The DS is home to a number of unique games, in no small part thanks to the advantage of the dual screen. Today’s game is a classic example of the challenge of making something completely new: As it makes it that much harder to spot problems with the design when you have nothing to base it on.
Avalon Code was an action adventure game in which you play a boy or girl, who was chosen to record everything important that should be carried over when the world is destroyed. You were armed with the Book of Prophesy that takes up the bottom screen of the DS. With it, you can alter and reshape almost everything in the world by changing the elements that make it up.
You can just imagine all the possibilities open to the player with a system like this: Boss resistant to your fire damage? Take away its fire element and replace it with ice to increase your damage. Is your weapon too weak? Add stronger material elements and make it better. There is a certain sense of satisfaction from turning a powerful boss into a complete weakling with the correct elements.
The ability to alter the world around you also played into side quests. Important NPCs, who suffer from a serious problem, could be helped by finding a way to remove a troublesome element from their being. This required you to become friendly with them to unlock more of their page to discover what elements you need. Special gear could also be made by putting a correct pattern of elements on specific items to make new gear.
As you progress through the game, each new page in the book gives it experience. At certain points the book will level up enhancing the player, or unlocking a new side quest for them to try. When the player goes into a dungeon, each room has a challenge and side challenges to achieve that can give the player more book experience which was an interesting touch.
All in all, the design of the game was very ambitious, but with so much riding on the element mechanic, the UI was just not able to keep up.
The problems with Avalon Code stem from the designers trying something new, as there are a lot of issues with the design and UI. Manipulating elements in the book is very cumbersome, due to a limit of only being able to hold 4 elements at one time. There is no way to sort pages by specific elements and unless you had a photographic memory, you would have to go through page after page to find the elements you want.
To make matters worse is that all the game’s puzzles and challenges stem from using the book. You’ll need to strengthen your equipment and weaken the enemies or the game’s basic combat becomes a slog. It’s also difficult to know what exactly the effect certain elements have on gear and enemies. Putting sliver on a sword would obviously make it a sliver sword, but what about putting the dog element on it?
Then you had the fact that elements took the shape of tetris pieces, challenging you to fit them on the small grid on each page. Making it so now not only did you have to find the right elements, but the ones that will fit and hopefully you don’t go over your 4 element holding limit.
The game also leaves the player to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing, which in other words mean: wander around through every building looking for the next event trigger. Players could ask for a hint from the book, but without an easy to view map, it’s still a pain to find your way around. There is very little gameplay outside of using the book, and fighting through waves of enemies. There is the side quest of hunting down landmarks on each portion of the map to increase the level of book. However this becomes like finding a certain piece of hay in a hay stack.
Avalon Code is one of the most exhausting games I’ve played, which is a shame as the idea is not only unique but a great concept for a game. But the UI and simplistic gameplay just sinks it. I’m surprised we haven’t seen someone attempt this kind of gameplay on the PC. As the game is really one part RPG and one part spreadsheet, and the functionality of the keyboard and mouse could help streamline the UI considerably. Avalon Code is not the only example of a designer taking the dual screen functionality and running away with it, which we’ll see in a later entry.