It’s rare that Visual Novels cross the border into RPG territory. In their strictest sense they play the role of an interactive story book, demanding decisions on the part of the player infrequently and have garnered an unfair reputation as borderline sex-games through the release of a couple of high profile titles. Loren the Amazon Princess is a game from Winter Wolves that doesn’t just step over that border; it mounts a full scale invasion into RPG territory.
The game was developed using Ren’Py, an open-source Visual Novel engine that uses Python as a programming basis and is extremely versatile in what can be accomplished as long as the game developers are happy to put in the time and factor all the variables out. The team from Winter Wolves certainly spent a solid amount of time doing so because the depth on offer here exceeds anything I’ve previously seen managed with the Ren’Py framework. For this fact alone the game deserves its share of attention, as does the fact it has been successfully ported to both iOS and Android with a minimum of glitches.
Graphically the game uses a solid 2D anime art style that people will immediately recognise. There’s no chibi-light stylings here however, as the game takes its content very seriously and instead aims itself as the Josei and Seinen demographic. Characters are for the most part proportionate and the world has a distinct ‘Record of Lodoss War’ vibe in its design for clothing and weaponry. Locations imply a Western RPG setting, but a wide variety of heroic fantasy locations and tropes persist throughout. Menu driven, the game uses clear and easy to read text and couples this with large images of the characters or events at all times in keeping with the visual novel foundation upon which it is built. Some menus can become cluttered, especially on smaller devices, but overall the design and execution are well produced. It does fall into the trap of re-using a great many assets (especially backgrounds) but not to an immersion-breaking degree.
Sound and audio are a mixed bag. The music is heavily synth and sometimes feels at odds with the serious world they are typing to build, or a little too modern in its execution to be a fantasy setting. The world map is particularly at fault here with a piece that would perhaps work better in a science fiction setting. The title theme works better, feeling suitable in keeping. Other areas are entirely silent. Clicks accompany some but not all choices, largely only happening when opening and closing a menu and not accompanying chatter at all. The odd sound on/off style does cause you to forget how high your sound settings are at times and can cause you to be surprised when clicking something causes music to kick in violently.
Plot is a central focus and certainly the high point of this title, which does an excellent job of telling a truly interactive story. Loren is a Princess of the Amazon people who live in semi-isolation from the rest of the world in their own kingdom. When her mother vanishes one night and fails to reappear she decides to go in search of her despite the fact that doing so could jeopardise her position as princess. She takes with her only one slave to aid her at the bequest of her second in command, a male or female version of the player who will act as her companion and handyman throughout the journey, for although she is a mighty warrior of high birth she has no idea what awaits her beyond the city walls. The game does a good job of balancing interaction with the player character whilst still making it primarily Loren’s story, which expands outward from that point. Additional characters add their own quests, backstories and personalities to the mix and on the whole the game does an excellent job of presenting a complex fantasy world which has been well thought out. Comparisons the titles such as Dragon Age, which feature deep settings full of rich source material, would not be completely out of line and indeed in many ways Loren presents information in a more conversational manner than merely presenting the player with a wall of text when inspecting an item. Not too far out of the gate Loren will find herself having to walk the fine line between the Elven and Human races and even after the rescue of her mother is complete the game manages to smoothly segway into a secondary plot even more involving than the first.
Gameplay is an intriguing fusion of different systems. Primarily the visual novel elements are at the fore and exploration of areas is accomplished by simply entering one and seeing if any characters appear to speak with or options present themselves. Conversations are tightly scripted and serve to either forward the main plot or character progression and the world map isn’t so big that there are more than 20 locations to inspect in the whole game, meaning you will be returning to them frequently. Towns and some other venues house combat challenges as well as item shops, these serve to increase your fame in the local area. Combat is purely turn based with up to six characters in the party facing off against up to six enemies, with front and back rows working as expected. Although there are only six active members of the party many more can be recruited (especially if you have also purchased the expansion pack) and each has both a class skill tree and their personal skill tree to expand upon with new combat options beyond attack, defend and use item. Levelling sees 3 skill points handed to the player which can be distributed between each of the character’s three stats and occasionally a special point to unlock a new branch of the skill tree. The game does offer a standard and secondary approach to the title, one where progression is as expected and the other giving a bigger stack of exp at the start for early customisation of the party but then slowing the rate down to a crawl to increase the games challenge significantly. Heading to the games camp from the worldmap enables the player to speak with the party and increase relationship or ‘romance’ with them, unlocking new conversations and plot points but ultimately only allows one relationship to blossom per game. These visual novel elements marry very well with a rich combat system that relies on juggling status effects to cast better skills (yes, you can be frozen and burning at the same time!) putting a good balance between plot, exploring the backstories of the party and combat. I never found the title particularly challenging, but did enjoy combat enough to grind whilst multi-tasking at home. As mentioned an expansion pack is available to add new characters and a few additional quests to the title, although it’s much cheaper to buy on the iOS or Android stores than on Steam for some reason, with the same applying to the main game itself. There are a few bugs on the iOS and Android versions, noticeably the levelling menu descriptive text can appear after the menu has been closed, but will vanish if you pop in and out of any menu again. It’s also a title made for a full screen and some buttons feel small on phone sized devices.
Overall this title is a solid and very enjoyable RPG experience that actually manages to feel like a tightly run pen and paper campaign in some places whilst remaining quite unlike anything else currently on the market. It can run on the expensive side, on PC and mobile markets alike, but the iOS version with expanded unlock will only cost you £10 and has a free demo available. In addition to that the game also includes an optional Gallery that contains much of the title’s art assets, playing to the visual novel crowd. I’d recommend it be played on a desktop PC to avoid any bugs, and snapped up if seen on sale. A sequel is currently in production and a spin-off title set within the same world also exists so now is as good a time as any to enjoy the original.