Day 113: “Aphelion Episode 1: Graves of Earth”

Posted: 2011/03/02 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and no longer appear in the top 50 downloads. Today is day #113, and today’s game is “Aphelion Episode 1: Graves of Earth”.

The role-playing games I’ve reviewed up until now (“Breath of Death VII”, and “Cthulhu Saves the World”) were both RPGs done in the vein of classic 8-bit and 16-bit Japanese RPGs. Today’s game, Aphelion, is shooter for a much more modern look and feel. Better yet, it’s a part 1 where the part 2 (which concludes the series) is already out so if you find yourself getting invested in the story you will at least know there’s an end when all is said and done. And that’s good, because this is a game that is easy to get into.

First, from the developer:

“Aphelion is a Sci-Fi RPG featuring fast turn-based combat, a 5+ hour main storyline spanning the galaxy, rich characters, combo attacks, NewGame+, ability trees, crafting, and lots more. RPG veterans will enjoy the deep game mechanics while its accessibility reaches out to new comers to the RPG genre.”

I knew when I started this project that at times I would find myself reviewing games that weren’t necessarily my cup of tea, but that were titles that were obviously quality and had strong production values. Aphelion is all of those things, though I found myself enjoying it more than I expected. Those used to a so-called “western RPG” popular in North America and Europe may find Aphelion (and, well, all Japanese RPGs) odd in that you are given established characters and an established story that is difficult (often impossible) to deviate from. This is no Elder Scrolls game, you do not roll up a character, you are not free to roam anywhere you want. Japanese RPGs (or JRPGs, if you prefer) are generally about story, whereas western RPGs are generally about deeds. I generally preferred the latter: go almost anywhere, do almost anything, be good or evil as per your preference, and define your character right down to the last detail. However, certain games do lend themselves to a strong established narrative; I can’t imagine the Dreamcast classic Shenmue as an open-world game where you could just as easily fight the murderer of your father as join him.

If a JRPGs are about story, then you need a good one to drive things along. Some reviewers described the story as a bit of a mixed bag, with good dialogue but poor pacing at times. I don’t know that I entirely agree, I liked that the game (like real life) has moments that seem to come out of nowhere. My life’s like that and I have to roll with the surprises, and I didn’t find it hard to identify with that as I played. Many people ask for realism in their games, but don’t always seem to appreciate it when they actually get it. Website The Onion once satirically (but quite accurately) pointed out that the most realistic version of Call of Duty would have the bulk of the gameplay feature you “hauling around equipment and filling out paperwork,” rather than always being in the middle of a blistering firefight.

As far as the presentation goes, the graphics are detailed and gorgeous, but the animation of the characters unfortunately stutters. The game also switches from an isometric perspective (think Zaxxon) to an overhead view, the latter of which isn’t as attractive as the former. I did once or twice run into some minor collision detection issues as well, but they weren’t game breaking.

The game excels in its upgrade system. I’m not an experienced JRPG player, but this game’s upgrades, skill trees, equipment modifications, and other character customisation options seem to be more than what many or JRPGs offer. Again, this isn’t Morrowind or Oblivion, but you will feel like you made the characters your own by the end of the game.

With a main quest that’s about 5 hours long, and the ability to play the game again from the beginning but with your customised and upgraded characters for the second run through (a feature now known commonly as “new game plus”), it will be easy to get your 240 Microsoft Points out of this game.

For a second opinion, check out Kobun’s review of Aphelion Episode 1: Graves of Earth.

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  1. mrdeeke says:

    Aphelion Episode 1 was my favorite; Sure part two was good, but this title had everything–and that little mini-map that provides so much help, not to mention a nicer interface and a more compact skill tree.

    Your reviews are great and always concise; I find myself agreeing with your points quite often.

  2. Thanks for the comments about my reviews. Having a review be both concise and useful is a challenge at times, and I’m glad that it’s working for you. :)

  3. Good job providing a constructive and useful review of/introduction to a game that isn’t necessarily to your taste. That seems to be quite an uncommon quality.

  4. Steven Harrison says:

    Hello, does anyone know where I can buy aphelion 1 and 2? I wasent aware that Microsoft had gotten rid of. Indige games last year, until now.

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