Lornsword Winter Chronicle
Sony PlayStation 4
REAL-TIME strategy games on consoles are a dime a dozen, but few stand out. The problem isn’t in the effort; in fact, developers continually try to exceed themselves in lifting up the genre for home gaming platforms. Unfortunately, they’re hard-pressed to do so given intrinsic limitations. Broken down to basics, control sticks exhibit frailties vis-à-vis keyboard-and-mouse configurations of personal computers, thus requiring reprogramming of ports to present streamlined mechanics. The more successful titles — Halo Wars and They Are Billions, for instance — are fondly viewed as diversions that admittedly provide an enjoyable experience for casual gamers, but nonetheless fail to match the sophistication of dedicated rigs.
For gamers partial to RTS offerings, the bottom line is this: The console controller’s relative lack of precision and limited number of buttons to which actions are mapped make it, at best, a compromise in presenting complexity and depth, unlike, say, such classic PC titles like Starcraft, Warcraft, and Age of Empires. In a creative attempt to overcome the hurdle for Lornsword Winter Chronicle, developer Tower Five opts to blend RTS, base-building, tower-defense, and action elements in presenting a unique take on the genre. It’s a lofty goal, and one that, initially, seems to have been met.
In Lornsword Winter Chronicle, gamers are given the perspective of Corun Lan Ka, a knight in the service of the Lorn Empire. He governs its armies, leading his troops to battle in order to ensure his homeland’s continued survival. In so doing, he is compelled to use all the skills he has at his disposal to defeat enemies that cross his path. As he navigates his way through the battlefield from an isometric vantage point, he functions both as a commander and as a warrior. The duality translates to a very healthy mix of base-building strategy and real-time action; each requirement plays off of the other, and progress in both is required to attain objectives.
As commander, Corun can direct his troops to create buildings and erect fortifications. The endeavor serves to strengthen his army and protect his camp from enemy attacks, as the edifices provide a variety of helpful buffs — among them spawning friendly units and shooting at enemies within range — during the campaign. In the face of their contributions to the cause, Lornsword Winter Chronicle makes sure gamers understand the importance of building, managing, and defending them.
At the same time, Corun is a warrior-leader who does his part in the frontlines while boosting the efficiency of soldiers under his command. Lornsword Winter Chronicle has friendly units normally zeroing in on the enemy’s camp, but likewise enables gamers to take command of them. By rallying nearby troops to follow his lead, he can inspire them to move faster, and can direct them to effectively become his retainers during combat; even as they soak up damage for him, they possess the capacity to assault enemy points of interest as ordered. He himself is no pushover with — what else? — lornsword in hand, as well as with magic to summon for advantages in fields of battle.
The commander-warrior dynamics enhance Lornsword Winter Chronicle, defining the entirety of its campaign. Gamers initially create their base and secure it against enemy attacks. Later on, they slowly push out with small squads of soldiers to accomplish such side missions as taking down enemy fortifications and defeating enemy troops. Once they’re strong enough, they can then make a beeline for the main objective of the chapter. There’s a healthy number of missions to complete, though the core gameplay loop can run into some problems, particularly later in the game when the degree of difficulty is ratcheted up.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle exhibits an uneven pace, with missions alternating between unique and run of the mill. While fairly balanced on the whole, a few of them can get tedious, especially in light of game mechanics. As Corun serves both as the gamers’ avatar and the commander of his forces, majority of the later missions require a lot of backtracking for additional reinforcements. After all, he can’t take every enemy down alone, and must rely on the help of his soldiers to succeed. There’s no real way to delegate attacks, and the lack of true in-depth control of allied forces gives off a Lemmings vibe.
On the whole, Lornsword Winter Chronicle is at least an interesting distraction. It’s far from perfect, and its seams do stretch from time to time, especially given its length. For the unprepared, it can even be a rough experience, devoid of deeper and more engaging meaning. It tries to spin a compelling yarn, but finds its efforts thwarted by gameplay expediencies. Still, as Tower Five’s first foray, it shows promise. It might not have hit the mark it intended to reach, but it tries, and succeeds in spurts. It’s beautifully presented, boasting of outstanding visuals and a heady mix of music and voice tracks. It’s inoffensive in nature and well-meaning in intent, good for gamers looking to spend an afternoon in a world of fantasy and magic.
• Interesting gameplay mix of RTS, base-building, tower-defense, and action elements
• Refreshing change in genre while still being mostly enjoyable
• Local co-op option amps up the fun factor
• Combat feels loose at times, and can lack weight due to perspective
• Can get tedious and boring with the amount of backtracking
• Content can feel lacking and repetitive, with no online play to supplement the campaign missions
POSTSCRIPT: Developer Sandbloom Studio makes no pretensions about its influences in regard to how EMMA: Lost in Memories looks and feels. Featuring painstakingly hand-drawn artwork reminiscent of Alto’s Adventure and gameplay mechanics similar to Celeste in simplicity, it presents a unique take on platforming: the action cannot be stopped. For gamers, the objective is clear: they need to steer the continuously running title character from one end of a given single-screen level to the other, in the process doing jumps and double jumps, scaling walls, climbing, and sliding.
As basic as the premise may be, however, EMMA: Lost in Memories complicates matters by having anything Emma touches disappear as a manifestation of her fading memory. Thusly, the endeavor becomes a set of puzzles that need to be solved, often by trial and error and through acquired knowledge. Backtracking becomes impossible, requiring gamers to restart and try out a new tack. Again and again. And if that isn’t a doozy in and of itself, completionists are dangled the option of collecting feathers dropped by the owl she sees and follows.
EMMA: Lost in Memories’ approach aptly compares to Super Meat Boy, although, in its case, difficulty spikes can border on the unfair. The levels are short, but can be brutally hard to complete, necessitating both quick reflexes and introspective analyses. And, certainly, its minimalist approach adds to the frustration. It lures gamers in with the promise of a challenge, offers seemingly insurmountable hurdles, and injects no small measure of exasperation to the proceedings. At the same time, it shows the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel just often enough to keep interest from flagging.
All told, EMMA: Lost in Memories should be good for some 10 hours’ worth of alternate hand wringing and hoping. The temptation for rage-quitting will be real, but repeated spurning and single-minded resolve should ultimately produce the sweet taste of success. (8/10)
THE LAST WORD: The Digital Deluxe Edition of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is on sale at the PlayStation Network until tomorrow. Publisher NIS America has seen fit to entice gamers with a Black Friday deal that has the title, released just five weeks ago, at a whopping 30% discount. The bundle is comprised of the main game and a bevy of downloadable content normally offered at $79.99.
On the Nintendo eShop, NIS America has Disgaea 4 Complete+ and The Alliance Alive Remastered HD on sale for the same period. Both titles, fairly new to the Switch library, currently sport a $39.99 tag, 20% off their usual retail price.
Not coincidentally, all three titles have already been reviewed by BusinessWorld and come highly recommended.