Aldorlea Games is part of a cache of independent developers creating fantastic original games using RPG Maker. Their most recent release was 2008's Laxius Force, which I praised for its broad scope and epic feel. Although Laxius Force 2 is in development, Aldorlea's next game on the horizon is a standalone Laxius prequel entitled 3 Stars of Destiny. RPGFan recently had a chance to sit down with a prerelease demo of this game and these are our impressions.
Before discussing the specifics of 3 Stars of Destiny, a brief Laxius primer is in order. The Laxius mythos began with Laxius Power, and the Laxius Power trilogy of RPGs is available as freeware. The Laxius Power trilogy chronicled the multi-year journey of a brash, 18 year-old, too-cool-for-school warrior named Random as he sought his fortune, faced unspeakably evil villains, and eventually became a great hero. Random's talking pet chameleon Guanidia, his elven friend Sarah, and their friend Luciana (later discovered to be a demi-goddess) were the closest of Random's many allies who saw him through his journey. Laxius Force took place seven months after Laxius Power 3 and saw Random and Sarah, now a couple in their early twenties, living a simple secluded life in the forest. Guanidia struck out on his own and Luciana took her rightful place as a responsible demi-goddess. Peace didn't last long, though, as the world faced unspeakable danger once again and needed a hero. Thus did Random and Sarah come out of retirement to become heroes once more.
Three Stars of Destiny is a prequel to Laxius Power as well as Laxius Force. In Laxius Power 1, Random had already been friends with Sarah and Luciana for a while and 3 Stars of Destiny chronicles how the three first met. The game starts out with a vengeful orc god killing a witch after hearing her prophecy of three young mortals destined for great power. This orc god wishes to consume these mortals and absorb their power, but since he cannot directly interact with the mortal world, he devises a trap for them. Meanwhile, a teenage Random is living in a hut out in the woods with a talking chameleon named Guanidia. Apparently his too-cool-for-school attitude created friction with his parents and thus he struck out on his own. During a routine trip to deliver something to his parents in the nearby town of Mt. Zulle, he discovers a playful and mischievous elven girl. He later finds out this girl is Sarah, whom he still remembers as that annoying brat next door whom he hasn't seen in years since he seceded from his family. Of course, Sarah doesn't like Random either and thoroughly enjoys teasing him. Sarah's teasing leads Random on a "catch-me-if-you-can" goose chase, much to the chagrin of Guanidia. Random's and Sarah's families get along swimmingly, though, and eventually task the two kids to be teammates in the upcoming Mt. Zulle Trials. The demo ends there, but the story will go far beyond that point and further flesh out the history of Random and his friends. In Laxius tradition, 3 Stars of Destiny also promises up to 10 playable characters in the game, so the three stars (Random, Sarah, and Luciana) will not be alone on their journey.
The dialogue should be lively, as there is already plenty of witty banter between Random, Guanidia, and Sarah. It should be noted that unlike Laxius Force, which often had bawdy dialogue, 3 Stars of Destiny promises to contain no coarse vulgarity. The dialogue thus far also reads more smoothly than it did in Laxius Force, which sometimes had awkward phrasing due to the writer's native language not being English.
As with most RPG Maker XP games, the classically-styled 2D graphics resemble a higher resolution Final Fantasy VI. The playable characters have custom-made 2D sprites and the tile-based environments are brightly colored and filled with detail. Original artwork can also be seen in the character portraits and in many of the enemies fought during battles. Character portraits have a look more reminiscent of paintings than high-gloss anime and some of the monsters seen thus far are quite creative, such as giant killer rabbits wearing helmets.
The orchestral music is original as well, save for minor pieces like the stock victory theme. Music is mostly relegated to battles and cutscenes, and these are well composed and appealing to the ears. There is even occasional use of vocals in the music. Explorable environments tend use sound effects instead of music to create atmosphere.
The gameplay is decidedly old-school. There is no complex character growth system to learn; just kill monsters, get money, and buy new equipment in the next town. When the game begins, players can choose one of three difficulty levels and there is no penalty for choosing easy mode, which offers stronger characters, weaker enemies, and more frequent save points. After that, players can choose whether they want a low, normal, or high random encounter rate. Battles are turn-based affairs and work like any other turn-based battle system. A welcome addition is the ability to escape from battle, which was missing from Laxius Force. As with other Laxius games, 3 Stars of Destiny is semi-linear in that though there is always a main quest to follow, there are a bunch of other quests to partake in that non-playable and perhaps potentially playable characters may request. These quests, which are kept track of in the quest log, promise to flesh out the world and its inhabitants while providing EXP and tangible rewards to the heroes.
3 Stars of Destiny is slated for a Q1 2009 release, so fans of old-school RPGs, fans of Laxius, or both may want to give this one a whirl.