For reference: This is an RPGMaker game (that I got from the Humble Store and played the DRM-free version), and it shows the amazing things one can do with RPGMaker. The art assets are virtually all custom-made, beautifully-painted artwork. That includes extensive cutscenes that dodge around the limited animation but being artful about it.
That art is used to evoke a mysterious desert world: You slowly learn that there are many races in this world, each of whom seeks the Amber Throne and has their own set of legends surrounding it. The Throne has had a profound influence of the history of this world, but you have to piece that together from the myths of each society. And Arra’s role in this (and why she’s wearing a strange crown, and why she can’t talk) slowly become evident as the story goes on.
The battle system is turn-based standard-jrpg, but with enough inventive bits to make it work. There’s no MP—special skills either do less damage or have a charge time, but also have added effects. Many enemies have multiple stances, such a “defensive” property when they start battle, which you can use your shield-breaker skill to remove. Attacks are classified as slash, pierce, blunt, ranged, fire and lightning; and enemies may be resistant or vulnerable to them and may react to different attacks by changing stances. Healing comes from either your collection of weaker attacks that also restore HP, or from items.
I found that, system-wise, Agility is the “one stat to rule them all”, as it affects how quickly you come up in the initiative order, and sufficiently buffed, you can take several turns for an opponent’s one. Popelle is the best character for this reason, as she’s naturally fast and her “Golden Shot” ability boosts that. She was my DPS character for the majority of the game.
Monsters are visible on the map screen, and they don’t seem to respawn. (Which means that XP and gold are finite resources, though this didn’t seem so much a problem.) Activating certain monoliths seems to indicate they’ll cause monsters to respawn when you return to an area, but the game’s emphasis isn’t really on grinding. Random battles, especially later in the game, require strategy and attention (sometimes even more so than boss battles), but there are fewer of them than some other games of similar length.
There isn’t a lot of “push” from one area to the next; while the Journal will tell you where to continue the plot, there is also plenty of opportunity to wander around, finding hidden treasures and a few sidequests. There’s also a bonus boss, though the rewards aren’t particularly worth the effort.
PLOT SPOILERS AND DISCUSSION
The Amber Throne is a monstrous thing, a fancier version of Lavos: It’s a plant-creature that fell from the heavens. It apparently needs an occupant (and their society) to feed on, so when it’s empty, it sends out the White Sages (the Fefniron) to recruit a new occupant. The Minnick were screwed by it, creating a fertile area that leeches the life out of the rest of the world. (There are clear influences of other games—this is basically the plot of Wild ARMS 3.) The Arroc built their entire society in response to getting screwed by the Throne—including very hard-to-revise laws—after their society was built around a time-traveling storm-covered floating island. Axis apparently tried to control it and keep society in balance, but this also failed miserably. The ultimate aim of the Throne is clearly to devour the world and send out spores to other worlds, but the fact that it’s intelligent enough to use seduction and psychological trickery to get there is impressive. It will grant the wishes of the holder, but in a way that only the holder actually thinks they’re benefiting from—the Throne uses their blind spots as the places it feeds from.
Even Erra/Evelyn , who like Arra really should know better, fell for the Throne’s influence. Axis clearly decided that Arra was the daughter he could trust to do what needed to be done, so she was the one he exposed to the truth. Erra was under the Throne’s spell from the very beginning, even though she arguably knew more than Arra at that time.
I also appreciated that the world was neither perfectly fixed nor totally ruined in the end. The Sehr Emperor’s plans for conquest are still a going concern. Goldwood is destroyed and the Arroc have lost their history, but both will rebuild in new ways. The world may or may not recover and history will continue.
Overall: I was very impressed by this; it’s a solid reminder that you can do amazing things in RPGMaker even if most people don’t. Recommended to jrpg fans.