|Released:|| 06/05/09 (Lord of Twilight)
07/31/09 (Gates of Night)
02/15/10 (The Lost Orb)
I have always had a soft spot for the Aveyond series. Not only is it a pioneering series in terms of commercializing RPG Maker games, but it is a charming series that always reminds me of why I started playing RPGs in the first place. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two Aveyond games and Ahriman's Prophecy for their memorable characters, solid storylines, and Aaron Walz's stellar music. Thus, Aveyond: Orbs of Magic (Aveyond 3) had some mighty big shoes to fill, which it most certainly did. When it comes to storyline, characters, gameplay balance, and music, Aveyond 3 is by far the strongest installment yet. The game was released in three parts from June 2009 till February 2010. This review is based on the completion of all three parts.
Story and characters are a big reason why fans enjoy the series, and Aveyond 3 certainly delivers here. The plot is the most involved and easily the darkest ever seen in an Aveyond game. Sure the first two Aveyond games had heavy content, but atmospherically they felt more airy and dreamlike (especially Aveyond 2), but Aveyond 3 feels tighter and more sinister. In addition, the writing contains no technical errors, the conversation flows naturally, the characters have personality, and the soft font looks refined. The following are brief synopses of each chapter, kept as spoiler-free as possible.
Chapter 1: Lord of Twilight: On the precipice of a dark tower, a man sacrifices himself to kill his father and end his cursed bloodline. He leaves behind a wife, whom he tells to run. Cut to 200 years later, and we are introduced to Mel- a plucky girl who steals, cheats, lies, scams, and does whatever she can to survive her hardscrapple life on the street. Things get insanely serious for Mel when a seemingly routine job gets her mixed up in the affairs of a deadly vampire named Gyendal and it is up to her, a pair of returning characters from the first Aveyond game (a vampiress and a stubborn knight), and a pair of new friends (a young swordsman named Edward and an amnesiac mage girl named Stella) to find four relics that will uncover a magical artifact with the power to thwart the world-domination plans of a threat that nobody believes in.
Chapter 2: Gates of Night: Stella continues to be haunted by nightmares of vampires chasing her and forcing her off a cliff. A vengeful witch has stolen one of the party's hard-earned relics. Pirates have invaded a coastal town, preventing any ship travel to other continents. Edward's mom is still hounding him to find a bride before his wild adventure is over or she will arrange a suitable marriage for him. And to add insult to injury, Mel's rival from school, the bratty Lydia, has invited herself into the party. Who will prove to be a bigger pain in the neck, Gyendal or Lydia? And as heinous as both are, is there an even greater enemy lurking? Mel and company will find out as they seek out the the relics they need while making friends and enemies along the way.
Chapter 3: The Lost Orb: A wedding should be a joyous occassion, right? Not for the poor girl who has been completely sucker punched by Murphy's Law. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong for her, making what should be a joyous day into a terrible one. Of course, this whole thing could be a blessing in disguise and/or an intention of fate. Of course, sometimes fate's best intentions feel like its cruelest. The machinations of fate may not always make sense at first, but eventually they reach the intended destination. This is a theme that seems to recur throughout Aveyond 3 and fate's intended destination is finally reached in Aveyond 3, and not always in the manner you might expect.
Since this is an episodic series, everything carries over from one installment to the next. However, should you decide to start an installment without a carryover save, early events will play out slightly differently. Although it is possible to play each installment as a standalone game, I would not recommend that at all. I would also highly recommend that players go through the first Aveyond game to get the full backstory between the fan-favorite vampiress and knight who are featured so prominently in this game.
Aaron Walz is the ace in the hole for Amaranth Games. He is a talented composer whose music I thoroughly enjoyed in prior Aveyond games. In particular, I always enjoyed his driving battle themes and dreamy overland themes. He has also previously scored other Amaranth games, such as Yummy Drink Factory. With Aveyond 3, Aaron has delivered some of his freshest work yet. The darker themes in Aveyond 3 are made even more delicious by some of the most complex and heady compositions I've heard from Aaron, such as "Darkthrop Keep." I offer a far more detailed OST review of the music in RPGFan's soundtracks section, so definitely give that a read. Aveyond 3 does have a few instances where RPGM stock music is used, but only in minor contexts. I would definitely say the ratio is 90/10 in favor of original music.
It should be noted that there is a really cool set of add-ons available for the Aveyond 3 games courtesy of Walz Music. These are voice packs that add some good quality voice acting from fresh talent. Personally, I think the voice pack add-ons are worth the extra few dollars. The quality of the acting is on par with what I hear in many mainstream RPGs and they absolutely the experience. The usual suspects like Yuri Lowenthal aren't here, and I'll be honest, as much as I admire the skill of the go-to voice acting stalwarts, it's refreshing to hear new, up-and-coming talent. Sure, some minor NPCs sound amateurish and/or overacted, but Mel's actress plays her role beautifully and the other main characters are solid as well. Be sure to do the game's beginning tutorial with the voice pack on, because it is really funny. Aveyond 3 is the first commercial RPG Maker game I'm aware of to incorporate voice acting. Since then, others games, such as Oliveair Games' Unseen World: Magical Lense, have followed the vanguard and added voice acting as well.
Each installment of Aveyond 3 can take anywhere from 6-12 hours to complete depending on the difficulty level chosen and how far off the beaten path players are willing to explore. Since this is an Aveyond game, plot direction can sometimes be more vague than your average JRPG, thus players are not only encouraged, but often required to venture off the beaten path, go exploring, and hunt for objectives. This can be hit or miss for many gamers. Those who love exploration will be right at home, but those who play for the story and prefer linear pathways with clear objectives may find progression in the game a bit uneven. Field and dungeon areas are not as expansive and mazelike as Aldorlea's fields and dungeons, but they offer a decent challenge.
Enemy encounters can be seen beforehand and depending on the difficulty level chosen, some may not respawn after being killed. Battles are turn based and though, in true Aveyond fashion, there is no escape option in the menu, there are a limited number of Green Warp Eggs hidden throughout the game that allow escape from battle. They're rare so use them wisely.
Outside of battle and exploration, there are some cool puzzle solving sequences. The puzzles are not as intricate or advanced as those in Blossomsoft's or John Wizard's games, but they get the job done. As with prior Aveyond games, players can invest in real estate. Early on, Mel rents a small apartment, but later on she is able to upgrade to a mansion. One cool incentive to buying a mansion is filling it with tons of gowns purchased from the various gown shops in the world and playing dress-up with one of the characters. Another aspect I like about this is talking to all the other party members while in the house. Ah, if only buying a house in the real world were so easy.
Aveyond 3 was created primarily using the RPG Maker (XP) software so it resembles a 16-bit Final Fantasy game with higher resolution and brighter colors. It's amazing that Asguaard and Aveyond 3 both use the same game engine, yet both look and feel distinct. Although many stock environmental textures and sprites are used, there is custom work peppered throughout the game, namely in the playable character sprites, the character portrait art, and many building fronts. I found Mel's design very appealing and the vampiress she meets early on looks dead sexy. This only serves to make her even more of a fan favorite character. With so many newer RPGM games sporting larger custom art for monsters in battles, the small stock art for many enemies felt a little dated.
From Ahriman's Prophecy to the present, the evolution in Amaranth Games' storytelling, difficulty balancing, and overall design is noticeable in Aveyond 3. Aveyond was one of the first RPG Maker games to go commercial and has grown into a strong series, with Aveyond 3 being its strongest installment. It featured the kind of plucky female protagonist I most enjoy playing as, some of Aaron Walz's best music, an optional add-on with good voice acting, solid gameplay, and a traditional feel. There is even an intuitive GUI specifically tailored for mouse playing (which John Wizard later adopted for their Lilly and Sasha game). It can be argued that there are better commercial RPG Maker titles out there, but Aveyond's charm cannot be denied.