Retro-inspired games have become quite the craze over the recent years. Whether it was Shovel Knight which borrowed from several NES platformers or Freedom Planet which started off as Sonic fangame. People are finding success looking to the past, picking up on game design philosophies long discarded by the titans of the industry. In this vein comes Artifact Adventure Gaiden developed by bluffman and published by AGM PLAYISM. A small unassuming title which is trying to ape the kind of RPG experiences you might see on the original Game Boy.
Starting with a name entry screen players are immediately thrust into the world. Told of an evil known only as The Cataclysm you set off into the world. Here players are immediately given their first choice for their companion the explorer, the noble or the venerable knight. Choosing the explorer will give you access to every location right off the bad and the ability to fast travel to dungeons. Choosing the knight will give you access to Deity Blade a powerful attack ability which will immediately help you in combat. Choosing the noble, however, will not help with exploration, nor will he help in combat. Instead the noble will award you with 1,000,000G which will help you buy the best equipment you can.
As you go out and explore the world you will find other people that will join your party, each of which can teach you a skill and has their own accompanying quest. You will also find people in the various villages which are in need of your help. Borrowing heavily from RPGs like the first Final Fantasy quest givers don’t have an exclamation mark over their head, you find quests by talking to everyone. As like older RPGs quest aren’t as obvious, while some will prompt you with options, others will just be added to your quest log as soon as you finish talking to the person. The most notable feature of the quest system is that while many quests give you money and experience up front, many quests require you to check back later to see how your choices panned out in the long term.
At any point in your journey, players can return to the kingdom which will trigger a dialog option, to either continue exploring and questing, or to prepare for the coming fight against the Cataclysm. Choosing to prepare for the fight will cause a three-year time skip at which point the player can still explore but cannot pick up new quests. It is after this time skip that players see how their quests panned out and get their final rewards. Which are either artifacts that add new skills or passive abilities, or accessories that augment stats or combat style. After following up on quests and facing the Cataclysm the game will immediately go into New Game+, at which point quests are reset, quest items are revoked and looted chests are filled with new loot.
While the story itself is fairly bog standard the way each quest has both immediate and longterm resolution/rewards helps build a world that is more immersive, with some quests having more than two options this also helps add to the replayability of the game. Quest variety is also fairly nice while many of them are bog standard fetch quests a few had a bit of a moral dilemma to them. In those cases seeing how your choices played out three years in the future helped to reinforce the idea of choice and consequences which should be inexorable part of the RPG genre. The game also makes good use of these strange NPCs that appear in dungeons which hint at some greater cosmic force behind this all, typically only a few sentences before they vanish.