Thou shall be cute and mediocre.
Light-hearted, cutesy RPGs have always been in the same category as moped scooters and flip-flops, in that they’re guilty pleasures and fun indulgences until your friends catch you doing it and then it’s just embarrassing. Avalon Code combines Zelda-esque combat with the kind of OCD collection elements that act as crack for under-12s who then start mumbling on about needing to “catch ‘em all” in their sleep.
[image1]At the start of the game, you choose to play as either the male or female lead. The stories are slightly different, but we’re not talking night and day here. After selecting a gender, you soon find out that you’re the chosen one (because otherwise, the game would be really boring) and as such are given the Book of Prophecy. Don’t let the word "prophecy" fool you: The book is actually more of an encyclopedia than a foretelling of things to come. All the pages in the book are blank, and your job is to fill them with the knowledge of the world. This is done by walking up to people and objects of interest and lamping them across the head with your enormous book. As cathartic as this sounds, no one really seems phased, which takes almost all of the fun out of it.
The reason you’re sent on this obsessive-compulsive quest of tedium and monotony is because the world is coming to an end. And you’ll need to record everything in the Book of Prophecy so you can make another world exactly like the one that’s ending, only without all the bad things. Now where have I heard that scheme before?
All the action happens on the top screen, and the touch screen is your book. You slide the stylus horizontally to turn the pages and you can tap one of the bookmarks, which is a nice change of pace compared to the unfortunate standard of arbitrary gimmicks for the DS. The combat is torn straight from any console Zelda, and the magic is about as easy as using a table saw with just your elbows: You will undoubtedly get hurt in the process. Fortunately, you’re seldom required to use it, but when you are, get ready to want to stab your DS.
[image2]You can beef up your weapons by extracting attributes from enemies and re-writing the code for your weapon. How it works exactly is a bit of a mystery. The game tells you nothing about the specifics, so a trial and error period will follow every time a new ability is unlocked. Sure, these periods become shorter and shorter as you become more familiar with how the game works, but there's no excuse for a lack of information.
To make this even more frustrating, the game gives you very little direction. You’ll just wander about, bopping people over the head with your book in the hope that one of them will be the person, place, or thing you need to interact with the move the story forward. Sadly, though, most raps across the noggin will only net you a mug shot of whatever you whack.
Combat is another big issue I had with this game. It’s simplified for the aforementioned under-12s and consists of hitting 'X' to attack, or for a change of pace, hitting 'Y' to attack, giving you the same depth of technique as that of a caveman beating his dinner to death with a rock. I’m all for making games accessible to new players but scaling back the difficulty this far and simplifying the combat as much as they did may just insult the players they’re trying to cater to. You can roll around with the shoulder buttons to avoid almost every attack, so it’s not very challenging, either.
[image3]Avalon Code was developed by Matrix Software, the same company that did the remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV, so the art style is very similar. The music is also great and usually soothes the rage and frustration that comes with the game’s lack of direction.
Since the combat is so shallow, and the story is rather bland in spite of how different it is, Avalon Code never really sucked me in. The game flow is constantly interrupted by one embuggerance or another, though it has the potential to grow into something great. Had the combat been just a bit more intuitive, or the magic less useless, or the whole re-writing codes thing that the game revolves around was easier to understand (or even just better explained), this might have been one the best games for the DS this year, but instead it’s just a big pile of “could haves”.