My New Year’s resolution was to clear through my backlog of games, and I’ve been making good on that so far. Helen’s Mysterious Castle, Space Moth DX and Monolith were part of that list and I consider them cleared. And so, I continue moving on through that backlog with Artifact Adventure.
Artifact Adventure is an RPG Maker game made by Bluffman, published by your friends at Playism. A nefarious Swamp King is threatening the world and so the king calls on a bunch of heroes to deal with him! …And that’s pretty much the main plot.
After the quiet title screen, you transition into building your party composition. I picked a strong basic Warrior, a Monk (who does more damage barehanded but for some reason starts out with a knife, anyway), a Shaman and an Explorer (who’s probably the most expensive character to use since they use guns that need ammo). The king gives your ragtag team a decree to go after the Swamp King and gives you a starting gift of either a bunch of artifacts, an airship or the Key of Time; I ended up picking the latter, because it sounded mysterious.
From there, you can go anywhere you want. You can head straight to the Swamp King if you wanted, but you can also head to his towers and beat the bosses there to weaken him. Along the way, you can look for villages and its residents will allude to quests and artifacts, which is what you’ll probably spend most of the game pursuing.
Artifacts are the game’s namesake and they’re pretty much the skills and key items of the game. Now, I have a problem with the artifact system and it’s that I feel that they limit the party building that the beginning of the game sets up. Artifacts are the only way to learn skills in the game, while characters only gain stats when they level up. Almost all of the active skills also use MP, so the Knight and Monk will never use them, forever doomed to just be straight attackers. Artifacts are gone forever once they’re used, so you can’t just pass them around party members to experiment. Chances are, you’ll be sticking most artifacts with your Designated Healer and Designated Mage, while other party members stay static, just spamming attack and throwing items forever. It’s just not an interesting system and it feels that party building could have been more robust if the artifacts were approached differently.
On the game’s visuals, I’m extremely mixed about them. Like, at best, they’re okay. They’re Dragon Quest styled tiles and sprites, not much beyond that. It’s not interesting to look at, but not bad either. At worst, environments are just bland. Be prepared for a whole lotta dirt tunnels, because those are like, more than half of the game’s dungeons.
The worst visuals in the game has to be the battler sprites, though. Like, I’d say that only a few of them are actually good, usually the bosses. A lot of enemy sprites quickly succumb to being recolors or sprite edits of previous ones and while that can be expected from games like this, the edits get really egregious.
The worst variant of enemy is the crouching humanoid enemy. I first saw it in a ghoul-like enemy and thought, “okay, that’s an enemy.” But then it got recolored into a goblin. Then that goblin gets edited to hold a bow. Then you just start seeing it all over the place when something vaguely humanoid is needed and appears so much that it feels lazy.
Artifact Adventure tries to differentiate itself from its inspirations by being extremely sidequest heavy. A lot of the quests are fine, which is my general opinion on everything in the game that I didn’t hate. A lot of these quests usually culminate in a choice that nets you different rewards; in the case of quests that could offer artifacts, these choices actually feel significant, even for the most basic of quests. If anything, this is the actual party building experience. The sidequests certainly feel more involved than the main plot, which is, uh, go beat this guy, and also go break his stuff while you’re at it. I sort of wish that there was an easy, in-game way to keep track of your sidequests, but hey, gotta commit to the old NES RPG bit.
There is more to the main plot… if you take the Key of Time artifact at the beginning, like I did. You’ll find NPCs that give backstory to the world and they talk about what the deal is with the artifacts. Apparently, you’ll also unlock the path to a true final dungeon after the final boss if you open all the doors with the key, so picking the Key of Time at the beginning is pretty much the “true final boss” route. But, of course, if you picked the practical option of an airship or the early game advantage of a bunch of artifacts, you’ll miss out on all this, which I think is lousy.
However, that ultimately didn’t matter to me because I ended up quitting on the game after 6 hours.
Actually playing the game isn’t fun. The dungeon areas are a slog to get through, with most of them just completely uninteresting in design. You will get in constant encounters and while enemy encounters at the beginning of the game are manageable, they become real annoying to deal with. It takes a while until you get proper healing spells, so you’ll have to make do with healing items. However, the game uses the Dragon Quest inventory system, so you’ll have to make some space. Eventually, you do get some nice healing artifacts and healing items become completely outclassed, but that runs into other problems. Say that your healer(s) die or they run out of MP – how else can you heal? I looked around and apparently the developer just didn’t bother making better consistent healing items past the beginning ones, which is kinda lousy, especially since one of the character classes specialize in having stronger healing items that are ultimately only useful at the beginning of the game.
The game advertises itself to be an open world game, but really, it feels like an excuse to avoid putting a proper plot in the game or plan a structure for the player to navigate through. It’s only open world in theory – powerful enemy encounters are around to act as beef gates to drive you back. Now, you can actually get an artifact that guarantees escape from battle, but, you still have to deal with bosses. And while I do appreciate an artifact like this being in the game, its inclusion feels like an admission that the game is too tedious and hard, but they just didn’t want to actually balance it. Most actual open world games uses some sort of scaling so that you can actually embrace the idea of going anywhere you want. Here, you’ll constantly be hitting yourself against these artificial barriers until you find a section of the game that’s actually doable. Can’t manage that? Looks like you have to grind a bit.
I thought about quitting at the three hour mark, but, I told myself to tough it out. Like hey, maybe it’ll get better. Nah. I tried to tough it out but it honestly didn’t get better for me. Still just a boring slog. You can try telling me that the game gets better, but I spent 6 hours waiting for it to get better and I’m really not feeling it.
Artifact Adventure set out to be an homage to old NES RPGs and it succeeds – by emulating the sheer tedious aspects of those games. Looking at user reviews, a lot of positive reviews are pining for the original Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games, looking for that nostalgic experience. Are they blind with nostalgia? Or, do I just not get it, one of those dang millennials on the cusp of Generation Z-hood? It’s likely that I don’t see something that they see in the game, but I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway.
My high point with the game is probably the quest line with the ghost town, as what you do toward the end splits off into its own separate quest lines. I thought this was pretty neat because it makes the choice feel very meaningful and was the most meaningful in the game for me during the time I’ve played it. The only one that comes close is this option to literally sell away your party members, like some LISA shit. It’s an incredibly bad idea to do, since the money you get is pretty much nothing compared to the sacrifice and I don’t think you can get new party members to make up for it, but I admire the sheer ballsiness of it being a choice to begin with. The music of Artifact Adventure is also actually pretty okay and probably the only consistently good part of the game. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it’s nice to listen to.
Despite that, I didn’t have a good time with the game. I think that some of the sidequest stuff is nice and I like the choices you can make for them, but it gets buried under a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t like or wish was done better. The default price for the game is $6.99, but personally, I wouldn’t get it, even if it was on sale. You might have a better time with it if you actually grew up on NES RPGs, but just know that Artifact Adventure also carries the tedium of those kinds of games.