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IGMC 2015: Escalia

        IGMC 2015 games will be judged following the same guidelines the official judges do. (Presentation, Gameplay, Engagement, Bugs/Glitches, and 2015’s Twist: Growth)  My score has no effect on the actual scores the game’s receive but just represent my own thoughts on the games.  Let’s take a look at today’s game…

Escalia

Background Information:  A turn based, RPG, made in RPG Maker VX Ace by the developer JENB Productions.

Presentation:  From the start of the game you can tell Escalia is going to be a pretty one.  As you sit on the main menu the characters travel throughout the world and though there is not much to see location wise, the scenes the team create are entrancing and could only grow more so if the world is expanded upon with further work on the game beyond IGMC.  There are custom character portraits, sprites, icons, and menu systems.  Escalia could at least be called pretty for an RPG Maker game but I feel that would be doing it a disservice, the game is just pretty and that is all.

        The music is also good and though not all of it is unique to the game there’s nothing that stands out as overdone.  The sound effects are okay though the sound of characters gaining experience sounds like a screech that makes me want to pull my headphones away from my ears.  

The writing is decent and though nothing spectacular it gives you enough to relate to the characters without any cheesy lines that leave you going, “Oh why did you just say that?”  The plot is semi typical for the genre.  There’s a bad guy that went on a rampage a couple dozen years ago and some young heroes put him to an end.  Then you play the roles of the children of those heroes years later and it seems the bad guy has made his return somehow.  It’s not an exciting plot but it is done with respect, not overly dramatic.  You feel as if the heroes went onto have lives of their own and the children have their own lives to live as well prior to the incidents that begin to occur.

Score: 17/20

Sprite art and bust art are well done, the writing is passable, but the game is in need of higher quality music and sound effects.

Gameplay:  You can tell when playing Escalia that there has been attention to detail during its development.  Animations are smooth both in and out of combat, the enemies die and remain dead on the map as you strike them down along your travels, and you’ll have to make good use of all the skills you’re taught right from the start if you don’t want to end up dead.  Speaking of dying that is perhaps the one thing the game did not prepare me for.  You’re given a fair sum of coin to spend on goods before heading out into the wilds but as the newbie I was I didn’t expect the game to be that much of a challenge and that if it started to get tough I could always come back later and buy what I needed.  I was wrong, once you’re out in the wilds you only have a short amount of time to return before story based elements come into play that make it impossible to go shopping during the more difficult battles you will face.  Since the game at no point told me how to save the game prior to these fights I ended up going down in battle and losing my progress.  (Turns out you need to go to the menu and one of the options labeled “files” is how you save the game)  Going back to the start of the game and watching the introduction a second time around I made sure to buy at least some food before heading back out into the fray.

        The combat is fun and can get challenging.  Be sure to heal in between combat as it’s not too hard to get into a tight situation.  The characters each have a unique block skill that provides certain buffs.  The healer of the group not only takes half damage for one turn but also heals herself during the turn.  The rogue of the group does something similar but instead of healing herself she becomes harder to hit for a couple more rounds in addition to the damage resistance.  The characters also have special abilities that can be used once per battle.  These can make things interesting when you start to use ones like “mark”, which makes a target take more damage as well as add additional side effects from spells.  For example a flame based attack on a marked target can leave them burning for a time.  Which adds a bit more depth to who you want to target and what you want to follow up with.

One of my only complaints when it comes to combat is it’s not clear to tell who will go when.  At first it seemed like certain characters went before others but that wasn’t always true.  Then I thought maybe it went back and forth between allies and enemies, but that wasn’t the case either.  Now I believe it’s based on what abilities each character and enemy chose to use but I’m not sure about that either.  In the end it can make the game a bit more difficult than it needs to be due to confusion instead of actual in game challenges.  Not knowing when your healer is going to heal can cause party members to fall and once they do you can easily get outnumbered and things will go south very fast.

After starting my second playthrough I decided to look around the small town first and the menu to see what I could learn about the game’s mechanics that were left untaught.  One interesting mechanic is the side mission system.  You can go to characters to get missions or if you go to the billboard in town it will inform you of all the characters in town that need your assistance.  If you want more information regarding the mission you need to go to the characters that gave it and talk to them directly since the request on the board only has so much info.  This is an interesting way of handling a mechanic that has been in RPGs for years.  It makes the characters feel far more alive and that these missions are truly important to them, even if they’re simple side quest to you.  A, “Can you do this for me?  For more info find me at this address.”  Just feels like what someone would do in real life if real life society had heroes and side quest.  As far as game mechanics go it’s well done as well because it gives you the basic info you need if you want to just get the quest done but if you want more it tell you who to talk to and where to find them, you’re not left wondering what to do.

Score: 18/20

The gameplay is superb.  The world feels alive through the game’s mechanics, it’s as if the game designer behind Escalia looked to other great RPGs and didn’t say, “Let’s do what they did.” but instead, “Let’s do it better.”  Though it does suffer from not providing the player with proper instructions to some of the game’s mechanics.

Engagement:  Escalia from it’s side quest to it’s main quest, everything feels important and while a little girl’s doll missing in the woods might not mean much to you on your adventures you can tell how important it is to her.  If you talk to the girl she’s sad and explains what happened but beyond that is the detail of the side quest.  In the town you can find a quest board and one of those quest is provided by the girl.  Unlike the other one that is provided by an adult this quest lacks some of the information needed and simply states “Dottie is missing”.  Dottie being the little girl’s doll.  Where as an adult is able to rationalize what information is needed for a hero to complete a quest the child simply states what matters to her.  That she needs Dottie back.  Upon entering the forest you can find Dottie laying on the ground between two slimes that are difficult to avoid (though not entirely impossible).  If you had went to talk to the girl she would have told you she had to run from a slime and that’s when she dropped Dottie, so the location fits with her story.

Beyond that locations were only available to visit when it made sense for the characters to visit them to ensure you don’t do anything that would allow you to feel like you’re forcing characters to do something they would not.  Also if one character mentioned something that happened with another character you can rest assured that at some point that topic will be brought up again from that other character’s point of view.

Score: 20/20

Once again the design of the game is essential to the engagement factor.  No detail is left forgotten.  How the characters react to each other in their dialogue, their battle animations, and the providing and completing of missions is done so well that if Escalia was done at a commercial scale, it would be an RPG worthy of being side by side with the greats.

Bugs and Glitches:  Some of the scenes are created with the player as one of the characters in the scene but if you decide to switch who you play as to another party member, you can encounter multiple copies of you like in the screenshot below.

Score: -5

The Twist / Growth:  On top of the typical leveling system found in RPGs, growth in Escalia is based around the character Fayhe.  The magic user of the group.  In short she’s perhaps the child of the group and has the most room to grow and that’s what her story is based around.  Facing the her fears and growing up as a person.  It’s not a spectacular way of handling the twist for IGMc, but it works.

Score: 5/10

Overall:  It’s the attention to detail seen throughout Escalia that makes it of a higher quality than much of what you will find throughout IGMC 2015.  Though some graphic bugs can be found in the more cinematic scenes, they are minor and simple to fix.  From the art to the mechanics, from the characters to the locations, the team of JENB Production did really well making sure this game was all it can be in the time they had to make it.  If given more time and a budget I feel Escalia could be just as good as the classic RPGs I played growing up.  I don’t believe I’ve had my hands on a 2D, turn based, RPG this good since The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion back on the PSP.

+Challenging combat with in depth mechanics

+Art and animations

+The small details throughout the world

-Critical mechanics left unexplained

-Minor Graphical Bugs

Overall Score: 55/70, Must Play!

IGMC Page (Download):  Escalia (Be sure to upvote and share the game if you enjoyed it, reward the devs for their work and allow others to enjoy what you have all at the same time)

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Dakota B.

Dakota Barrett is an indie game developer and journalist. His goals are to create high quality experiences and supports those that do as well.

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