Editor’s Note: This review covers the initially-available Chapter 1: The Dream of Esther only.
When is an RPG Maker game not an RPG Maker game? When it’s The Fall of Gods, of course! Like SRRN’s iOS RPG Ash, The Fall of Gods employs its own proprietary game engine (called Geex in this case) but licenses RPG Maker’s assets. The end result is a game that looks like an RPG Maker game, but doesn’t feel like one. Licensed graphical confusion aside, The Fall of Gods Chapter 1: The Dream of Esther is a $10 action RPG that could have been decent, but ultimately falls short.
We’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s difficult in this game’s case. Looking at the screenshots, I saw yet another RPG Maker game. Sure, some of the sprites and tilesets were gussied up from their stock forms and there were hints of original art direction, but The Fall of Gods still looks like an RPG Maker game – and not a particularly stunning one, save for the lovely hand-drawn artwork presented during the game’s introduction.
Since the game uses its own proprietary engine, I would have liked to see more original graphics and artwork to really give that first impression that this is its own original entity and not another “me-too” game in the supersaturated RPG Maker market. If that wasn’t an option, I would have liked to see the RPG Maker ingredients utilized in more stylish and effective ways; like that one girl in the neighborhood who can take a nondescript, plain black T-shirt and transform it into a one-of-a-kind garment.
The music is also a mixture of stock and original pieces. There are some respectable original compositions throughout the game, but there are also a fair number of stock RPG Maker tracks, albeit mildly arranged versions of those stock tracks. Although those tracks are appropriately chosen for their intended scenes, I’ve heard them all already. I would have liked to hear original music in the entirety of the game’s soundtrack, or more heavily remixed arrangements of the stock pieces to give them a flavor all their own.
I could maybe overlook the ordinary aesthetics if the game’s plot was punchy. Unfortunately, the game has a lackadaisical plot that does little to remedy my declining first impression. The pretty pictures in the introduction do little to mask the trite backstory of: gods create a balanced world, one god creates humans, humans screw everything up, war ensues, gods call it quits, and the world suffers. However, that backstory sequence contains the lion’s share of the writing, and the in-game plot doesn’t get any better. When the game starts, a boy finds a grave marker in the woods, the spirit of a goddess emerges to tell the boy his ancestor was some dude especially anointed by her, and now he has to find a bunch of artifacts to save the world. There is a little more to the plot, but it remains pretty bare-bones and any twists or turns therein have been seen a million times before and can be predicted from a mile away.
I can live with generic RPG plots like that, provided there are cool characters and snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, the people, places, and adventures surrounding this game’s hero are equally colorless, thanks to the lackluster writing. When I’m playing an action-RPG, I want a cool main character, not some generic cardboard cutout that’s so forgettable I can’t even remember his name. I don’t mind a plain looking protagonist, but he needs a vibrant personality to offset that appearance! The protagonist is supposed to be the face of the game, after all, and the boy in The Fall of Gods is not an effective face. The poor writing also fails to convey any sense of urgency to save the world or give any sense of importance to retrieving the McGuffin. I was left very apathetic toward the world, the characters, and the quest – a death knell for any RPG.
One plot issue appears mere minutes into the game. As the boy walks home from the goddess’ grave marker, he bumps into his dad on a bridge. He tells his dad that something strange happened, and the dad brushes it off and tells him to go find an item in a nearby cave. As soon as the boy goes home and speaks to his dad again, the dad talks about the profound quest his son’s going on. How did dad find out about the quest when there was no one to tell him? Why wasn’t there a poignant heart-to-heart scene between father and son about his encounter with the goddess gravestone? Why wasn’t there some fatherly advice about questing? Stuff like that would have really deepened the storytelling and made it more engaging.
I understand that many games like this are driven more by gameplay than by plot, but a little effort to flesh out the characters and inject some personality into the dialogue would have gone a long way. I also understand that this game is only the first chapter in a larger saga, but it could have done more to make a lasting impression and make me want to play the next chapter. After four boss battles and an abrupt “ending,” I was left feeling cold and completely disinterested in future chapters. Although I played it for 10 hours, I was so disinterested that I was ready to call it quits after 5. The game was like a bad date where I wanted to ditch the girl midway through dinner, but I was too polite and respectful to do so. If The Fall of Gods calls me for a second date (with Chapter 2), I will politely decline.
Despite my complaints, I will say that the gameplay isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s the very thing that kept me going for those 10 long hours, if barely. The gameplay is tried and true action RPG. If you’ve played games like Secret of Mana or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, you know what to expect here: attack enemies in real-time with swords and magic, access menus to use items and equip spells and accessories, explore places, solve puzzles in dungeons, all that good stuff. Progression throughout the game is fairly linear, although the game does offer a feeling of open exploration and some side activities to undertake.
Speaking of Secret of Mana, the in-game menus strongly resemble Mana’s ring menus and the menu interface is fluid. Regarding the control interface, the keyboard commands are workable and can be re-mapped to players’ tastes, but this game is begging for gamepad support. Sure, external software like XPadder or Joy2Key offers gamepad support to any video game, but having gamepad support built into the game engine would have been sweet.
Control isn’t terrible, but there are some issues that need to be addressed. Slippery character movement and near-nonexistent collision detection when fighting enemies take some getting used to and can lead to cheap deaths. I got used to that, but it took time and most action-RPG fans want control that feels taut and responsive from the get-go without need for player compensation. There is also occasional slowdown, but it never occurs in crucial spots.
When I look back on The Fall of Gods, I feel like an exasperated parent wanting to scream, “But you had so much potential!!!” at a child. I love independent developers, and I always want to stick up for them, especially when they craft their own game engines. Unfortunately, the RPG Maker assets used to clothe this engine could have been used more effectively. In addition, the plot is anemic and uninvolving. The gameplay isn’t bad, but the control definitely needs some tightening up. I have no desire to play any more chapters in The Fall of Gods series, but I could be convinced to play another Geex-engined game, provided it has a more engaging plot, more colorful characters, tighter controls, and more original aesthetics.