Game One – Aarklash Legacy – Review

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Alec Meer at Rock Paper Shotgun wrote an article recently about what he described as “7/10” games, or as he describes:

The ur-score, the most double-edged of critical swords, the good but not great, the better than it deserves to be, the guilty pleasure, the bungled aspiration, the knows exactly what it is, the straight down the line. One score that can mean so much.

He goes on to mention that (and I’m paraphrasing here) there are “Good 7/10 games, and Bad 7/10 games”.

I enjoy the writing at Rock Paper Shotgun, they put out good content regularly.  I don’t always fully agree with what they write, but I do usually see the merit in their arguments.

But, on first blush, this article is ridiculous. If you’re scoring games on a scale, then a 7 is a 7 is a 7 right? There can’t be a Good 7 and a Bad 7.

Except here I am after finishing Aarklash Legacy, and I’m beginning to see where Meer is coming from.

When you start Aarklash, when you’ve put in a few hours – died a few times in combat, listened to the inter-party banter – you notice that there is a general feeling of polish and care.  No one is going to mistake it for a AAA title, and there are certainly weak elements as I’ve mentioned before, but Aarklash Legacy is a competent title with a battle system that soars. It’s attractive, mechanically sound, bug-free, and well crafted – 7/10 is a fair rating.

And yet, I still find it hard to recommend.  Aarklash Legacy sits in an uncomfortable spot, I can’t deny all the positives I mentioned above – and that alone should secure a thumbs up – but it’s lacking the intangibles that similar products, or even worse games, have.

While I’ve been working on this post I’ve come up with a theory that Video Games (and in fact all products) fall on a spectrum, which I’ve illustrated in the below line graph.  As some people don’t like line graphs, I have set the background as a picture of a puppy.  If you don’t like line graphs or puppies, well… I don’t know what to say to that.

Puppy Spectrum

So, breaking down this theory:

A beautifully painted and designed chair is not considered art. The reason the chair exists, it’s very reason for being, is to allow someone to sit – the beauty of a piece of furniture is ancillary. A beautifully painted canvas, however, is art – it exists to elicit some emotion or reaction in people, it has no tangible function beyond this.   Some creations are both – an architect who designs an elaborate post-modern house like this one, has created a work of art – as well as a piece of craftsmanship – both form and function are important in equal measure.

Like the painting, there are games entirely focused on expressing Art, a greater sense of meaning, a focus on the intangibles -thatgamecompany’s Journey, or Jason Roher’s  Passageare less concerned with elaborately crafted mechanics, and more with punching you right in the emotions.  There are also games like the chair, an immaculately crafted object, focused on complex and interlocking mechanics – games like Derek Yu’s Spelunky, Megaman, or Super Mario Bros.  These aren’t intended to make you feel anything other than a sense of challenge, or enjoyment.

In the middle, the post modern house, we have games like The Last of Us, or Bioshock, games that focus on not just the story and expressions of art, but also the mechanics of a game.

This spectrum might be simple, but I think it works.  Most modern games straddle the line, and are a bit of both, with some falling more on the mechanical side, and some more on the artistic side.

Individual gamers break out along these lines as well. For people who play nothing but League of Legends or Call of Duty Multi-Player, their focus lies on the Craft games –  form, and mechanics. What the player is doing in the game interests them, not what the game is doing to them.  On the flip side people who only play walking simulators and visual novels are interested in what the game gives or does to them, be it an emotional experience or just a good story.

My interests lay more towards Art. Cyanide, the creators of Aarklash Legacy are more focused on craftsmanship, hence the engaging systems, and lackluster plot. They had a laser focus when it came to making the game.  Combat at the center with a smattering of puzzles for pacing purposes, and all other details in orbit.  If you play the game, even if you don’t like it, it’s clear that they were successful in their design effort – the combat is great, it runs perfectly on a variety of systems, the graphics are attractive, and there are no bugs of note.  The story sucks, and there are no choices, but there’s no reason to believe they ever cared about any of that.  Cyanide wanted to make a combat heavy RPG – they did so, and it excels at their designs.

When a game hits all the goal posts the developers set, it’s hard to call that anything other than a success – but I’m still hesitant to praise it – I know that I enjoyed my time with Aarklash, and I don’t regret playing it, but I also know that I will forget it entirely within a year.   Meanwhile games like Alpha Protocol which are technically worse in almost every way, are still floating around in my brain making themselves known.  A beautiful disaster, an attempt at art rather than excellent craft, is much more enticing to me than a technically sound, but somewhat boring, title.

Aarklash is a 7/10 game for certain, it is everything it intended, and nothing more. There’s nothing entirely wrong with that, in fact many games fail miserably at achieving that goal.  If you’re an RPG fan who plays for the combat, who cares more about the mechanics of a game than its ambitions, then there’s time well spent here. Because of its level of craft I can’t say it’s not at least worth checking out.

But I can say I understand the concept of a bad 7/10 game.

Next game on the docket – 


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