Roleplaying in another culture's fantasy
Kuala Lumpur: Where is it? Malaysia. What is it known for? Petronas Twin Towers, which used to be the world's tallest buildings, and featured in the movie Entrapment. What's it like over there? I don't know.
These questions and answers are pertinent because of a RPG which is released by e-One Studio, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur. Hidden Dawn is described as "a fantasy adventure to ‘save the world’." It attempts to touch sparingly on several concepts such as redemption, sacrifice, family, self-limitation, internal conflict, vengeance, social awareness, independence and overcoming tribulations.
Redemption? Sacrifice? Self-limitation? Internal conflict? Social awareness? These are not things commonly meditated upon in the many RPGs that line the shelves flanking my PC. Those others are best described as "use a bigger sword" approach to roleplaying.
Authors are exhorted to write about that which you know. Game designers are essentially writers in video. And RPGs are mostly derived from the fantasy stories we grew up with. That is, the fantasies of Europeans and Americans for the most part. "Once upon a time..." and Lord of the Rings. Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. Peter Pan. Most Fantasy RPGs that we are familiar with start with titles such as these and then the designers let their imagination run wild. But when you stop and think about it, just how many games have you played with Elves, Dwarves, Devils, Demons, Wizards, Witches, Giants, Dragons, etc.? Well, it may or may not surprise you, but European-derived fantasy is not the end all and be all of Fantasy. On the other side of the globe, tucked into the steamy jungles of Southern Asia, there are mythologies, philosophies, and religions that are just as old or older than anything spawned between the ice fields of the Norse and the bustling metropoli of the Romans. Welcome instead to the fertile imagination that gave the world wonders like Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. Welcome to Hidden Dawn.
Everything Old is New again
The story behind Hidden Dawn is actually one that you have seen before, MANY times: "It begins several years after a catastrophic battle between two groups of adversaries. The followers of a conqueror wiped out the entire assemblage of a group of people who were protecting an item of importance. A young girl, driven by her concern over her sick father, sets out from her home of many years, only to find out her family is hunted by someone far across the continents, for an object she carries unknowingly, and with a lot more to lose than her parent."
My reaction to the story premise is "Huh?" The conquerors, hot to get their hands on something or another, go to the bother of (almost) completely wiping out the group of people that possess the something or other. And when the conquerors fail to find the object of their desire, they stop looking for it? Until now, that is. Sort of, "Excuse me mighty Sauron, but it seems that the One Ring wasn't destroyed after all." "Oh, really? Thank you, Number One, for that timely report. Number Two? Congratulations on your promotion. Now go find my god-damn Ring already! And on your way out, send in someone to tidy up the mess."
Anyway, the heroine of the game, Heru, sets out on a journey, initially to fetch a specific medicine for her ailing father. Little did she know that the doodad that her parents hung on her as an infant is a Talisman of Awesomeness that is seriously coveted by the Big Baddies of long ago. Apparently the doodad was waiting for her to embark on a portentous journey before it activated. Fortunately for Heru, old warhorses such as the warrior-type named Kai pop up to join her on her journey. Activating the doodad drawn in the Big Baddies, which is where the warhorses come in hand.
As the journey progresses, so too does the purpose of the journey. It starts out like a trip to the pharmacy, but by the end it has morphed into a "Save The World!" epic adventure. In a twist on the usual levelling up/Attribute buffing that happens in other RPGs, in this game, doing stuff sort of charges the batteries of the doodad. Charge up enough and Heru can start to access Essence, allowing her to tap into the fabric of the Universe. That is, she develops abilities: plant control, gravity control (attracting or repelling objects), controlling other people, reading thoughts, and more.
There are 8 major locations on Heru's world of Empyria, each with a distinctive environment. These are a underwater city, a flying city, a "floating continent" with lots of lava, a city that sort of floats on the ocean and is run by merchants, an Arctic setting, a decrepit academic community, a desert frontier, and a place were George of the Jungle would feel at home. During the course of her journey, Heru will travel through all eight locations, meeting many new and unusual people, befriending some and killing others, depending on the situation.
The graphics of the settings are pretty good, sort of Myst-like. However, the artwork of the characters is a type I would call "almost-anime": something between a photograph and a cartoon. I haven't a clue about what the soundtrack or voice animations sound like.
Yea or Nay?
At this stage, entering the fourth quarter of 2009 when the game is scheduled to release before the end of the year, I still haven't decided if this is a game I will be interested in getting. It is giving off vibes like it will be sort of a Myst with some hack-and-slash. I'm afraid that it will be too much Myst - which is just a massive slide show with puzzles - and not enough hack-an-slash. Whichever way it jumps, it will at least be worth seeing where it comes down.