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Amaranth Games, led by Amanda Fitch, has been independently developing, publishing, and releasing games for years now. I cannot help but respect and admire grassroots/indie efforts such as Amanda's projects, especially when a good product is consistently produced. Ahriman's Prophecy and Aveyond were both terrific games, and in case the scores didn't give it away, I thought Aveyond 2 was pretty good as well. It does not revolutionize the Aveyond series in any way, but it adds another immersive entry to this solid series.
Aveyond 2 is a standalone adventure with no relation to previous titles, save for taking place in the semi-distant future of the Aveyond game world (which definitely changed a tad) and containing fun references to the first game as well as other Amaranth games, such as Grimm's Hatchery. The tale presented is a classic RPG tale of high adventure that never loses its sense of fun.
Our hero is a young elf named Ean, who lives with all the other elves in The Vale. The Vale is a utopia hidden from the world of man where the weather is always fair and the denizens are happy and content. Outside Ean's village is an elder oak tree where female elves undergo the annual singing test. Those with "the gift" can use their songs to communicate with the tree. Ean's friend Iya, a perennial failure, undergoes the test once again. She fails once again and Ean consoles her. Thinking nothing more on this ordinary day, Ean retires for the night.
The next day, everything goes crazy. For the first time ever, it's snowing in The Vale. If that is not strange enough, Iya is missing and it seems that she has been erased from existence. Nobody remembers her and it is as if she never was. But Ean is confident that she exists because he still remembers her. He seeks out the elder oak for answers and finds out that Iya is in grave danger and that he must venture to the world of man to rescue her and find out why it is snowing in The Vale. From these basic beginnings, Ean will embark on an epic journey beyond his wildest dreams. Although Ean begins his journey alone, he will make many friends along the way, each with his or her own reason for joining the quest. Although there is a main storyline to follow, Ean and company will be privy to various side storylines and spend as much time helping townspeople with minor issues as they do saving the world.
On Ean's quest are some cool characters to recruit, such as Gavin the warlock and Ava the pirate. A nice touch is that every character has a mini-bio in the menu so you can get a sense of who they are. However, I found the cast in the first Aveyond game more memorable. From Rhen's quest in Aveyond, I still remember characters such as the polyandrous Ellini, the vampire Te'ijal, the magician bully Lars, and Rhen herself among others. Aveyond 2 has a much better main villain, though. The villain in Aveyond 2 is a far more diabolical villain whose dastardly deeds to hinder the quest make me really want to bash the living daylights out of her.
One criticism that was lobbed against Aveyond 2 was that the introductory few hours were a tad slow, but once you got through the beginning the game opened up. I thought the initial introductory segments were fine. Some of the best RPGs out there were slow to warm up, but once you got through those first 5-10 hours, the games opened up; Xenogears and Revelations: Persona come to mind here. Of course, Amanda, never being one to disappoint fans, created an upgraded Aveyond 2 build (ver. 1.2 as of this writing) ten days after release that revised the introductory segments and made them better. The main villain was given some backstory, some events played out more quickly, and more dialogue between party members was added. The way Amanda directly connected with fans and went out of her way to incorporate their feedback into improving the product is impressive. You don't get that kind of fan love from the corporate big boys, and that's the biggest reason I support independent projects like this.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged from the first Aveyond game, which is fine because this is classic RPG gameplay that I've known and loved for years. You explore a vast overland on foot and via vehicles such as boats. You interact with people in towns, learning about that region of the world and helping townspeople with their troubles. You traipse through hostile areas and engage enemies in classic turn-based combat. Enemies are visible in hostile areas so encounters are not random. Enemies also tend not to respawn unless you leave an area and come back. Fighting monsters earns you experience points, money, and sometimes items. In short, it's classic RPG gameplay done well. Some level grinding is necessary, but the balance is no better or worse than a 16-bit Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy, or Dragon Quest game. Some balance issues do present themselves at times, but once you upgrade your weapons and armor in the nearest town, you're good to go.
As you interact with people in towns, some may give you objectives that get listed in your in-game journal. Some objectives are mandatory to the main storyline, but many are sidequests that allow you to explore the world more deeply and learn more about the people in it. The quests are varied from your basic fetch quest to quests involving creative thinking to solve and/or manipulate situations. I normally despise copious amounts of fetch quests in RPGs, but I don't mind them in the Aveyond games. These sidequests are where I found the majority of my motivation to more thoroughly explore my surroundings, and if you enjoyed them in the first Aveyond game, you will enjoy them here. The gameplay is semi-linear in that you always know what your main objectives are but you are never led by the neck and have ample opportunities to venture off the beaten path. The further you get into the game, the less linear it becomes. There is quite a bit to do in the game, many varied locations to explore, and many decisions to make, such as which of the many schools of magic in the world you want the fledgling mage in your party to specialize in.
Another interesting aspect is that not every playable character willingly joins your party. Some may refuse to join your quest if there is a person in the party who he or she does not like, so you need to make some strategic decisions as to who you allow into your party. Do not worry, because you can always visit playable characters' home towns and play musical chairs with your party members. This element was not present in the first Aveyond game where every playable character could be in your party at one time.
There are a few other sundry aspects of the gameplay worth mentioning. Control is a little stiff with my gamepad, but since there's no need for dexterity in the game, it doesn't matter. If you do not wish to use a gamepad, you can control the game with your keyboard and there is mouse support as well. The battle engine still does not allow escape from battles, which I'm not fond of. On the upside, you can save any time you want to outside of battle, so I would advise anyone playing this game to save often, especially since the freedom allotted you to venture off the beaten path can land you in areas where the enemies are stronger than you can handle. Of course, if you forget to save, there is an autosave feature built into the game that saves your progress every minute. And lest I forget to mention it, up to eight people can be in your party, but only four can participate in battles at any one time and only battle participants gain experience.
Aveyond 2 uses the same engine as the first game so the general aesthetics appear similar, albeit more refined and polished. This is a 2D RPG with very pretty 16-bit aesthetics with a higher resolution than was ever perceived in the Super NES and Genesis/MegaDrive days. The buildings have a hand drawn look with even more detailed designs and a luster and sheen to them that was not present in Aveyond. Environment graphics, both in and out of battle, look more polished than before and battle environments look almost exactly like their dungeon environments. The sprites have the same 16-bit JRPG look as before, but appear slightly larger and of a higher resolution than in the predecessor.
I will conclude my opinion on the graphics with my biggest negative and my biggest positive. My biggest negative regarding the graphics are the designs of the major characters in their menu and dialogue portraits. The anime-esque designs look nice, but are more simplistic than the character designs in the predecessor. Aveyond ver. 1 had more American style character art which looked good and the upgraded anime style portraits in Aveyond ver. 2 looked good too. The character designs in Aveyond 2 were a step down for me. But I will end on a positive note. The artwork in the title screen is exquisite. It's not every day I encounter a game where I want to hang out at the title screen for a while and admire the artwork.
I loved the music and sound in the first Aveyond game. Aaron Walz and his team of composers delivered excellent music. Aaron Walz and company are back again for Aveyond 2 and once again, they deliver. The music is very well done in the game with lots of great violin based compositions. One piece that blew me away the first time I heard it and continued to be great is the battle theme. Considering how much of an RPG is spent in combat, the battle theme has to be good; and not only was the battle theme here better than its predecessor's, it's one of the best RPG battle themes I've heard this year. I also really like the music that plays when you sail on the pirate ship.
What sets the Aveyond games apart is not so much the sounds themselves, but the way they are presented. In hostile areas, the music is either extremely soft or non-existent allowing the sound effects to create the ambience, such as chirping crickets in dark forests or birds chirping in bright forests. Sometimes there's no sound at all which makes some creepy areas even creepier. This also gives gives the battle theme more punch every time a battle happens. Town themes are never overpowering and evoke the mood of the people and the climate of the location. In a nutshell, Aveyond 2 has wonderful music, sounds that are expertly executed, and Aaron Walz deserves a bright future as a video game music composer.
Aveyond 2 represents another wonderful independently developed RPG and is another feather in the cap of Amaranth Games. I hope the Aveyond series, Amaranth games, and other independent game developers continue to thrive, improve, and earn fans who want "handmade" games with heart, soul, and creativity and are sick of assembly line, cookie-cutter, "corporate" games that serve business heads more than fans. If you are an RPG enthusiast who enjoys that wonderment of epic exploration and/or just miss that old school mojo, then definitely check out Aveyond 2... and while you're at it, why check out Aveyond and Ahriman's Prophecy as well.