By Drew D. / January 4th, 2018
|Developer||Exe Create Inc|
|Original Release Date||Aug 4th, 2016|
|Platform||PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch,
PlayStation 4, PS Vita,
There’s always something to be said when developers return to old school methods for their own game production. The team of Exe Create and Kemco continue to draw from the time-tested ways of traditional RPG design when developing their modern, growing library of JRPGs. Mechanics, styles, and that classic look and feel that were perfected in the days of Chrono Trigger and the 2D Final Fantasy games are still drawn from for inspiration. Antiquia Lost is exactly this; a traditional JRPG whose styling and gameplay are an appreciated nod to the gems that came before it.
Antiquia Lost is set in a fantasy world in which three distinct tribes coexist. While these tribes have had their conflicts in the past, an uneasy, yet stable peace is maintained. The Fai Tribe consists of humans, the Ruta Tribe are a blue, viscous people, and the Eeth Tribe members are humanoid cats. Our story begins when royal members of each tribe suddenly go missing. Besides their royalty, all are said to be skilled magic users. Meanwhile, our hero, Bine, meets with Lunaria, a half-Fai half-Ruta girl who happens to be a lost heir to Ruta’s ruling family. At first, these two, along with Jade the Eeth traveller, set out to a Fai city, as Lunaria wishes to find work and a new home, but are soon caught up in the mystery of the disappearance. As they are joined by Safira, a Ruta palace guard who reveals Lunaria’s nobility, the group continues their travels, only to be accused of the kidnappings themselves, forced on the run, and seek to uncover the truth.
In terms of its story, Antiquia Lost is as straightforward as you can get. The main plot revolves around the mystery of these kidnappings and that’s it. Clear-cut and direct, this overarching point is introduced early and concluded at endgame. And while it serves as the reason for our party of heroes’ many quests and travels, the plot is never developed beyond this. In all honesty, I was let down, as I expect a far deeper story when it comes to JRPGs of this like. The plot simply lacks all semblance of depth. While there is a parallel plot point involving an enigmatic character named Alma, it is not nearly enough to provide that much needed substance. I don’t mind the straightforwardness, but the barebones approach and severe lack of dimension is disappointing and hurts player immersion.
While the story efforts are lacking, the storytelling and narrative fair better. I very much appreciate the colorful cast of characters and how their personalities and thoughts come forth through their dialogues. While Bine is a bit too good-natured and reliable, I do like how Jade and Safira’s doubts and questioning come into play when the group is deciding on actions to take. Initially, these very different individuals must navigate any mistrust or concerns they have for one another as they progress on their journey, and the results of these narratives are convincing and intriguing. I also enjoyed Lunaria’s worldly inexperience and her initial tendency to compare the group’s situations to the fairy tales she read in her isolation. Unfortunately, there are several flaws in the narrative, and what disheartened me the most is the disjointedness of the relationships between the characters. Again, in the beginning of the journey, it’s natural for the four individuals to be cautious and gradually build their relationships over time. However, even after significant time has passed and the group has experienced much on their adventure, there are several conversations that flat out break the bonds I assumed had formed by these times. They come off as bizarre, so much so that it undoes any draw or attraction players may have developed for these characters and their supposed relationships, which only demoralizingly breaks any immersion or emotions built for the characters at these points.
The failure to properly develop convincing relationships between our heroes is only furthered with the game’s multiple endings. This game uses a Trust system, in which the level of Trust can determine a specific extra ending scene involving Bine and one other hero that players will see. The only believable ending is the one with Lunaria, as she and Bine are paired right from the start and have the most authentic repartee. The other characters’ endings are so out of place that they seem shoehorned in as an afterthought, rather than properly planned, written, and developed. At every other ending I asked myself, “where did that come from?”
I also took issue with the casual writing style used for all conversations. While I can understand the lax style between companions and more grounded individuals, it was incredibly out of place when royal and other authoritative characters were speaking in the same way. Having royalty using the terms “wanna” or “gonna” as relentlessly as everyone else was strange and unfitting. Changing the diction between characters would have served to better differentiate and further develop personalities. I especially would have liked to have seen alternate syntax and diction for Jade, as he is the most intelligent, mature, and experienced member of the group. Instead, we get this single, overused speaking style for everyone, yet it does nothing to individualize anyone. One size does not fit all.
Fortunately, Antiquia Lost’s gameplay fares far better and has fewer glaring missteps than the story. Gameplay is combat driven, featuring a classic turn-based, random-encounter setup. The defining element of gameplay is the skill system. New skills are gained as characters level up, but skills themselves can be leveled as well through use. The more you use a skill, the more powerful it becomes and/or the fewer Magic Points (MP) it consumes. This makes combat far more immersive, as it becomes more than just defeating enemies. Choosing which skills to level can determine what your characters can excel at, whether it’s physical attacks or one or more of the three elemental skillsets. There are also special skills called Brave Arts. Lunaria, Jade, and Safira all have their own Brave Art used with Bine. Developing Trust between them and Bine makes these more powerful.
Along with combat and traditional leveling up, there is a feeding system specific to Lunaria. Lunaria does not earn experience or levels from combat. Rather, she must consume gems to grow her stats. While she automatically finds gems after a specific number of battles are fought, it is important to feed her additional gems that are dropped as spoils or purchased in shops. While this may seem tedious, Lunaria has the potential to become the most powerful character, as many gems give significant stat rewards.
Away from combat, Antiquia Lost also has several features that add to the experience. Similar to Revenant Saga, there is a Menu Shop for unique items and an amalgamation mechanic allowing weapon power and traits to be transferred to form more powerful, customized weapons. There is also a lottery system in which Ancient Gems and Pandora tickets, earned after every three fights, can be gambled for rare gems and weapons. As I mentioned before, there is a Trust system that influences Brave Arts and passive skills. On the map, Lunaria can open locked doors, Jade can smash unique rocks, and Safira can squeeze through small spaces. As Trust increases, so too do their abilities to unlock, smash, and squeeze. Also like Revenant Saga, there is a very useful Help section that explains all gameplay aspects, making it easy to learn and master gameplay.
As for its overall execution, Antiquia Lost has impressive gameplay. The skill leveling, feeding, and the amalgamation make gameplay distinct and engaging. Actual combat is as strong as it is in Revenant Saga, utilizing positioning and featuring skills that take advantage of enemy placement. Although Antiquia Lost suffers from a difficulty spike sometime after midgame, it is not nearly as bad as Revenant Saga and may not require purchases from the Menu Shop if you’re willing to grind a few levels and hunt for extra weapons for amalgamating. One issue with gameplay I have is the same complaint I made with Revenant Saga, in which gameplay is far too linear. Again, you reach a town/city, clear a nearby dungeon, then move on to the next set of town and dungeon without any variation to this formula. And again, the subquests are all dependent on combat, from defeating a specific number of enemies to collecting dropped items. There is little reason to complete subquests besides the unimpressive rewards, and there is zero exploration to behold. While there are some extras past the initial normal ending, these require leveling into the several hundreds and are only worth the effort for completionists and the most loyal fans. Better to just work on building Trust and completing the true end. Finally, I also experienced a build issue throughout, in which the game would often hang for half a second and sometimes this would, in turn, lead to a frame skip. Regardless of hardware specs, this happens enough to be a minor annoyance, but it’s definitely not game breaking, nor a deterrent for potential buyers.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Antiquia Lost and the one I found the most reminiscent of the traditional style is the game’s aesthetic direction. The game’s artists do a fantastic job of channelling the 16/32-bit 2D style we associate with some of the greatest RPGs of all time. From the sprite work to the tilesets that bring the game’s locales to life, the visual appeal is outstanding and definitely brings you back with its nostalgia. The portrait artwork is equally notable, giving much needed life to our four heroes. I also like the extra effort of changing the heroes’ appearances in combat when special equipment is used. The silliness of seeing cat ears, candy canes, or a sheep crossbow are cute touches and add to the fun. The only negative I can think of is the sprite and background quality suffers at higher resolutions, however, this is minimal, plus the portraits and text all remain unaffected. The audio, however, is as undistinguished as it is in Revenant Saga. There are too few tracks, and the music that is there fails to emphasize the events or locations on screen. The compositions aren’t bad by any means, but they don’t possess any spirit or character to them that could add to the experience.
Antiquia Lost has its share of shortcomings, but taken in its entirety, is a fun campaign through a fantasy full of nostalgia. JRPG enthusiasts and anyone who’s a fan of the old school will appreciate the sentiment the game manages to channel. If you don’t mind the calamity that is its story, Antiquia Lost will provide an abundance of fun and classic charm for any fan of tradition.
Review copy purchased by author