The world is doomed. Thatís it. Done. Showís over, folks. Nothing more to see, move along. Biblical stories predict how everything will be scoured by fire, and how it will be cleansed and purged in holy flames. They reveal how mankind will be judged, and what will be left behind in the wake of that burning, final cataclysm. Not exactly the most peaceful way to end things, but hey, itís not up to us. Now that whatever god in charge has made its decision - and itís pretty clear there wonít be any last-minute second thoughts - all we can do is just sit back and wait. Itís a pathetic way to go, isnít it? Languishing through each day, dealing with the grim realization of your imminent mortality, fearing that the next second will mark the end of life as we know itÖ
Think thatís bad? Just imagine being the harbinger for it.
Avalon Code takes one of the most cliched plots in the RPG genre - the stoic, silent teenage protagonist destined to save the world - and makes a clever twist of it. This time, itĎs all beyond the point of salvation; the gods have already decided to wipe everything out, and itís only a matter of time before things get biblical. Instead, itís your job to decide what gets to survive and be transferred into the new world thatíll be created. Can you imagine the kind of pressure, that crushing burden youíd have to endure? That if you miss something - anything - it will cease to exist. Your family, friends, everything. What would you save? Would you even feel morally obligated to choose what stays and what goes? The gods might have given you the right to make the choices, but no mere mortal should ever have to make them.
But since youíre playing as a mute adolescent, the tension, emotional suffering, and all those other character developmental themes fall short of their potential. Rather than being a grim crusade to save as much as possible before the impending apocalypse, the game is more about going into a given town or dungeon and trying to find every last nook and cranny. Completionists will find themselves tapping the buttons next to anything that looks even remotely important, praying that itíll up the in-game collection rating. Nearly everything with which you come into contact can be saved. All those generic NPCs you normally take for granted, the vase of flowers standing on the table, and the monsters youíll slay during your dungeon romps can all have a place in the new world. Thatís one of Avalon Codeís greatest strengths; while its world might seem fairly generic and linear, thereís a ton of stuff with which to interact and explore.
All of the stuff you find along the journey will be recorded in the Book of Prophecy, which operates like a glorified handheld Wikipedia. Aside from displaying maps, menus, and other game basics, itís the central focus of the gameplay. Once youíve found something worth saving, you can whip out the book, smash it over your targetís head, and nab another entry. While an objectís information can be important, its codes are what really matter. Everything you record comes with a set of codes that make up its existence; that little girl you found tottering at the village square might be gifted with a code for high intelligence, and that candle you grabbed might offer the fire elements you need. But itís how these things are used that makes the gameplay so interesting. You have a rusted blade? Switch its rust code with one for fire and voila, youíve got a flaming sword of death! See that Rock Golem with impenetrable armor? Steal away its rock code and shred it with only a few slices. Mixing and matching codes are what make this more than just a collect-a-thon.
Itís not perfect, though. Itís a brilliant idea - no other DS RPG has something this original - but its execution is ridiculously flawed. You know all those codes youĎve been racking up? You can only carry four of them freely at once. The rest have to be stuck in the various entries in the book. That means youíll be forced to place unneeded codes on the pages and come back when you need them. While that doesnít sound so bad, thereís no search feature. Just an index to help narrow down the type of entry. If youíre looking for something important, youíre going to have to look through the book pages manually. That can be really, really tedious when youíve collected dozens of pages worth of entries and youíre trying to find some code you got four or five hours ago on some throwaway NPC. Or if you look through the entire book only to find that you donít have the right code, meaning that you somehow missed it and screwed yourself over. Thus youíll end up spending more time stylus-tapping through pages - the tiny buttons and cluttered screen make for an unfriendly interface, by the way - than you will be doing any actual adventuring. Itís a needless chore that not only ruins a great concept, but could have been rectified with a few simple changes.
When youíre not hopelessly flipping through pages and nursing your cramped hands, youíll be adventuring around the world. Aside from a nifty mini-game that lets you launch your enemies into the next galaxy, everything is standard action RPG fare; you hack and slash your way through roving bands of generic baddies, level up, and take down the occasional boss. The combat mechanics involve little more than pressing the attack buttons to pull off different combos or summoning a monster/ partner/ annoying mascot from the book. Since you can save anywhere and wonít get too badly punished for dying, you shouldnít have much trouble getting through most areas. Rather than forcing you to go through a bunch of uninspired dungeons, the game challenges you to complete certain tasks to progress into the next room. While this breaks up the potential monotony, the tasks are bland and insultingly unoriginal. Even if you are responsible for choosing what gets to survive, you still have to light up torches, smash boxes, activate switches, and kill an assortment of foes before you can get where you need to go. Such missions are unimpressive and reek of wasted potential. Well, at least it offers a diversion from mindless combat and tedious menu browsing.
But what Avalon Code lacks in substance, it almost makes up in style. For a DS game, this is gorgeous. Considering how much of this game is focused on exploring and interacting with the in-game surroundings, itís not surprising how much effort went into crafting all of the little details. Itís rendered completely in 3D, from the rows of wooden houses and shops circling the cobblestone streets to the local kingís ornate robes and graying beard. You can see how the water flows out of the fountains in the town squares, and how the breeze makes the clothes ripple and flap. But while the character models are incredibly intricate, they donít look so good close-up; pixelated surfaces and jagged angles are mixed into all the other eye candy. The well-crafted cutscenes make up for it, though. The voice acting is surprisingly good, even if your character is practically silent. If all else fails, the stellar soundtrack (that title theme totally makes the intro) will make you wonder why more DS RPGs donít have the same kind of quality. While the game is technically underwhelming, its presentation is among the best on the system.
If thereís one thing admirable about Avalon Code, itís that it has ambition. It tries a lot of new things and strives hard to offer something original and engaging. And itís successful in some areas; the story is a clever twist on an old plot. Youíre not saving the world, but choosing what gets to live on. Rather than forcing you to endure some plain hack and slash adventure, the game lets you explore and catalogue all of the stuff you might take for granted. The code system is a great concept; being able to customize everything you find makes the journey so much more than a collect-a-thon. The stunning presentation shows what the DS can really do. But while Avalon Code has some great ideas, the execution is horribly, horribly flawed. The Book of Prophecy is poorly designed; it turns an innovative concept into an annoying, tedious, headache-inducing chore. The bland challenges and cluttered menus donít help much, either. Itís a shame to see a game with so much potential screw itself over. Hereís hoping the new world offers something better.
Seven out of ten
- It features an interesting twist on an overused plot.
- The code system offers both originality and depth to the game.
- Tons of exploration and items with which to interact means completionists will have their hands full.
- It's one of the most visually impressive games on the DS.
- The lack of a search feature badly cripples the code system.
- The Book of Prophecy is poorly designed, making the primary game mechanic needlessly tedious and annoying to use.
- The challenges are dull and uninspired.