After last night's dive into A Valley Without Wind, I'm nervous about its sequel. On one hand, if the designers of the game took their time making environments that, even if they are still procedurally generated, are at least somewhat unique and crafted; if the art has been tweaked to be slightly more appealing; and if the combat is more satisfying, then the game could have the perfect recipe to make me an addict.
For some reason, however, I remember reading some post about this game that claimed it did not make a tremendous stride towards fixing what went wrong in the first game. Considering the release dates of the two games are about nine months apart, its doubtful that the entire structure of the game could have been reworked in the time it took to make this game-baby.
Let's see how it goes.
A Valley Without Wind 2
I'm going to try to define this game better than I did its predecessor.
A Valley Without Wind 2 is similar to ActRaiser in that it is split into two types of game - a strategic over-world where the player is tasked with directing troops and constructing strategically useful buildings, and a 2D side-scrolling RPG fighter. The two sections of the game feed into each other - "die" in combat, and morale decreases; fail to protect your buildings... well, then it's game over.
In A Valley Without Wind, your protagonist has worked his way up the ranks of the evil lord Demonaica as a mole, and you have finally obtained an oblivion crystal. This magic crystal is only given to the very best of Demonaica's henchman, and it protects you from death and grants you immortal life. With immortality in hand, it is your job to lead the resistance against Demonaica and bring peace to the land of Environ.
What's most upsetting about this story is that it is so well written.
The little blurb at the front of the game -
- is boilerplate plot, but all of the flavor text and the conversations the protagonist has at the beginning or end of each mission is genuinely well-written, clever, and entertaining. So the tragedy of A Valley Without Wind 2, a game that makes a number of improvements over its antecedent, is that it doesn't seem like anyone at Arcen Games really wanted to give the game a story. With an antagonist named Demonaica, a world called Environ, and a randomly generated protagonist name, it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of energy expended in creative writing.
What the game lacks in quality story, however, it makes up for in quantity. As far as I played (about two hours in - you'll find out why), the protagonist constantly remarks on the new locations he discovers, and considering they are still procedurally generated, this is a nice touch.
The music continues to be absolutely kick-ass, too.
Unfortunately, the myriad problems I had with the first game persist here. The artistic style of the first game - which suffered not only from a discombobulating combination of styles, but from the randomly generated terrain - continues to be very strange to look at. Although it isn't exactly abrasive, the game's backgrounds feel like they should be in a much prettier, much more singular game.
The fact is, the blockiness of the generated terrain and the simplistic, ugly character models don't seem to mesh with the smooth, wonderfully produced backgrounds. I don't think a game has to have incredible graphics - one of my favorite games is Earthbound, a game that, even for the time, is incredibly ugly but charming. I just expect the style of a game not to clash with itself.
Everything else a side, the playing of this game is just a mess. Arcen ditched the mouse-and-keyboard of the last game. The character is now controlled with the arrow buttons, with A, S, D, and F mapped to four powers selected at the beginning of the game. (I assume these can be upgraded or changed, but I wasn't able to do that in my time with the game.)
This is incredibly uncomfortable and stilted. I didn't feel that the platforming or fighting felt particularly good in the previous game, but with the lack of direct control of projectiles (they are aimed wherever you are currently moving), the game feels markedly less satisfying.
Let's ignore all that. Let's say I'm drawn in by the combat, that the over-world section is compelling (it isn't), and that all of the artistic decisions in the game are right in my wheelhouse. Here is the biggest problem A Valley Without Wind 2 has: it has made all of the direct control sections inconsequential.
These sections come in the form of extremely short levels that inhabit each square of the over-world. Some of these levels have houses you can go into, and some of these houses (or caves, etc.) are somewhat sizable, but never (in my time playing) large enough or challenging enough to be considered a dungeon. At the end of each of these tiny levels, the protagonist destroys a windstorm generator that eliminates some of the fog-of-war on the over-world map.
But each of these levels can be sprinted across. And while I didn't have trouble destroying any of the enemies the game threw at me - most could be destroyed in one hit by my F-key attack, and in three or four by my limitless A-key attack - I never found any reason to stop and fight. After spending my time fighting across about ten of these tiny levels, I eventually decided just to full on run across the maps, jumping over enemies where I could and letting them hit me where I couldn't. Even stopping in houses, I never came close to dying, and the unsatisfying and uncomfortable combat gave me no reason to fight again.
All of this begs the question: why am I doing this? Why am I moving these over-world people? Why am I entering these levels? Sure, it's cool the first time the sky clears up after destroying a windstorm generator... but why are they there? And why should I both destroying them? The procedurally generated landscapes are too generic and their templates too obvious for me to want to see the sky clear up more than a couple times.
A Valley Without Wind 2 has made a lot of smart improvements of the previous game. The inclusion of a tutorial in a proper, non-sign-based format is a nice inclusion, and the increased presence of well-written dialogue and story is good to see. I also feel that, while it was far from perfect and certainly still not my cup of tea, the over-world sections of the game were much more comprehensible.
Unfortunately, the ugly style clashing, poorly implemented controls, and irrelevant combat make the game fairly difficult to get through. After two hours, I already felt like I had exhausted my enjoyment with the game. If Arcen Games could make the combat challenging and rewarding, decide on a third and much more comfortable control scheme, and rework some of their art assets, they would have the groundwork for an awesome game. At the moment though, I...
Will Not Revisit
A Valley Without Wind 2.
I've been thinking a lot of about my idea of going alphabetically... and it doesn't seem very fun. Every once in a while, something is going to come along that I'm going to really want to play, and that's what I'm going to play for that blog. Outside that, though, I think I'm going to pick randomly. For tomorrow, however, a game just game out that I've been dying to take a look at. Let's get ready for...