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3 Stars of Destiny is the latest RPG offering from Aldorlea Games, an independent French developer best known for its flagship Laxius series, which includes the Laxius Power trilogy and Laxius Force. This old-school Japanese-style RPG offers a fun and lengthy quest that is both a standalone adventure and a precursor to the entire Laxius saga so old and new fans alike can enjoy it. So without further ado, here is my review.
Before the adventure begins, players are asked whether they would like easy, normal, or hard difficulty. There are no penalties for choosing easy difficulty, which gives players stronger characters and more frequent save points on the field. After the difficulty level is selected, players are asked whether they would like a low, medium, or high random encounter rate. Yes, in true old-school fashion the battles in 3 Stars of Destiny occur randomly. Battles are traditional turn-based affairs where characters can attack, use special skills, use items, or defend. A welcome addition is the option to escape from battles, which was missing in Laxius Force.
The meat of 3 Stars of Destiny comes not from battling but from exploring the vast environments. 3 Stars of Destiny does not mess around here. There are plenty of expansive dungeons/hostile areas where I found myself delightfully lost and running around in circles. Some dungeons even incorporate graphic adventure-style puzzle solving, which is a plus in my book since I like that genre. The main point here is that even if easy mode is selected, the game is still challenging.
The game always provides a main objective to follow, but people throughout the land offer a variety of sidequests for the heroes to undertake. Participating in these quests is a good idea because not only do they bring life to the game's world and its inhabitants, but they also offer EXP and/or tangible rewards to the active party. Regular townspeople or potentially playable characters can give quests. Speaking of playable characters, up to 10 can become part of the heroes' party, and some can be easy to miss if players do not venture off the beaten path. Quests are kept track of in the Quest Log, and characters can easily be swapped out of the four person active party outside of battle via the character swap screen. It's a formula I am familiar with and one that works.
Aldorlea is quite fond of making lengthy games that could keep gamers busy for over 30 hours, and 3 Stars of Destiny is no exception. Even after the main quest ends, the game allows players to catch up on incomplete sidequests, search for new quests, and revisit partially unexplored areas. This is quite welcome since the main quest has a point of no return, so completionist players need not worry.
3 Stars of Destiny is a standalone RPG that also acts as a prequel to the Laxius mythos. In terms of canon, 3 Stars of Destiny takes place prior to the Laxius Power trilogy, which, in turn, precedes Laxius Force. The Laxius Power trilogy is available from Aldorlea as freeware and Laxius Force is available for purchase. Even though the main characters in 3 Stars of Destiny played starring roles in prior Laxius games, exposure to the Laxius mythos is not necessary to enjoy 3 Stars of Destiny.
This character-driven storyline is about three teenagers living disparate lives, but who are destined for great power should fate bring them together. The three stars are a swordsman named Random, an elf named Sarah, and a mage named Luciana. An evil god named Ozur wants this potential power for himself, but since he cannot directly interact with the mortal world, he devises a trap to lure them into his clutches. The story follows Random's journey from his small hut in Indinera Woods to the alternate dimension where Ozur is ready to strike. There are many adventures to be had and many companions along the way to share them with.
3 Stars of Destiny's protagonists are a fun motley crew to adventure with. Random is a headstrong and foolhardy teenage swordsman who always remains cocksure even when the odds are completely against him. Sarah is a playful elven girl who derives great pleasure from pushing Random's buttons. Luciana, a wizardess who literally lives at the library, offers a cooler and more objective counterpoint to the hotter tempers that flare up. Other characters include my favorite, Random's cowardly, wisecracking pet chameleon Guanidia, a relic-obsessed tomb raider named Baretta, and many more.
The story is fairly boilerplate, but still enjoyable to follow. The progression is smoother and the pacing is more brisk than in Laxius Force, which is a big plus. The game is driven more by its gameplay than its storyline, however, so though there is a fair bit of dialogue in 3 Stars of Destiny, it's not a "talky" RPG, and players will spend more time adventuring than reading.
The dialogue reads more smoothly than it did in prior Aldorlea games, which often had awkward phrasing due to the writer's native language. 3 Stars of Destiny has a few minor hiccups here and there, but this is easily Aldorlea's best English language effort to date. Aldorlea's improvement in this area from Laxius Power 1 to present is impressive and sure to get even better with future games. It should also be noted that the dialogue is more sanitary than that of other Aldorlea offerings. The Director's Cut of Laxius Force, for example, featured very bawdy dialogue. Although series fans (me included) liked it, others felt it was overdone. Therefore, a new version of Laxius Force exists with less vulgarity but still retains plenty of personality. 3 Stars of Destiny was written from the ground up without any foul language, but the dialogue and scenario writing still retain the edginess, personality, and tinge of humor that Aldorlea fans have come to expect.
Graphics and Sound
3 Stars of Destiny was created using RPG Maker XP, so its overall look resembles a 16-bit-era Final Fantasy game. RPGs made using RPG Maker often get a bad rap, but a handful of developers such as Aldorlea show that RPGs worth their salt can be made using this accessible and surprisingly robust development tool.
Aldorlea has a reputation for intricate detail in its environments and excellent mapping. That meticulous attention to detail I expect from Aldorlea is here in full force. I can only imagine the worldbuilding possibilities Aldorlea could pursue with more powerful development tools. The game also has custom sprites for the playable characters and some key non-playable characters. The stock townspeople have stock sprites, which is fine. During battles, there is custom artwork for almost all of the enemies and some of these enemy designs are quite creative. I particularly liked the drawings of insect- and fish-type monsters. Some enemies use RPG Maker stock art and those stand out like sore thumbs amidst the far superior original monster artwork that makes even mundane monsters appear compelling. Even the color swapping in some of the monsters, namely the butterflies, looks like it was done with care.
The music consists primarily of original compositions as well, save for minor fanfare/jingle themes, such as the inn theme, which use stock music. The original music is mostly orchestral fare with other pieces taking a cue from more modern genres. Some pieces even have vocals in them. The sound quality is quite good and allows the music to really impart an epic feel to the game. The lengthy compositions are generally slow to medium tempo and never feel repetitive, thus complementing the lengthy dungeons and hostile areas and sometimes lengthy battles that players will find themselves in. Some of my favorite tracks include the normal battle theme, the title theme, and the theme that plays in big cities such as Rillia and SankT Leona. There are also times when music is not played at all to allow the sound effects to create ambience.
3 Stars of Destiny is an enjoyable RPG, but its enjoyment is definitely proportional to how much the player enjoys old-school. It has random encounters, save points, and is more driven by explorative gameplay than by an intricate narrative. Those aspects can be showstoppers for some gamers, but not for me. When all is said and done, 3 Stars of Destiny is the smoothest game Aldorlea has created so far and the one I had the most fun with.