By Mathew Imfeld / June 27th, 2018
|Title||Azure Saga: Pathfinder|
|Release Date||March 13th, 2018|
As a budding fantasy writer, I have toyed with various ideas I thought would be interesting, even if not unique. One of those ideas was blending modern technology and fantasy together, with a fairly reasonable attempt at explaining the circumstances behind it. Azure Saga: Pathfinder by MassHive Media from Indonesia does something similar, so I was fairly intrigued by this different take. After all, blending technology and fantasy is a popular albeit difficult trope in video games. As such, it is time to see how well the game tackles it.
In the game proper you take the role of Synch, a scientist who broke away from his colony along with his AI companion, Noide, in order to find his father and save humanity by finding the planet Azure. Unfortunately, his ship was shot down and he’s now stranded on an unknown planet filled with wildlife, strange creatures, and most importantly, resources. Yet oddly enough, there are also humans whose society is similar to the dark ages back on Earth.
That is the gist of the very beginning of the game, and there is already a problem with this game’s plot. I mentioned the reason why Synch broke away in the first place, but in reality, the game doesn’t delve into that, even after hours of play. It is only later on that it is even brought up. This is a reoccurring issue with the narrative, where the game tells most of its world, events, and overall setting rather than showing it.
Another issue also comes down to the fact that the characters don’t question incongruities in their reality. For example, Noide uses firearms as his weapon of choice but characters like Kishar don’t question what they even are. Likewise, Synch doesn’t seem to really try to explain Clergy’s magic in a scientific viewpoint, even though he is literally a scientist. The one time natives question who Synch and Noide actually are is when Noide tries to sense parts to repair the ship. Even then, it is only in passing. However, this breaks my suspension of disbelief when characters think Noide is a human even though it is easy to tell he is not, considering the AI components on his face.
Leading off of character interactions, the characters themselves feel relatively stale. Not terrible, not good, just relatively simplistic in their representation and mannerisms. Each character within the party has a defined roll in the game, where not too much personality shines through. Kishar, for example, is a knight who protects and fights for his kingdom. Of course, he is a bit headstrong compared to others but learns to think of the bigger picture. For such a narrative-driven game, even after two hours this can get rather repetitive.
For what problems the plot and character interaction have, the setting itself is actually fairly decent. Learning how the world functions, the general background, and the dynamic conflict between the poor and royalty and different races is at least interesting. The only issue is of course how it is all presented. In-game, the general conflict feels simplistic if not superficial, even though there was actual effort to explain why the world is at the state it is in. A decent attempt at world building, muddled by the previously explained issues with the plot and character interactions.
As much as there’s an emphasis on story in the game, there is still a heavy focus on combat and exploration. Exploration is a relatively simple affair, where the player must traverse areas where rooms are laid out in a grid. Much of the time these rooms only contain save rooms, treasure, and the occasional side quest. Overall, the objective is to get from point A to point B. The question is how to get there. While some areas have a clear path to the player’s destination, other areas present a challenge in order to reach the objective. These range from finding a key, to switch puzzles, to stair mazes, and more. This is actually the best part of the game, if only because these are relatively well thought out.
Next is the combat, taking cues from the standard turn-based format. The party is set up of two front characters and one rear character. All characters take their turns from top to bottom in that order. During their overall turn, the player can swap a party member out and pull another in reserve with no penalty, as long as the character is not knocked out or paralyzed. After which, the player gives each character their desired commands whereupon the enemy then makes their move.
What the game tries to do to set itself apart is the ability to combine character skills into one attack. Each character has at least one red-colored skill, where certain combinations on one target lead to a combination attack, called united skills. The main purpose of these attacks is to provide an extra effect such as decreasing an enemy’s chance to evade. Each of these combinations are at first hidden but become a selectable command after being used in battle manually. The issue with these skills is that they are very resource intensive, draining characters of their ability to use skills quickly. Unfortunately, it gets to the point that it might be better off to use a normal buff or debuff skill since they are typically cheaper.
Overall, the combat feels bland without much substance. Random encounters feel like they waste far too much time, taking upwards of two to three minutes depending on the enemy. This is further compounded when the game wants the player to scan enemies in order to know their exact passive abilities, that range from reflecting damage to even reviving after a certain amount of turns. It is not forced upon the player to scan enemies, but it is more that the frequency combined with a lengthy animation breaks the pace. In the end, everything feels exceptionally tedious to do.
As for presentation, it is a mixed bag. The portraits for characters give off a beautiful painted look, although facial expressions are a bit odd at points. The game’s cutscenes are also nicely presented, giving off that same painted look. Yet, the actual animation for the cutscenes has a serious case of uncanny valley. However, in-game characters and enemies are instead presented in a much more simplistic hand-drawn model. This was rather disappointing due to how good the portraits were, not to mention how stiff the animations can be. The way characters are animated makes it obvious they are made of individual assets instead of anything that flows together.
The game’s script is also very rough. I am not sure if it is due to how it was translated since the developers are from Indonesia or if the script was just rough to begin with. However, there is little natural flow between characters, sometimes missing words, or even contradicting itself where in one instance Noide says he detects humans in the area, and afterwards he says his sensors doesn’t detect humans. The script could have definitely used polish.
In the end, Azure Saga: Pathfinder unfortunately is a sub-standard RPG. It has a good idea going for it, but it is simply the execution and stale style of the game that brings it down. As a writer myself, there are things I would change such as how characters interacted with the world around them. If one doesn’t rush through the game, the game goes for 30-50 hours depending on how much side content the player does. Even for $12.99, a small price drop feels warranted. Overall, I hope MassHive Media’s next attempt fares better, since it is obvious they actually tried, even though they didn’t succeed.
Review Copy provided by the publisher
Azure Saga: PathfinderMassHive MediaPCSteamturn-based RPG