You start Evoland
(above) with a retro color scheme, and only have the ability to move in one direction. You move that way, open a chest, gain the ability to move in other directions. More chests give your character more abilities, while granting the game new technology. It's clever and occasionally charming, but suffers from being pulled in too many different directions at once. Evoland
wants to be about the history of action/adventure games like The Legend Of Zelda, at the same time as RPGs like Final Fantasy. The game's two main player characters are a blond lad named "Clink" and a young woman healer named "Kaeris," to hammer home that point. This means constant switching between minding your health as a collection of hearts or as your total hit points, or between action combat or abstract turn-based fights. This weakens the thematic strength of Evoland
: it's not about RPGs because it doesn't follow their history.
The action/adventure side of the game works better, and perhaps Evoland
would have been better served had it only gone in that direction. In its best dungeon, you switch back and forth between two-dimensional and three-dimensional exploration by shooting arrows at certain crystals that send you back and forth through time. At that point, it functions as a celebration of game history, and uses that history for clever gameplay. Meanwhile, the RPG sections of the game are only RPGs in the most superficial way possible – there's only a tiny bit of on-rails character improvement. How can a game celebrate the history of RPGs without actually being a role-playing game?
That's a problem that Driftmoon
happily avoids, by being a role-playing game first, and a reference generator second. Its inspirations are Western RPGs, particularly the Ultima series
, which it references multiple times. It has the top-down perspective, long conversation trees, and the slow, real-time combat of an Ultima 7
, although it's generally simpler, both mechanically and thematically.
That simplicity is one of the great virtues of an indie game: it doesn't have to be an earth-shaking story of gritty realism. Driftmoon
is a deliberately archetypal 'Hero's Journey,' where you play a young man whose father accidentally triggers an ancient evil, and you go on a quest to defeat it. Instead of worrying about how clichéd that is, Driftmoon
quite enjoys the trope, because it's a deliberately small game – it also allows the game to be goofy
, something often missing from RPGs. The relatively simple mechanics, like a progression tree with one stat per level, and only on your main character, keeps the game moving quickly. The fact that it's simple means Driftmoon
is unimposing, a welcome sight in a genre where the biggest titles promise/threaten to dominate your life
for weeks or months.
But there is one aspect of Driftmoon
that gives it long-term viability: modding. Open up the game, and you'll be given more modding options than play options. Driftmoon
is as much of a platform for creation as it is a game on its own. That's a good sign, even if you never download a mod – it means Driftmoon
possesses the foundation of a full-fledged game, instead of being a gimmick like Evoland
. After all, Braid
weren't just clever ideas, they were complete, quality games built around
clever ideas. Driftmoon
isn't at the level of the truly great indie games, but it's great to see that style of RPG being made outside of major companies with high-profile Kickstarters. The potential for a modding community is also a benefit, as it would allow the game to be commercially viable in the longterm, which may mitigate the development costs of making an RPG compared to other genres of game.
may not be quite as successful as a game, it's still a charming, occasionally interesting attempt at bringing a certain style of indie structure to the genre. The existence of both games gives me hope for the viability and variety of independently made role-playing games.
Rowan Kaiser is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who also writes for The A.V. Club, and has been published at Salon, Gamasutra, Kotaku, and more. He still occasionally finds Ultima VI Moongate maps and mantra notes when he visits his parents' house. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser.