Avalon Code, a new game for the Nintendo DS, presents a rather strange twist on the typical story-telling that's found within role-playing games. The developers, Matrix Software, decided that the idea of saving the world doesn't always have to be about preventing its end, and with the help of Rising Star Games this rather unique story has finally been brought to the Europe for players to experience.
After watching a very anime-esque intro sequence, players are able to begin their new adventure. The first decision they must make is whether to choose to play as a girl or a boy, and the second is whether they wish to rename their character. Should they choose not to, they will either take the role of Yumil or Tia and instantly be greeted by the Fire Spirit, Rempo, who introduces them to the Book of Prophecy. He informs them that the world is coming to an end, but they shouldn't bother trying to save it. Instead, they should record everything worth saving so that when the new world is born they can start afresh with all of the previous world's useful information. It's certainly an interesting formula and it adds a lot of choice and interesting gameplay elements for players to experiment with.
The game is played at a slight angle from a top down view on the top screen, while the book is available for players to use on the bottom screen with the stylus. All combat is real time and players are encouraged to roll to evade attacks, while attacking back with either one of two attack buttons; one controls the right hand weapon and the other the left hand weapon. The system works rather nicely, but the game is nowhere near as simple as it initially seems. Every enemy a player encounters can be scanned into the book, which becomes one of the main fundamentals of gameplay. Each page in the book is lined with boxes and each box contains a few words. These words can then taken out, moved around with other entities, and replaced to make monsters different for better or for worse depending on which way a player wants to look at it.
This is what makes the game interesting, as certain dungeons have bonus conditions. For example, kill fire-type enemies. By altering their DNA, players can actually generate fire-based enemies and fulfil the objective. Of course this is only one aspect of the game as mostly it simply revolves around defeating enemies, hitting switches and lighting torches. That said, even with a limited amount of challenges available, no one challenge is the same and some will even have players completely stumped. Occasionally some dead end rooms require a certain amount of speed to be obtained in order to receive a reward and it all just builds to the depth the game has on offer.The book system makes things very odd though as progression in the game points down to players seeing an item and scanning it. This doesn't just work for enemies though, it works for everything. Food and potions can all be altered to make better versions, but it does come at a cost. Through constant usage of the item, a player will be drained of their mystic points rather harshly. The same can also be done with armour and weapons. New weapon types will be only acquired from meeting certain trainers who will teach players the ability to use such weapons. These range from swords, bombs, projectiles, hammers and even hand to hand. Players can also equip armour and accessories although the majority of this won't be available until about halfway through the game.
While the book system is rather innovative, how it's controlled is the complete opposite. Players can pause the game during a battle to help, but it doesn't make searching for a particular word combination any easier. It actually becomes quite monotonous and the fact players can only hold up to 4 words in their memory just compounds the issue. There is a bookmark feature, but it has very limited usage and when the fundamental system in the game is a chore to use there are some real issues.
Visually, the game looks pretty outstanding. The attention to detail is very apparent and it helps create a certain charm with the characters. Some environments can get a bit repetitive, especially the dungeons, but wandering around outdoors doesn't have the same problem. The soundtrack is also great and very fitting. Every area a player visits has a more than suitable feel and it really retains the essence of fantasy. Voice acting is present in small sections and initially at the start, but on the whole it seems to be a bit dry.
The single player campaign should last well over 20 hours, even if all of the optional areas of the game are ignored. To supplement this, there are many bonds that can be developed with NPCs and it's even possible to fall in love. Mini-games are also plentiful, like Judgement Battle, which is a game that involves juggling objects. To top it all off, there is also a new game plus feature, which allows a new world to be built based on how their book describes it.
Avalon Code has a vast amount to do and it's very different from the typical format of any RPG. However, with the book being the fundamental gameplay mechanic, and an extremely annoying one to use at that, players will find themselves hard pressed to enjoy the game as much as they should. If players can see past it though, the game can actually be quite fun and there is definitely plenty of content to enjoy. But the book will be greeting them at every turn.