Publisher: Vivendi Games
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Release Date: November 14, 2006
Sometimes the bar rises a little on licensed games. The idea of making a decent title to tie in with a movie, comic book or anime is starting to gain just a hint of vogue with companies figuring out that better review scores can sometimes help to boost sales. Eragon is an interesting example of this, in that two reasonably decent games were created from the source material. Whereas every other platform and handheld got a hack-and-slash action game, the Game Boy Advance is host to an honest-to-goodness, old-school, Japanese-style console RPG. The results are excellently suited to the platform in question, though not entirely excellent in their own right. Eragon for the GBA ends up being par for the course on a system plagued by endless dumbed-down ports and cheap licensed games.
Don't expect any new plotlines out of the RPG version of Eragon because this follows the book pretty closely; most of the basics are there and in the right order, and it's only missing a few major plot points. There are no new chapters to flesh out a character (though there are a few off-plot side quests), and only a few changes were inevitable for the book-to-movie conversion. For better or worse, gameplay is emphasized in this version of Eragon.
Unfortunately, said gameplay is where Eragon's holes start to show. While it is basically free of glitches, it is exceptionally thin. A few ideas are kind of new, but most of the game is simply existing concepts tossed together into a consistent-yet-slipshod whole. Overworlds are the run-around pattern that hasn't significantly changed since the original Lunar for Sega Genesis – move in eight directions, use this button to run, and run into enemies to fight them.
Said enemies come in clusters and are fought using the most generic menu-based scheme I've seen in a while, with checklisted features from a few other recent RPGs of note. As far as "multiple attack options" go, you are afforded four attacks a turn and can choose "A" and "B" attacks, which form special attacks when pushed in certain combinations – unless they weren't written for that character, at which point it really doesn't matter. (Think Virgil or Mayumi in the Xenosaga series, except you're forced through the full menu for their paltry array of options). "Dodging attacks?" Pressing "A" at the correct moment (which is rarely the intuitive time) lets you receive only half of the damage from an attack. It doesn't usually matter because most of the time, you'll win if your level is high enough and lose if it isn't. Skill really isn't as much of a factor as the patience to kill the same enemies over and over again.
Options outside of combat include getting tips from Saphira, Eragon's draconic ally, or using your character's levels to enhance one of five "focuses," which change the character's growth. Inexplicably, most characters cannot use all five focuses, typically having one prohibited choice, and growth is set pre-level (not post-level, as one might expect), which can prove surprisingly annoying at times, since it forces you to think ahead on how to level. Typically, though, each character has one direction which is obviously correct, making going anywhere else basically meaningless. Even if you need a certain level in a particular skill to access a secret area, most of the secret areas are not worthwhile enough to merit leveling up for several hours.
Eragon's presentation leaves something to be desired, but pleasantly, not as much as you might think. Everything is drawn like Amaze wanted to just use the 3D models from the console versions but couldn't, so they just miniaturized and downgraded them and added in some cel-shading. In particular, the dungeons have a "pseudo-3D" look to them that comes across as very un-RPG-like and rather annoying. This is one game where going old-school would have been a major improvement from a graphical standpoint.
Sound effects are generic and as plain as one could imagine, but they aren't marred with the addition of voice clips. Furthermore, there is at least a decent variety of them to keep things interesting. The music is similarly plain and blippy (inevitable on the GBA), but has been layered to sound nicer, like a well-recorded MIDI. The variety is pretty passable, too; even in combat, there are a few variations on the standard battle theme.
To enjoy Eragon pretty much requires that you've either read and enjoyed the book, or watched and enjoyed the movie. In spite of a design that tries to convey the plot, the story comes across as a secondary design component with insufficient explanation for series newbies. If you aren't familiar with Eragon, the gaming experience is a bland RPG, but it can be a reasonably fun time for those who enjoyed the source material. At the very least, Eragon is tolerable, bug-free, and does not try to stuff the console versions into the tiny, low-power package of the GBA, thereby producing a distinct experience by licensed game standards. Even though I did not find Eragon for the GBA to be exceptionally enjoyable, I sincerely hope that it does well so that we can start seeing more companies take this route when it's sorely needed (X-Men: The Last Stand for DS and Splinter Cell: Double Agent for Wii, I'm looking at you).
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