Do you remember the first RPG you played on a handheld? Younger generations will likely point to titles like Golden Sun or Pokémon – mine was Final Fantasy Legend, however. I can still remember sitting on the very edge of the couch, with my charger connected to the closest outlet and my hands extending out underneath the light of the lamp, trying to finish off the impossible final boss, known only as “Creator.” This is a period of my gaming career that I had all but forgotten – until I booted up Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX. Read on to find out why.
The present is peaceful…for now. However, the King has divined that in just three short years, the world will face an apocalyptic threat only known as “The Cataclysm.” The King decrees that you have been chosen to gather strength and resources in order to journey to the future and save the land and the light. Artifact Adventure leaves the rest to you – the player has the freedom to move forward as he/she sees fit. Three companions offer to join you at the beginning, and choosing one will begin to detail the path of your journey.
Choose an experienced adventurer that will guide you along the most fortuitous of paths, a veteran warrior that will prove to be of valuable aid in battle, or a rich nobleman that will let you use his wealth to buy any and all equipment or items to help you save the world. In the similar vein of BioWare favorites, each choice has a consequence in Artifact Adventure. This means your path in the present, in hopes of saving the future, will inevitably affect that future whenever you arrive there. This is a rarely seen commodity in games that are meant to invoke nostalgia, and Artifact Adventure uses it to its advantage.
The main story is enthralling, but there are also several side quests in which the player can ascertain an extra tidbit or two about the world or other characters. Recruiting characters is one the best ways to truly get the full experience that the game has to offer. These side quests aren’t just included for the sake of occupying time – they add a legitimate layer of interest onto an already captivating main story.
Visuals and Music
Here is where we hit a bit of a hitch in our giddy-up. Yes, Artifact Adventure’s aesthetic is meant to invoke nostalgia, and I can appreciate that. There are cool customization options that allow you to alter your visual style of play, for example: Artifact Adventure gives the player an option to play the game in the vintage, monochromatic green visual of the original Game Boy. That’s a neat gimmick that only temporarily held my attention though – I just wanted more. Couldn’t the developers have innovated on the aesthetics in order to offer nostalgia seekers something new?
I would’ve loved to have seen some extra animations, or even stills during the epic moments of the story – perhaps something similar to the FMV animations featured in the re-release of Chrono Trigger in the Final Fantasy Chronicles Collection. Smaller studios have smaller budgets however, and that’s ok. Most players of Artifact Adventure will likely understand exactly what developer, Room6, was trying to accomplish – a game that is faithful to its roots while being original at the same time. Though it may leave you with a desire for a better aesthetic, closer analysis shows just how creative the designs are. Enemy sprites are as unique as you’ll find, and so are most of the locales.
Room6 again chooses to stick with the roots of the Game Boy era with the soundtrack of Artifact Adventure. Developers were obviously unable to incorporate a sweeping orchestral scores into titles from that era and hardware, but there were many that still managed to leave us with some classic, tiny tunes that somehow managed to be just as beautiful. Artifact Adventure does a wonderful job at replicating that nostalgic essence, from beginning to end.
You will find that the traveling and dialogue are very familiar if you have played any of the classic SaGa or Final Fantasy titles. That’s where the similarities end however – battles in Artifact Adventure are completely unique. They take place on a separate screen, after you make contact with an enemy on the map. Here, the game becomes a test of mental fortitude and reflexes. You’re tasked with striking enemies before they strike you, and that’s it. It’s almost akin to bumper cars, as your character sprite will be roaming around the battle screen and “bumping” his extended sword into enemies before they manage to make contact. Seems simple enough, but enemies are continuously spawning on this screen, and your reflexes are sure to be tested.
Obtaining upgraded weapons may not seem like an absolute necessity for the first couple of hours, as you will mow down hordes of baddies like they are nothing. However, the bosses offer a hefty dose of reality, and FAST. Difficulty spikes with boss encounters, and you’ll quickly learn that having upgraded weapons and armor is a MUST. Additionally, you’ll need to use spells and buffers that can be provided by finding “Artifacts” on the world map. Each Artifact will teach you a very useful skill or ability that will aid you in the toughest of battles.
If you’re a fan of replay, this is a game for you. There are so many instances of this game that make you look back and question what might have developed differently if you had made a different decision. You can really feel the effects once you’ve reached the very satisfying endgame experience. The only issue I found was that it often left me with a sense that I may have missed some important content. Sequential playthroughs may be the only way of knowing for sure.
Most every game made in this era has been inspired by one or more from previous eras. Artifact Adventure is no different, but it’s the execution that sets it apart. It establishes its own identity by truly feeling like a RPG from the 8-bit or Game Boy era. It’s the modern twists, such as freedom of choice, an open world map, and near limitless side quests that separate it from its inspiration. Every game may have its influences from other eras, but I’m confident in saying that Artifact Adventure Gaiden DX would’ve been in the discussion for greatest handheld RPG ever had it released in the early 90’s. At its price point, it’s a steal on the Switch.