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Aphelion: Graves of Earth (Xbox 360) artwork

Aphelion: Graves of Earth (Xbox 360) review

"Solid, but unspectacular, sci-fi."

Aphelion: Graves of Earth screenshot Aphelion: Graves of Earth screenshot

While it's not necessarily a "complete" experience, Aphelion: Episode One - Graves of Earth at least proves to be a solid offering, with a different premise than you'll find in the average JRPG.

The game takes place in a futuristic sci-fi setting. You control Savion, a soldier sent to a floating city that is under siege by aliens. Things get off to a fast start, and you'll end up in your first turn-based battle almost immediately. After surviving that encounter, you'll explore your hostile surroundings and meet up with a pair of comrades, rescue an ambassador, get sent on a mission to another planet, get attacked en route and wind up in a forest, make your way to the original intended destination, spend an eternity in a massive building, fight a tough final boss and finish things up by hopefully being invested enough in all of it to spend another $3 for the second (and final) installment.

I don't really consider this a complete game because it's the first half of a two-part story and nothing much is resolved by the time the credits roll. Your main adversary (at least, as "main" as a guy who shows up roughly 20 minutes before the credits appear can be) has at that point escaped to fight another day, your party is still stuck in the middle of a conflict between two rival factions and they are headed off to destinations unknown in order to start get to the bottom of things. Still, in the world of XBox 360 indie RPGs, this is a solid effort that at least gives the appearance of being a professional production.

Aphelion looks quite nice, actually, and it's clear the developers put some real effort into world building. There are three loading screen messages that provide some background information, while data discs found throughout dungeons add additional details on top of that. It doesn't take long to discern that Savion's presence in the floating city was the result of an attempt by the local officials to meet with representatives from an alien group known as the Crimson. That meeting proved to be a mistake, since the aliens treated it as an invitation to start a brutal invasion.

In addition to the unusual plot, there's also a good bit of depth where character customization is concerned. When characters gain a level, they earn a point that can be assigned to one of a number of categories. Most of the time, this results in the character gaining boosts to one or more stats, but other benefits can also be accrued. Combat abilities are learned and health and magic may regenerate more quickly, for instance. The entire party can benefit from those stat enhancements, and characters can also learn to craft new equipment. Enemies drop all sorts of components, while others may be found in treasure chests or simply lying on the ground. By getting better at crafting, you can use those components to create new types of armor and weapons. Late in the game, you'll find both a brutally tough bonus boss and a coliseum to deliver additional challenges to dedicated players.

Battling is fairly standard turn-based stuff, but with the addition of shields. While your guys have tiny life meters that can be depleted with very little effort on the part of your adversaries, their shields do allow them to withstand more damage. Separate items and spells can regenerate your shields, so your actual life meter is better described as a "last resort" buffer against a killing blow. Your goal is to keep your shields maintained, in order to not have to worry about things like imminent death.

The problem for me was that although it seemed that a great deal of effort went into all the supplemental elements, not enough went into the nuts-and-bolts stuff that produces a truly good RPG. There is a great deal of banter between your party members (which eventually number four), but they never really evolve beyond simplistic tropes in human form. Savion is a "Screw the rules, I'm doing what's right!" guy, while Ashley is his cool-headed and competent sidekick. The other pair, Rita and Drake, have the opposing dynamic of "overly formal newcomer" and "irreverent rogue", where their main purpose is to regularly bicker.

Battles look nice, with characters and foes portrayed in an isometric perspective much like in the Breath of Fire games, but there is a very small bestiary and that point is only magnified by the excessive frequency with which random battles occur. The bulk of the game takes place in only three separate locations. Other than a bonus boss and coliseum, there's very little to do but follow a linear path from the besieged floating city to the final battle and sequel hook.

For $3, Aphelion's first episode was an adequate time-waster, and I did enjoy experiencing something different from the typical medieval world trapped under the tyranny of the typical evil empire. It's not the best indie RPG I've played, but the game at least proved reasonably entertaining for the 10 or so hours it lasted. In the end, it's difficult to judge its final success without playing the second installment. The best thing I can say is that after playing through the first half of the adventure, I do want to play the follow-up just so I can see how everything is resolved. It's hard to give it much more than lukewarm praise, but that's at least better than open condemnation!


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 08, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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