RPGs in the popular format established by smash success, triple-A titles like ‘The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’ and ‘Fallout 3’ are somewhat hard to come by on the iOS App Store. There have been multiple attempts at RPG-style games, though they tend to play more like an old RPG from the ‘90s, or something that you would play on that old GameBoy Color.
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3D RPGs (Role Playing Games) have never been very popular in the App Store. Whether it’s because of the time taken to develop such titles, the money required, or just the complexity that any good game in this genre must exhibit, the only other title that comes to mind that has all of these elements is ‘Ravensword: The Fallen King,’ developed by this same developer, but published through Chillingo.
On the graphics and gameplay front, ‘Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD’ is nice, but not ground-breaking. In a pre-‘Infinity Blade’ world, these would be very impressive, but the bar is higher now. Still, the graphics of this game are reminiscent of another popular PC RPG: ‘The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.’ Though ‘Morrowind’ is an old game (released in 2002), it is impressive to see graphics resembling a PC game making it into a 3D RPG on iDevices.
Gameplay is fun, and fairly immersing. The story isn’t the most creative or original, but it does lend itself to the overall mood very well. Without spoiling anything, your character is tasked with the job of killing a ‘man’ named Merificus, the fiend who killed your character’s father. The story develops from there as you complete tasks and level up.
The world that the game takes place in feels large when you look at the in-game map, but you quickly realize that isn’t entirely true: you can travel from place to place in around 5 minutes. There are places to explore, and bandits to be slain, so the relatively small map shouldn’t cause much concern when purchasing the game.
The only part of the gameplay that is troubling, graphics-wise, is that there are some pretty significant framerate drops at certain times. These framerate drops seem fairly unpredictable and sporadic, so it may be some bad code that hasn’t quite been eradicated, or incompatibility with my iPod touch G4. These can be very annoying, as the game seems to hover just above the 20 frames per second that the human eye can detect.With that said, the recent update did seem to make things run smoother all around, so this issue seems to be one that is in the crosshairs’ of Crescent Moon Games.
While the framerate may be a little buggy at times, the game itself isn’t: I wasn’t able to find one single bug in the time I spent reviewing the app. Ironing out bugs is something pretty hard to do with RPGs, just because of the vast scope of the game, so this is no small feat… Well done, developers!
The developer claims that the game offers “over 30 hours of gameplay.” From my experience, I would say that this claim is probably a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. I’ve been playing for around 22 hours, am level 40, and have most of the quests done.
Gameplay and Graphics: ★★★★
Let’s move on to what is probably the most important aspect of the game: controls. You control your character by using the single analog stick. This allows you to move right, left, forwards, and backwards. With your free finger, you swipe to move the camera around, to view the character’s surroundings.
The movement controls are simple, and generally easy to use. Fighting is handled in a similarly simple way: when you approach an enemy, your character draws his sword. A little dialog button pops up, and allows you to use the sword to skewer the enemy.
The item and skill management is surprisingly simple. The game makes it easy to switch in and out equipment, track and upgrade your levels, as well as skills. The interface was easily accessible, and I was able to pick up on it within a minute or two of gameplay. This is a good example of where a touchscreen makes things easier than an analog stick, and maybe even the classic keyboard-and-mouse combo that works so well for RPGs.
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The controls suffer from the same problems that any touchscreen-based game that relies heavily on a virtual joystick do: it doesn’t feel ‘natural,’ there is no feedback, and the experience is just not up to par with what you would get on any other console. Of course, this is a hardware limitation imposed by the very design of the device, so you can’t put much blame on the developer here.
The soundtrack has been praised pretty heavily as having an ‘epic’ feel. While I would agree with that, nearly all RPG games in this category have a soundtrack with that feel. ‘Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD’s soundtrack is nice, and lends the right mood to the game. It isn’t mind-blowing, though. But really, all the game is asking of the music is for the proper mood, and it delivers.
The quality of the sound, though, is very good. It seems like it is becoming more common for developers to give their games’ music better quality, and I like it. Keep it coming!
Speaking is handled with another dialog button: when you approach a friendly character, you have the option to speak with them. I say speak, though a better description would be ‘communicate:’ there are no in-game voice-overs. Instead, communication with others is handled strictly via text. You have certain options and questions to choose from, and the character answers from there. Overall, it works, and it works well. I can’t help but think that this was an attempt to keep the download to as manageable size as possible, even though it is currently 265 MB.
To wrap things up, it’s an RPG. What does that translate to? Outstanding replay value, the game itself will last longer than your average, run-of-the-mill shooter, and it allows for some serious time-wasting. Now, if you were never a fan of RPGs, this won’t make you a convert: ‘Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD’ is a classic, 3D role-playing-game through and through. Fans of series such as ‘The Elder Scrolls’ will love this game, as it brings some of what made Bethesda’s epic series into your pocket.
Replay Value/ Value for Money: ★★★★★
‘Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD’ is available for $9.99 on the iTunes App Store. The download weighs in at 265 MB, and the app will work with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. The game is developed and published by Crescent Moon Games.