This is going to get tricky.
Winter Wolves is one of the groups I loved before creating this backwater gaming outpost known as VNs Now. Hell, one of the first to embrace my little site was Celso Riva and I am very thankful he did. Unfortunately, the line between RPGs and EVN tends to blur pretty heavily when Winter Wolves is involved. That doesn’t mean they make bad stuff; far from it. It does mean that not everything they make is an English Visual Novel despite using the Ren’py engine.
So to my everlasting regret I can’t always bring you the latest from Winter Wolves and stay true to the VNs Now creed. Luckily, and possibly using black magic, Winter Wolves seemed to understand my position and created a VN with just enough RPG elements to keep it interesting. With that said, allow me to introduce to some and reacquaint with others what has been keeping me up late for the past month (thanks for that dude…really): Loren the Amazon Princess.
Loren the Amazon Princess follows…well…Loren: an Amazon Princess who has lived her entire life sheltered in Amazon territory. Despite their military strength, the Amazons remain neutral in the affairs of their world that is pretty evenly divided between the medieval human empire and the more naturalist elven tribes. Upon the sudden disappearance of her mother the Queen, the other Amazons insist that Loren take the throne. She immediately calls BS on it all and goes out to the world for the first time in her life to bring her Mother back home. Of course, nothing’s ever that simple is it? Soon enough the humans and the elves are at each other’s throats and it’s up to the Loren and her sidekick (you) to help stop the bloodshed and uncover the truth behind the madness.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “JP (the3rd) that sounds very predictable and cliché right off the bat” and to be fair…it is. As much as I liked this VN and I’ll get into the why in a bit, all of the high fantasy tropes are here: all of them. The Quest? Duh. Artifacts of Doom? They’re so evil they talk. Cool Sword? Check. Hobbits? Double Check. Mordor? I don’t even know what Mordor is and LtAP has a Mordor!
I’m not even joking about that last one. I haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies (please hold your fire until after the review) and I knew this was ripping off Lord of the Rings when I saw it.
Now, is that a bad thing? Yes and No. No it isn’t because it doesn’t stop the characters from being uniquely them with their own backstory and issues in the current world. The characters are all quite fun to interact with and each are given time in the VN to not only delve into their backstories but also have their own defining moments which range from touching to badass. The world itself is very rich and the complexities interwoven in it make it feel more like a real place. Slightly going into spoiler territory here there is a great scene about midway in the game where Loren, sheltered princess that she is, has to deal with the fact that she just can’t beat her chest and make everyone fall in line. Despite being the hero of our tale, she still has to work within the laws of the universe and it is awesome to watch play out and get that extra bit of development you wouldn’t normally see in these types of tales.
Also the side story arc with the fall of the dark elf Mesphit, the chapter where the two hobbits have to return home under very grim circumstances and the first storyline dealing with Loren’s search for her Mother which leads to an obvious, but well-written conclusion also really stood out for me as great storytelling. Of course, if I get told one more time about the prejudices the humans have against damn near everything non-human, I’m going to swallow a bottle of lye.
And yes it is because it’s the signal flag that LtAP isn’t trying to do much different story-wise than most other high fantasy epics that you’ve seen or read. I am reminded of the story of Katawa Shoujo where it all feels familiar and there are no big surprises: in other words it’s ultimately played safe outside of its character wardrobe…which I will get into eventually. While during my game play I was focused on what was playing out in front of me, whenever I walked away from it my mind wandered off into spots I felt Winter Wolves could’ve took some risks.
The male and female characters you can choose to play are handled very well. Depending on the gender you pick, the world treats you differently and it’s worthwhile to play as both to get not only the subtle differences but also to experience the different romance options. Also from a story telling standpoint, you are not in the limelight. You’re off to the side, helping out the hero on their quest and while Loren can be a very capable hero, you’re the one who helps her growth and reach her full potential. Considering the difficult certain developers have in putting out this kind of relationship between a player and a protagonist (regardless of gender) the way Winter Wolves handles it is masterful. This is a great story mechanic and the moments between you and Loren are a highlight in this VN.
This is also where you will be able to dig into certain characters back stories: though luckily not all. And I mock romance options in RPGs (except for Tali in Mass Effect. That was real and I won’t hear otherwise) the romances reflect the larger issues in the narrative. They cover the gambit of homosexual or heterosexual depending on your preferences and while they have some well-written moments where the characters clicked with one another, for the most part it is what you’d expect one of these RPG romances to be. Not only are few challenges to ensuring your target returns your interests, often in the dialogue box there is a giant ‘Romance’ option to say to them so with the exception of one problem it’s a pretty easy to follow system.
The only real complaint I have is that the romance system is too easy. During my second play through as Saren I attempted to romance the Druid elf Myrth who is…well let’s just say that Winter Wolves should be thankful they didn’t have to get this through the ESRB with that outfit. But then again, Poison Ivy slinked through Arkham Asylum in her thong so maybe the ESRB secretly thinks like me…I’m getting off track…
ANYWAY! I was trying to romance Myrth (Female) and Draco (Male). Myrth was the first one to notice what I was doing and called me out on it. Since the opportunity to directly choose between them never came up, I tried to split the difference and she cut me down: hard. However, in a few more side talks I was able to get back on her good side. Then I kicked Draco to the curb, though I’m sure if I played my cards right he would’ve taken me back as well. That’s just too easy and keeps the romance from adding more than just character background because there are some points you know you should get slapped and it never happens.
At the end of the day, the story isn’t bringing a lot of new things to the table but it produces enough great moments that you will stay invested. It is the usual fantasy story told in a very good way.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation is done well for the most part. The art of the settings and overall world does carry and epic feel to it to this sort of VN needs. While the backgrounds work some of the character designs…well…look remember what I said about obvious rip-offs? Loren doesn’t just ACT like Wonder Woman at times she damn near is an identical twin to her. Same goes for her Mother and Wonder Woman’s mother. If you drew Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian it would be the same as LtAP’s Barbarian whose name constantly escapes me. Rei could be a distant cousin of Link at the very least and that’s not even touching the Lord of the Rings stuff.
Of course this can be forgiven easily on two fronts. On the first not all of them are direct copies of more popular media and two; even if they are copies then it’s more of a humble fan nod to the original inspiration that they wouldn’t have been able to avoid rather than something more underhanded. That’s a long-winded way of saying I’m giving the designs the benefit of the doubt. Plus they all came out clean and notable, so it does work overall and looks great.
However, if you decide to leave the more conservative attire option off, you will be on the floor laughing at some of the outfits which ranges from fan service to flat-out absurd. For example, from what I understand about Roman history, I get the psychological purpose behind Saren’s armor. But still if the front of your torso is totally exposed in a battle, you’re taking an arrow in the chest. That’s just the reality of the situation. And from a war society like the Amazons it’s just…okay yes I know the point is to show off his abs same as Mesphit and the Barbarian and now Rei in the expansion (Rei how could you betray us bro?) but still, I reserve the right to shake my head in humor.
Okay yes, I left out Myrth and her ensemble of weeds. To be fair as she’s basically a plant with a human shell and literally speaks for the forest around her. So it makes story line sense for her to be a bit less modest than those of us who don’t shriek whenever someone steps on a dandelion. And considering the way Winter Wolves treats her in the larger story arc, as she’s basically the leader of the entire elven race, I lean more towards a story line reasoning rather than mindless fan service, which is just something extra the male carnal half gets for playing this VN. So let’s call a spade a spade here: Myrth at least has a reason for her near nudity while the only reason Mesphit is walking around the desert without a shirt on is because he’s a walking shirtless scene.
But hey, who am I to knock it? We atypical heterosexual males get Myrth and Miranda Lawson. The ladies can have Garrus Vakarian and Bishie McEmopants.
Gameplay kicks ass(ia). For those used to more complex RPG systems, this may seem a bit rudimentary to you. However, as someone who still holds up the system of Knights of the Old Republic as the RPG gateway drug, this works very well. The RPG system breaks down to a maximum of six usable characters on each side and enters a straightforward turn-based battle after that. In combat you have command over magic, melee and long range attacks from your team with some special skills and items thrown into the mix. Despite it not grinding you into dust, the system does forces you to be more tactical as time wears on. It’s in your best interesting to learn to balance your team and their skills relatively early. About midway through the VN, you’re forced to use everyone in either chain battles or with everyone broken up into smaller teams. It will damn near break you if you focused on a few select team members up to that point.
The Boss battles are also very fun to go through and the game gives you different challenges in each town that breaks up the battle scenes: such as entering your magic users into a magician only battle or fighting three on one. These Town Challenges gain you credibility which helps in buying weapons and potions. And here’s a slight problem because the economy in this game is ridiculously stingy. Unless you save every scrap of gold you come across, you’ll often find yourself unable to purchase the higher end (read: awesome) weaponry. If you’re going to make it so people have to buy new weapons, then there should be a higher payout than just in experience points: I’m just saying.
Other than the economy, you will lose yourself looking for fights to pick and testing different team combinations. This is how RPG elements should be used in EVNs period.
Okay let me level with you all. Loren the Amazon Princess is bursting at the seams with content. The first quest you go on, literally the first one, took me (including breaks to eat) took me from 5 PM to around 12 AM…the FIRST QUEST. To say that you’ll have plenty to do in this VN is underselling it a bit and yet I am fully aware people will balk at the asking price of $24.99.
If you’ve seen the few videos I’ve done so far, you know I’m a pretty dedicated console gamer and a game has to really impress me in order for me to buy it for full price. The last one that did that was Arkham City and since then I’ve usually waited for a price drop to buy. Yes: that has included Skyrim…stop laughing at me. So, what does all of this mean as far as replay value?
I honestly believe you will get a few weeks of replay out of this before you put it down: the battles and certain quests are more than enough to hold your interests for that long. Outside of that, unless you just want to dig into the different romance options, $25 is a lot to ask for a fairly straightforward VN/RPG hybrid. This is why I made a big deal about how safe Winter Wolves played it. If somewhere in LtAP someone said, “To Hell with it” and threw a curve ball or two at the audience I’d say it’s worth it to pay full asking price. For now, especially with an expansion DLC coming within the next few months, I say wait. That way you’re more likely to invest yourself into the VN and get more replay value for your (or your parents) hard-earned dollar.