There’s a strong undercurrent of nostalgia in the gaming industry these days, and Android is no exception to the rule. Throw a rock into the Play store and you’re bound to hit at least one game with 8-bit graphics or some sort of throwback gameplay. While Tales of Illyria chooses the latter paradigm, it isn’t exactly typical for it. The self-described “Oregon Trail meets pen and paper” gameplay is certainly indebted to its forebearers, but while other games merely rehash older games as the path of least resistance, Tales of Illyria uses the old mechanics to propel a thoroughly ambitious project: a vast and open world, full of choices, where no two playthroughs is alike. It succeeds on paper but whether the game is really worth the investment depends on who is playing. A diehard RPG fanatic raised on 12-hour marathon sessions of D&D will definitely get more out of this title than a casual gamer.
In Tales of Illyria you play the role of Lord Elric, a nobleman seeking revenge on the evil emperor of Illyria for murdering his family and framing him for it. Elric is denounced throughout Illyria as the Patricide Lord and must quest to clear his reputation and ultimately kill the emperor. There’s enough lore here that the game comes with a 103-page PDF guide to Illyrian history and politics, but for the most part you can figure out what’s going on just by paying attention to the in-game narrative. The story has the feel of a home brewed table-top campaign, as if it were lovingly crafted by some basement-dwelling dungeon master, but the plot isn’t all that remarkable. If you’re genre savvy, you’ll recognize the clichés immediately, but there are a couple of surprises and it’s a respectable effort. The game’s strongest suit is in the sheer volume of content. The Oregon Trail-style travel is practically another game unto itself, and the random encounter system is so extensive you’ll rarely see the same situation twice. On top of the many encounters, there’s extra variety in the way any given situation can be played out. Do you drop five coins into the blind beggar’s cup, or rob him, uh, blinder? A karma system tracks your deeds, and party members will react to your actions differently depending on their dispositions toward good or evil. A good deed might cause an evil character in your party to lose morale, diminishing his or her effectiveness on the field. Then you’ll have to treat the villain to a night in a brothel, sacrificing money you might’ve spent on better weapons or supplies for the road.
These small decisions don’t really impact the main storyline but do add a healthy dose of immersion to the game. While Tales of Illyria‘s graphics are a shade on the amateurish side—the animation can be choppy and many of the characters look goofier than intended—there’s something to be said for the distinctiveness of the style. It has a sort of digital concept art look reminiscent of 90s-era CRPGs, which at first left me unimpressed, but grew on me after playing awhile. By the end of it I was glad to see a developer try to carve their own path instead of mimicking played out tropes. Again, it all depends on where your priorities lie whether this breaks the game. If you’re willing to overlook the imperfect visuals, you’ll get more out of the experience. Control-wise, Tales of Illyria is fairly straightforward to navigate but a little clunky, heavy on menus and text. There is some complexity in all the available skills and items, and the options can be overwhelming to the new player. Once the basics are figured out, strategic nuances start to reveal themselves. Planning for travel comes with its own set of challenges and developing your characters effectively is not so much about power-gaming as it is building a balanced party. It’s up to you how much violence there is, as many situations can be overcome without resorting to combat at all.
As for combat, the turn-based-in-real-time model is engaging enough but leaves something to be desired. It’s a lot like the old Heroes of Might and Magic series, albeit simplified to a four-by-six grid and played out automatically. Each character’s combat actions are queued up to one side, and without your input the AI chooses all your moves for you. You can pause to change up your party member’s queued actions in the midst of battle, but afterwards the computer takes over your moves again. It’s far from a perfect system, and outcomes seem to have as much to do with luck as tactics. It isn’t very balanced either, as some battles will seem trivial while others are frustratingly hopeless.
It should be pointed out this is an early access release and probably shouldn’t be judged on the same merits as a finished product. The game is clearly a labor of love, the work of a small team with big ideas and limited resources. With that in mind, it’s a little easier to overlook the blemishes in art, narrative, and combat. The final product will presumably smooth out these rough spots but for the time being, casual gamers and sticklers for polish should steer clear of this one. For the rest, the immensity of the game world, variety of choices, and neat take on overland travel make this a title worth delving into. 1
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Is it Hardcore?
A very rough draft of an epic RPG, this early release of Tales of Illyria should appeal first and foremost to true aficionados of the genre.