Arevan: The Bitter Truth


Review by · October 20, 2010

The first term that pops into my mind when I think of Over Cloud 9’s debut title Arevan: The Bitter Truth is “mishmash.” It’s a mishmash of original and stock visuals, a mishmash of original and stock music, a mishmash of serious and lighthearted storytelling, and a mishmash of original and stock interface trappings. The game tries to incorporate many ingredients into its recipe but that recipe does not quite come together as well as more refined RPG Maker titles. In addition, the game is a slow burn, and players might not have the patience to get past the first few hours. I myself did not get past the first few hours due a gameplay impasse and I was too put-off for a do-over.

When you’ve played as many RPGs as I have, first impressions are very important. Unfortunately, Arevan’s first impression was highly unimpressive. The premise of the story is nothing avid RPG players haven’t seen before; there have been a string of murders happening all across the world, and Prince Maurean must gather allies from neighboring kingdoms, investigate the murders, open up the proverbial massive can of worms, and eventually save the world from great peril.

I wasn’t totally fond of the plot’s identity crisis between being serious or lighthearted. I found the contrast jarring in spots, and it reminded me of how much a skilled hand is needed to blend these disparate storytelling flavors. I was also not fond of the pop culture references peppered throughout the game. I’m generally biased against that because it kills feelings of immersion, so take that as you will. Maybe with time and practice, Over Cloud 9’s writers will eventually find their voices.

I like RPGs with bold flair, where characters have idiosyncratic personalities, and I did not see this as much as I would have liked to. The writing was dry, could have been better proofread, and choked any unique or distinguishing personality traits the characters may have had. I understand not wanting to write characters as predictable archetypes, but embracing a degree of archetype prevents characters from becoming dull.

Thankfully, I did not have to finish the game because it pretty much made me call it quits. I wanted to praise the inclusion of major decisions throughout the game that greatly influence the plot, however, the implementation was poor. See, about three hours in, I made a couple of decisions that left me at an impasse where I could not progress the plot at all, or even figure out how to. I was basically left walking around in circles doing nothing, listening to the same NPCs repeating their lines ad infinitum, with no sign of the other major characters with whom I was supposed to rendezvous. I could have gone back to an earlier save and redone my decisions or started the game all over again, but I was too put off to do either.

Graphically, the sprites and tiles are mostly RPGM VX stock. If you’ve seen Dawn’s Light, Eternal Eden, Eternal Twilight, or A Hero’s Tale, you’ve pretty much seen Arevan. Given the saturation of the market nowadays, this is a strike against it. That’s not to say there are no original components; the sprites for some key characters are unique, such as that for the wheelchair-bound Prince Juleka, and the portrait art for the main characters is original. However, there is also use of VX stock portrait art during dialogue sequences, and the contrasting visual styles are jarring. The enemy art is also mostly original with a little bit of stock art here and there, but it is far more consistent. I also felt that the overall design of the world map, towns, and dungeons was a bit lacking. The linear dungeons thus far were bland and boring to look at and all felt similarly boxy in design. I just wasn’t compelled to explore the environments the way I was in Eternal Eden or just hang out in certain locales like in some Aldorlea games. That those games could take the same visual materials and create more cohesive and engaging worlds is an artful feat.

Another issue I had was with the interface. The GUI at the bottom of the screen covered up explorable areas and there was no way for me to get rid of it. In addition, the menus were all VX stock, which is fine, but with so many RPG Maker games out, every interface looks the same to me. Why can’t more developers make the effort that John Wizard did with Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals to actually create a unique menu interface? Then there was the interface during town exploration; towns either had overly boxy or overly wonky layouts. Because of the wonky design in some towns, there were arrows everywhere indicating hidden/backdoor entrances to places. All that needless backdoor rigmarole made me not want to explore towns, and I normally love to spend time in towns. I also did not like that there was no menu access to the map, which I would have liked for navigation purposes, especially since locations would be given without any directions to them. On a positive note, the autosave feature is fantastic, since I often forgot to save of my own volition.

Allow me to give you a very important tip for exploration: Whenever you go to a new town, be sure to find the semi-hidden merchants who sell teleport runes for that town. I made the mistake of not buying one in the early going and it practically landlocked my progression because some locations were only accessible by boat, and the boat didn’t always follow my party. In addition, when you complete a dungeon, the game makes players hoof it back to town, so definitely stock up on teleport runes. I dislike hoofing it back to the beginning of a dungeon once I’ve finished it.

The rest of the gameplay is also far from engaging. It’s bread-and-butter turn-based RPG gameplay, which is fine, but the mechanics enable and even encourage a lack of effort from the player. Because major/boss battles can be skipped when you die, I found zero motivation to build my characters in normal battles. In addition, skills could be bought from stores and given to characters, so I found little motivation to build levels in combat and just avoided all encounters. Making matters worse, only characters who are in the active party (there are seven potentially recruitable characters but only four fight at a time) gain experience. I have no patience for grinding, so I prefer that everyone gains experience regardless of whether they fight.

The bright spot in the gameplay is the few nifty mini-games such as football (by which I mean the REAL football- aka soccer), which I unfortunately did not get far enough into the game to play. This is too bad, because the sports-RPG combination does not occur often. I can only assume that football in Arevan is more fun than Blitzball in Final Fantasy X.

The soundtrack contains many tunes, but a lot of them aren’t that good. The music is mostly original with a few stock pieces. Considering that the battle theme is the most often-heard piece of music in an RPG, I was very disappointed that it was a stock piece rather than an original one. Some tunes have pop-style vocals a’ la The World Ends With You, others are more atmospheric, and still others evoke RPG tradition. While I appreciate the use of multiple genres of music in the game, there is a lack of cohesion to the soundtrack. Where are the liet motifs bringing the soundtrack together? The jarring differences between the original and stock pieces are one thing, but the jarring differences between all the original pieces is something else entirely. The original music itself is mostly innocuous save for some standout pieces that grated like nails on a chalkboard. The Barreli village theme was especially awful.

I like to think of myself as a generally supportive reviewer. I want to give the benefit of the doubt where I can, especially with regard to independently developed games; commercial RPG Maker games in particular since they often get a bad rap. But the bitter truth is that I did not like Arevan. I found it dull. With the RPG Maker market – and indie markets in general – growing so fast and offering so many excellent titles, bland efforts like Arevan and amateurish efforts like Grimoire Chronicles don’t do it for me. I can see some of Arevan’s potential, but it just feels undercooked to me. If you want to support indie gaming with your wallet, I recommend Whisper of a Rose: Gold and Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale instead.

Overall Score 67
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR coordinator at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When not schmoozing with various companies on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, he is an educator, musician, voiceover artist, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm.