Review: Vikings of Midgard

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The Wobbler
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Review: Vikings of Midgard

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Reposted from a review in HamsterSpeak #1: ... kings.html
This game has changed since this review and not all comments may still apply.

Vikings of Midgard is the latest RPG from famed OHR game designer Fenrir-Lunaris. Originally designed as a short introduction for users new to the engine, Vikings grew into an impressive package that will last you a good two to four hours. Though the version currently available is a beta, this game is almost entirely complete, and can be played from beginning to end without a whole lot of hitches.

The concept of the game is a simple, cliche RPG story; Evil forces have scuttled off with something precious, and your king commands you to retrieve the stolen goods. What makes this game stand out are Fenrir's gorgeous sprites, and unconventional theme; A lighthearted mix of Norse mythology and Lovecraft's mythos. The title screen and introduction movie alone give you a good indication that the game you're about to play looks quite nice given its limitations. By the command of Odin, the player is instructed to choose one of eight heroes, whose abilities show a decent amount of variety. Included with the game is a text file describing each hero, and you'll definitely want to read it before playing, as the in-game descriptions aren't nearly as useful.

After choosing your initial hero, you're given your quest (retrieve four stolen gems from thieving jerks) and can then recruit more heroes. I assumed you could only recruit three additional members, as the maximum party size is four, but it turns out you can recruit someone, swap them out of the party from your menu, and recruit another until you have all of the heroes. The fact that you can use anyone at any time makes the selection process, unfortunately, pointless.

After selecting your heroes, you can explore town and buy equipment. It's a bit perplexing that the heroes come with no items equipped, but you're given plenty of money to arm all of them. This is a tedious process, since there's no indication of who can equip what without referencing another text file included with the game. The layout of the town is also slightly annoying, forcing the player to walk more than should be necessary to reach visually close destinations, but fortunately the rest of the game's maps are fairly well designed.
The four gems are hidden in four themed regions, each of which looks greatly different from the last. There's no logic to why all of these environments would be able to exist in such close proximity, but that's really not an issue that matters here. There is no world map in this game; instead, all of its areas are connected to one another. While walking through the huge environments can be tiring (be glad there's an in-game map), the fact that they are all connected gives a nice sense of life to the game's world.

Unfortunately, the vastness of some of the maps can be a problem. There is a dungeon whose puzzles must be solved by talking to an NPC who can change the area's weather, but in order to do this you have to make an unnecessarily long trek between the dungeon's entrance and the character you need to find—multiple times. This brings us to the game's biggest flaw; its combat system.

The battle sprites, especially some of the later bosses, look fantastic. The smaller enemies you encounter look nice, but the huge ones are epic. The final boss is one of the most impressive I've seen in an OHR game. However, the content of the battles is pretty weak. Although you have a variety of characters and skills, you'll pretty much win every fight until the final areas by holding down the "Attack" button until you need to heal. Some later bosses break this pattern, but almost all of the earlier fights are tiresome. The encounter rate is also terrible; you're going to fight a LOT of random battles in this game, and in such huge environments it will make you weary extremely fast. Experience and gold are also very unbalanced. The game pretty much makes it impossible to run out of money, and there are some areas where you gain levels every single fight for the first five or six battles. Some enemies go from nearly killing you in two hits to doing a single point of damage within two or three battles. Even worse, experience is not scaled by enemy strength. You will find weak, harmless enemies that give away too much experience and extremely tough enemies that give next to none. This only encourages the player to grind away in the early parts of the game, or, in my case, run from every battle in the last areas. Needless to say, this is quite annoying.

Another problem with battles are the skills your characters have. The Ranger has several skills that do bonus damage against different enemy types, but these skills cost a lot of MP and are rarely useful. He also has a skill that increases accuracy, but I can't remember missing more than once or twice with a standard attack anyway. The Berserker, on the other hand, is far too useful; he has a skill that increases his attack power for free, and can be stacked. Use this a few times, and he's doing 999 points of free damage per turn. Other skills, like the Missionary's Blessing, are useful for exactly one level. Once you have any decent amount of HP, it will heal so little that it's never useful again. Items are unbalanced as well; for example, equipping a Knight Armor lowers your speed by a nearly insignificant one point, yet almost triples some characters' defense.

The one thing I did enjoy about this game's combat was the fact that there are tons of cameos of characters from other OHR games, and seeing them was really amusing. Granted, none of the battles with them are interesting, but they all look fantastic and it's cool to see them in Fenrir's art style. Seeing my own Super Walrus Man appear was very fun, even if he didn't fight like Walrus Man at all (all physical attacks, no magic for this incarnation). These references will be lost on new users, but they're not distracting enough to take you out of the game. These monsters fit in fine with the rest of the game's mutants and demons.

The game's humor is my favorite part of it. Odin is a complete jerk, and I loved every conversation with him. Your rivals are clownish and ridiculous, in the best possible way, and it's a treat whenever your guys converse with them. Unfortunately, some jokes (such as a cameo by Hachi) will be completely lost on new users, and don't have any context in the game to make them funny on their own. There are also lots of instances of the game breaking the fourth wall, which I was amused by but know that many people dislike.

The game's music is surprisingly tolerable for an OHR game, although it's nothing special. The ambient sounds in the final dungeon are great, and work far better to establish the mood than plain music could, given the situation. More games should follow this example. The only track that really bothered me was the shrill, piercing music of the glacier zone. The first few notes are unbearable, but the rest of the song is good. The problem is that battles occur so frequently that you'll rarely hear more than the first few awful notes.

This game feels extremely polished, but there are a few issues that definitely need to be cleared up. For instance, in the inn, your character can walk in the middle of bookcases, and it looks quite silly. There are also several NPCs that do absolutely nothing, and a tent in the desert whose door you can stand on top of but cannot enter. I also don't understand why you're not allowed to save in the final zone; it's a long maze with no battles, followed by a very hard, very cool boss. The problem is that once you've completed the maze once, there's no challenge to it, and you are probably going to die against this boss, meaning you'll have to repeat the maze to get to him again. If nothing else, there should be a save point before the fight. Worst of all, though, is a game-breaking bug in the ending; during the epilogue scene, talking to Bena in the hall of Valhalla sends you into an infinite text box loop, and the only way to end it is to force close the program. The credits tell me this game had a large number of playtesters, and I'm utterly shocked that no one caught this extremely easy to fix bug.

Overall, this game is certainly worth a look for its visuals and writing, but only if you have a high tolerance for random battles. If the encounter rate was halved and experience distributed more evenly, the game would be far better. As it stands, it's certainly above average OHR fare, but falls short in several key places.
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Last edited by The Wobbler on Thu Oct 16, 2008 10:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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