There’s sort of a stigma about the “generic RPG Maker game,” isn’t there? As fleshed-out and full-featured as Enterbrain’s game creation software is, there’s still something inexplicably limited about the projects that it generates — perhaps most damning of all, the fact that it’s so easy to tell when a game has been created with it. Still, that hasn’t stopped some fans of old-school JRPGs from creating some fun stuff with it, occasionally being able to turn a profit in the process.
Amaranth Games was one of the first to do this, and they continue to leave their mark on Steam with superior examples of software made in RPG Maker — most recently with Echoes of Aetheria and now Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist. But while the former game was a fun return to role-playing titles of yesteryear, this fourth installment in the Aveyond series reminds us why some things should remain in the past.
The Aveyond series apparently has a history of inserting humor into its role-playing proceedings, and that tendency rears its head with the very premise of this latest installment. Boyle Wolfbane lives in a village for “retired villains” called Wyrmwood, forced into a dull domestic life after a party of four heroes defeats him.
When a series of unfortunate events cause his faithful canine friend Fang to get lost, he has no choice but to take the role of the heroes he hates so much and defend the world from those who would destroy it. I’d be lying if I said Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist’s attempts at humor had no effect on me — I definitely caught myself smiling more than a few times, and the dry, self-aware nature of the dialogue shows fleeting glimpses of Earthbound-like hilarity.
Unfortunately, the script also suffers from a simple case of Trying Too Hard Syndrome, sometimes evoking cringeworthy fanfiction in the way it constantly begs for laughs. Case in point: while there’s no shortage of attempts at humor, there’s a bit of a drought when it comes to how many of them actually land.
Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist has a lot more than just a goofy narrative, of course: classic JRPG-style gameplay takes center stage in this series, and it’ll surely please absolute diehards of the genre. There are towns to visit, stores to shop at, dungeons to explore and a whole host of party members to recruit, with the full adventure clocking in somewhere in the 20-25 hour range.
Unlike some other games that pilfer the “old-school RPG” vibe, Aveyond 4 also sees fit to move past the basics of vanilla dungeon crawling and include some whimsical extras: early on in the game, for example, you need to gather “prize tickets” at a Wyrmwood festival to proceed, and a special “romance” sidequest lets you woo a party member by building up affection points. It’s this sort of seemingly innocuous, pleasant character development and worldbuilding that can really grow on players — nice to see in an independently-developed effort, especially when it would be so easy to do your standard early-years Final Fantasy imitation.
Sadly, not all of the game’s trappings feel as refreshing. On the contrary, most of the RPG basics are pretty stale, to be perfectly honest — without an interesting hook in the exploration or combat, what you’re left with is a dated and amateurish run through JRPG cliches. Standard maps where one way is progress and another is a dead end with a treasure? Check. Standard turn-based battle system without much nuance? Check. Standard quests that involve gathering things and killing monsters? Check, check and checkaroony.
There are a few wrinkles to be found in the peripheral bits of Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist’s gameplay — as a couple of examples, there are collectible minion characters who turn into AI-controlled helpers during battle sequences and purple creatures called Cheeki who can be caught and turned in for upgrades — but honestly, this isn’t enough to carry what is otherwise a sort of tired affair. In this era of complex and varied game design, merely repeating what other developers have done better cannot carry an entire game.
I’ll give Amaranth credit where it’s due, though: this may have some of the most realistic and comprehensive sound design I’ve ever heard in a 2D RPG, which does a great deal to remedy the somewhat lackluster visual presentation. Oh sure, there’s nothing truly offensive on display here, but it’s not exactly a feast for the eyes either; like Echoes of Aetheria’s field sprites before it, the way Aveyond 4 represents its locations and characters really speaks to the “generic RPG Maker game” vibe I mentioned at the outset. Likewise, the music — while not necessarily poor in its composition — suffers as a result of some pretty wretched instrumentation.
For all the ways it tries to differentiate itself, Aveyond 4: Shadow of the Mist really feels like an embodiment of the “generic RPG Maker game” stereotype. Relentless attempts at humor often fall flat, and the gameplay is an assortment of JRPG cliches that seemed dated a decade ago. For those not picky about their role-playing experiences, or just looking to waste some time on the computer, far be it from me to issue this lovingly-created and harmless project a mean-spirited condemnation — the series clearly has its fans. Unfortunately, I think the majority of discerning game players will find little reason to give this one a whirl; with so little time to play games in our busy world, many would rather visit worlds and meet characters that engage them a little bit more.
If you aren't too picky and you're in the mood for some old-school RPG action, Aveyond 4 might just be the lighthearted fun you need. If you're a more discerning customer, however, the game's dated RPG Maker feel, lackluster writing and overall been-there-done-that vibe will put you off.