"Two difficulty levels with the default being mindlessly easy. Oh well, it coulda been a contender!"
If not for one thing, this review might have wound up being fairly positive. However, that one thing was too much to ignore. It turned my latest Kemco experience (this time, a run through Symphony of the Origin) into a short but somehow tedious journey.
That outcome was a real shame. During the time I spent online looking at information about Kemco's games, I ran across a lot of people praising Symphony of the Origin. I don't mean in the "By Kemco standards, this is pretty good…" sort of way, either. "This is actually a decent game!" people insisted. And I can understand why. World Wide Software positioned it as a "sort of" prequel to Symphony of Eternity, which is the first Kemco-released game I genuinely enjoyed playing. As in that older game, enemies in Symphony of the Origin are visible in dungeons, so you can choose to fight them or simply avoid combat. The visuals also look pretty good (especially in fights), and the game just generally gives the impression that actual effort was put into making it superior to the typical release.
But World Wide Software made one crushing mistake. Like Exe-Create, another of Kemco's teams, they will often make multiple difficulty levels available. Unlike Exe-Create, though, they don't allow players to switch that setting after making their initial choice. If you're like me and start out on the default "normal" level, you're stuck playing through a game so easy that only the final boss offers up actual resistance. Maybe the harder difficulty of the two offers a more enjoyable challenge, or maybe it's also flawed in its own way. I don't know. But I can say that the default difficulty is sufficiently easy that I could auto-battle my way through the majority of battles with the main challenge being to simply remember to heal party members during those all-too-rare moments they actually need a bit of help.
For me, that's a big problem. I believe a game's default difficulty should offer a challenge even veteran players can find enjoyable. If a gamer wants a hardcore challenge, that's what a hard mode is for. If you want to be nice to novices, insert an easy mode that won't ruthlessly punish them for their inexperience. Don't make the normal difficulty setting mindlessly easy, so that a person automatically has to take it upon themselves to change the default setting just to have fun. And above all, definitely don't make it impossible to change difficulty mid-game. No one wants to start a game, play for a couple of hours, realize it's just too easy and be stuck steamrolling through the rest of the campaign (or else starting from scratch just to find some decent difficulty).
Whew, okay. After that little rant, I feel I'm ready to start talking about other aspects of this game...
You control, Ryle, a soldier under the employ of his land's king. Said kingdom is in conflict with the Evils of the Earth-Depths, a villainous group of demi-humans who launch an invasion as the game opens. By pure dumb luck, Ryle ends up in catacombs under the castle, where he encounters and somehow activates a golem. That golem then proceeds to overcome a particularly powerful member of the Evils. After that little confrontation, Ryle and the golem, Denoas, get permission to travel to the lands of the elves and dwarves to enlist their help in taking the battle to the Evils and their sadistic leader, Jenowin. Along the way, there are touches of intrigue and a whole lot of predictability for anyone familiar with the genre. The most surprising element of this game is how affable the majority of the main Evils actually are, with only Jenowin and his right-hand woman attempting to be serious antagonists. The others alternate between being guys looking for a good fight and stalkers flirting with whatever hero they're crushing on at the moment.
While the plot isn't anything special, though, things at least move quickly. In typical World Wide Software fashion, dungeons are short and fairly simple to navigate, so a player can zip through a few of them in a mere hour or two. Towns have little more to offer than an inn, a shop and a smattering of people, so you won't spend large chunks of time navigating them to find a bunch of secrets. I can respect that. Kemco-produced games tend to be low-budget and generic, but WWS is proficient at cramming a lot of action into the 10-15 hours it takes to clear them.
Unfortunately, that action wasn't quite on a par with Symphony of Eternity, which took notes from Final Fantasy V and gave players a job system with books that awarded new classes (so they could acquire new skills and spells). Here, the inspiration was switched to Final Fantasy IX. As you buy or find new weapons, you'll notice they come equipped with skills. By using that weapon in enough battles, the character eventually masters the related skills. This setup takes away any semblance of customization, since every character has their own unique assortment of weapons. They'll always obtain the same skills.
There also isn't a huge assortment of weapons, but you can at least increase their strength by spending money at the local equipment store. Each weapon can be leveled up a few times, which is a necessity when you want to keep your party on par with the local monsters. Or, by exploiting a few aspects of the game's design, you can completely break it over your knee.
Much like in the majority of Kemco games, there are plenty of in-app purchases to buy with either in-game or real currency. In most such games, in-game currency is handed out fairly infrequently, often by winning five or so battles. In Symphony of the Origin, you receive some after every single battle, and nothing in the store is remotely expensive. I wasn't even midway through the game before I'd purchased the extra dungeons, two locations that existed solely so I could power up my characters and two extended scenarios. After that, I found myself repeatedly spending points to snag an extra 10,000 gold, which immediately went toward strengthening weapons. After all, if the game already is too easy, why not go the extra mile to obliterate everything a bit more decisively?
There really isn't a great deal to talk about with this game. If I sound a bit negative, it has more to do with my issues with the difficulty than anything else. Overall, Symphony of the Origin is a reasonably satisfactory game that does a fine job of connecting the dots to create a short adventure that feels more expansive than it is due to the packed content. There was nothing about this game that made me wish it would end sooner because I wasn't enjoying myself, but I also didn't care to extend my time with it by running through it again on a harder difficulty setting. I came, I saw, I conquered... and that's good enough for me.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 05, 2017)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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