Reviewed: November 30, 2008
Released: October 30, 2008
A mysterious phenomenon has left a town in fear. Each year a villager disappears by a mystery known as AWAY. After 99 years, everyone is scared of who the AWAY’s 100th victim will be. When Sword is chosen to be it, his friend Anella, tries to replace him but instead the entire town disappears. Now you, or Sword rather, has to save the entire town from these mysterious dungeons that appear. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created the acclaimed Final Fantasy series, AWAY: Shuffle Dungeon is one of the results of his independent company, Mistwalker. Though, it’ll feel more like you’re playing a Legend of Zelda game, you’ll find the game quite fun to play regardless of the repetitive dungeons.
The game will begin with the history recorded in murals across a wall describing the strange phenomenon. Most Legend of Zelda games start off just like that, especially Windwaker or Phantom Hourglass which this game will remind you of very much.
Unlike Sakaguchi’s Final Fantasy, this game is a real time RPG whose story will try to bring out the personalities of characters around you. Unfortunately, the one character who’s personality doesn’t come out too well is the main character, Sword, which is a very peculiar name much like other characters’ names like Helmut, Giggles, Macey, and Whip. But this is a Japanese game, and the Japanese use very on-the-nose names. So, many might be glad to know that the translations are not redone like many games are when they come to the US.
Once the entire town disappears, you’ll find remnants of a person’s shop or house and that’ll open up a portal to a dungeon. Entering a dungeon transforms the game completely, from a 3D environment to a 2D one utilizing both the top and bottom screen.
With the name “Shuffle Dungeon”, it’s obvious that the main feature of the game is going to be the dungeons. The dungeons are new and innovative for a DS game. You have to travel through a maze like structure fighting monsters while either the top of bottom screen have a timer. Once that timer hits 0, it’ll “shuffle” left and right to a new map. Each map shuffles until you find the stairs to either go deeper into the dungeon or return back to town after rescuing a villager. If you miss the stairs, each map will recycle and you will have another chance to get to the stairs.
If you get caught up in one of the shuffles, you’ll lose HP and have to start the floor all over again. There are only a few floors, about 2 to 3 for most of the dungeons. After you rescue a villager and have to go through the dungeon the opposite direction, if the rescued, or you, gets caught in the shuffle, he or she will be knocked back to the end of the dungeon and you have to go back and retrieve him or her. This can be annoying as sometimes if you or the rescued are just a hair into the top or bottom screen, you can get caught in the shuffle. I guess that just means not to be careless.
Each time you change floors, you’ll be prompted to a menu where you can continue or suspend the game and return to the title screen. This kind of puts a break in your play as you can be well submerged in the maze then all of a sudden awoken back to reality. But if you’re being called down for dinner and need to save fast, this can be a helpful feature as returning to the title screen is equivalent to the “Quick Save” feature that is found in previous portable games made by Sakaguchi.
What is an RPG without magic? As you go through each dungeon you’ll find these little round bubbly creatures that Sword calls “fupongs”. These cast magic based on their color, red for fire, blue for ice, and green for healing. At first they can cast magic one time per floor, but once you return to town you can combine the same colored fupongs to level them up which also raises it and it will be able to cast magic more than once. You can only carry a certain amount of fupongs at a time and the number increases as you level up. The L and R buttons alternate which fupong you want to use. Each time you change floors, the fupong will recharge if you used them.
The boss battles were pretty straight forward, like many Zelda games, there is a red “weak spot” that you must hit. There is a routine pattern for each boss, again, just like many Zelda games. I wish there were more bosses in the game though, a lot of times you’ll just climb down a dungeon, find the villager just standing there, then climb back up the dungeon without any threat. It doesn’t hurt to have the dungeon a bit longer too, a longer RPG is money well spent.
There are no touch screen features in this game. With the dungeons in a 2D environment, it might’ve worked if it had the similar controls as Phantom Hourglass where the style was used to walk and fight. But because the town is in a 3D environment, that feature might not work at all.
The dungeons often lack variety. They all look the same and you don’t really feel you are in a different location. However, you will still enjoy yourself as you are kept on your toes with the shuffling and have to hurry to unlock chests, sometimes needing to hit a switch to open up a new pathway to do so. The shuffling of the dungeons is an innovative feature that worked very well for a DS game.
The story and gameplay are not the only things similar to Zelda games; the graphics are very similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass. Its cell shaded in a 3D environment. However, the cutscenes in this game will become a slightly better render where instead of cell shaded, the characters appear as 3D and cartoonish.
It is also kind of awkward when going into a dungeon as the town is a 3D environment then the dungeon become 2D and looks like they used the sprite system for the characters and monsters. So it feels like it went from good graphics to not so great graphics. It probably would’ve been better to keep the dungeons at a slightly angled bird eyes view with the 3D cell shaded graphics.
There is also less variety in the dungeon graphics since the ground only changes slightly depending on what dungeon you’re in. For example, it’s ice if you’re in the ice dungeon, tree-like in a forest dungeon, etc. However, all the walls are exactly the same thickness and each pathway in the maze also the same thickness. It’ll often feel like you’re in the same dungeon only different texture. There are also no variety in switches and movable walls.
Along with Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu came to follow to compose many of the Mistwalker games; this is one of them. The music will not feel like the fantasy style music that Uematsu has done before, but once again, it’ll sound a lot more like a Zelda game. However, the music makes the game slightly more kiddish as the music is upbeat and never sounds like there is danger except for in the cutscenes.
The voice actors in the cutscenes are very well done and appear to be very into the characters. In the town when speaking to an NPC, it is similar to, yet again, a Zelda game where they will speak one line from their text or sometimes mumble something and motion. But instead of having a voice actor speak the entire text, you have to read the rest.
This may not be Uematsu’s best work, but the upbeat renaissance tunes can become catchy and probably one of Uematsu’s better works since leaving Square-Enix.
The shuffles are very well done to keep you on your toes so that you will probably not be too bored. You will clock in quite a few hours as this is an RPG. You might be turned off with the repetitiveness and redundant looking dungeons, but what game isn’t very repetitive? You may not play the game more than once since the story is slightly kiddish and all the dungeons look the same and are very short. The multiplayer is fighting boss battles alone, but most of the time the bosses are very simple and easy to fight just by yourself. You might want to wait for a price drop of this game because most of the time you’ll be playing in a 2D sprite system that isn’t very impressive for the DS.
This would be a nice alternative to Zelda games and if you liked those games, then this one will be a nice addition to your collection. You might not feel too much originality in the gameplay and story except for the shuffling, but priced at $29.99, it’d be a good idea to wait on this one.