Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
For the sake of the upcoming argument there are two types of people in this world. The first are the lovers of the Indie RPGs and those made with an RPG Maker. Secondly there are the rest. For the first group, go over to your Steam clients, find Echoes of Aetheria by Dancing Dragon Games, acquire said title and then return for the rest of the article. For said rest, this is an Indie RPG that truly sets the bar as to what can be done with custom implementations both inside and out of exploration and battle which should not be passed up on.
For a slightly more in-depth introduction, Echoes of Aetheria from Dancing Dragon Games is an Indie RPG made with an RPG Maker which plays host to an entirely custom experience. War was finally going to be a thought of the past with Royal Members from two countries getting married which would essentially seal the peace accords. Unfortunately for them others had a slightly different plan in mind while not only crashing the wedding but also stealing the Princess and the Bride to be. Follow the adventure of several unlikely allies as they band together to change more than their own fates as their choices will change the very core of the nations involved. Banding together under a cause for justice is one thing, getting along with each other may be a different thing for our “Hero”, said Princess, and Rogue as they fight against corruption and injustice alongside others with the odds very highly stacked against them.
Being given control right after the wedding has been crashed, our first protagonist Lucian takes up his sword and chases after the crashers. Serving as a great tutorial into the systems of Echoes of Aetheria there will be a bit of a learning curve in order to get things just right. This is not to say that it takes time as much as there’s a lot to think about and not every skill loadout will be effective for every situation. Moving around each location is done fairly easily but moving through them too quickly will result in the loss of a decent amount of treasure and experience points. Scattered throughout the world are shiny inspection points that grant experience and worldly knowledge when they are acquired. These come in extremely handy when the results of combat make the next character level seem so far away.
Like the exploration points, treasure chests can be found in a variety of different locations which range in the facility in which they can be collected. Some require a variety of puzzles elements to be completed outside of the standard path but never are they not worth it. In regards to the physical chests themselves, three types exists in which the first would be the standard kind that exist to make any adventuring party happy as any loot should be good loot. The second and the third types of treasure chests work in tandem to each other as the second is not only often required to progress through the environment but is also the only way to open the third. This third type of chest which is enormous and hard to miss contains what could essentially be considered a mother of all treasures and are more than worth the journey to acquire them.
With these collectibles in mind, the environments themselves are what are truly marvelous. Each visitable location is a self contained area with a style that suits the direction and current path of the story. Paths low and high will be available to take as well as round about detours which allow for the party to get the drop on the enemies which are always visible upon the map. If the party managed to make it behind an enemy then they get receive a free turn in order to go wild on the unsuspecting enemy which in some cases may finish the battle before it has even begun. What makes this system even better is that if the party is careless then the enemy enjoys the same benefit making it necessary to never let the enemy sneak up and get the drop on you while trying to back attack another foe. With winding paths, hidden and out in the open treasures alongside exploration points there are more than enough reasons in order to explore. If anything is missed however one shouldn’t overly fretty upon it as once an area is done it is possible to come back to it at a later point in time dependant upon the current situation. This allows for any exploration point or treasure chest to be picked up if they were missed the first time around.
Once an area has been complete the party will be brought over to the world map in which they can either select the newest location in order to explore which comes in Easy / Normal / Hard difficulties or head over to what is being used as a Hub at that current moment in time. The hub is a location in which party members may talk with one another, purchase new items, craft other equipment, and essentially get ready to head back out into the field with supplies in case they are needed. With the changing of locals of the story it was interesting to see the hub change from place to place which also contained some treasures of their own to be acquired.
Battles take an interesting approach to how they proceed in a hybrid of both grid based strategy and turned based elements in order for participant’s turn order. Both party and their opponent have access to three rows and five columns in order to place themselves on the field which can affect a variety of different elements. The main one would be that a member may be hidden from direct attacks if they are standing behind an ally that would block them from view. These defensive stances are quite useful especially for the more ranged and physically less prowess of party members. With the defensive possibilities however, the enemy has not only the same advantages but these forms of positioning may be a double edged sword as there are attacks designed to hit multiple squares forward in a column, in a row, or even diagonally from one another. Formations as good as they can be for certain groups of enemies should be kept somewhat liquid as change will be required in a decent amount of situations especially when delving into the battle heavy coliseum.
Because smacking enemies with nothing more than a simple melee weapon would be a tad boring after several hours party members will learn a variety of skills over the course of gaining more experience. Skills are done in an interesting manner as once they have been learnt they can be assigned to any open skill slot that is currently available. One set into place, these can be further upgraded with points that are obtained through scrolls found during exploration in order to make them more powerful. What if a skill didn’t turn out to be as useful as you thought it would be because of the current situation? The upgrade points can be retracted just as easily as they are inserted allowing for players to find the optimal values for their party members in order to either execute maximum destruction or achieve a proper level of survivability. As with all of the active skills, passive abilities are also learned but unlike the actives these do not receive upgrades. While at first this seemed odd it soon made sense as some passive abilities can make all the difference in battle even without their active counterparts.
With the exploration of the world as the main focus, sometimes the party needs to blow off some steam and the Coliseum is just the place to do it. Designed as a battle-centric location for either the entire party or a party member in particular battles can be engaged in which if won items and experience are ripe for the taking. If these battles are lost however then it is simply that. A lost battle in the Coliseum is nothing to fret over as it simply brings the party or a member of it back to the entrance in order to try it once again.
If the Coliseum or bosses in particular are giving the party issues however and experience levels do not seem to be an issue then a bit of crafting may be in order to tip the scales into their favour. Crafting can be done at any anvil and takes materials both found in the field and bought from merchants in order to make something new. Plans can be formed by the experimentation of a variety of different materials for both weapons and armor alike. Making new equipment is a much better form of expanding the party’s battle prowess compared to the items that can be found in the shops. With a variety of metals, crystals, plans, and sharpening objects there are more than enough combinations to try out. If something does not work however then they can be broken back down for most of the materials put in short of the knowledge tomes which will be lost. While it may not take the risk out of all of it, it does make the experimentation with higher quality items less “scary” as not everything will be lost if the newly craft items do not meet expectations.
With all the customization to the systems in the end it is not these that truly stick out but instead the characters and their interactions with one another. Taking the time in order to talk with the other characters gives more insight into their feelings or even sometimes the feelings of others as they may be too proud to show another side of themselves. These “events” exist in order to further show that these are not two dimensional characters that are defined by the type of roles that they play in battle. As with certain moments in which the character in control is switched out during gameplay so can it be within the hub. This allows for multiple points of views and feelings to be conveyed as it is not always the same character that will walk around talking to the others which aids to further enrich the interactions that can be explored by the player. As a side note each of these interactions also gives off experience points which can also be a good motive for performing these.
Echoes of Aetheria is simply in one word, amazing. With all of the elements working together in a symphony of brilliance Dancing Dragon Games have knocked their latest foray into the realm of RPGs out of the park.Score: 9 / 10