"I did not enjoy Aveyond 4 as much as I wanted to."
It's difficult for me to believe that the Aveyond series has been around since 2006. I remember playing the first Aveyond game like it was yesterday. This venerable series opened the doors for so many indie developers to sell commercially viable games using the RPG Maker software. Another of these indie developers is Daniel Newey of John Wizard Games (Dawn's Light, Lilly & Sasha: Curse of the Immortals) who co-produced the game with Aveyond mastermind Amanda Fitch. With Aveyond's creative team having grown into a creative army (including several visual artists and music composers) for Aveyond 4, I had to give it a go.
Aveyond 4 has no direct connection to prior Aveyond games, but longtime fans will note the various nods to earlier games, including the series' recurring Cid-style characters. That being said, the overall feel of this game is different from its predecessors. Aveyond 4's journey is like a more intelligent Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. In Beavis and Butt-Head's movie, the titular heroes unwittingly saved the world in their ultimate quest to simply get their stolen TV back. In Aveyond 4, a washed-up villain unwittingly saves the world in his ultimate quest to simply get his stolen pet back. This more comedic approach is markedly different from prior Aveyond games which had an unmistakable soaring earnestness, most prevalent in Rhen's quest (Aveyond) and Ean's quest (Aveyond 2).
The aforementioned washed-up villain you play in Aveyond 4 is Boyle Wolfbane: a down-on-his-luck evil overlord who came within inches of conquering the world, until some meddling heroes invaded his fortress, overcame all its obstacles and defeated him in disgrace. He now curmudgeonly resides in the swampy town of Wyrmwood with other has-been villains forced into retirement. The most exasperating of Boyle's neighbors is a sharp-tongued, yet incompetent, witch named Ingrid who put a curse on Boyle that, if not broken in 6 months, will make him marry her so she can torture him forever.
Boyle's best friend in all of this is his loyal dog Fang. It's through Fang that we see a smidgen of warmth in this cold-hearted baddie. The man truly loves his dog more than anything, and any pet owner can relate to that. When a mysterious fog envelops the Wyrmwood area, a foxlike mist wraith lures Fang out of Wyrmwood and Boyle will do anything to get his dog back—even go to the dreaded land of Aveyond where heroes reign and villains fear to tread. So, yes, Boyle's motivation to undertake this JRPG quest and begrudgingly do unspeakably heroic deeds is simply to get his dog back.
Because Boyle is a rather unsavory character, the party members he attracts are not the typical helpful heroes, but rather the world's rejects and miscreants. This makes the seemingly classic JRPG quest feel gleefully twisted and the character tropes more interesting. Although the script sometimes feels like it's trying too hard to be funny, it has some genuinely amusing moments. My favorite moments were those where Boyle and company's unspeakable acts of evil backfired on them. I also liked how Ingrid could, through various in-game actions, build up "Affection Points" with male party members other than Boyle and couple off with one of them at the end instead. Speaking of the end, the biggest question I had going into Aveyond 4 was "Does Boyle about-face into a bleeding heart at the end?" Thankfully, the answer is an emphatic "No." Boyle straddles that line between villain and anti-hero, and though his character develops throughout the game, he never loses his Oscar the Grouch attitude.
Gameplay is bread-and-butter turn-based JRPG gameplay that follows the "if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it" school of play mechanics. Unfortunately, there were many moments when playtime felt artificially padded and progression was like a chained series of fetch quests. Perhaps it goes in line with the theme of unspeakable acts of evil backfiring on the villainous heroes, but it was still irritating to me. Dungeons themselves are robust, but manageable, and worth exploring. Regrettably, the slowdown made exploration a real slog. Honestly, the game stopped being fun for me after about 11 hours and it lasts a good 25-30. Even if there was no slowdown, the general pacing of the game is quite deliberate and takes a long time until it gets its sea legs.
The graphics are pretty standard fare for an RPGM game. There are some visual highlights like the dramatic and expressive character dialogue art, chibi character art in unique places (e.g. in Ingrid's potion book), and a gorgeous looking menu interface that doesn't sacrifice ergonomics for style. However, there is no mistaking Aveyond 4 for an RPG Maker game. With indie developers really stepping up their production values, especially RPG Maker developers with games like Celestial Tear: Demon's Revenge, Aveyond 4's conventional look simply doesn't cut the mustard these days. To add insult to injury, the game scrolled choppily and with noticeable slowdown on my computer during normal exploration, even with all the enhancement options set to "off" in the in-game menu. An RPG Maker game should not run so poorly.
Composer Aaron Walz is the biggest reason I fell in love with the Aveyond series in the first place, and for Aveyond 4 he's been joined by several additional composers who created the lion's share of the music. The majority of the soundtrack was boilerplate JRPG music that I found mostly harmless and quite forgettable, because only a scant handful of tracks were composed by Walz. His sweeping, majestic style was sorely missed here. I got hints of it, but it was not enough. The soundtrack is the weakest of the series and I longed for evocative pieces like "Field of Wind" from Aveyond: Rhen's Quest, stirring battle themes like the one from Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest, and kind of ethereally beautiful music I heard in Aaron Walz's 2008 album From Another Shore: Aveyond & Beyond.
I hate to say this, but I did not enjoy Aveyond 4 as much as I wanted to. I could see the effort put into the game and I wanted to like it, but it simply didn't give me that "Aveyond" feeling I was looking for. It felt more like a John Wizard game than an Amaranth game and even then, I gleaned more enjoyment from John Wizard's prior games like Dawn's Light and Lilly & Sasha: Curse of the Immortals. Perhaps down the road I may appreciate Aveyond 4's peculiarities more, since it's certainly not a bad game. However, I still would rather get my Aveyond fix replaying the prior Aveyond games.