Game review: Arvale: Treasure of Memories Episode 1

  • Title: Arvale: Treasure of Memories Episode 1
  • Developer: Jaybot7
  • Platforms: Windows
  • Price: $5.00

Arvale: Treasure of Memories, Episode 1 is a jRPG by Jaybot7 (Jason Surguine) originally released back in 2009. Created in RPG Maker and using mostly default RPG Maker assets, Arvale is a short game with a silly atmosphere and some amusing dialog. However, the issues with this game’s mechanics are no joke.

Let me tell you a little bit about the world of Arvale. It’s made up of four elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Everything Else. (No, really. Everything Else is an element.)

As you might have gathered, Arvale is an extremely silly game. If you are like me and enjoy silly things, this aspect of Arvale will probably appeal to you. Admittedly, Arvale’s characters are all one-note caricatures. However, the dialog is written cleverly enough that I found myself chuckling on more than one occasion as I played through the game.

The plot, meanwhile, is a new spin on an old trope. When the game starts, you learn that the protagonist has saved the world already. He is now just a gardener with a head injury (which, conveniently, prevents him from remembering any of his prior exploits).

I’ve played plenty of RPGs in my day, and this is the first time I can think of where a game has used this particular setup. The main character’s memory loss becomes the basis for a great many jokes. Unfortunately, however, the biggest joke is on the player. There is no Great Quest. It’s been finished already. All that’s left are mundane, workaday quests. In any other RPG, this could have served as a poignant commentary on modern life. But here, it’s mostly just used to set up jokes and fourth-wall-breaking interactions with the game’s faceless narrator.

Not that this is bad, of course. There’s plenty to like in a game that refuses to take itself seriously. But make no mistake: this is no Space Funeral. While Arvale teases the player with funny dialog and self-parody during the game’s exploration portions, the rest of the game isn’t in on the joke.

This isn’t because of anything deliberate the author did. Rather, it’s a crime of omission: the developer simply didn’t adjust the game’s mechanics to fit the feel of the game. You never get to–for example–cast an Everything Else spell. Combat in Arvale is in no way silly, funny, or parodic. To the contrary: it is both grueling and obnoxiously frequent. Arvale uses a cookie-cutter Final Fantasy-style turn-based battle system, and due to poor balancing, routine battles are far more frustrating than they ought to be.

Consider the rats. Rats are the very first enemies you fight in the game (along with slimes). Rats can chain together stun attacks, pummeling you at length while you sit helplessly. And you have no one else in your party at this point, so being stunned means you lose your next turn, at which point you can get stunned again, ad infinitum. So there you are, comatose, round after round, being chewed on like your dog’s favorite stuffed weasel. Rats also deal a surprisingly large amount of damage when you’re first starting out. Did I mention that they are the first enemies in the freaking game?

Specters belong to the second enemy mob you meet in the game, and they are even worse. When you first encounter them, they will kill you with three regular attacks. Three! Meanwhile, they take five or six of your attacks to defeat. You are, again, still a one-person party at this point.

Now, difficult battles are not a bad thing in and of themselves. I certainly wouldn’t be griping if Arvale were a game where you face difficult battles but have a wide variety of tactics at your disposal to eke out victory against long odds.

As you might have gathered, this is not the case. You begin the game with only a single character, no spells or special attacks, and two usable item types: Weak Potions and Antidotes. That is it. Accordingly, there is only one viable tactic to survive the early battles: spam potions. And I don’t mean potions made out of canned meats.

Battles become a tedious exercise in alternating between selecting “Attack” and “Item > Weak Potion.” Weak Potions, in turn, are fairly expensive for most of the game, which means that you’ll be spending a sizable portion of your earnings buying them between battles just so you can keep going.

The only reliable way to improve your battles-to-potions-you-have-to-drink ratio, in turn, is to grind. So you fight lots of battles and use up potions so you can afford more potions and eventually grow stronger so you won’t have to use as many potions. This is every bit as fun as it sounds.

The combat difficulty doesn’t make sense from a narrative perspective, either. I think it’s high time that game developers recognized that losing one’s memory is not a level reset button. A legendary hero should not be at risk for getting his butt kicked by slimes and rats, regardless of whether he has lost his conscious recall of past events. His prior exploits should have imbued him with physical conditioning and muscle memory that would make him very difficult for low-level monsters to kill, whether he remembers specific techniques or not.

But no. Instead, we get the RPG equivalent of Hulk Hogan coming out of retirement and getting pinned by a 5-year-old girl. Except it’s actually worse than that. Imagine that instead of just becoming buff and good at wrestling, Hulk Hogan collected weapons and armor with every match he won, which he could then use in subsequent matches. By the time he became a wrestling champion, he’d be walking around in titanium plate mail getup and wielding a Ludicrously Gigantic Claymore of Ass-Kicking +20.

In Arvale, you haven’t magically lost all of your Hero equipment along with your memory, but the equipment has somehow become worthless. Your Hero sword/spear/mace are only slightly more effective than a garden spade, and less effective than a rusty sword. That’s not hyperbole–you can actually buy a rusty sword, and your attack power will go up when you equip it. Duncan could probably deal more damage with a sharp reprimand than he could with his old “hero” gear. Considering how often the game lampshades itself, I’m a little surprised that the developer let such obvious implausibilities slip through the cracks.

But this is nit-picking. Ultimately, the narrative inconsistencies in Arvale aren’t the part that really hurts. Did you think I was done complaining about the game’s balancing issues? I hope not, because if you did, you are about to be disappointed. This game is about as well-balanced as W.C. Fields during Mardi Gras.

Consider the third boss fight. You will find a life potion right before this fight, and presumably it will be useful, because at this point you’ve got a second character in your party. Um, yeah. Not exactly. The third boss spends 70% of his time spamming “damage everyone” attacks at the beginning of each turn, and the life potion brings your characters back to life with 1 hit point. Which means that if you bring someone back to life in this fight, they are almost certainly going to be killed immediately afterward, and the other character is going to take an extra round’s worth of damage for their trouble.

There are innumerable other examples of this sort of sloppy execution in the game’s combat balancing: enemies who “double attack” yet deal the exact same damage as a single normal attack, enemies who inexplicably drain 2-3 times the health as the number that pops up onscreen, and so on.

Magic is another sore point. Most jRPGs rely on a selection of spells with varying effects on different monsters in order to provide a semblance of tactical variety. Arvale does not. With very few exceptions, spells in Arvale are useless. Even the most basic spells cost 20 magic points or more to cast–in exchange, they both heal less damage than potions and deal less damage than attacking.

There is only one type of enemy in the game that takes noticeably more damage from spells than it does from regular attacks, but your spells are so expensive that you are far more likely to run out of magic points than you are to actually succeed in killing the thing.

The only two spells in the game that are routinely useful are Quick Draw and Temptation Dance–the first primarily for boss battles, the second solely for regular encounters.

“But Craig,” you are probably thinking, “all jRPGs have kind of a crappy, poorly-balanced combat system that is more annoying to deal with than it is fun.” This is true, but there are degrees. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; and the guy who just straight-up doesn’t have a head is the janitor. Arvale, unfortunately, is the janitor.

Still, I wouldn’t spend so much time ragging on Arvale’s mediocre combat system if it weren’t for the high random encounter rate. You are going to be fighting these dull battles constantly. Especially in the dungeons.

Arvale’s dungeons are generally fairly short and linear, without much in the way of puzzles. They also end, universally, with a HP/MP restoration pool situated right before a boss. Because of these two facts, you never have any reason to fight any enemies until you’re at the very end and can hang out at the recovery pool. Then, of course, you’ll need to spend time grinding to make up for the fact that you spent the entire trip through the dungeon walking a few steps, being attacked, running away, walking a few more steps, being attacked, running away, and so on. I never thought I would resent a game for regularly providing me with HP/MP recovery points, but Arvale somehow pulls it off.

Around this point in the review, most reviewers would point out that Arvale is quite short, and that it is not a free game. I don’t generally like this approach. Purchasing a game is not like choosing the brand of dish soap that will last you the longest. If you enjoy a game and its price tag is within your budget, then you should purchase it, even if some other RPG you played in the past had a larger ratio of hours-of-playtime to dollars spent.

That said, this first episode of Arvale is extremely short. I finished it in just over three hours, completing what I believe was every side quest the game had to offer. Five dollars is cheap for an RPG, but you don’t get a lot of RPG for your buck here. (Interestingly, there are actually two free Arvale prequels, advertised as containing “over 20 hours of gameplay” and “over 40 hours of gameplay,” respectively.)

The Verdict: 1/5. Arvale’s light-hearted tone and sense of humor are fun, but the core game is tedious–and you’re going to be spending far more of your time with the latter than the former.

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  • Jaybot7 says:

    My name is Jason Surguine from Jaybot7 and I am the main developer of the Arvale titles.

    I originally told myself I wouldn’t bite. But seeing as this is quite a harsh review, especially for an indie game on an indie site, I feel compelled to share my thoughts. Firstly, this review obviously written by a rookie-reviewer. There are so many subjective points in the review and it is very apparent that the reviewer is simply trying to get a rise out of his audience. Considering it is covering an indie game on an indie review site, it won’t win much favor for either audience.

    I speak from experience, as I used to write reviews for games a long, long time ago for an indie site myself. During that time, I worked alongside many other reviewers, who usually peer reviewed each other and worked with developers to avoid many of the mistakes made in the above review.

    Because it is apparent that neither of those were done for this review, I must make a few comments in my, and the games’, defense.

    First and foremost: The goal of creating the Arvale series of games was never to fix any of the stereotypes or problems with RPG games in general. That is and never was my intention. I enjoy playing all types of RPGs, despite their flaws, but that does not put me in the position to fix everything. I am in the position to poke fun at flaws in RPGs, even if I myself do not fix them.

    Arvale is not a complete newbie, beginner, indie effort. The original Journey of Illusion game was released on mobile devices by a respected developer and garnered many rave reviews (in multiple languages), as well as won many international awards including mobile RPG of the year and a CNET editor’s review of 5 stars. It also earned two sequel titles, which in turn did quite well.

    That being the case, changing platforms and using a default tileset of Enterbrain’s wonderful engine does not automatically make for bad effort, nor unsatisfied players. There are many fans of the Treasure of Memories games already, many of which give wonderful feedback and criticism, which is then implemented into the next episode.

    I am quite aware of each missing feature or poor balancing issue in each game, which is one of the reasons why I chose to use an episodic format; which allows me to add in players’ requests and tweak the game mechanics in each chapter to make the game better each time. As a small list for episode 2 and 3, a new artist was hired and custom tiles added; roaming monsters, mouse support, full screen and better resolution support, a full party, multiple members to choose from, loads of spells and special techniques (unique to each character), better battle backgrounds and controls, etc. So the game has been continually developed and improved along the way.

    As far as continuity and storytelling, there has never and will never be a continuity problem in any of the Arvale games. The Hero line of equipment in Treasure of Memories was from the very first Arvale (Journey of Illusion). This weak equipment was given to the player as the very first item (to the unknowing “hero”) who was basically used a human sacrifice to a Dragon, which is why they were intended to be very cheap, weak weapons, and still are.

    In any case, thanks for taking the time to play through the game and write a review. I hope Arvale’s future (and past) titles deserve a review and please the reviewer a bit more.

  • Craig Stern says:

    Hi Jason. Believe it or not, I actually played through the original Journey of Illusion a bit when writing this review (hence, why it’s referenced and linked in the review itself). It was a pretty impressive effort, I thought. Of course, that wasn’t the game you sent me for a review, so I reviewed this one instead.

    As for the tone of the review, I think you’ll find that I criticize and poke fun at most of the games I review on this site, whether I like them or not (see, for example, my reviews of Deadly Sin 2 and Eschalon Book II).

    Reviews are, of course, subjective by their very nature, and you shouldn’t get overly upset at my opinions. Sure, I thought you missed the mark with this one, but I’ll be happy to review any of your other games if you think they represent the series better.

  • Jaybot7 says:

    I see. I wasn’t quite aware that was the tone of most of the site 🙂 In any case, I’m not overly upset; as they say: No press is bad press (or something like that).

    I would of course be honored if you were to review any of the other titles in the series. Let’s get in touch by email and I’ll send you the other titles to review.

  • Denise Cole says:

    where can I find HELP for Arvale: treasure of memories?


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