PC Game Review- Loren Amazon Princess

My indi game addiction continues, this one is from WinterWolves http://www.winterwolves.com/

Well to kick off this review I have to say this is a game I have played many times. There are hours of replay value in it.

Loren at first glance appears to be one massive cliché. Busty Amazon Princess saves her world and in the process makes it a better place. Indeed I nearly dismissed the game as such myself, opting to buy another Winter Wolves title instead of Loren when I first hit the website. I can only say this was temporary insanity on my part as Loren is one of the most engaging and unique RPG experiences I have ever had the pleasure of playing.

Firstly, you do not get to play as the great Princess herself. You are her sidekick or right hand man/woman. You start out as slave and slowly grow to be trusted friend and advisor. Our poor Princess is not a woman of the world and rather a handful for your character until she wises up a bit. You can choose between being an elven woman or human man. One of the criticisms of this game has been that your character is not customizable. True, you don’t get to make their chainmail purple with pink dots, but you do get to customize their behaviour. The character set up is straight forward and the game even gives you the opportunity to restart the character building storyline if you are unhappy. There are three main personality types. You can be the friendly and sympathetic type, the sarcastic joker or the no nonsense stab-first-ask-questions-later type. All have a large impact on how your character views the world and interacts with your fellow adventurers.

After character development you and your princess are let loose on the world and your first quest is to find Loren’s missing mother, Queen of the Amazons. Naturally this is not something that goes smoothly for the gruesome twosome and they pick up a supporting cast of followers quickly. Some of these became very dear to me, namely Draco, Karen and Rei. As your character develops and changes through the game so do your followers who all have a background and their own reasons for joining the group as well as their unique skills. You can “camp” during your adventures and chatter to your group at the same time as recharging your HP. This is not simply a quirky feature, major plot events occur in the camp and this sets the game apart from other titles that use this system.

The plot is nothing if not convoluted and the political tensions in the world and individual pressures within the group quickly suck the player in. I rapidly forgot I was playing something akin to a visual novel and the characters took on a life of their own. There was more than one moment that I left the game running while I went to make myself a cup of tea so I could ponder over a dialogue choice that was morally ambiguous enough to truly challenge not only my character but my own personal beliefs and prejudices. Some choices were genuinely heart wrenching. This is not a game where everyone will get a happy resolution and I liked the game for treating me as an adult and not attempting to placate me. It tugged on my emotions ruthlessly and made no apologies.

Another criticism of the game has been the fanservice. Yes the women are scantily clad and yes those skirts would never deflect a blade. This is a fantasy game and people are shooting fire at each other so I forgave the nakedness, why? It’s not gender bias. There are just as many scantily clad men as women. Yes, yes objectification blah blah blah… that argument holds no water for a woman who has seen Rei’s assets (namely the most perfect rear in RPG history.) The art itself is beautiful and much thought and detail has gone into not only the characters but the backgrounds. There is a “cover” option so you see less flesh and you can opt out of the more steamy scenes if you wish.

Romance is one of the lynchpins of this game. It’s not an add-on that hangs around the fringes like in other RPG’s such as Skyrim. Your romantic choices not only impact the game but they impact the development of your character. The game is also very fair in its options. Not everyone is romancable by the player and some characters are bisexual while others are strictly homosexual or heterosexual. You can finish the game with no romance but as far as I am concerned it’s an integral part of the plot and you become less involved in the storyline without it.

This is a real RPG and it has a battle system. Any RPG fan should quickly grasp the skill tree, point allocation and how buffs and debuffs work in battle. There is an easy mode which practically removes all challenge for those just wanting to rip through the story and I used this myself on my first play through… yes I was that impatient to know what happened. The battle system is simple, you click on a portrait and carry out an action. There are no real battle graphics etc just small animations to represent the move you made. I found that I really did not care about this. Who needs fancy graphics when there is real and challenging gameplay? Get your strategy wrong going into battle and you could lose in the first two rounds. It’s like a violent version of chess, with added fireballs. The battles are voiced and this is a nice touch. I have been known to threaten to throw my laptop across the room over some of the boss battles, even on normal difficulty. Level up your healing skills and get the best equipment or you WILL suffer for it.

The music is suitable for the game but never over intrusive. There is also a cheesy jpopish theme song. This divided the gamers as some hated it and it was removed from the opening of the game after player feedback. Having similar sounding things on my playlists I quite liked it but could understand the objections of players who were not fans of the genre. That is one of the strengths of WinterWolves as a company. They genuinely care about their players and if there is an issue things are changed. The AAA developers could learn a thing or two about customer care from them.

So to sum up Loren is a cliché storyline in some respects and a tad obvious in places, but the depth and detail is staggering. I have never played anything quite like it and have spent many hours replaying to get all the endings and complete all the romances. I highly recommend it even with the half nude character design (and in some cases BECAUSE of the half nude character design.) It’s nice to see a game that does not attempt to please everyone and stay true to its genre and demographic as well as not preach to you about being good or evil. In fact one of the core plot themes is perceptions of good and evil and the grey areas which most people exist in. I have loved playing it and can’t wait for the expansion which will add extra quests and characters.

One final note. Rei is mine, you can’t have him and I will shove a hawk blade where it hurts if you disagree. Though I may trade you for Mesphit in the expansion 😉

4.5/5

Review – PC Game – Cinders

OK, first review on my new/resurrected blog and it’s a great one to start with.

As always I remind you this is my personal opinion only.

Cinders

I’ve recently plunged into the world of indi games and quite liked what I have found. While I wait impatiently for the expansion of one of my favourites (Loren Amazon Princess- which I will talk about in another post…) I have been looking for quality alternatives.

Cinders immediately got my attention for its artwork. I saw the advertisement pop up in my inbox and knew I had to give it a try. So I played the demo and decided to get the full game within five minutes.

Cinders is a retelling of the famous fairy tale Cinderella. You remember that one? Girl with ugly sisters and harsh life (for no apparent reason) catches royal Hubbie and lives happily ever after.

Cinders is not like that…

This is more a visual novel than a game. The artwork throughout is stunning and reminds me strongly of baroque oil paintings. It seems to be set around the same regency type time period too. The images are not static however; there are subtle touches of animation in the background. Doors and windows swing open, candles flicker, water sparkles and birds fly. The characters themselves display varied facial expressions that suit the dialogue. I must admit the moving eyes creeped me out a little at the beginning… it was like the eyes in a painting following you. Gave me flash backs to many a bad horror film… So apart from bringing out a little of my paranoia the art is one of the strongest features of the game.

Cinders attempts to get to the people behind the fairy tale. Why was Cinders treated so harshly by her family? Why were her family so desperate to catch themselves a Prince? Why the hell was a ball held in the first place? Royalty should not need to go fishing to catch a wife, right? The game addresses all of this and much more. At the heart of the game is the story of a family in crisis. The player is presented with a mind boggling variety of choices that not only decides the fate of the family but forms the overall character of Cinders herself.

You can make cinders a dreamy idealist who simply wants to skip through fields of sunflowers hand in hand with her one true love… or she can be cunning and more manipulative than her scheming stepmother… or she can be a lazy whiney girl who blames her woes on everyone but herself…She can be angel or demon depending on player choice or any of the shades of grey in-between.

The plot line and dialogue flow nicely and there are quite a few twists and turns in the storyline. There are four main endings you can work towards, but many variations of each. Also with each ending unlocked a trophy image is added to the main menu meaning that to see the main menu image properly you have to complete all the endings. It’s a clever little idea that certainly had me furiously trying to figure out how to get a certain ending just so I could add a glass slipper or candle to the menu.

That leads me to the one frustration I have. The lack of save slots. Perhaps I am being dense and there is a way to increase them but I have not figured it out. 8 save slots is simply not enough for a game this complex. I found myself restarting more than once as I realised I had made a wrong choice some time ago and had already saved over that part of the game. This is a minor niggle but one I feel needs addressing.

I normally play games like this with a bit of cynicism. They are usually geared to whichever romance option you choose. Again Cinders surprised me. The story is the main focus for this game and on my first two play throughs I felt no compulsion whatsoever to settle on any of the available men. Again this deviates from the fairy-tale, Cinders can end up alone or with someone other than the Prince. I liked this feature and enjoyed exploring the other possible routes. I must admit the banter between Cinders and her childhood friend Tobias had me giggling at the computer. I felt a bit sorry for the poor Prince. He misses out on the same amount of screen time as the others, but perhaps that is the point. He is the traditional choice that we all know from the story so the other options would have been at a disadvantage if they were not well developed as characters.

I found myself truly pitying my “ugly” sisters even though they were vile to me/cinders. The game slowly peels away the layers and shows you why the other women in Cinders life are so hostile. You can choose to mend relations or choose to get revenge. In all honesty I could relate so strongly to the sisters I always found myself trying to do right by them. The Stepmother was another matter. I could sympathise with her, but I resented her for constantly chipping away at her daughter’s self-confidence. The fact I became so protective over “the girls” shows just how far this game pulled me in.

Next, the music. It fits the game beautifully but never was so intrusive that it would pull me from my reading. A little haunting oboe here, saxophone there but never once did it clash with the game events. The ticking sound that indicates dialogue speed can be annoying but it is easily turned off. I found myself turning it back on because I eventually decided it added to the game. It’s hard to convey tone in a game that has no voiced dialogue. The dialogue sound gives an indication if someone is speaking quickly, drawing out a sentence or even at times I found myself thinking a character was whispering or shouting and it was all down to a little ticking noise that can be heard as the dialogue is displayed. This is another subtle feature that shows how much thought has gone into this game.

Finally the price. I have heard whinges that the game is too expensive for an indi game. To those people I say you clearly have no idea how much work goes into a project like this. A game such as Cinders requires a mind boggling amount of time to put together. Artists, writers, composers and coders etc need to eat and deserve to be paid properly. A complex game with so much replay value deserves to ask for a fair price to cover the expenses. Also the developers need to stay in business so they can make other intelligent games that shine amongst most of the dross out there.

If we have to boil this down to something quantifiable I would give it 4.5/5. Not quite full marks because of the save niggle but otherwise this is a beautifully crafted game that has consumed my PC time over the last week and a half. I even took my lap top to work so I could play it at lunch! (Of course I did not play it when I was meant to be working! What are you implying?)

If you wish to buy the game then it is available at

http://moacube.com/games/