I would like to think that if there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s being really quite fond of Chinese RPGs. I think they’re ace, and I like telling people so. Repeatedly. Whether they asked about them or not. Games that reflect their home team’s culture are something to be treasured, whether that’s Japan’s Okami, China’s Xuan Yuan Jian 6, or even plain old Worms from the UK. So finding out that a team from Cameroon had their African-themed action RPG on Kickstarter was pretty much all my birthdays come at once, and then things got even better when the team very kindly emailed me a link to a playable demo*!
(The following impressions are based on a rough and clearly unfinished demo build of the game)
The game’s a 2D action RPG, although rather than go for an overhead view like (most) Zeldas or, if you’re a Sega fan, Soliel, everything in Aurion’s shown side-on – a look that’s used by the developer to show off some really stunning backgrounds as well as their wonderful character designs; Enzo and Erine are absolutely beautiful to look at, and their home kingdom of Zama is full of life, colour, and detail.
It may not the usual style for the genre but Kiro’o Games appear to know exactly what they want to do with the game – the maps used in the demo are visually interesting and easy to navigate, and the occasional use of height keeps things interesting as well as giving the player a bit of Super Metroid-like wall jumping to do.
Battle are initiated by running into an enemy on the field, at which point Enzo and his wife are whisked away to brawl with their adversaries on a dedicated battleground that may include platforms (why not give yourself a breather and jump to safety for a while?), destructible objects that can injure multiple enemies at once, and the most overlooked of digital fighting features - uneven ground (nobody wants to start a fight at the bottom of some stairs, right?). These little twists create battles that give the player the room to use their own skill and common sense and not simply rely on their equipment being up to date or grinding to hit a particular level – all good stuff that really should be in more RPGs.
Enzo’s most basic commands allow him to attack, jump, block, and dodge – a straightforward set of moves that have been combined with some fighting game techniques like Guard Crush and aerial combos to come together to create fast paced battles that require the player to pay attention (as well as own a 360 controller – you really don’t want to play this with a keyboard) and react to enemy positioning themselves rather than expect an evade stat to do the dodging on their behalf.
Erine’s contribution to battle is as a summonable aid – she can rush in and cast a healing spell on an incredibly powerful offensive attack, but that’s about it. She can also be knocked away by enemies and she has her own stats to deal with too, so it’s necessary to keep an eye on both characters and to use her abilities wisely.
You might have noticed at this point that I haven’t mentioned much about the plot or setting of this RPG, and there are two reasons for that:
First of all, the demo only lets you play a bit of the opening section and then whisks you away to a later part so you can try something a little less tutorial-y – perfectly understandable, but not especially helpful. Secondly, it’s because the English translation (French is the lead language) is currently appalling. We’re not quite in Google Translate territory, but almost every line will have multiple basic spelling or grammatical errors and the ones that don’t still feel rough and awkward to read, containing anachronistic phrases or sentences that read like they were ripped from the subtitles of a Hong Kong VCD. Of course at this point the game is clearly incomplete and I’d be very surprised if the final dialogue remained in this state, but when you’re trying to sell an RPG rooted in what will be an unfamiliar setting to most players strong storytelling is absolutely vital, and right now it simply isn’t there.
Overall though Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is off to a good start – the artwork’s gorgeous, battles are a lot of fun, and all the clever little touches littered throughout the demo show that this is a team that are serious about creating a damned good RPG. But RPGs, especially ones that hinge on taking you through unfamiliar territory, need a clear voice – and Aurion’s is currently completely lost in translation.
You can find Aurion’s Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/plugindigitallabel/aurion-legacy-of-the-kori-odan/description
*This is the part where I need to make quite clear this blog post isn’t a paid advert, isn’t it? [sigh] Here we go:
Yes, I was given a link to a playable demo. No, I haven’t received, requested, or been offered any favours, gifts, or plain old money for writing/tweeting about or possessing it. I wouldn’t write about something I didn’t want to cover, and I definitely wouldn’t say something I didn’t believe at the time of writing – both you and I are worth more than that. Done? Done. Good.