Xbox 360
Reviewed: 8/27/2010

How does one fairly rate a game made by a small team of gamers rather than a full, professional studio? I have been dealing with this dilemma as I played through Aphelion, a recent Xbox Live Arcade release from Lunatic Studios.

The game is immediately reminiscent of older RPGs, particularly those of the SNES era. The plot is rather standard, though the setting is Sci-Fi, which does lend a bit of freshness by avoiding the overused medieval fantasy setup. Gamers will follow Savion, a soldier suddenly placed in charge of a mission to protect a scientist and his research, with the help of a couple of other soldiers and a random thief. It serves as sufficient motivation to get from A to B, and there are a couple of plot twists along the way.

As far as combat itself goes, the game evokes memories of Final Fantasy X and its CTB system. Character portraits at the top of the screen show the turn order, and characters can select from the standard commands to attack, use skills or items, or flee. Sometimes faster characters get to go multiple times in a row, which can be nice, though sometime makes parts of the game too easy. One may frequently clear out a entire group of enemies before they get any turns because the heroes are each getting three turns at the start. Perhapsthe system would work better with some minor adjustments.

Screen Shot

The party also has a Break bar, which charges up as characters give or receive damage. This functions as essentially a Limit Break, since once it’s full, pressing the X button will cause the whole party to release powerful attacks. A nice feature is that each character’s attack can be set to a different target, allowing one to eliminate groups quickly or focus on a single powerful target if you prefer. The one downside is that there’s no way to cancel the move once the button is pressed, forcing players to go ahead and pick targets even if the button was pushed by accident.

As for character growth, levels seem to come fairly quickly. Each one brings standard stat growth and an ability point. The points can be spent on several different skills, many of which are unique for each character. Most skills just give stat increases, but they also unlock new combat skills or item creation abilities. Each character can craft different items, although there’s little in the way of customization – weapons can be set to two or three different “modes” that give different bonuses, but beyond that it’s just a matter of what is equipped.

Screen Shot

Graphically, the game seems most like a sprite-based PSX game, presumably due to the smalltime budget common to indy games. Characters are all sprites, and there are no movies to be found, just in-game dialogue to advance the plot. The sprites are fairly large, though, and while some of the animations look a bit awkward, such as Savion’s running animation while exploring the dungeons, most of them are good. These characters have idle animations and other little touches that do help give them a bit of personality and make the fights a bit more interesting to look at.

Overall, the game evokes some feelings of nostalgia for the older days, before RPGs started including hour-long cutscenes and budgets in the tens of millions. It’s not a perfect game by any means, but even the flaws are part of its charm by helping to remind players of the grammar mistakes and random bugs of older games. It even has a couple of invisible paths that lead to treasure. It’s also more than reasonably priced at 240 Microsoft Points, which delivers a few solid hours of RPG gameplay and New Game+ for those who want to go for it again. In the end, fans who grew up in the SNES era and miss RPGs from those days will probably have plenty of nostalgia for what it does, while newer fans of the genre may be less thrilled. Still, at that price, it’s a bargain that’s hard to beat.

-Andrew Foltz

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Good
Story Average
Graphics Average
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Good
The Verdict: Good