Hearing about the latest KEMCO-published Switch RPG endeavor is always a cause for celebration in my household. I react to them in the same manner that most people would to news regarding triple-A titles – but before you label me crazy, I get excited about those games too, but my bread and butter has always been the traditional JRPG. I love them – and although KEMCO’s titles don’t always hit their mark, entries like Asdivine Hearts I and Dragon Sinker have proven to me that EXE Create can provide solid JRPG experiences at a low price point. Alvastia Chronicles is the latest Switch JRPG offering from publisher KEMCO, and is easily one of the best to be released on the console to date.
The driving points in the plot of Alvastia Chronicles can be best described as an amalgamation of the Cloud Sea concept in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and the Four Fiends prevalent throughout the Final Fantasy franchise, but specifically those found in Final Fantasy IV. Ages ago, the world of Alvastia was attacked by an entity known as the Archfiend, alongside the Tetrarchs, his four elementally-aligned lieutenants. The damage dealt was so severe, however, that the earth began to rot and was unable to sustain life. This called the god-like Itherians to raise the earth up from its miasmic husk. Four pillars, bolstered by celestial powers within crystals, bore the entire load of this new “world in the sky” while also serving as both a seal from the depths below and a prison for the Archfiend.
Ten years ago, one of the pillars was compromised, bringing forth the unspeakable horrors from below and almost completely wiping out a single continent. Alan and Elmia are survivors of that attack, the same attack which led to their parent’s demise thanks to the Earth Tetrarch. Fast forward to the present, what starts out as a simple scouting mission for the siblings in a remote forest serves as a means to open old wounds once again, when the same Earth Tetrarch from 10 years ago appears, and gives them a good beating for old times’ sake. Wanting to exact revenge on the fiend, as well as to make sure the sighting doesn’t pave way to a re-awakening of the archfiend, the duo sets out to end the threat once and for all.
But how can two teenagers ever hope to face off against a single Tetrarch, let alone an entire army consisting of the Archfiend and his minions? Luckily, Elmia is capable of resonating with the same powers of the pillars, giving her the ability to immediately call upon the assistance of any able-bodied person to help thwart the foes of Alvastia. Outside of the four main party members, you will come across 100 more companions that will gladly offer up their sword in the fight against the impending adversaries, and while there may not be a Suikoden level of fleshing out to each of those individual companions, the thought alone is good enough in a budget level JRPG.
The main cast, on the other hand, is developed pretty well all things considered. Alan takes the whole silent protagonist concept to the extreme by literally being a mute – a direct result of his traumatic past. He has to rely on gestures and comments written on a notepad to get his point across, with the latter leading to some pretty hilarious moments. One such instance has him hastily writing “WAKE UP” on his notepad in an ill-fated attempt to wake up someone that has passed out. Elmia is tied to the hip of Alan, but perhaps a bit too much (more on that later). She fears not being by her brother’s side and worries about leading a priestess’ life, which is in many ways a destiny of solitary confinement due to the prayers demanded to keep the pillars and crystals intact. Raine will easily be the most attractive female ogre you could ever envision, and is either not aware of her own beauty or hides it behind her honor and warrior prowess well. Gil serves as the resident horndog, easily becoming smitten by anything resembling the opposite sex. While the “ladies man” personality can easily come across as irritating, I found it quite entertaining here, especially the times when he’d throw himself at someone just to fall on his face.
While the plot is pretty tight for a lower tiered RPG, it does suffer from a few setbacks. As is the case with most EXE Create / KEMCO projects, the translation can sometimes be a mess, but more often than not it is in a comedic way rather than being highly detrimental to the experience. That said, there are some rather…unpleasant insinuations thrown around in the first half of the game. For example, Elmia is teased about the love she has for her brother, almost to an incestuous level. Additionally, Raine deflects Gil’s flirtatious advances early on by suggesting that she “has a thing for younger men” (Alan) – and he’s barely a teenager. Perhaps these character development points were lost in translation somehow, but they are a bit awkward, thus are worth pointing out because of that. Fortunately, as the game progresses and the characters develop further, these topics are all but dropped in favor of more tasteful attributes.
Finally, Alvastia leans a bit too heavily on the “four fiend” Tetrarch gimmick, making the villains feel all too similar to the ones in Final Fantasy IV. The first fiend you face is earth-aligned, just like Scarmiglione from FFIV. The main Tetrarch is very reminiscent of Rubicante, right down to his affinity to fire and more intelligent thought process in comparison to his cohorts. The wind-attuned lieutenant could easily pass as Barbariccia, albeit a less revealing version of her. We’re already dealing with a plot consisting crystals and a big baddie with four fiends, which could have been so much better if they made the villains a bit more unique. Regardless, the game easily has one of the best plots and supporting cast of any KEMCO published Switch RPG to date.
Build Your Army
Alvastia Chronicles is, at its core, a fairly traditional turn-based JRPG, but manages to improve on the typical EXE Create gameplay formula in a few ways. The companion system is the most unique aspect of the game, which has you recruiting eligible companions to later summon in battle. Alan, Raine, and Gil can “equip” up to three companions at a time, which will follow them into combat thanks to Elmia’s powers as a priestess. You will end up having up to 13 characters on the battlefield at a time, which really makes your traditional side-view turn-based combat feel like it’s on a grander scale. Outside of basic melee attacks and Burst Strikes, however, you are limited to a single attack per team per round despite their army-like appearance.
While some companions have no requirements for recruitment, others will ask you to fulfill certain objectives before they will join your ranks. This means that you will be backtracking quite a bit to unlock them all, but is a non-issue due to the incredibly useful fast traveling feature. Companions can be of many different races and job types, each with their own ability set, with ones in the same role tending to have the same (or similar) abilities, but potentially unlocking them in a different order. Because of the overwhelming amount of choices available to you, it pays to mix and match frequently to find out what works best for you and/or any given situation.
The companion system does come with one concern, and a potentially big one for completionists specifically. I know that extremely rare (and perhaps exclusive) companions can be acquired through the in-game gambling system, which I’ll cover in more detail later. At the time of this writing, I’m not entirely sure that every companion can be collected without using this feature, but I have reached out to the devs for an official response and will update as soon as possible. Should that be the case though, in-game currency can be acquired at a reasonable rate just by playing the game, so it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility to still get everything even if some are gated behind a gambling system.
Companions pave the way to the Bond system, which is a very useful feature that allows you to equip a single powerful buff on each of your three teams (led by Alan, Raine, and Gil). These perks typically only apply to the Vanguard team (ie. the front team in your triangle formation), but some of them extend across all parties. Also, only the bond from the team in the Vanguard position is active at any given time, meaning that you must swap your team’s positions in-combat should you want to change the active buff. While I didn’t see a need to do this during the story campaign in my normal difficulty playthrough, I can imagine that it would be an essential tool when taking on the higher levels of play.
Speaking of challenge, it will be HIGHLY dependent on whether or not you utilize the gambling system, especially with the premium jewel currency. Two forms of currency exist beyond your basic money: tickets and jewels. Both of these accrue naturally over time, and offer a means to dabble in the microtransaction side of the game without actually spending money, and both can be used to acquire powerful items and rare companions. Tickets, however, can be used with little fear of getting something game-breakingingly powerful, but you are almost always guaranteed to throw the difficulty balance out the window should you opt to gamble with jewels.
This is because the “best of the best” is tied behind the jewel currency, some of which are just too good to be used legitimately. Because of that, I highly suggest that you refrain from using ANY jewel-based items or gambling if you want to keep any smidgen of challenge intact, at least when it comes to easy or normal mode. On the other hand, these powerful weapons might become mandatory should you delve into the hard or expert difficulties. Regardless, play the game the way that works for you, but be aware of what can happen as a result of the premium items.
While side quests in Alvastia Chronicles still suffer from the same issues present in every EXE Create Switch RPG to date, notably the lack of rewards and the associated uninteresting plot points, it does feature a really nifty quick turn-in mechanic. Once you fulfill the requirements of a certain side quest, you can simply accept the reward right from the main menu. This saves a lot hassle, but only in theory as it generally pays to follow up with the quest giver in person, as they often can join you as a companion after you complete the quest. Still, I think the side quest system as a whole needs better rewards to really feel worth the effort.
Alvastia Chronicles uses the same gearing blueprint found in most EXE Create RPGs, complete with random weapon modifiers and a synthesis system. Weapons and armor can be purchased at shops and found out in the field, but can also be acquired through the spoils of war. These items have a chance of coming with unique modifiers, such as poison and paralysis-inducing strikes. Excess weapons can be used to upgrade existing ones through the synthesis system, where it is also possible to carry over these modifiers, and potentially transfer over new modifiers to a brand-new item. There are limitations to the system, however, as the modifier values must be at a certain level in order to freely transfer them to other equipment, and the unfortunate truth is that you will find little, if any weapons that meet the requirement naturally. As mentioned earlier, the best equipment is gated behind the gambling system and cash shop, but you do have the opportunity to utilize the features without having to pay out even more money.
Graphics and Sound
Like Dragon Sinker before it, Alvastia Chronicles sheds the usual “RPG Maker” aesthetic in favor of a more nostalgic approach. Yes, it certainly is very reminiscent of NES/SNES-era RPGs, but with added flair in the form of some nicely expressed combat animations and enemy designs, down to the classic marching-in-place look made popular by the oldies of the RPG genre. The chiptune soundtrack is excellent, and is in the running for the best yet from EXE Create, though it does suffer from the same “lack of variety” issue that most of their games share. I think most would agree that the more vintage look and feel of both Dragon Sinker and Alvastia Chronicles works much better than the “RPG Maker” appearance considering the stigma associated with it.
Games like Alvastia Chronicles are the reason why I continue to get excited about the next RPG release from EXE Create and KEMCO. When the team gets it right, it is hard to find a better experience within the budget tier of the traditional JRPG market. While all EXE Create RPGs lack the polish to be considered “perfect” games, it would be difficult to find a comparable solution at the same price point. If you’re looking to invest in a solid budget JRPG, Alvastia Chronicles is an excellent place to start.