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Blossomsoft is a small independent developer with big ambitions. Not only are they developing Japanese-style RPGs for the PC, but they are also aiming to develop for the Nintendo DS . Two of their upcoming projects are the cowboy-themed RPG Western Lords for the DS and an upcoming science fiction RPG code-named Project Stellar for the PC. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, here. Blossomsoft has recently released their debut game: a classic 2D Japanese-style fantasy RPG for the PC entitled Eternal Eden. If this is a hint of things to come from Blossomsoft, then I'm definitely excited because Eternal Eden is a fantastic RPG.
The story evokes the kind of classic RPG tales of yore, but does not always play out as expected. It starts off simply enough but becomes more entangled as it goes on. The first few hours are a "save the princess" plot across two parallel worlds that goes something like this: An egregious sin is committed in the utopia of Eden, the princess is transformed into a demon, torrential rain and monsters befall the land, and the heroes find themselves in a portal to a parallel world. This parallel world is a barren wasteland version of Eden later dubbed "World of Shadows." Once some quests are undertaken and the princess is encountered, the heroes return to their Eden (later dubbed "World of Light"), correct a past mistake that endangered the princess in the first place, and celebrate a happy ending... until the demonic princess, monsters, and torrential rain occur again. This time around, someone else has committed that same egregious sin, now called "original sin," and the World of Light has changed once again. It is still the same green land the heroes know, but the inhabitants are different now and none of them have any recollection of the heroes ever existing. Something is obviously fishy and the time has come to search for clues and get to the bottom of this mess.
From this point onward, the adventure widens in scope and becomes rather twisty toward the end. The heroes will explore places they never knew existed. Many friends and enemies will be encountered along the way, all of who have been affected by the original sin in some way. The tale may have some serious themes and poignant moments, but it never takes itself too seriously. The story always remains fun throughout its course with a good sense of humor, fun references to classic RPGs, and even a cool Easter Egg for the diehards. By that same token, Eternal Eden is not a comedy RPG either and never becomes a parody of itself. The seriousness and the humor are nicely balanced.
The characters themselves are archetypical, but play their archetypes very well. There is a decent amount of dialogue, the most enjoyable dialogue being the banter exchanged between the heroes while they're traipsing through dungeons. The dialogue itself reads fairly smoothly and has plenty of personality, but there are occasions when phrasing is slightly awkward. This is likely due to the writers' native language being French rather than English, and both languages employ different rules regarding grammar and sentence structure.
As a side note, it's pretty cool seeing a cache of French and Canadian-French developers creating Japanese-style RPGs. Eternal Eden, Aldorlea Games' Laxius Force, and Studio Archcraft's Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled are three examples. I hope to see more developers from other regions of the world create Japanese-style RPGs. I prefer Japanese RPG mechanics, but storytelling styles and traditions from other countries would be a welcome change from the typically Japanese storytelling I've experienced for years.
Out of all the independently developed RPGs I've played that were designed using the RPG Maker software, Eternal Eden easily has the most refined gameplay. It features polished old-school JRPG gameplay without the old-school headaches. The game is really fun to play, moves along at a good pace, and never drags on. This is the kind of game old-school fans will play and then ask, "why don't they make 'em like this any more?"
The interface is clean, simple and intuitive. There is no tacked-on character growth system that's needlessly complex and twiddly. In other words, there is no wonky License Board where players have to backflip through seven flaming hoops of arbitrary gameplay bureaucracy just to wear a hat. In Eternal Eden, you just go to the store, buy a hat, put it on, and leave. In addition, each character has his or her own class and skill set. There are no jacks-of-all-trades, and every character serves a purpose. I like that kind of no-nonsense traditional RPG gameplay. Why put needless complexity where it isn't needed? The uncluttered menus, very reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy menus, have a clean layout that is intuitive to navigate and easy to read. The only issue gamers may have with the interface is that saving only occurs at save points scattered throughout the land. The save points occur at decent intervals and allow full recovery should the party possess a tent in its inventory. However, some gamers still prefer the convenience of saving anywhere, especially on a PC game.
The general flow of gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has ever played a classic Japanese RPG. There are towns in which our heroes can chat up the locals, recover at inns, and shop for supplies. There is an explorable overland that surrounds the various locations. There are also plenty of robust dungeons containing monsters to fight, puzzles to solve, and treasure to find. Exploring every nook and cranny of each dungeon is essential as there are a plethora of hidden items strewn about. An exclamation point will emerge above Noah's head whenever he finds a hidden item. Dungeons also have reward rooms where good treasure and bonus EXP can be earned provided a condition is met, such as "kill all the monsters on this floor." And whenever players wish to take a break from the adventure, there are side activities to partake in such as catching turtles on Tortoise Island.
Enemies are only present in dungeons and appear as puffs of smoke on the field. Touching a puff of smoke starts a battle. Battles are standard turn-based affairs with the usual commands of Attack, Skill, Guard, Item, and Escape. Battles play out at a reasonable pace and enemies do not respawn once they've been killed. Even after exiting and re-entering a dungeon, every enemy that has been killed stays dead for the duration of the game. In addition, the puffs of smoke generally move rather slowly, so players are never stuck in mindless combat every three steps and are free to comfortably explore thoroughly without fear of battles unfairly sneaking up on them. Since each dungeon has a finite and often low number of encounters, it's impossible to mindlessly grind one's way to invincibility. The game is designed such that there is no need to grind and that all battles are meaningful and worth fighting. Regular enemies cannot be mindlessly mowed down and boss battles are optimally challenging without ever being cheap.
Enemies are one thing, but what makes the dungeons really dynamic and fun to explore are the cleverly designed puzzles. Players who enjoy the puzzle-filled dungeons in RPGs such as Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals or Wild ARMs will be quite happy with Eternal Eden. There are plenty of blocks to push, switches to throw, other objects to manipulate and even some fun timing puzzles thrown in for good measure. The puzzles can be tricky at times, but there was nothing that made me want to smash my keyboard or throw my gamepad against the wall the way some puzzles in Landstalker or Alundra did. There are also never any enemy encounters in puzzle rooms and control is spot-on so I never felt as if I was fighting the game during puzzle sequences.
Graphics and Sound
The visuals consist of refined and beautiful 2D sprite and tile based graphics. Environments are vividly colored, beautifully detailed, and have a high-resolution sheen to them. The sprites also look very sharp and have that classic "large head atop small skinny body" shape to them. Character designs are anime inspired and feature wide-eyed heroes and sinister-looking villains. During battles, the background is a swirling vortex whose colors match the color scheme of the dungeon the party is in. These trippy visuals are reminiscent of the battle backgrounds in Earthbound or Revelations: Persona. Visual effects for battles, such as spells, are not super flashy like those of modern RPGs but still get the job done. Regular enemies look fine and bosses are large, intimidating, and more detailed. I've played many indie RPGs made with the RPG Maker software and Eternal Eden is by far the most aesthetically pleasing.
The MIDI music is also quite refined and consists of compositions by Zack Parrish as well as some stock tracks from the RPG Maker software. The music has its own personality while still reminding me of music from classics such as Bahamut Lagoon, Tales of Phantasia, Lufia, and more. The music styles vary throughout the game and the compositions work very well with their intended environments. Exploration is the focus of the game rather than combat, so the best music lies in the myriad of dungeon themes. Dungeons such as the fairy inhabited Gaia Temple have very dreamy, ethereal music. Dungeons such as the volcano-esque temples of Ifrit and Efreet have more slamming, rock-oriented music. Other dungeons possess other, more complementary, genres of music. The music makes dungeon exploration an absolute pleasure. I didn't mind spending extra time in the dungeons because their music was so great to listen to. Battle and events themes are decent and get the job done, but are definitely weaker than the dungeon themes.
I have played many independently developed RPGs over the years and Eternal Eden is my favorite by far. It was an absolute joy to play for its 25 or so hour duration and culminated with a satisfying ending. Eternal Eden is one of those games that remind me of why I started playing RPGs, particularly Japanese RPGs, in the first place. It may not reinvent the Japanese RPG wheel, but it puts a new tire on that wheel. In other words, the refinements are felt rather than seen. There is a robust 3-4 hour demo available for download so the game is a must-try, especially if you're as much a fan of classic RPGs as I am. Blossomsoft is sitting with a winner in Eternal Eden and I look forward to their future projects.
P.S. It should be noted that Eternal Eden is available directly from Blossomsoft's website and will also be available from various gaming portals. However, the version available from casual gaming portals such as Big Fish Games will have reduced difficulty and some other alterations to appeal to a casual gaming crowd. RPGFan readers will most assuredly want to stay away from that "easy type" version and get the full strength "hard type" version directly from Blossomsoft. The version I played for my review was the real deal, "hard type" version.