Making the Grades
How do you defeat a rat? Fortunately, I've only had virtual experience with this question, but some friends of mine had to face this daunting task when a furry visitor slipped through the drywall behind their toilet and decided to make their bathroom it's new nocturnal home. Recently married and desiring to impress his wife in distress, Steve boldly set out to take stock of his quarry, armed with only a flashlight and an oven mitt?!
Obviously expecting Hammy the hamster, Steve could not have been any more surprised than Alaron, the main character of Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, who is attacked by man-sized rodents lurking in the forest outside his home. Feeling equally outmatched, Steve wisely decided to secure a large rattrap before proceeding. Unfortunately the squire in training in this role-playing game (RPG) didn't think of that, and soon found himself the victim of goblins who made the vermin look like small potatoes. Although Alaron is rescued after being attacked and poisoned, he can only be cured if he finds an antidote.
Setting out on his quest, the desperate hero may select as many as four out of twelve possible companions to aid him in his adventure. Choosing wisely may be the key to success as each is endowed with unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses (each also has their own playable story ending, even though the main tale comes to a singular conclusion). As they explore the numerous environments, they must pick up useful items such as healing potions or treasure chests, gather information, and win confrontations against the almost one hundred monsters and enemies the game has to offer.
After a victorious battle (there is no blood but the animated violence does earn this title a Teen rating) the player can level up the characters by increasing their stats (intelligence, willpower, dexterity, etc.), combat skills and special abilities, or by adding new spells to their magical arsenal and collecting more items for their virtual goodie bag. They also require a good night's rest if you wish to increase their hit points. So when the sun starts setting (this game is set in real time and includes a 12-hour clock), put your tuckered-out party members to bed using the camping feature. But remember, this is not the same as a pause. They might be able to settle down and have a marshmallow or two but they won't be singing Kum-ba-ya because nighttime ambushes are always a possibility.
While the game's maker, THQ, have created the new world of Aidyn with some unique twists and a complex story line, those looking for rich visual settings will be disappointed by the two dimensional trees, linear landscapes, and blocky marionette-like characters reminiscent of Picasso's Cubism art style. Even avid RPG fans may lose patience with the game due to its extremely slow battle sequences. Working through many hours of story and deciphering all the details is sure to be too big of a headache for younger audiences.
And speaking of aching heads, it turned out that Steve's river rat was so large that only its head got trapped in the cage (and it gets even bigger with each retelling of the story). I'm sure he would have been happy to have a spell book (or anything else for that matter) to throw at it that night. Parents who find the fantasy settings, spells, and battles of the "Dungeons and Dragons" genre as appealing as rodents, may want to look for another alternative to Aidyn Chronicles. Those who can tolerate a hamster-sized version may want to check out our review of the E rated Shadowgate 64.