Of Magic and Power

EverLight is an interesting game. It first caught my eye because in a midst of multi-colored, graphically differentiating packages, it was simple, the spine was black and white, and had the name spelled out in large, easy-to-read-with-my-poor-vision-letters: EverLight of Magic and Power.

This is what caught my eye and got me to pull it off the shelf. The inside of the flap, instead of being text-heavy and dotted with tiny images, was also very simple, high-quality artwork, and had a few pages. The impression I get, holding this box, is that I have stumbled upon another interactive book.

The words, however, on this inside flap are fairly standard RPG fair: “Take a magical journey… With your spiritual guide… To save a fantastic world of magic and wonder!” Ok, nothing stellar there, but the artwork is pretty, and then I took a look at the back.

Many games try to break the mold, few succeed. What sold me on EverLight is that it is trying. The back of the box blurb spoke of features and concepts which looked interesting, so into my shopping bag it went.

Play Time:

Step 1:
open the box. Packaging is the old-school cardboard box style, with DVD in paper sleeve. There’s also a manual and a registration card. Does anyone EVER register games?

Step 2:
Installation. Ye-old splash screen shows some slightly dated graphics, or perhaps it’s just an artistic style. There is a nice, unassuming installer, doesn’t take up the full screen or even hardly lag the PC. Installation is quick and relatively painless, if you’re like me you can multitask away while working at this.

Step 3:
Play! We begin with splash screens for all the various groups involved, these are clean and quick, and instead of an opening cinematic, we are greeted with the save/load/new screen.

In fact, instead of a cut-scene, we find ourselves thrown immediately in-game with a kind of direct-draw system. The character animations are a bit wooden, but the models do look good. On the whole, the game is visually well-done, the artists put a lot of effort into it, and it shows.

Your avatar in-game appears to be from our world, or at least from one like it, given that his clothes aren’t any different from what you’d see on the streets right now. His shirt even says ‘cargo:style’ on it. I’ve actually always been a fan of games that take you, supposedly a character from our world, and throw you into another.

Anways, after playing a fun shell game with a flame and a guy who sells candles, you find yourself transported to the other world I’d been expecting, where you immediatyl encounter a fairy. No, I’m wrong, it’s an elf. Elves are fairies now? Hmmm… I think Legolas is going to be pissed.

This is an Elf.This is NOT an elf.

This is the second game I’ve played recently in which a fairy was an elf, I don’t know what’s up with that. But, I still have a crush on Tinkerbelle, and the fairy in this game is pretty hot, so I guess I’ll let her out of the cage if’n I can figure out how.

This game in fact does not appear to be a sword-swinging RPG but an adventure game more in the vein of Myst. You play from a fixed-camera perspective and move your avatar around by clicking.

I won’t lie to you, you are in for a treat. I’m not thrilled with the artistic style of the people in-game, but I can see they are well done. Other objects are just fantastic.

As an environmental artist myself, I am always evaluating games in terms of environment, and while there are some faults to be found, overall the quality level of this game is very high. The textures are rich and extremely detailed, and a high degree of attention was paid to the geometry of the models, in an effort to make them better portray the feel and mood of the game.

To explain it another way, you wont find a lot of straight edges. There are a lot of twists and bends, making for medium to high polygon counts. Where this really forms a challenge is in the mapping and texturing. Well these fellas did a good job, I saw very few warped or stretched textures, and even the ones I found weren’t bad.

Unfortunately, you have a fixed camera. However, the environments are really alive, the plans sway in the wind, etc. The game kind of plays a lot like an interactive movie, complete with pause-play controls, which explains away a few of it’s ultimately minor faults.

In short, get ready to explore a rich, detailed world.

Unfortunately, one area in which the game fails is animation. The characters are well-done and detailed, but the animations are a bit choppy and fast. Also the lip-sinking is way off. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but since a major focal point of the game involves watching people talk, it seems like an area they could have put a little more effort into.

I will give the game this, though: the character’s are expressive. The lips may be off, but the character’s facial expressions really do a good job of reflecting their moods. The voice acting is also excellent, very emotional and well-done. If you can ignore the jerky animation and out-of-sink lip flaps, you will really enjoy this game.

In a game like EverLight, STORY IS EVERYTHING. And, I am happy to say, it doesn’t disappoint.

It seems the village of Tallen is beset by a terrible curse, and your job is to walk around and talk to a bunch of people. I kid, your job is to attempt to free them from this curse.

I’ll admit, the game requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but then what game doesn’t? The set up of “You are a normal kid from Earth who gets transported to this distant world on a quest to break the curse” is no less plausible than “You are a mystical warrior sent by God to pwn demons.” In fact, when it comes to player emersion, EveryLight’s story wins.

Anyways, I won’t spoil the story for you here, but suffice it to say, it is deep and immersive. There are also quite a few fun little jokes and references that I found amusing. For example, Tallen is a medieval world, but there’s a kid with a skateboard. There’s also an honest-to-god hippy. All done in a style and setting that makes it really seem to fit.

But everything is not light-hearted and humorous, EverLight actually has a very enthralling and serious storyline. Once you get hooked in, it’ll be hard to let go.

Normally when I play adventure style games like this, I get bored in about five minutes. Generally, I hit the first puzzle, get stuck, say ‘screw it’, and go play a game that lets me kill stuff with swords. However, in addition to the standard three levels of difficulty, EverLight includes “infinite help” which is to say, your little fairy/elf/bikini-model/spiritual-guide/helper-friend will give you as many hints as you need to figure out what to do next.

This integrated hint system tells me the designers recognized that experiencing the storyline was more important than outwitting their little riddles. Given that I normally suck horribly at this sort of game, I find it rather nice. The last game of this genre I tried to play left me stuck at challenge #1, at which point I left to go play a game that involved killing stuff. But thanks to EverLight’s hint system, I actually kept playing.

Other design aspects bare mentioning as well. The entire game hinges around this concept of everyone acting completely differently at night. So rather than make you go back to the inn and rest every five minutes, they gave you a little button that allows you to switch instantly between day and night. There is no clock in the game, nothing relies on timing. I will credit these developers, they know their audience and they know their genre.

Let’s talk symbolism. Anyone? No? Yes? Ok. EverLight’s got it coming out the wazzu. As a student of the late Carl Jung, I am finding meaning all over the place as I stroll through the streets of Tallen. It makes the gaming experience much more personal, much more involving.

Performance: Actually not so great. Even on my high-end machine there was a bit of lagging and bugging. But then, this is a pretty highly-detailed game, I noticed at one point it was consuming nearly a gig of RAM. The environments are very pretty, and it performs well enough to be acceptable.

The End Result:
I normally don’t play games like this. I normally get bored with them after about five minutes, and go find a game that lets me hit things with swords. That EverLight was able to hold my attention at all is surprising, and when everything comes together, it gets 5 stickers!

Final Thoughts:
I don’t like this genre. But compare EverLight’s score to that of say Unreal III, one of my favorite series of all time. If adventure and mystery are your speed, EverLight is a game you will enjoy. Don't walk into expecting Myst, this is definitely a more casual game, but walk into it expecting to enjoy yourself!

Fear the mighty werepoodle!!!!!