Avalon Code Review for Nintendo DS

Avalon Code Review for Nintendo DS

Not Quite by the Book

There’s an abundance of stale, formulaic RPGs on the market that do little to push boundaries or try drastically fresh ideas, which makes it doubly exciting when one comes along that tries out some new, daring premise. Developed by Matrix Software, the same team responsible for the glorious DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV, Avalon Code simply breaks the mold. In many ways, publisher XSEED’s latest DS title might appear to just be one more to throw on the pile, but this unusual RPG adventure has some standout surprises to throw you for a loop.

Avalon Code screenshot

If you knew the world was about to end, wouldn’t you want to try to do something to halt the inevitable annihilation of everything in existence? Breaking from RPG tradition, the heroic protagonist in Avalon Code could seemingly care less about the impending destruction of the world. Instead, he (or she) seeks to locate and magically document the things worth keeping before it all ends. While fighting off beasts, traveling to different realms, and running around whacking everything in sight with a big dusty tome are worthy pursuits, the ability to fiddle with the intrinsic code that exists within nearly every person, beast, and item you encounter is what makes Avalon Code such an interesting experiment.

With the end of existence nigh, you’ve been chosen to wield the Book of Prophecy and venture out into the land to record anything worth saving. Your task is of particular importance, since everything captured within the book’s magical pages will be used to create the next world after the apocalypse. Despite being rather gloomy, the slightly off-kilter story in Avalon Code is a great change of pace. The adventure follows a course many RPG vets are accustomed to – you’ll travel from town-to-town taking on quests, seeking important items and powers, and engaging in other traditional pursuits found in similar titles – but the subtext of the encroaching Armageddon and the need to preserve certain elements found in the doomed world puts you in a unique role.

Avalon Code screenshot

Adventuring from one location to the next, the bulk of Avalon Code’s gameplay and presentation initially feels very much like an amalgamation between the Final Fantasy DS remakes and the handheld version of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles – not surprising, given the development team’s prior work on the Final Fantasy franchise. Your journey will lead you in search of a variety of different weapons and related abilities. Additionally, you’ll chase down several elemental sprites that guide you on your quest and introduce you to the powers of the Book of Prophecy. When you’re not getting to know the locals in a particular town, you’ll venture out into the dangerous wilds for several different flavors of hack-and-slash combat.

While traveling between locales, you’ll primarily battle re-spawning foes and use gained weapon abilities to navigate the terrain. This eventually leads you to the game’s many puzzle dungeons. These feature a room-by-room progression format that incorporates hitting switches, utilizing platforms, slaying enemies, and completing other tasks within a set amount to receive a point rating and the green light to move to the next room. All of these action RPG elements are nicely implemented, yet they cover all-too-familiar turf. It’s how the Book of Prophecy comes into play that really spices things up.

Avalon Code screenshot

Wielding the mystical book, you have the power to scan monsters, characters, items, and other objects throughout the game to preserve their code. This is done by heftily pummeling them over the noggin with the tome. Anything you scan stays within the book and can be accessed at any time by flipping through the pages via the touch screen. More importantly, the book lets you tinker around with the code of things you’ve scanned to impact their properties in the game world.

Avalon Code screenshot

For instance, you can imbue a weapon with a particular elemental property (to create a flaming sword or a lightning hammer, etc.), use hope and faith codes to save mortally ill characters, and even drop illness codes onto monsters or bosses to weaken them in battle. Codes types come in different puzzle shapes and can be swapped out on a small square grid that accompanies the page for everything you’ve scanned. As you collect different combinations, you’ll also uncover recipes for creating specific items or solving certain challenges, but it’s often hard to tell what different code types actually do unless it’s explained in-game.

As excellent and creative as the Book of Prophecy system is, it’s not without its faults. A small bit of magic power is consumed every time you move code around in the book, which means you often run out of mojo during lengthy combination sessions. Also, progressing deeper into the game yields tons of scans that pile up in the book. Even with a table of contents that organizes scans by type, hunting for different codes you’ve dropped elsewhere in the tome can be a seriously time-consuming task. The slight delay that crops-up when turning pages slows the process down even further. Combining codes to create unique powers, leveling-up the book itself, and concocting new items is a pleasantly engrossing addition, but it’s too easy to become obsessively absorbed in the code matching process – and bogged down by it.

Avalon Code is a beautiful and visually varied game. From the omnipresent interactive book on the touch screen to smoothly animated cutscenes done with the game’s engine and the action-centric combat portions, the game looks great. The characters and environment designs share a very similar, stylish appearance to the Final Fantasy DS remakes, yet the game is different enough to stand on its own without coming off as a copy.

Simultaneously walking the beaten path and wildly straying from it, Matrix Software has created a diverse action-RPG that’s very satisfying. The blend of both familiar and completely new gameplay elements in Avalon Code improves the experience rather than detracting from it. The game’s originality and its problems stem from the unique Book of Prophecy system, yet the issues are by no means crippling. With additional work to shore-up some of the looser aspects of the design and a little tweaking to nail the formula just right, another go around with a stronger sequel would be a greatly welcomed.

The graphics engine is smooth, and the creative visual direction is stellar. 3.7 Control
Dealing with the book coding can be cumbersome later in the game, but otherwise the mixture of stylus and button controls is tight. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A smatterings of good voice work blends nicely with a moving musical score. 3.9

Play Value
Prepare for a long and enjoyable adventure. Also, brace yourself for some time-consuming code combining.

4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • The experienced Nintendo DS development team behind the Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV remakes, Matrix Software, is at the helm together with the creative minds behind the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series.
  • By collecting information on the various monsters, inhabitants, and locations found in the game world and filling out the pages of a mysterious book, players can influence a myriad of parameters from monster attributes to weapon strength.
  • Highly detailed characters, landscapes, and monsters fuel the addictive nature of capturing different monsters to complete the book’s collection.
  • Players can lose themselves in the game’s grand sweeping storyline. Choosing between a female or male protagonist, start on a quest to either save or doom the world.
  • As the main character, players can make enemies, alienate friends, and even fall in love.

  • To top