"Have you ever wondered what Shakespeare fanfiction would be like?"
I enjoy me some Shakespeare. Guy was probably the most popular fantasy writer of his time, taking legends and folktales and using them to create classic stories with fantastic characters. Oberon, Titania, Mab, Puck, Caliban, all creatures of fancy, made real by expertly crafted dialogue and envisioned in fantastic worlds.
But have you ever wondered what Shakespeare fanfiction would be like? Well, wonder no longer; the answer is Faery: Legends of Avalon.
Faery begins with your character (whose gender/features you customize beforehand) awakening from crystal stasis. After a short control tutorial, courtesy of two faeries, you are told to speak to Oberon, king of the faeries. From him, you learn that during the time you've been sleeping, magic has waned and mankind has slowly forgotten about the fae folk. As a result, the magical beings have been cut off from each other in their own little worlds, and – surprise, surprise – it's up to you to fix the problem. Conveniently, you have amnesia and nothing better to do, so you set off on a journey to the various worlds where the fae still exist in order to solve their problems and return magic to its former glory.
As I alluded to earlier in this review, Faery: Legends of Avalon is heavily influenced by the mythos and legends in Shakespeare's plays, although some others show up as well. This, on its own, is not a bad thing; after all, you could choose worse source material. Also, since this is the first episode of the series, there is a lot more that can be done with the characters and story. I can say, though, that what I've played so far has been mediocre, at best, with some pretty obvious plot twists here and there. There's the question of your amnesia, the mystery of why the worlds have been separated, and a slow unraveling of the role Oberon played in it all, but none of it proved particularly compelling. I really felt as if I was playing the game to finish it, rather than to appreciate the story, and that doesn't speak well for the game.
The characters, on the other hand, were well fleshed-out, each having his own personality. This is due to the game's dialogue. Developer Spiders made a concerted effort to have each character speak in a manner consistent with its background. For example, Oberon and the high faeries speak in somewhat archaic, poetic language, while the pirates from the Flying Dutchman speak like 18th century sailors. Initially, I was pretty impressed with the effort put into creating authentic dialogue, until I started noticing that the language fluctuates between period speak/dialect and modern English. In those instances, the atmosphere breaks down and the writing suddenly seems unsophisticated.
Driving the dialogue is a system similar to the ones from Dragon Age and Mass Effect. During conversations, you get to respond to characters using choices picked from a "dialogue wheel." By asking certain questions you unlock quests or move those quests forward. Furthermore, certain responses are highlighted in blue or red to represent "positive" and "negative" tone, and different characters will respond better to different approaches. While the system works well, it felt to me as if the developers tried to copy BioWare and wound up providing a stripped-down product. I understand the desire to not rip off someone else's work but... well, they did, so they might as well have gone all the way with it.
In your attempt to fix the worlds of Faery, you have to speak to the inhabitants and get them to help you uncover what's gone wrong. Sadly, this mainly involves the tired tropes of fetch quests and turn-based battles. There are some instances in which you have the option of performing a fetch quest or
fighting something, but honestly, these are my options?
On the subject of fighting, the battle system is nothing you haven't seen before. Your party members and the enemies are set up in a turn order based on some unwritten rules, and you use a combination of magic and physical attacks on each other. Each skill uses a certain number of action points (up to 3) and some can't be used until your characters' second or third turns. Sadly, it all boils down to facing each other and smacking away until one side or the other is wiped out. The difficulty isn't very high, either, so unless you really aren't paying attention, you'll never lose.
In case you feel the need to buff your main character, however, upon level-up you get a skill point which you can allocate to improve or change a physical feature, such as antennae, wings, and tail. Which version of the feature you choose determines what power you get; for example, choosing butterfly wings will give you wind magic, while dragonfly wings gives you fire. In addition, you can collect weapons/armor from chests and characters which will improve your abilities, with bonuses conferred for wearing all the pieces of a set. All of this simply serves to overpower your character and reduce the difficulty further. Perhaps the second episode will improve on this a bit, but as it currently stands, you won't find a challenge here.
Where you will
find a challenge, however, is with exploring the worlds. Some areas, such as caves and the entirety of the Flying Dutchman, are so dark as to be almost impossible to navigate. I even tried to correct this by setting my TV's brightness to maximum and increasing contrast – all to no avail. Moreover, the copious amount of leaves in the tree world of Yggdrasil made finding characters and items an effort in frustration. Unless Spiders was trying to create a feeling of faeries hiding in holes (a poor design decision, if so) there was no excuse for such a terrible visual layout. This was, hands down, the worst aspect of Faery, and it needs to be corrected in the next episode if they expect anyone to play it.
That being said, the rest of the visual design was fairly decent for a new developer. Characters were well-detailed, although body models are reused repeatedly, with only minor changes to clothing or hair. I particularly enjoyed the character of Grim, who was dressed like an old English chimney sweep, complete with ratty umbrella and pipe. And while animations weren't great, they were good enough.
What truly stood out, however, was the music in Faery. The compositions fit the environments perfectly, ranging from Arabesque in the City of Mirages to pieces reminiscent of the Aquarium movement from Les Carnaval des Animaux for the "western" worlds. All the pieces had overtones of mystery and secrecy, and while I would have liked there to have been a greater variety, the tunes have stuck firmly in my brain as some of the best examples of authentic romanticism in a video game.
Beyond the music, I would have liked to have heard voice acting for the characters. Perhaps it's because the conversation system seemed so much like a BioWare title's that I expected full VA, but I figure that a small studio can't really spring for top notch voice talent, so all is forgiven.
Not all gets forgiven for the game's controls, however. One of the game's selling points is the ability to fly anywhere in the worlds: a full 3D range of movement. Unfortunately, navigating is difficult, and not just for the reasons mentioned in the Graphics section. For whatever reason, maneuvering often feels stiff and awkward, and while you can fly very
fast by pushing in on the right analog stick, most of the time this will cause you to miss what you were looking for. Overall, flying anywhere is not worth the price of frustrating controls.
In the end, though, I give Spiders credit for their work on Faery: Legends of Avalon. If they maintain the quality music and dialogue from the game, improve the plot, and fix the controls and world maps, they'll have a decent game on their hands, worth the 1200 MS points. In that case, pick up the first episode of the series. Otherwise, your money is better spent elsewhere.