games, but I love RPGs more than any other. This is because the storylines and characters are given as much attention as the action and the fighting.  I’m especially fond of the Aveyond series of games, which are produced by Aveyond Studios, a small indie company formerly known as Amaranth Games or Aveyond Kingdom.

Amanda Fitch was the first developer to popularize RPG Maker as a commercial tool in 2006. It looks like she is currently heavily involved in building and promoting HeroKit, a new RPG game making program which is supposed to launch soon.

Ean’s Quest is one of their early games made with RPG Maker, but for whatever reason, I had never played it. As everyone knows, I love nothing better than a good fantasy. This little indie produced game is a great fantasy with a certain amount of snark and romance and some intriguing and difficult puzzles.

The version of Ean’s Quest I am reviewing is version 2—I never bought version 1, so I can’t say how it compares or where it differs.

But first, THE BLURB:

Snow has fallen on a magical vale where it has never snowed before. A beautiful young elf is missing, and no one remembers her existence. That is, no one except for her best friend, Ean.

To solve the mystery of his lost friend, Ean leaves the vale and travels to the dangerous Land of Man. Ean’s adventure takes him through dark forests, arid deserts, and finally to a great mountain of ice where the answers to all of his questions await. And that is just the beginning…

Solve dozens of adventure puzzles and explore an enchanting world. Aveyond 2 is packed with monsters, magic, and humor. Stop an evil queen from turning the world into ice, capture a dragon and ride the winds to ancient lands, unite the kingdoms and discover your destiny.

MY REVIEW:

First of all, this was a fun game. I played it through twice and got two different endings, which kept me entertained and out of trouble. The keyboard instructions are simple, and if you prefer, you can use the mouse for most functions. The story gets going right away, with our elf, Ean, thrown into a strange world with only the knife in his hand and his ingenuity to save him. Soon after landing in the Land of Man he finds Iya, but their escape from the Snow Queen is fraught with danger and unpleasant surprises.

The playable characters besides Ean and his missing girlfriend, Iya, are fun and have solid personalities. Rye is a ranger and a good fighter with no magic. He’s one of the better fighters and his ongoing “courtship” of Emma, the lady’s maid turned sword swinger, is hilarious.

Nicolas Pendragon is a snotty, privileged prince who is a good healer. He is Arrogant with a capitol A and even after he begins to humble up a little, still refuses to be in your party if Gavin,  the warlock, is allowed. Both Nicolas and Gavin have heavy interactions with Ava One Eye, the pirate captain. Both story lines are hilarious, but you only can do one or the other, which is why I played the game straight through twice.

Ava One Eye is surly, a pirate queen who kicks butt and takes no prisoners. Her interactions, once Ean buys the farm, are entertaining.

A holdover from Aveyond 1: Rhen’s Quest is Jack the Thief, who has been turned into a statue for two hundred years. He is absolutely necessary for opening blue chests and other locks, and has some comical quips but is pretty useless in battle, so I didn’t keep him the active party, and never wasted money on equipping him with more than minimal cast off armor.

The quests are all really fun, but my favorite was in Bogwood, where you have the opportunity to really give Nicolas a kick in the pants and also to set Ava up with Gavin. Your choices in Bogwood determine how the rest of the game will go.

The monsters are tough but doable throughout the game. In certain places, you can really build up exp and collect enough gold that you don’t have to worry about keeping enough healing elixirs and aquifoliums for replenishing magic on hand.  This means that choosing to go with Gavin rather than the spoiled prince isn’t an issue. At times, the clues about what you should do next are a little obscure, which is why I went out and found the walk through, but for the most part, you don’t have to follow it.

The graphics are really awesome, which is one reason I love the games produced by Aveyond Studios in all their incarnations. A free walkthough is available on the Aveyond Studios website at this link, so I suggest you bookmark that link if you are a person who prefers to have a guide to follow.

Aaron Walz returned to produce the soundtrack to this game. As always, the music is well orchestrated with deep themes. While the battle music can be repetitious when you get into certain areas where you are fighting enemy after enemy (a hazard in any RPG), generally speaking, the music is beautiful and lyrical, a pleasant and appropriate soundtrack to the adventure.

I give Aveyond 2: Ean’s Quest five stars. It is a highly entertaining game and is an excellent way to while away a few hours in the evening when you just want a little “getaway.” I spent about 24 hours over the course of three weeks playing it in the evenings the first time through, and 19 hours over two weeks the second time. The second time through was just as engrossing as the first because the storyline was different, and based on what I already knew, I was able to make better use of my characters individual abilities.

I play a lot of games on my PC, simply because I need to unwind and love solving puzzles, and don’t have time to get lost in a long Final Fantasy-style console game anymore.  Aveyond 2: Ean’s Quest is available from the designers’ website: Aveyond 2: Ean’s Quest. You can also find it at Big Fish Games if you want to use your tokens to lower the cost.

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#amgaming: Review of Stargazer, by Amaranth/John Wizard

Stargazer screen shot 3I spend a certain amount of time playing computer games, especially when I am trying to avoid doing any serious writing. And just like the books I read when dodging work, I love to talk about whatever game I’m playing. Today I am reviewing Stargazer, which was published in 2015.

I love old-school, indie-built, computer Japanese-style RPGs, and Stargazer, created by John Wizard in association with Amaranth, is one of the best games I’ve played in years. I’ve played it through four times over the last year, setting Aura’s magic up differently each time, and have not run across any glitches or bugs. Yay for that!!!

Magic no longer exists in the world, but Zach, stargazer and dreamer, doesn’t really believe that. The game begins when a meteor falls from the sky, and Zach goes to investigate it. He manages to avoid the Chancellor’s goons and discovers a girl who is suffering from amnesia. She thinks her name is Aura. There is an instant attraction there, and Zach is smitten. Their adventures begin, and they meet Scarbeck (a detective) Thyme (a healer) Grayson (a noble, but scary, knight), Kala, (has magic and rides a Firewing bird) and Amelia Mae (a 14-year-old genius).

Their romance is sweet, but not without stumbling blocks. There is no doubt how Zach and Aura feel about each other, but as for Thyme and Grayson…it’s a rocky road to the altar. And, in true Amaranth fashion, unless all the right criteria are met throughout the game, you won’t gain attraction points, and there will be no weddings.

The story line is a good fantasy story with a great quest, and the dialogue is hilarious, rife with snark and sarcasm.The art and graphics are excellent, colorful and highly detailed. Each setting is fun to roam around in. If I have any complaint, it’s the amount of walking back and forth over the same ground that one has to do to complete the many tasks, but that’s a minor irritation–the story keeps it interesting.

Stargazer screen shot 2The dungeons are difficult but not impossible, and the puzzles are challenging. The creatures are fun, and some are hard to beat, but you do gain strength, so nothing is impossible. You do have to be careful with the gold in order to get the best armor and weapons, as there are no goodie caves or secret weapons/armor stashes, although you can gain some good armor and weaponry in treasure chests.

Shybeard’s ship and Mala (the Firewing Bird) are delightfully hokey in an enlarged SNES Super Mario kind of way. Hawkeye is the lone graphic that is pretty much indecipherable.

The final battle is fun, and if you have met all the right criteria and gained enough attraction points for the two marriageable couples, you will get two weddings at the end. Or not, but either way, it’s a great game.

This is a terrific way to spend 25 or so hours, as there are over 200 puzzles and side quests to complete, all of which advance the story.

Amaranth and John Wizard are my 2 favorite indie RPG game makers, and they have lately collaborated with each other on several other games. Built using RPG Maker, their games are reminiscent of the old Enix/Square Soft games, for the Super Nintendo with strong story lines and fun side quests. They are as much fun as The Legend of Zelda, or Chrono Trigger or any early Final Fantasy game ever was.

Stargazer screen shotStargazer is available from John Wizard, or Aldorlea, or on SteamThis game is not for sale on the Aveyond.com website, which is what Google queries for Amaranthia redirect to. Amaranth has undergone some serious changes over the last year and their website is no longer the fun place it was, although gamers and indie game creators can still meet and discuss gaming and game creation in some limited forums.

I am not sure what to make of that—even though the John Wizard site redirects Stargazer questions to Aveyond, there are no forums there to discuss Stargazer, and the game does not appear on their website.

Regardless of that mystery, I give Stargazer 5 full stars, with no reservations whatsoever—I love this game.

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#amgaming: Review of Aveyond 4, Shadow of the Mist

Aveyond 4Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s just get it out into the open:  I love RPG games as much as I love books. For a long time I was enthralled with the Final Fantasy games, but they lost me after the brilliant FFXII.

FFXIV was a huge failure in my opinion. If I can’t make headway beyond the first 4 hours of play, the game isn’t worth the investment of my time.

And for me, investment of time is a huge factor. I don’t watch television, but when I want entertainment I read or listen to audio books. For relaxation, I play old-school PC RPG games, because they don’t require as much of an investment of time to complete, and are immersive and fun.

Amaranth/Aveyond Kingdom and John Wizard are my 2 favorite game makers, and they frequently collaborate with each other. Their games are reminiscent of the old Square Soft games, for the Super Nintendo with strong stories and fun sidequests. They are as much fun as The Legend of Zelda or any early Final Fantasy game ever was.

Aveyond Kingdom’s Aveyond 4, Shadow of the Mist is in many ways, a more polished production than their earlier work.  The graphics and backgrounds are the best they have produced by far. The storyline is both deep and hilarious, and the characters are, for the most part, engaging.

But first, the Blurb:

boyle wolfbane aveyond 4 by amaranth gamesBoyle Wolfbane wanted to rule the world. He failed. Miserably. Forced into retirement early, Boyle now spends his days arguing with haunted trees and scaring off the occasional knight. At least he still has Fang, his loyal storm wolf. Things could be worse. He could have been born a hero.

My Review:

This game incorporates the traditional elements of puzzle-solving, action, and adventure into a neat and enjoyable package. There are the usual elements of high fantasy, with the characters ruthlessly poking fun at themselves. The enemies are creative and fun to fight.

Because they are failed villains, Boyle and Ingrid are unhappily in love, and that storyline adds ongoing humorous elements. Myst and Robin are naive and make good foils for Boyle and Ingrid. Hi’beru and Rowen arrive later in the game, and Phye arrives so late I did wonder why he was included at all. As a Draghar, Phye does have some power, but I think like a writer, so in my opinion, all the characters should be in place at the midpoint. Because he arrives so close to the end, we don’t get to know him as well as I would have liked.

I purchased the game the day it was released. I have played the game through to the end four times. The first time through, I had Ingrid join Lorelei’s coven and married her off to Boyle. With that scenario the game played smoothly with no glitches. I was in love with the game!

The second time through I had Ingrid join Jinx’s coven, but when I tried to complete the task of selling the craft in Robin’s store, the game froze and I had to take drastic measures to close the game down. No matter what I did,  in this scenario the game froze at that point every time.

So I went to their website and, following the suggestions in their forums, I reinstalled the game. I never got past that point on that particular attempt.

So I started a new game, and that time I had her join the transformations coven. This went well for the most part, but with one major flaw. Ingrid gained the ability to transform into a dragon, but the skill didn’t appear in her menu. When I went out to the forums to see how to solve that, the answer was that it would be resolved in the next build. I was disappointed, as I did want to have the ability to play her as a dragon.

Aveyond 4 ss-enviroment-3

The environments that the games is set in are lush and beautiful, dark and moody. The music is amazing and really contributes to the enjoyment of the game.

Overall, I can only give this game 4 stars at this time. Aveyond Kingdom clearly felt pressured by the fans to get the game out there. They didn’t do as thorough a testing period as they should have. I understand feeling rushed to publish, but that is never a wise thing.

If having to reinstall the game at various points bothers you as it does me, my recommendation is to wait until they come out with build B, and then buy it. The game is fun, hilarious, and when it works properly, it’s a great way to spend 25 or so hours.

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