Come On, Let's Go.
20Jul/101

No Hope For The Village

I spent the better part of last weekend playing a JRPG called Mardek. Except it wasn't a JRPG. It was a homemade Flash game by a 21-year-old Englishman who goes by the name Pseudolonewolf. He has clearly put many, many hours into the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series (along with the rest of their ilk) to create a game like this. It's both a tribute to the the golden age of JRPGs, and a satire. Characters refer to menus and the plot, with fourth-wall-breaking sheepishness. The language flows back and forth between a a mix between eye-dialect cockney and text-message speak. The meta-aspect gets a little dumb at points and dialogue isn't Pseudolonewolf's strong point; I found myself skimming through most, if not all of it. The characterization is a bit sloppy as well, the women characters especially. There's a line where satire turns into sexism and the game sadly and repeatedly crosses it. I'm usually not this forgiving about sexism in video games, especially contemporary ones, but considering it's more dumb jokes than aggressive misogyny, I put my offense aside.

There are a few things about Mardek which made it very accessible for me. Generally, I can't stand JRPGs, almost entirely due to two aspects: storyline railroading and grinding. JRPGs really don't share the “role-playing” conception of Western games. Instead of making decisions and evolving a character by active choices, they're a set storyline with battles and exploration in between. I'm not saying this is a fault; it's convention, but I'm not fond of it. JRPGs, at least the older ones that Mardek is based on, also require you to grind levels incessantly. I played into the final level of Final Fantasy IV only to discover I died at every battle because I didn't spend an extra half-dozen hours running into random battles to pump my characters beforehand. Why? Because I don't find grinding fun. In Mardek, thankfully, the random encounter rate is just right to let you be at a game-beatable level without any extra work. You may not get all the skills you want – skills are pumped by using them in battle – but you'll be able to finish the game, secrets and all. Another lovely feature is the save crystal, found almost always when you need to find it. The crystal, which not only lets you save but refills your HP and MP, prevents you from having to do the punishing amounts of replaying many of the older JRPGs insisted upon. They may make the game a little easy, but I welcome the support.

The combat system is wonderfully featured. While the overworld is represented via pixel art, the battles themselves feature fully drawn characters. There are little details and flourishes everywhere: weapons and shields actually show up on your avatars and the sounds and swipes of the attacks make every hit feel meaty. The magic effects are a little underwhelming, but considering you have access to four basic elemental spells in parts 1 and 2 (I haven't played through 3 yet,) they gets a pass. The combat timing is completely turn-based, although turns are dependent on your character's speed rather than each side going at once. There's a reflex system (think Mario RPG/Paper Mario) that lets your attacks gain and your defense soak more damage on well-timed button presses. Each character also has equippable abilities defined by “RP points.” There are the requisite “add X% to attack/defense” ones, along with custom ones for each character: berserk, wound undead, etc. Usually these are determined by equipment, although you can “master” them after enough uses in battle (whether passively or actively) and no longer require the equipment to wield them; you are still limited to equipping only a certain number of them based on your RP points. This is both a plus and a minus: if you like individual and precise character management, you'll spend a lot of time figuring out the best combinations between equipment and skills for your characters. If you don't, you may up underpowering your team, as each time you switch equipment, skills need to be restructured.

If I've convinced you to give the game a shot, it's up on Kongregate in three parts: one, two and the recently-released three. There's a cross-game save system, which lets you carry over your character between each chapter. You should play them in order and on the same website, as Mardek is up on most popular Flash game sites right now. There's also a wiki if you need help. Enjoy!

   

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