Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Preview: Linus

Title: Linus
Developer: blueperiod
Homepage: http://rpgmaker.net/games/1491/
Genre: Visual Novel/RPG
Program: RPGMaker VX

Linus, in its current form, is a game I can’t really describe in a handful of words, mostly owing to the fact that this so called “demo” is more of a teaser for the setting and storyline than it is a demonstration of the gameplay. However, despite a slight lack of actual gameplay, what you get in the current package is extremely impressive.

Why?

Well, first of all, because the interaction with non-playable characters is amazingly well executed and instantly makes the game stand out because it is something that is usually done poorly in role-playing games (even commercial ones). Something as simple as allowing conversations to trigger small scenes, even when they are scenes that do nothing to advance the storyline, is a device more developers need to use because these scenes are what reinforce the setting a game is using. A grandmother who is angry at her grandson because he might catch a cold in the rain and would be unable to serve his master as a result; a landlord who is angered by your mere presence because of your past actions, allowing you to learn more about historic events in the game-world and; the knight who stands to defend you from insults simply because you are his Lord. These are the kinds of non-playable character that complete your setting; non-playable characters with pointless one-liners are not.

Characters that are easy to sympathise with is another strong point this game possesses. Every character’s motivation, even those who have little screen time or who could be considered minor characters, seems to have been meticulously planned out by the developer. Linus doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exposition and, unlike some games that do this and end up waffling aimlessly, every bit of text is actually meaningful. The result is that, despite introducing a large number of characters in a relatively short space if time, the game manages to make all those characters count and give them enough personality that they are instantly recognisable. This is hard skill to master, but Linus clearly has a talented writer at the helm.

The setting is, of course, more than just characterisation. If the characters round off the setting, ensuring you are sucked in, it is the convoluted and realistic background politics that are the foundation. Mind you, this isn’t a game that requires a wall-of-text to explain everything to you; this is a game that gives you everything you need to know through the use of its well-spoken non-playable characters. Getting the player to learn about the game world without making them realise they are having information shoved down their throat is really important if you don’t want players to get annoyed or bored before your opening sequence has even finished: Linus manages to keep you interested.

This isn’t to say that Linus is just a storybook in its current form. Far from it, as it isn’t just the words on the screen that make this teaser brilliant; it is the aesthetic side to the presentation as well.

The music, throughout the whole of this demo, is perfectly chosen and almost as emotive as the words that are on the screen. The musical choices impressed me so much that I didn’t even realise some of the tracks chosen were Nubuo Uematsu tracks until the credits rolled past my eyes.

Sound effects are used to equally astounding effect, giving you a genuine feeling that the game world is actually alive. The sounds of the rain bouncing off the ground, the clouds gathering in the sky and the wind blowing through the trees, these kind of environmental sounds are used to good effect throughout the demo and they keep you immersed in the game world.

Sure, some of this is ruined by the occasional error in the graphical department (the odd chip that doesn’t blend properly with the one next to it and the fact that lighting/fog effects don’t fade when the screen fades out, for instance) and the fact that the sprite style used isn’t particularly to my liking, but these things did little to break my immersion in the game’s world. Besides, when the lighting/fog effects aren’t messing up the fades they actually look quite good!

So, although there are only a couple of sequences you could actually call “gameplay”, you should definitely give this teaser (I still hesitate to call it a “demo”) a try. I can pretty much guarantee that if you are into story-driven role-playing games you will be impressed.

An intriguing teaser that will seize your attention until the very end. 8/10
 

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