Quick Game Review | Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX - a combat-focused RPG with retro flavor
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Role-playing games have a way of immersing players in a large world. Complex combat, inventory management, and leveling systems draw players in; the sweeping set pieces and massive, entangled plots suck hours away. Those yearning for simpler times and a more "classic" RPG experience (like the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy titles released on the NES) may want to check out Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX, a new role-playing title that borrows heavily from the old while mixing in a bit of the new.
Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX, available on Steam and PLAYISM, is a new title from Osaka-based Indie publisher Active Gaming Media Inc. and developer bluffman. The game packs a lot into a fairly long tale. Experienced gamers familiar with the original Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior games released on the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System will feel right at home with the graphical style, and those familiar with the older titles in the Y's and Tales RPG series will find the action-based combat familiar.
Overall, the game has a lot to offer. There is some emphasis on replayability as well, as choices made by the player early on and throughout the game affect combat, inventory management, and even the storyline. While the initial gameplay is fun and a breath of fresh air, those not familiar with the grind-heavy nature of dungeon-crawling RPGs may find the title repetitive and boring.
Genre and Style
Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX is an RPG through and through. The game feels just like older RPGs from the late 80s and early 90s, replete with experience-based leveling, combat focused around enemy encounters, and a medieval setting.
The graphical style has quite a bit of charm. The game is styled like original Gameboy titles, and for good reason. The game was designed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the North American release of Nintendo's first handheld console, the Gameboy. To that end, there are a few graphical presets that change the color scheme to mimic the Gameboy's color capabilities. These include the infamous green monochrome color scheme, a cleaner black-and-white theme, a yellow palette, a brown tone, and full-color reminiscent of the Gameboy Color.
Pixel art is used throughout to great effect. Despite its 8-bit mimicry, the game's settings are beautifully detailed. The talent of the artists and developers is prevalent throughout, and avid retro gamers will greatly appreciate the artwork used here. We do have a complaint that the settings we encountered during our playtime could use more variety; the same combat screen is used throughout the tutorial and first crypt, and it loses its luster after the 10th battle. Additionally, some enemies are difficult to pick out against the background as their color too closely matches the walls of the battle arena.
Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX begins as old classic RPGs do: with a name selection. From here, the story beings to unfold. True to the genre, the game's world faces an impending cataclysm that threatens to eradicate everything in existence. The hero, who's appearance was foretold by legend, is the only person who has a hope of stopping the unstoppable catastrophe set to occur in three years' time. Time is of the essence, so pick a name and get on with the journey!
The player starts in a castle in the realm, which serves as the game's tutorial. Considering the fairly simplistic nature of Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX, the tutorial feels drawn out as every single mechanic is explained in detail. Newcomers to classic RPGs may find the tutorial useful, as the menu and options available to the player are quite robust.
The bulk of the game takes place on the overworld, an overhead view of the various settings the player will traverse. Here, the player can interact with other characters through dialog or menu options (for shopkeepers), find treasures littered along the ground, and encounter enemies via "spider's nests."
These spider's nests offer a slight twist on the classic RPG formula; rather than relying on a random encounter system like those found in Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX instead confines battles to specific tiles in the overworld. It's up to the player to begin a battle. Encounters can be avoided either by walking around the spider's nests or burning them with torches gathered during the adventure. Obviously, some nests are intentionally placed in the required path, making an encounter inevitable. However, the choice of when to begin a battle is a nice touch.
Combat is another fresh departure from early console RPGs. Instead of a turn-based system that focuses on menu options, Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX's combat takes place in a two-dimensional arena. Battles are action-oriented and feel more akin to a fighting game or platformer. The hero can run left and right and jump in an attempt to stab at incoming enemies by bumping into them headfirst. There are a few other avenues of attack as well.
Hotkeys are used to activate three different attacks. One is the player's chosen "artifact," which is essentially a magic attack or buff. After firing off the artifact, there is a cool-down period before it can be used again. A second hotkey calls in aid from a selected companion, if they can attack. This can be thought of as a more powerful artifact and can be used once per battle. (We should note we had only enough time to try one companion attack; other non-player characters (NPCs) may be able to attack more than once per battle.) Lastly, a third hotkey can be used for items like throwable weapons or health potions.
The NPCs serve more roles than additional attack options; at the beginning of the hero's journey, he may choose one of three companions which cleverly controls the difficulty of the game. There are also secondary companions that open up various other pieces of the game like merchants and abilities. These choices also open the opportunity for varied play styles and encourage additional playthroughs.
There are also local multiplayer components of the game, but we were unable to test these during our review period.
Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX is a fairly basic game as far as system requirements concerned. This makes sense due to its design paying homage to the Nintendo Gameboy from 1989; the entire game is based on sprites and takes place in a 2-dimensional world. As such, system requirements are relatively low; per the game's Steam page, gamers need an Intel Core 2 Duo (2.4 GHz) and 4 GB of RAM at minimum. Integrated graphics easily handle the game, and the entire adventure only occupies ~400 MB on the hard disk. Currently, the game is only available for Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, or 10). The title is also available on the Nintendo Switch.
Old-school gamers itching for a classic RPG should check out Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX. The game would feel right at home on the dim, green dot-matrix display that kept so many older gamers entertained on road trips, yet it offers enough of a fresh experience and a few quality-of-life improvements to entice modern gamers with a flair for the retro.
The pixel art is beautifully rendered, gameplay calls back to classic titles of old, and the adventure is large enough to occupy budding adventurers for quite a while with the option to play through the quest again. However, we must point out that the game can quickly grow repetitive; after the 5th or 6th enemy encounter, the combat system feels familiar and starts to grow stale. This is a dungeon crawler in every sense of the term, level grinding included.
Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX knows exactly what it is - an homage to old-school RPGs built for modern systems. To that end, the game is wildly successful. For gamers that don't mind the grind of classic RPGs, Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX has a lot to offer.
Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX is available on Steam and the Nintendo Switch for US $9.99