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If Avalon Code was a novel, it would be considered experimental fiction with a focus on ingenuity, for it introduces one of the most unique gameplay mechanisms in recent years: the Book of Prophecy. The entire game revolves around this fateful tome and without it, Avalon Code would be a generic action RPG unworthy of a playthrough. With it, however, Avalon Code secures a place on many RPG fans' shelves.
Chapter 1: Here's to a Brave New World
Avalon Code begins with a vague scene bespeaking an end to the current world and the creation of a new one. After this brief introduction, the main character appears on screen and picks up the Book of Prophecy, an artifact that allows its user to rebuild the world, for the Book's appearance denotes destruction for the current world. The Book chooses the protagonist, a young boy or girl depending upon the player's choice, as its keeper, and thus the quest to record valuable places and people in the Book begins. Every piece of information recorded in the Book of Prophecy will make a return in the next world. It is time to choose what is worthy for the new world and what is not.
While the premise of designing a new world suggests a original tale, a hackneyed story about a courageous boy versus a monstrous evil takes precedent overall. The result is a mix of heavily derivative plot devices and intriguing themes concerning whether humans are worthy for the next world. The story is well paced and entertaining, but inconsiderately immature for all those above the age of ten. And, considering the quality of some of Avalon Code's characters, I might think twice before including them in the Book of Prophecy.
Some NPCs lack personality, development, or originality, although the majority are decently charming, if not maturely characterized. Unfortunately, a botched translation turns them all into speakers of twelve-year-old English. When the dialog and menu text is not utterly beguiling, it is simple and juvenile. With lines like, "Make us a miracle," Avalon Code's dialog, and as a result its characters, are the product of a lack of inspiration and competence. Thankfully, the game's numerous cutscenes are somewhat impressive for the DS with plenty of action and entertainment. Nevertheless, Avalon Code isn't a page-turner, and most gamers will favor gameplay over story.
Chapter 2: To Code Scan and Kill a Mockingbird
The Book of Prophecy provides for not only the bulk of Avalon Code's story, but also the entirety of its gameplay. No comparable feature comes to mind and thus the Book requires some exposition. The Book of Prophecy provides for the main interface and menus (occupying the bottom screen), but its most important function is that of Code Scanning. By Code Scanning an object, monster, or NPC, the Book records the subject's information. Not only does this ensure that the subject of the Code Scan will reemerge in the next world, but this also presents the player the opportunity to rewrite the current world. Once scribed onto the Book's pages, NPCs and monsters can be manipulated by rearranging codes on a grid. To craft a more powerful weapon, for instance, players might add Hope and Light codes to the basic sword page. To weaken an enemy, the player can add Ill (as in "sick") codes to its page. The codes themselves must be taken from other pages, however, and in this way the Book of Prophecy is a bit like a multilayered jigsaw puzzle.
While individual goals might include making a piece of armor from a recipe or healing a young girl's cat, the overall goal is to level up the Book of Prophecy. By accumulating points on any given page through exploration and careful code placing, players gain access to new challenges and mini-games. A powerful monster might appear in the forest or the mayor of Rhoan town might start a quiz game. Maximizing every page's value is an enormous task, thanks to the Book's thousand pages.
The Book of Prophecy is a fascinating concept and a unique menu system, although a clunky one at times. Discovering effective methods to increase the Book's level, experimenting with codes and their effects on monsters and equipment, and reading the compendium of flavor text will keep any player busy and satisfied for hours. Leveling up the Book provides adequate rewards as well. Unfortunately, the Book is slow and inconvenient as a menu due to its page-by-page layout. Worst of all, finding a specific code becomes a chore once the Book starts filling up, as the player must flip through a few dozen pages before finding the desired code. A filter or quick-find feature is a must should there be a sequel.
The one thing the Book cannot do is fight for you, although it provides the weapons. As in a typical DS action RPG, combat plays out using only non-stylus controls. There are five major classes of weapons, such as sword and bomb, each with a different method of attack and special move. As the protagonist fights his way through chunky goblins and squeaky balls of fur, each weapon style earns experience and levels up, yielding multiple attacks and increased power.
The combat never grows entirely stale due to the variety of weapons and strategies, as well as the mini-game-like Judgment Link, which requires careful button pressing to eliminate enemies. At times, however, the combat difficulty feels unbalanced, mostly on the easy side. Players can save anywhere, and dying during regular encounters is hardly a problem; there is no loss of progress or even experience. The control is not perfect either, especially when the player must use the Book of Prophecy mid-battle by switching over to the stylus. Nevertheless, in the 22 hours that it required to save the world, combat never grew frustrating or pointless.
Among the various other innovations, Avalon Code features an interesting style of dungeon alongside its town areas and outdoor environments. While there are monsters in the latter, the dungeons are made up of a chain of challenges rather than more of the same hack 'n slash that one will find in the open fields. By providing specific goals, such as flipping all the switches, these challenge rooms break up what might have otherwise been a monotonous game. There are enemies as well, and many of the later dungeons offer a fair amount of combat, but they are often optional targets. The variety and quality of these puzzles is often arguable, but the change in gameplay they offer is commendable.
Whether leveling up the Book of Prophecy, fighting demons on the open plains, or spelunking in a puzzle-filled funhouse of a cave, players will undoubtedly enjoy something Avalon Code has to offer. As a result of such variety, Avalon Code's pacing is excellent, especially for a handheld RPG. Despite a few poor design choices, Avalon Code's gameplay is remarkable.
Chapter 3: Rendering Even the Wind in the Willows
If Avalon Code was a children's book, it would be embellished with colorful, full-page illustrations. Employing a fully 3D graphics engine, Avalon Code looks surprisingly pleasant. Environments are in no way unique, but boast a variety of effective atmospheres. Details such as blowing grass and birds characterize each locale, and players will no doubt proceed to new areas with excitement. Character and creature models are jaggy and pixilated, but animate well and even show recognizable facial expressions. The character design is too gaudy and outlandish at times (neon green hair, for example), but generally Avalon Code's graphics delight and perform some impressive feats on limited hardware.
Chapter 4: Anthem for Mediocrity
Avalon Code may make a better paperback than an audio book. The game can be commended for including voice acting, but it is often laughable or mundane. Furthermore, many of the enemies generate awful squeals and grinding sounds that rival the sound effects in Sonic Chronicles for "worst ever." Fortunately, the soundtrack is enjoyable and catchy, if entirely generic. Every track so stereotypically fits the situation that a bystander listening in could guess what's on screen if he's played just one classic JRPG. The music represents the wrong direction for progress.
Although Avalon Code would be without a niche had it not included the Book of Prophecy, the package as a whole is one full of variety and enjoyment. Over the course of its eleven chapters, Avalon Code gives players the chance to rewrite the current world and make a new one with a cache of distractions to bolster the already unique game: romances, mini-games, item collection, puzzles, and even post-game content. With more attention to story elements, a better translation, and more polish overall, Avalon Code would have been a classic. For DS RPG fans, however, it is still a must read... er, play.