|Publisher:||The Adventure Company|
|Official Site:||English Site|
Graphic adventure games come in many flavors. Some, like Myst, are analogous to dungeon crawler RPGs where the focus is primarily on copious amounts of mind-melting (and sometimes arbitrary) puzzles with minimal plot. On the other extreme, we have Japanese graphic adventure games. These are often called visual novels and present you with a meaty narrative story only broken up every once in a while by Choose Your Own Adventure style choices. These types of games are all plot with no puzzles. Between these extremes exist games such as Grim Fandango which boast both challenging puzzles and compelling tales with memorable characters.
Aura: Fate of the Ages falls squarely into that first category. It is a series of mind-melting, brain-crushing, and sometimes arbitrary puzzles with a bare bones rudimentary plot holding them together. The box and introductory cinema hint at an epic fantasy tale, but that is really not true. The tale starts by talking about the Keepers- a bunch of elders who control and protect some sacred rings of power. A boy named Umang, an apprentice keeper, is charged with the task of going to Ademika Valley to undergo more training in the various realms of the world. Umang soon learns of Durad, a villain who wants the Keepers' rings of power and a bunch of other ancient artifacts that, when combined with the rings, can bring about powers of immortality. The realms Umang will explore include the snowy land of Dragast, the forested Na-Tiexu, and the Island of Unity (by far the most appealing location in the game, yet one where you spend very little time.) The most amount of plot you get in the game are the introductory cinema and the cliffhanger ending. Throughout the game, you only get slivers of plot through brief conversations with dry NPCs, and even then the plot (or severe lack thereof) is uninteresting. In fact, the villain is mentioned in the beginning and does not really do anything again until the end.
There are a few moments throughout the game where the plot shows potential and could have been really good, but ultimately that potential is unrealized. The world and characters are completely devoid of any soul or immersive qualities. Even a thin plotline can be saved by interesting characters, but the characters in Aura: Fate of the Ages are about as interesting as watching paint dry. There is nothing at all to them and they seem to be just there as an afterthought. Details regarding The Keepers, the various NPCs (be they friend or foe), and even details regarding Umang himself are scarce, if not completely nonexistent. It does not help that the voice acting in the game is atrocious. If it's not completely wooden, it sounds like amateurs reading scripts for the first time, constantly putting the wrong emphases on the wrong words.
Since this game is not driven by plot, it is driven more by gameplay. The point and click interface is intuitive for anyone who has played a graphic adventure before. Pointers are easy to read, hot spots are not difficult to find, the inventory is easily accessible, and there is even a journal where Umang can write down hints, usually in the form of machine schematics he finds in various places. In terms of puzzle types, fixing broken down machines seems to dominate. Some puzzles are done well with good challenge and coherent hints. Other puzzles seem almost random, overly obtuse, and will have gamers throwing their arms up in the air saying "I give up." I found myself saying "I give up" many times during the game. In addition, I felt many of the puzzles were completely arbitrary and did not figure into the context of the plot at all. The level of frustration, monotony, and repetitiveness did not sit well with me. I found this game an absolute chore to endure and deem it one of the least fun video games I have ever played. And did I mention that to save the game, you have to ESC to the title screen to save, and instead of there being a "continue" option, you have to load up that save to keep playing. This save system is clunky and there is no excuse that a graphic adventure released in 2004 should not have a clickable save icon in the game proper and/or a hotkey quicksave feature.
The graphics and sound are the best parts of the game, but they are a mixed bag. The pre-rendered backdrops look good and have some great detailing, but many of the environments can be rather dark, so be sure to turn up the brightness on your monitor. The environments also seem to lack soul and I did not find myself immersed in this game world at all. I feel as if more could have been done with the Island of Unity setting as that had some of the nicest aesthetics. The polygon characters, however, look dated even for 2004. They animate very stiffly and their faces tend to have vacant expressions, especially Umang's. There are some CG FMV sequences in the game, but those are nothing to write home about; Benoit Sokal or Square-Enix this is not. The spurts of music heard in the game either consist of generic orchestral fare or some decent ambient pieces, such as the one heard on the game's official site. That piece you hear on the game's official site is the best piece of music the game has to offer. I'm very disappointed that none of the music in the game matches that beautiful piece on the official site.
Aura: Fate of the Ages promises many things, yet fails to deliver on almost all of them. The epic plot hinted at on the box? Not there. The wonderful ambient music hinted at on the game's official site? Nada. Immersive, varied, and interesting environments to explore? Well, the environments are varied, but I found them neither immersive nor interesting. There are a plethora of puzzles present (try saying that three times fast), but I ultimately found the game monotonous, frustrating, and repetitive. Perhaps puzzle crawl fans who adore Myst may appreciate this game more than I did, but to me, this game fails. Aura: Fate of the Ages was one of the absolute most painful experiences in all my years of gaming and I am glad to be done with it.
P.S. - Aura: The Fate of Ages has some game crashing bugs, so be sure to download the patch at http://www.TheAdventureCompanygames.com.