Millennium: A New Hope is the latest title from Aldorlea Games, an independent developer that specializes in creating casual or "retro-style" role-playing games. Fans of the genre will find many familiar trappings here, especially if you’ve played any of the studio’s previous titles like 3 Stars of Destiny.
The game takes place in the fantasy-themed land of Myst, which is divided by a rigid class system that separates the privileged nobles from the poor common folk. Marine, a young girl from a poverty-stricken village, decides to rebel against this unfair status quo by bringing together 13 warriors to compete in the next election and hopefully overthrow the current government. (In Myst, apparently the sword is mightier than the ballot box…)
Marine’s journey takes her far and wide, through forests, caves, mountains and swamps as she tracks down the whereabouts of each warrior. (Before I get too far into the review, I should note that Millennium: A New Hope is simply the first chapter of a planned series, so you won’t get to find and do everything in this instalment.) Marine meets a handful of companions along the way who will join her in her quest, our favorite being a tiny fairy who takes up residence in one of Marine’s earrings.
Like a typical RPG, Marine’s party must engage in numerous random battles with a wide range of enemies, from giant crocodiles and poisonous insects to ghosts and monstrous trees. Combat is turn-based, meaning you select an action for each of the members of your part to perform at the beginning of each round of combat, such as attack, defend, use a special skill or item, or try to escape. Like 3 Stars of Destiny before it, there’s also a "rush" command in Millennium that makes everyone in your party auto-attack for that turn.
Success in battle earns experience points for each character, which will eventually cause them to level up and become more powerful. You can also equip characters with weapons and armor that you can purchase or find along the way to increase their attack and defensive power.
The game can be controlled with either the keyboard or the mouse, or a combination of both. Since the mouse proved unwieldy for actually moving the characters (who tended to get stuck on scenery instead of realizing to move around it), I found it most effective to use the keyboard to move and interact with the menus, and the mouse to interact with people and objects in the environment like doors and treasure chests.
Millennium‘s healthy number of secrets and side quests give it a nice amount of depth, with a style of gameplay that rewards people who are thorough and curious. The ability to adjust the level of difficulty at the beginning (which affects random encounters and bosses) makes the game more accessible to newcomers too – another welcome feature. As well, the quality of the game’s English, though still not perfect, has greatly improved from previous games from this studio, which tended to suffer from shoddy translations that lessened the impact of the dialogue.
Another neat feature that makes the game a little more unique is that your characters are actually affected by what terrain they’re walking over at the time. For example, if you’re travelling through forest your defensive powers will be weaker, while if you’re on a path you’ll be a little bit stronger, and traveling through swampland leaves your party more susceptible to enemy ambushes.
That said, this first instalment of Millennium is not without its frustrations. Players who are accustomed to having an autosave feature will have to get used to saving their game manually at regular intervals, or else they could find themselves losing a lot of progress if their party gets annihilated in a fight. Some sort of mapping feature or mini-map would have been a godsend when exploring some of the larger maze-like areas, since it can be especially hard trying to get your bearings when you’re being pummelled by random encounters at the same.
Speaking of random encounters, I also had issues with some aspects of the game’s combat system. The "rush" command, while great for speeding things up, isn’t terribly intelligent. Allies using "rush" would frequently attack the fairy I had summoned instead of an enemy, or attack random enemies instead of all focusing on the same enemy to get rid of it more quickly.
The summoned fairy, who seems to be in a permanent state of "rush," was both extremely useful and frustrating. Her attack command is very powerful, but her heal command is erratic since you have no control over it. Instead of healing the person whose health is lowest, which would have made perfect sense, she would often ignore a seriously injured ally to cast heal on someone else who’s health was almost full.
A dedicated and experienced RPG fan should be able to overcome these quibbles, however, especially in light of the otherwise rich experience and respectable length that Millennium: A New Hope offers. I’m optimistic that some of the kinks that detract from the experience will be worked out in subsequent chapters.