Part 12: Granatum Forest
Ah, the wide open world at last! Chapter 1 put us in Grana Plains, but forced us to go straight back to town. Now's our chance to explore and find out how limited the game's map system is.
Here's the major problem. Although you get a map page for each individual screen, there's no larger map to show how they're interconnected.
Here I am on Sunny Hill, where the game began. My destination is Grana Plains 8, the entrance to the forest. Which way do I go? No idea. Everything is divided into neat little squares. Little variation, no landmarks to follow, and because of the fixed camera angle, we can't just turn and see where it is. So pick a direction, start walking, sprinkle breadcrumbs over the screen and pray for protection from marzipan houses.
I also want to check the rest of the area for more CP and monsters to scan, but how will I know when I've covered everything? Sure, if I visit Grana Plains 1-12 and skip 6, I can flip through and see that I'm missing a page, (tedious) but what if there's a Grana Plains 13? Which there is.
A rule of good game design is to minimise backtracking and player frustration when exploring. Avalon Code does not adhere.
SPEAKING OF PLAYER FRUSTRATION, here is one of the game's most fatal flaws.
In the last dungeon, I talked about searching maps for hotspots by mashing A, which has been tolerably monotonous. It wasn't fun, but at least it didn't take long.
All has changed.
Now that we've learned the Judgment Link, A is used to launch your enemies, in addition to being the examine button. That means every time you press it, you do a jump attack. Mashing the button will now cause you to move like this:
I'm sure you see the problem.
To make matters worse, many outdoor maps have no real features, so you'll be finding a lot of hotspots lying in some random place on the ground. Or, more accurately, you won't be finding them, because after an hour of checking individual patches of grass from every possible angle, you will switch off your DS and realise that life is devoid of merit.
Or stop bothering with it and continue playing, whatever.
As with many aspects of Avalon Code, I like the idea. I liked the idea of exploration being a goal unto itself, but for that to work, there must be well-designed maps with interesting stuff to find. Landmarks, ruins, relics, things that have stories attached to them. Things that someone tasked with recording the world would care to record.
As it is, I just feel sorry for the Matrix Software writer who had to invent a hundred different descriptions for identical rocks.
(i can't get away from fucking rocks in these lps)
By this point, you'll notice how samey the monsters are, and I don't just mean that these are obviously Muls with a different skin.
Though Avalon Code is as guilty of palette-swapping as any JRPG, the real issue lies in the enemy AI. Every monster in the game does the same damn thing; wander around the screen and occasionally take a swing at you if they're facing in the right direction and you happen to be nearby and only if they're feeling up to it because it's been a long day, you know, kinda tired here.
They barely even qualify as enemies. They're more like wildlife. Not necessarily out to get you, only dangerous if you stray too close and start being careless.
Most of them are slower than you as well, and even if they did pursue you, they can't move between screens. Running past them all takes no effort. The only reason to fight outside of missions and bosses is if you feel like grinding, and it is always a grind. You can't fight tougher wildlife to level up faster because you gain 1 XP per hit, regardless of the target. It makes the most sense to find big monsters with lots of HP, load them up with metal codes and go to town.
In Grana Plains 11 and many, many other places, finding all the hotspots on the screen will reveal a hidden metalize tablet. If you're lucky, it will be one of these. The grey ones. The ones that cough up the goods without giving you any trouble.
What am I talking about? Let's head back to the escape route for a moment to take a look at another hidden tablet.
This. This thing. These fucking things. Scannning these does not give you a recipe. Only pain.
A sliding puzzle. You have to solve a sliding puzzle before you get your metalize. And we're not just talking 3x3 here. Oh no. This is the start of the game. This is an easy one. These fuckers go all the way up to 6x6.
Even if you're some kind of slider wizard, you're still going to have trouble. Often, there are two pieces that look identical to one another, or a piece with so little on it that it appears blank. You'll think you've got everything in place, try to add the final piece, then spend the next twenty minutes screaming at your DS that this is good enough god damn it, why can't you just accept it you vicious pedantic shit
Sword metalizes are the worst offenders, because it is difficult to distinguish a section of blade from another section of blade slightly closer to the hilt.
See that? That's wrong. Start over. Undo everything you've accomplished.
And even if you can cope with that, there are just so many of them. Past Chapter 5 or so, nearly every tablet you find will have a fucking puzzle on it, and the constant pausing to solve them breaks the flow of the game over its knee.
You will come to loathe tablets. You will live in fear of that dreadful rumbling as they rise through the earth, spewed from the maw of hell. You will weep as blood oozes from your raw, cracked fingertips, trickling down the stylus and pooling over the scrambled mosaic of "Silver Rapier Hauteclaire."
Not to mention you have to move each piece one by one, you can't slide whole columns or rows across, it's all as cumbersome as it can possibly be and why would you want to hurt us like this Matrix Software, why, what wrong have we done.
This was a bad, bad idea that needs to be excised without pity, and no I'm not just bitter because I suck at sliding puzzles, shut up.
So! Uh. Here's a bread.
Items lack variety in utility. Bread, cookies, cake, dolls, all of them either restore your HP or do nothing. (Except keys. They don't count.) The only "reason" there are so many is to round out the gift system, and "reason" is in quotes because said system is getting eviscerated when we come to it.
Anyway. As big as Grana Plains is, there isn't much to it. Just a flower to scan and the Cure Bread metalize. Once you're done exploring and head into the forest, you will be greeted with this.
You know you're in trouble now. Enemies flashing red means they're about to die, but yellow/white? Always bad news.
The Hobgoblin is one of several invincible monsters. Any attack you make will bounce off its hide, leaving you wide open to a clobbering. To render it vulnerable requires the right combination of codes.
This is kind of what I meant when I said more could be done with the code system. I say "kind of" because if you look at the monster's bio, it flat-out tells you what to do.
Why bother? This takes no thought or skill whatsoever. It's purely a matter of having the right codes. Admittedly you won't at this point, but as long as you remember to scan everything, I guarantee this is the only time it'll happen. In all other cases, it's just a chore you have to do before you can hurt the damn thing.
Even invincible, the Hobgoblin is a non-obstacle. It might have been cool to have it hunting you as you explored the forest, forcing you to evade it, but as we've covered, all monsters have a crippling phobia of screen transitions. And despite its size, it's no faster than a regular goblin. So essentially, you see this thing, scan it, find you can't kill it, then say "Oh, okay" and walk away. Fearsome. This game doesn't let up.
Exploring Granatum Forest, you'll discover that many screens are split in half by an impassable river. Some areas are accessible only from the top half, some from the bottom, and only one screen allows you to cross.
This is where the stunted map system starts to grate. Grana Plains, at least, was just an open field. This place gets confusing fast.
The enemies are more annoying too. Not more dangerous, god no, just more tiresome to kill. These frog men constantly jump all over the place and can't be hit while airborne.
And then there's this.
The Man-Eater is one of few enemies that can't be brutalised indiscriminately. If you attack while it's closed up, it'll start wigging out and launching spikes up your taint.
This, I suspect you do not want. Stay back and wait for the petals to open. It will spit an exploding ball at you, which will miss.
Seriously. I was standing still in this screenshot, waiting to see if it could hit me, and it fired in the complete opposite direction. These were programmed by Stormtroopers.
Shred and add dressing to taste.
Granatum Forest 8 holds the Mantis Blade metalize. Get it.
Unless you have a great deal of patience for minigames, this will be your weapon for the next two chapters. Adding more Bug codes (if you have room) will further increase its attack power, and it "Nulls enemy DEF."
Whatever that means. Some enemies are resistant to swords, I guess, but the Mantis Blade doesn't seem to impact that. I'm sure it's something cool that I'm not picking up on, though!
Also, that stuff about "pulling off the moves of a praying mantis" is nonsense. It works the same as any other sword.
When you find the entrance to this chapter's dungeon, you'll notice it has a giant keyhole and a symbol corresponding to the Forest code.
Yet another thing that desperately wants to be called a puzzle, but it's not. Any potential it has (not a goddamned lot) is quashed when Rempo explains, in plain English, the solution. It's just a thing. A thing that uses up MP, because keys cost MP. Opening doors costs MP.
I think I only finished this game because I wanted to complain about it.
That's it for now. We'll cover the dungeon in the next update. Until then!