Review by · November 17, 2009

Aldorlea Games is cranking on all cylinders this year. They’ve released a lot of RPGs, and all of them have been rather good, in my opinion. Their latest release, hot on the heels of Millennium: A New Hope, is a world-spanning epic called Asguaard. Despite the name, Norse mythology does not figure into the game, but it does have a solid plot, an original soundtrack, and some lovely custom artwork.

The game begins with a seemingly normal boy (default name: Glen) trapped in a dilapidated house. He exits the house, only to find himself in an unfamiliar snowy land. Despite the snow, he does not even feel cold. The lost boy is found by a village of dwarves, who apparently used a low-level summon to bring him from Earth to their world of Asguaard. Asguaard is a world populated by dwarves and fairies, who view humans as mystical beings from the realms of fantasy who can do the impossible. Almost like the way that in our world, dwarves and fairies are considered mystical beings from the realms of fantasy who can do the impossible. As players might expect, Asguaard is in great peril, and only the fabled power of an ordinary human can save the world.

Glen is a typical teenage boy with a misguided rebellious streak, who uses phrases like “epic fail,” feels lost without his mobile phone, and wonders why Chuck Norris wasn’t chosen for this quest instead. However, Glen soon warms up to his situation, looking at it as living out the fantasy of being the chosen hero in an epic RPG. Glen is not the only chosen human, though. Early on in the game, he meets a lost girl named Rayanne who was apparently summoned by the fairies to save Asguaard. Rayanne is less enthused and more reluctant about the whole situation, but she resigns herself to her fate and slowly comes to accept it, sometimes even more than Glen does.

The premise is not an uncommon one as far as RPGs go. For example, the PSP RPG Brave Story: New Traveler also had humans from our world summoned into a fantasy world to fulfill some sort of prophecy or destiny. Unlike Brave Story: New Traveler, though, the heroes in Asguaard actually have personalities, and they develop in a believable way throughout the course of the tale, even during the somewhat melancholy ending. In a departure from other Aldorlea efforts featuring extensive rosters of recruitable characters, Asguaard focuses on a small cast of core characters, fleshing them out further than the crews from previous games. Unfortunately, the villains are not as strongly characterized as the heroes. They look cool and make life miserable for the heroes, but I would have liked more insight into their nefarious motivations as well as more detailed backstories about them and their apocalyptic artifact.

Asguaard has more text and dialogue than other Aldorlea games I’ve played, and it’s perhaps their smoothest effort to date. Spelling, grammar, and French-English transliteration errors are relatively few, though there are a couple of instances where Asguaard is spelled “Asgaard,” and one instance where Glen tells one person he’s fifteen years old, then later tells someone else he’s seventeen. He acts more like a fourteen or fifteen year-old to me.

The game looks like an RPG Maker XP game, but a very beautiful and refined one with plenty of custom flourishes. I really like the unique look of the buildings, both inside and out. There is also a happy blend of custom, stock, and modified stock sprites in the world. The anime-inspired character art looks very smooth, as do the photorealistic battle backgrounds. The enemy art is drawn by the same artist who did the enemy art in Aldorlea’s earlier effort, 3 Stars of Destiny. This was a great choice, since I really liked 3 Stars of Destiny’s creative enemy art, but some monster art from 3 Stars of Destiny is directly reused here, which is disappointing. However, Asguaard does have some creative new monster art, one of my favorites being the eviscerated snowmen. My favorite visuals were the occasional, beautifully drawn cutscene stills that resembled comic books. I only wish there were more, particularly since I really liked the use of comic book/manga style cutscenes in Phantasy Star 4 and wondered why more RPGs didn’t do that. The production values are good for an RPG Maker game, and build upon the precedent set by Millennium: A New Hope.

Speaking of Millennium: A New Hope, the composer from that game is back for Asguaard. I loved the music in Millennium, so I had high expectations, which were happily met. The compositions featured a variety of styles with plenty of the melody and atmosphere befitting a fantasy title. There were even occasional ambient electronica pieces and some decidedly metal boss themes. My personal favorite pieces were the overworld theme and the music that played in the town of Savioropolis. A few themes from Millennium were used here in minor contexts, but that didn’t bother me. The bottom line is that if the soundtracks for Millennium and Asguaard were released on CD or iTunes, I’d buy them. Aldorlea’s sitting with a winner in this composer.

The gameplay will be very familiar to gamers who’ve played prior Aldorlea titles, but with some added touches. After selecting the desired difficulty level and random encounter rate frequency, the game begins. The majority of the game will be spent in the vast, spacious, and well-designed dungeons Aldorlea is known for. I always enjoyed being delightfully lost in Aldorlea’s dungeons’ branching pathways, but other players found them maddening or frustrating to navigate. To remedy this, one of the characters in Asguaard can learn a skill called “Pathfinding” that places green arrows to guide players along the quickest way through the dungeon (except for the final dungeon). I liked this addition, because it would get me back on track after intentionally going in the opposing directions of the arrows, getting myself delightfully lost in the search for hidden treasures and secrets. Dungeons also contain a few neat pseudo-platforming sequences like those in Millennium. Saving in dungeons only occurs at save points, but there are always plenty of those around. In towns and on the overworld, you can save anywhere.

Exploration is greatly encouraged in Asguaard, as there are plenty of opportunities to venture off the beaten path both in dungeons and on the overworld, particularly when the party procures use of a flying machine. If players forget their objectives, a character’s “talk” skill serves as a reminder. Unlike prior Aldorlea titles, there isn’t a laundry list of subquests or sidequests to accomplish, nor are there dozens of characters to recruit. The main focus is on the robust main quest and core characters rather than minor plotlines. I quite liked the tighter focus employed in Asguaard.

As players explore the land, they will engage in battles. Battles are turn-based, and characters each have their own set of learnable skills. A nice trait in Aldorlea games is that status effects work on bosses. Trust me though, status effects working on bosses do not make battles any easier, and some bosses can still be doozies. In fact, effective use of status effects on bosses can sometimes be the difference between victory and death.

Asguaard is easily Aldorlea’s most ambitious commercial title to date. It maintains that familiar Aldorlea flow that longtime fans will easily fall into, while also introducing some elements that deviate a little from their usual formula. Players seeking to do a standard playthrough of Asguaard will probably spend 25-45 hours on the game (depending on the difficulty level and amount of time veered off the beaten path), but spending the purported 100 hours is possible, especially for completionist players who like to explore every nook and cranny of every area. My overall opinion is that although I certainly enjoyed Asguaard and all the effort put into it, my favorite Aldorlea title is still Millennium, but that is purely just a matter of taste.

Overall Score 87
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR manager at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When he isn't networking with industry folks on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, Neal is an educator, musician, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm who has also dabbled in voiceover work and motivational speaking.