"Though the game lacks impact in some areas, its characterization, battle system, and music offer a worthwhile investment."
With recent years' deluge of action RPGs taking advantage of high-end graphics, many have predicted the death of turn-based games as combat moves increasingly towards real-time. Loren The Amazon Princess was recently released on Steam by Winter Wolves, which is headed by Celso Riva, an Italian indie developer known for games such as Magic Stones, Bionic Heart, and the Heileen series. Featuring a turn-based system different from standard JRPGs, how does the game stack up against the titans of nostalgia?
Loren, Princess of the Amazons, one day finds that her mother and queen, Karen, has disappeared while on a mission and her accompanying scouts presume her dead. Determined to believe that her mother is still alive, Loren decides to search for Karen. According to Amazonian laws, she gives up her inheritance to the throne and royalty assets by willfully leaving the city. The sole consolation granted to the former princess is the player: a former slave with healing magic to accompany Loren in her search. Players can choose between Saren, a human warrior, and Eleanor, an elven thief. As prideful and quick-tempered Loren ventures further in her quest, she discovers an evil threatening the peace of all lands and gathers a party of companions to — you guessed it — save the world.
Throughout the game, players have three options in dialogue: joking, friendly, and forceful. While the actual responses are not revealed till a temperament is picked, one can scroll up to select a different choice if the result is unsatisfactory. In the beginning, players can establish their own backstory, and depending on the dialogue selected, gain particular stats and starting items. At times, players will also be granted a "romance" dialogue option for certain characters, but it is not necessary to complete the game. With enough affection gained from romancing an ally, a bonus scene intended for mature audiences will emerge, though it is nothing close to what appears in Dragon Age Origins. Players can only have one true love, so choose wisely.
Although the dialogue limitations hamper the experience a little, the characters show chemistry with several humorous moments. Make no mistake, the game is definitely heavy on story. Most of the player's allies retain a one-dimensional personality through the game, but a few — notably, Loren — grow beyond their initial impressions. Between locations, one can choose to camp and chat with teammates by clicking on them, which frequently sheds light on their past and may provide the "romance" choice. Often, when characters have nothing new to say, they repeat a one-liner. There are no "new conversation available" indicators, and certain events only trigger conversations for a few allies, so trying to unearth information can be a tedious affair. While the dialogue is excellent in spite of its restrictions, the game's minimal narrative writing falls far short. Despite these shortcomings, the extensive walls of text are surprisingly engaging and craft a likeable, ragtag bunch.
The game draws on multiple replays, as there are a few forks in the road one can take with regards to romance and key decisions, and players can activate a "cheat" code after beating the game that automatically wins all battles if they wish to pursue the branching stories further. While the plot progression is rather predictable up until the last chapter, the ending offers a touching twist that brings everything to a contemplative close.
Battles are turn-based with few frills. Each team has two rows of three members, for a maximum of six members per team. By selecting an enemy or ally, you can use a potion, cast an ability, or attack (hostiles only). The stronger an ability or attack, the longer a character waits between turns. Melee units cannot attack the opposing back row unless an ability allows it or the entire front row is knocked out. Teams can swap places between themselves and empty spaces if needed, and certain abilities can force a front and back unit to switch. If more than six party members are available, players can handpick a team before each fight. Main quest completion experience is allotted to all characters, but only characters who are in battles gain fighting experience. Since most battles require the assistance of specific allies based on the plot, one must choose their teams carefully. Storyline battles make up the bulk of combat, with the exception of random location battles that can be skipped and Tasks in towns that grant fame in exchange for cheaper shop prices.
Sticking to the infallible formula of three main character classes: Warrior, Thief, and Mage, each unit has a specialization that offers a different range of abilities, and as such, no two allies are the same. For example, Loren's main class is Warrior with a specialization in Blademaster, granting her dual wielding bonuses that other warriors lack. In contrast, Amukiki, another Warrior, specializes in Gladiator, which provides defensive and intimidation abilities. Main and specialization classes offer five ability trees with three levels of mastery, though players can only acquire a maximum of fifteen skill points throughout the game. Additionally, not all level three abilities are necessarily stronger than their lower-level versions; particularly for mages, higher levels yield more targets, but tend to lower damage and negative affliction chance at a higher speed and mana cost. While careful consideration is often required for battles, I found the first half of the game extremely easy on normal mode. The last two chapters of the game scale much better in difficulty, and players can switch to Hard mode at any time. Allies eventually propose Personal Quests if one chats with them, which results in some of the hardest and most enjoyable battles all game.
Most of the control in game relies on point-and-click. Outside of battle, players click on a location on the overworld map to head there. Shopping tends to be a little tedious, as the system is not intuitive. Managing inventory is slightly more harrowing, as there is only one way to compare stats between equipped and inventory items. In battle, one can double click on an enemy or ally to repeat a previous move, but unfortunately, the game tends to have some delay after the first click, which can sometimes result in accidental double clicks when one gets too antsy. Despite the hiccups, control is generally smooth with no gimmicks.
Aesthetically, the game draws from manga and anime influences while retaining a foothold in reality. The same cannot be said for the clothes of both male and female characters, unfortunately, most of whom shamelessly offer fan service — but, hey, at least they covered all their bases. Though the background scenes are pleasing and appropriate, the game reuses them at every chance without any attempts at palette swapping. Despite the lack of bells and whistles — including minimal battle animations — the artwork is quite charming. In particular, the characters and enemies are rendered in detail, and the facial expressions in dialogues are emotionally compelling enough to absolve the comic book flow.
The music is among the most memorable I've heard of late; every piece stands on its own, and even the battle themes hold up after hours of play. Regrettably, when moving between areas or changing scenes, the mixing isn't always quite right, with some delays in change and occasional moments of complete silence. For some reason, dialogue is mostly a reticent affair as well. The sound effects are appropriate, and the decent voice acting, which only occurs in battles, is nothing to wax lyrical about. Still, the tunes are impressive, and I often found myself compelled to move to a location for the music alone.
A prolific independent developer, Celso Riva surprisingly puts out multiple polished games every year, and Loren The Amazon Princess is no different. Though the game lacks impact in some areas, its characterization, battle system, and music offer a worthwhile investment. Turn-based RPGs are far from dead; rather than simply drawing on nostalgia, they can use careful strategy to fuel a fulfilling adventure, and Loren The Amazon Princess certainly proves that.