Imagine, if you will, a land ruled over by an evil tyrant, seeking to bring all people under his diabolical rule. Imagine a team of heroes, brought together by fate, who decide to bring an end to this villain’s dastardly ways. Imagine an epic battle atop the villain’s fortress, all traps overcome and all obstacles removed. Imagine they win and banish the villain, dooming him to a life of obscurity.
Now, imagine you are that villain.
That is the story behind Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist. I haven’t played the previous games – of which I assume there are three – but I decided to give this one a go when it became available for us to review. From the very first scene I was bowled over by its sheer charm and humour. The villain of the piece – Boyle – is in the midst of defending his castle against an attack by the heroes. In an outstanding display of villain incompetence, all of his carefully laid out traps and minions are defeated in hilarious ways. This guy obviously did not read the Evil Overlord List! When the heroes reach his throne room his faithful wolf jumps in to defend him. Rather than see his best friend die Boyle admits defeat. And thus begins the game.
The action picks up three years later. Boyle is living in a secluded village for retired and defeated villains, whose past-times including festivals, getting on each other’s nerves and fending off the occasional attack from the neighbouring villages. Oh, and he’s been cursed to marry a witch who, although very attractive, shouts at him all the time and orders him around. In short, with his glory days behind him, Boyle is a complete and utter loser, yearning for past times and telling everyone how he nearly conquered the world.
Anyway, long story short, Boyle is forced into a quest to locate the brother of the Queen of the nearby Mountains of Mist before she covers all the world in poisonous fog. Now, normally such an adventure would be for heroes and people who actually care about saving the world. Boyle’s reluctance, however, is overcome when the Queen kidnaps his wolf. Faced with the choice between being a hero or losing his only friend forever, Boyle decides to swallow his pride and set out on his mission.
The game plays like a traditional JRPG so it’s very easy to get into, but it’s the world of the game that carries a lot of the charm. Just the idea of a village for retired villains where they bicker and snark at each other all day is a great idea. Monsters such as werewolves and mummies are seen as mere pests to be cleaned up and witches mess around with nearby marauding villagers by transforming them into strangely coloured creatures. Everyone seems weary of life, moaning about the good (or bad) old days. It would be the perfect set up for a sitcom. I loved the brief time I spent there.
This weariness extends to some of the quests as well. Early on Boyle is given an objective to collect a special type of wood from the nearby dark forest. When he faces off against the trees they engage in banter which sounds haughty but you get the impression they’ve been doing this for a long time and are just going through the motions. Once Boyle’s dog gets kidnapped however things turn more serious, however Boyle never loses that weariness and sense of entitlement coming from having been a villain.
Turning to the combat, again it’s traditional turn based JRPG fare. However there is a slight twist on the usual formula. Instead of having two metres – one for HP and one for MP – which are full at the start of the battle and decrease, Boyle starts each battle with only a small amount of MP. He builds up his magic as he attacks, so after a few rounds you can let loose with his spells. Again this is a nice change to the usual method and means you have to play a bit more tactically. Other characters in the party have their own skills and abilities, for example one character specialising in magic can change into a dog, with completely different physical attacks.
However, the game is not perfect. There are a few issues present. One of the most glaring ones I came across was a glitch where objects would sometimes stay on the screen after they should have moved or been taken away. For example, a couple of times when entering a new area an image of Boyle would stay at the entrance while I was moving the real character around. Other times I had a chest or two staying on screen, and even some of the menu text persisted after I have moved away from it. I hope this can get fixed at some point as the game feels really solid in nearly all other respects.
All in all I found this game very enjoyable. The humour, both from the setting and the characters’ dialogue, really worked well for me. I should also mention the music. Bombastic and somewhat overconfident, like Boyle himself, it really fits in with the game and the story. I would love to see how it all turns out – whether Boyle regains his power and respect, whether he is forced to marry Ingrid, whether he gets Fang back. If you love JRPGs like the SNES-era Final Fantasy games or you want something a bit different than the usual Hero Saves The World From Villain story then you should definitely check this game out.