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Matrix Software



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03/10/09 Marvelous Interactive
11/01/08 Marvelous Interactive
03/12/10 Rising Star

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Review: Avalon Code

By DKII 27th Apr 2009 | 2,554 views 

Marvelous and XSEED bring over an original RPG for the DS.

Avalon Code is yet another RPG for the Nintendo DS, it's published here in the States by XSEED and developed by the same team at Marvelous that did the Final Fantasy III and IV remakes on the DS for Square Enix. The game is pretty standard action RPG fare, with one main exception - the Book of Prophecy. Using the book, the hero has to record everything in the world worth saving in order to create a new world when the old one is destroyed. The premise is a bit of a darker twist on most typical save-the-world RPGs, though it does predictably devolve into a "beat the big demon and save the world" affair by the time it's all over.

The scanning system itself is a pretty interesting new gameplay element, though ultimately it could've used a lot more polish. Once you scan a character or monster or a certain object, a page will be added to the book showing a picture of the scanned subject and a grid with its codes. These codes can represent different elements such as fire and ice, materials such as copper and iron, or animals like a dog or a bird, or even vague concepts like freedom and hope. Furthermore, you can move these codes around in order to change the properties of the people/monsters/items. In theory, customizing everything in the game with dozens of different codes sounds like a very cool gameplay aspect. In practice, you'll end up getting bogged down in a cumbersome interface until you realize that most of the time, the codes have no real effect on characters or monsters. Instead, they're mostly used to weaken monsters (by removing materials, manipulating elements and adding an "Ill" code) and to create specific weapons and items using scanned recipes. There are a few exceptions - some monsters have an "Invincible" code that can only be removed by countering it with another specific code (which you're told specifically in the monster's description on that page), while many characters come with an unremovable, usually undesirable code (such as "Pride" or "Weakness") that can only be removed by completing that character's series of side quests.

The user interface for the book itself is the biggest drawback of the code system. For starters, you only have four inventory slots for moving codes around. Since most recipes, particularly in the latter half of the game, require more than four different types of codes, you'll be hunting through the book several times just to complete a single recipe, and dumping off codes you don't need onto random pages just to make room for the ones you want. That brings me to the second big annoyance - you'll get well over 100 different entries between all the characters, monsters, and objects that get scanned into it, and no way to see which codes are stored on each page without manually scanning through them all one at a time. With the pages taking one or two seconds to load each time, and with the limited inventory space requiring multiple passes through the entire book in order to find all of the codes needed to complete a particular recipe, you'll be spending several minutes just flipping through the book's pages to try and assemble the new weapon you just scanned. The extensive page-turning got so bad near the end of the game that I literally created a spreadsheet for all my pages and codes to keep track of them all separately in an easily searchable manner - this actually saved me time and was more enjoyable, though it cost me the portability of my DS. A larger inventory space, and most importantly, a robust in-game search tool for finding particular codes would've gone a long way to making the system tolerable.

The use of the book has some mixed results in other aspects of the game as well. Each time you enter an area you'll get a useful map that shows the nearby characters, monsters and scannable objects. Later in the game, you'll gain the ability to warp to any area for which you already have the map in your book. Unfortunately the book's index isn't very helpful for finding the particular map you want - each section can contain over 60 different maps which you have to flip through manually. The magic system is also only accessbile by bringing up the book and clicking on a special icon, severely limiting its usefulness when you can just hack a monster to death in that time without using any of your magic points. Some of the recipes that you scan will be locked, and can only be accessed by completing a small slide puzzle (either 3x3, 4x4, or 5x5) that has the image of the item that the recipe would create, using entirely touchscreen controls. These slide puzzles are actually a pretty fun diversion, though it can get a bit repetitive if you get several in quick succession, and some of the puzzles have pieces that are hard to tell apart from each other.

Outside of the book, the gameplay is pretty good. For combat, you can dual wield a number of different weapon types, from traditional sword to sticks of dynamite, or equip a shield on either hand (or both, if you can find a reason to do so). The "X" and "Y" buttons will use whatever is equipped in either hand. There's an evasion move you can pull off by pressing "L" or "R". The d-pad is used to move. The "A" button is used to initiate a move called Judgment Link, which can toss an enemy up into the air for a chain of attacks if you catch it off-guard. Once in the air, repeated presses of either "X" or "Y" will toss the enemy further and further up and do more and more damage, until it finally explodes in outer space - alternatively you can alternate "X" and "Y" to keep the height at a manageable level, though your damage won't increase with each hit. Using the Judgment Link can be time-consuming, but defeating an enemy with this method will get you some Mystic Jewels (the game's rarely-used currency) and refill some of your magic points. Getting the enemy to explode in the air in a shower of fireworks (which requires 10 or so additional tosses after the enemy's health has already been completely drained) will net you an additional health point. Since using Judgment Link is the only way to refill your health and magic outside of the magic pots that precede boss rooms, you may end up using this move quite often.

On the other hand, there's a good reason why you may never need to refill your magic and health - the game is extremely unpunishing. It's not exactly easy, as several bosses can be difficult to beat, but there are no penalties for death. You simply start over on the same screen and at partial health. The only progress you lose is whatever damage you'd dealt to the boss. The leveling system is a bit unorthodox as well, as you won't gain experience directly yourself, but rather indirectly through your weapons. Each time you hit an enemy with a weapon, you gain experience for that fighting style. Additional levels in a fighting style will increase your attack power with that style. Since you gain swords first, and they're probably the easiest weapon type to use in battle, you'll probably gain a lot of levels in that style right away, making it difficult to switch to another style later on. With that said, combat is pretty simple in general - most enemies can be avoided altogether, or defeated with Judgment Link no matter which weapon you hold - and I never felt that I was underleveled or had to grind at any point in the game, so it can be pretty safely ignored.

Most of the dungeons in the game are cleared by completing a series of room-by-room trials. Some rooms will require you to flip all of the switches or light all of the torches, while others will require you to defeat all of the enemies. There's actually a fair amount of puzzle solving involved in completing these trials, as you'll need to frequently switch weapon types and elements in order to clear certain ones. There's no real time limit on any given trial, but you're given more points for finishing faster and for completing certain secondary objectives (such as use 10 evasion moves, use only copper weapons, or toss an enemy up with Judgment Link at least 20 times). You can earn gold, silver, or bronze medals by getting enough points in a trial. In some rooms, a gold medal will reveal a tablet that can be scanned, giving you either a recipe or, in rare cases, a permanent increase to your maximum health or magic points. Even though I encountered over a hundred different trials, they added a lot of fun to the game and never really got repetitive.

There are several side activities that you can pursue in Avalon Code as well. Outside of the trial rooms, you can run around mashing the "A" button to look for hidden flavor text that will add some points to the page holding the map for that area. If you can find all of these hidden spots some maps will give you a tablet with a recipe or an HP/MP increaser. However, pressing the "A" button a lot gets pretty annoying once you gain the Judgment Link move, as whenever you're on a combat map in the wild you'll hear the character yell "Hyaa!" in a loud and annoying manner every time you press the "A" button. Judgment Link can also be used to duel other characters in a minigame reminiscent of volleyball. In addition, there are 4-character Judgment Link games at which you can win rare recipes. Scanning objects and in general adding more points to the pages in your book can cause the book itself to level up, unlocking a "News Flash" which describes a local event you can complete, such as a new Judgment Link tournament or a special monster you can beat. There are about a dozen characters who have special storylines and simple side quests that you can complete. You can also court one of the characters of the opposite sex (or even one of your companion spirits) to make him/her your boyfriend or girlfriend, though this seemed to do little other than add some flavor text.

The narrative is pretty interesting for the most part, with a few surprising twists, but the pacing is pretty poor. You'll spend most of the first half of the game chasing down four companion spirits while a war between two realms unfolds in the background, followed by a long thirty minute cutscene that gives you a lot more insight into what's going on in the game world. After those events unfold you'll then spend the rest of the game chasing down the same four spirits again with almost no narrative. Finally, the story picks up again as you approach, challenge and defeat the final boss, only to give you an ultimately anticlimatic and unsatisfying ending. On the plus side, there are a large number of mostly strong characters that reveal more of their depth as you complete their personal storylines.

From a technical standpoint, the Marvelous team has taken its experience with the Final Fantasy III and IV remakes and really pushed the system for Avalon Code. The graphics are great, particularly for the character models, though there aren't any eye-candy CGI scenes to be found. There is a nice orchestral soundtrack that provides effective background music without getting in the way or becoming repetitive. There's also a spattering of voice-acting, and while the voices seem to be aimed for a younger crowd, the lines are spoken well. In fact, the dialogue in general is well-written and well-translated.

The main storyline should last you a good 20 hours or so, though much of that time will be spent flipping through the book's pages, looking for particular codes. The additional side events will add some more play time, but don't hold much lasting appeal as the rewards aren't very worthwhile. There's no multiplayer of any kind, despite the potential to turn some of the minigames into small multiplayer contests.

In the end, Avalon Code is an RPG that has a lot of potential but could use a lot more refinement. If you can get past the cumbersome book interface, there's a great RPG hidden away in here. It's a shame that a game with so much promise is held back so much by its gimmick, but hopefully a sequel will come along with some improvements.

VGChartz Verdict


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Sales History

Total Sales
1 15,369 n/a n/a 15,369
2 12,043 n/a n/a 12,043
3 9,204 n/a n/a 9,204
4 6,611 n/a n/a 6,611
5 5,701 n/a n/a 5,701
6 4,862 n/a n/a 4,862
7 4,834 n/a n/a 4,834
8 6,732 n/a n/a 6,732
9 6,793 n/a n/a 6,793
10 6,698 n/a n/a 6,698

Opinion (13)

Fededx posted 23/01/2011, 04:00
Kenology! I want your copy of Avalon Code!!!
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Kenology posted 31/10/2009, 03:55
I wanted to like this game, I really did. I'm not a fan of the game design at all. If anyone wants my copy just PM me. I'll give it away for free.
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st_muscat0 posted 02/05/2009, 08:05
Did really well in Japan, and it's at 31K already in America (only 9K more to go to reach Marvelous' sales expectations) but I see it selling more, like 60K by the time its done.
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teknohick posted 11/04/2009, 09:53
i dont know what to think of u.s. numbers, the title wasn't going to be "huge", we do know though that the game sold over double what was expected of it in japan

marvelous sales expectations for the title (during their current financial year):

Avalon Code (DS) : 56k (NA :40k, EU :39k)
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Kenology posted 27/03/2009, 06:36
Just picked it up about a half hour ago at Gamestop! I'll start it up once I finish Valkyrie Profile DS (and I'll get to that once I'm finished Phantom Hourglass). So I should start Avalon Code sometime in like May... O_o
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Kenology posted 27/03/2009, 04:53
I just found out about this game this morning when I went to try out Rhythm Heaven demo via the Nintendo Channel. I downloaded this demo as well and I really liked it. I'll be picking this up today. I wish US sales were better. At least it did a solid 100k + in Japan.
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