Game time: 2 hours
AWAY finally arrived two days ago. Being that I am living in a hotel this week and next, and that I have a full weekend planned already, it will probably take me longer than usual to finish what I assume is a fairly short game. Those are the breaks, I guess. Blame Majesco, if you are the blaming type.
I have a rant planned, but I'll dig into the game itself first. It's cute, with a graphics style that rips off Wind Waker while being hampered by the DS's horrid 3D capabilities. For me, it causes the typical DS 3D reaction where I cringe for the first 5 minutes, then get used to it until the next time I turn the DS on. Fortunately, the dungeons look much better than the outside world. I truly cannot recall off the top of my head if they are 2D or 3D, but since they aren't ugly, I'm going to guess 2D.
There's an interesting premise to the dungeons. Each floor fills the top and bottom screen. You can move freely between them. One of the screens will have a timer on it, and when it reaches zero, the floor on that screen will shuffle and change to a new layout. Naturally, being on that screen when it shuffles is bad. After several such shuffles, the stairs to the next level will appear. It's a simple, but unique and fun gameplay idea. The layouts are not random, and floors eventually shuffle back, so if you miss a treasure chest, you can hang around for a while until a shuffle brings back the layout that the chest was on. The goal of each dungeon is to reach the bottom floor -- right now dungeons only have 1-3 floors -- and rescue the villager there by returned back to the top floor. The protagonist can swing a weapon, cast a limited number of spells, and thats it, so it is very simple. Right now, and remember that I am only two hours in, I don't think it's worth $30. It feels more like a very well polished flash or XBLA game than a full priced DS title. We'll see.
Now for my rant. AWAY is not an RPG. At all. It uses the reflex-driven, puzzle part of my brain and plays more like Meteos in that the gameplay can be frantic, often requiring you to gaze at the entire screen at once. Yes, there are experience levels and equipment, but I'm beyond annoyed that people think that makes a game an RPG. This is less RPG than Zelda 1. Experience and equipment are Japanese mechanics. Western developers tend to force the player to get better. Japan likes to scale enemies while also scaling the protagonist. Take N, for example -- its a fun flash platformer where you can jump, and that's it. Would giving the character experience levels make it an RPG? What if you could jump higher at later experience levels, and later floors become "harder" in anticipation of this? It's still not an RPG. Neither is AWAY. I'm sure at some point I will get a sword that increases my attack, and around the same time, enemies will scale up so that it takes a higher attack to kill them in one hit. This does not alter the gameplay in any way. I played Castle Crashers last month. It has experience, equipment, and way more customizability than AWAY, but wasn't covered by this site. Why? It wasn't made in Japan, and therefore is not an RPG.
Aaaanyway. RPG or not, AWAY is decent. I hope that it adds something new to the formula as the game goes on, although I am not going to hold my breath. Feel free to check out the reader review JuMeSyn wrote. I haven't read it, so I can't endorse it, but if you are hankering for a review from a fellow RPG fan, he's written plenty and does a good job. I don't read reviews for games I am going to review, otherwise I'd have read it.
Game time: 13 hours
I have been slowly chugging through AWAY. I was busy for a couple of weeks, then I got back home for the first time since Thanksgiving to see Persona 4 waiting at my door. But now, Persona 4 is done and reviewed, and I went ahead and finished Blue Dragon because I was at the final dungeon before I left home in November, so I'm back to AWAY.
Really, I'm not liking it. For a top down, 2D action game, it isn't very good, and with better stuff like Phantom Hourglass, Lunar Knights, and Rocket Slime available, there isn't much reason for anyone to waste money on AWAY.
That said, it is not terrible at all. The premise for the shuffling dungeons is nice, but too simple to really carry a game without it getting old, which it has. Because the game is so simple, the attempts at increasing the difficulty in later dungeons make the game frustrating rather than challenging. The small floors are now cramped with traps and enemies. You can't walk through enemies, so they function like damage-dealing walls when you are trying to hurry through through an area to avoid being shuffled off the floor. While I do like the urgent pace of the game, it is not executed or taken advantage of very well. As short as dungeons are, I have trouble playing through more than one at a time, and the game definitely feels long at this point purely from the lack of inventiveness and the reliance on a single gameplay concept that felt overused hours ago.
I'd like to finish up AWAY while I'm back in a hotel this week. After AWAY, the Ys DS remake is up next. I plugged in the cart to make sure it worked and ended up playing it for 3 hours yesterday, so it looks like I'll have an easier time playing through that than I did with AWAY.
Game time: 19 hours
I just finished the game. By the end, the dungeons had become very repetitive and rote, and the already lengthy dialogue in-between them got even longer. I played most of the game with a certain overall score in mind, then the last 3 or 4 hours were so unenjoyable that I knocked it down .5 when I wrote the review at work today. Later tonight I'll go over the review again and self-edit it. Hopefully I'll be able to post it not long after that.
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.