1140: Another Valley Without Wind

I really liked A Valley Without Wind, even though I never came anywhere near to “finishing” it, for want of a better word. (I say that because once you beat the “Overlord” who was supposed to be your antagonist throughout the game, you simply moved on to another randomly-generated continent that was being threatened by another Overlord.) It was a really interesting, if somewhat flawed game that obviously had a lot of love thrown into it. It was a game clearly put together by people who had a vision of what they wanted to achieve and were willing to experiment in order to realise that vision.

For those who are unaware of A Valley Without WindI wrote about it a few times approximately three hundred days ago. Here’s one post, here’s another, and here’s a bit of creative writing inspired by the game’s emergent narrative.

I was intrigued and excited to hear that the developer was putting together a sequel to the game, and that said sequel would be provided free to everyone who owned a copy of the first game. (You don’t see that sort of generosity in the triple-A sector, that’s for sure!) Details were relatively scarce to begin with, but it sounded like the intention was to completely overhaul the game and make it a more focused experience. The reason it was being developed as a sequel and not as another one of the many updates that the first game saw is that it involved a fundamental rethinking of the game structure in particular — rather than being potentially endless and rather freeform like the first game, A Valley Without Wind 2 was to have much clearer victory and loss conditions, making for a game which felt much more like it had a “point”.

I spent a little while playing A Valley Without Wind 2 today and I’m intrigued by what I see so far. Here’s the gist: rather than playing the role of a series of adventurers given magical powers by a “glyph” like in the first one, in this game you play a single character who is immortal thanks to a crystal given to them by the big evil demon overlord dude whose dark forces you’ve infiltrated. This means that you can’t technically die — well, you can, but it’s more of an inconvenience than a tragedy, since you can just come back again afterwards.

You’re thrown into command of a ragtag group of survivors on the planet of Environ as they attempt to scavenge resources, build up their defences and eventually take down the big evil demon overlord dude. The game unfolds in two distinctive components — a turn-based strategy game and a 2D side-scrolling platform game. This is a similar structure to the first game, though the overworld map in the first game didn’t involve much strategy and was more a means of simply exploring rather than anything else.

Each turn, you can move any of the survivors in your group to any of the “purified” squares in your domain. If they’re already in a suitable location, they can perform an action such as working a farm to produce food, working a factory to produce scrap metal or building a new structure. Occasionally, monsters emerge from the overlord’s lair on the map and the survivors must deal with them. Eventually, after 15 turns, the overlord comes out to play and starts stomping around the map, and the survivors must avoid his unwanted attentions as much as possible while you build up your power to a strong enough level to take down His Demonicness.

To end a turn, you move yourself into a space next to your currently-controlled area and begin a 2D platform game mission in which the aim is to get from left to right and destroy a generator to “purify” that square and its surroundings. Beating the level ends the turn, causing time to advance. Each level has a different theme according to its terrain type, and many have special buildings and structures to explore. Within the levels, you’ll find various types of enemy and pieces of equipment, many of which have peculiar randomly-generated special effects — how does a pair of boots that makes you run faster but sets you on fire in the process sound?

Your character is highly customizable, and you can tweak your “loadout” each turn if you want — though not once you’re into a mission. Several different classes are available at the outset of the game, each of which has their own set of four spells. Additional classes become available as you explore, and defeating bosses in special “Level Up” towers unlocks new perks that improve your abilities in various ways. You have to find a good balance between expanding your territory so the survivors have space to run away from the overlord when he comes out to play; finding Level Up towers to improve your own abilities; and ensuring your forces have enough resources to survive. As soon as your last survivor dies, you lose the game, so it’s in your interest to keep expanding and recruiting new members to your forces.

I really like what I’ve seen so far. It’s much more “focused”, though this has come at the expense of the wonderfully complex randomly-generated levels of the original game. One thing I really liked about the first A Valley Without Wind was the sheer amount of stuff there was to do. You could wander into pretty much every building and explore it to try and find cool stuff. You’d never get anywhere if you did that, of course, but the fact it was possible was really cool. By contrast, A Valley Without Wind 2’s levels are much shorter and more linear, and traipses through buildings are linear shortcuts between two parts of the level rather than sprawling, mysterious structures to explore. On the whole, it’s a change for the better — as I say, though, it does make me miss some of the first game’s idiosyncrasies.

One thing I’m not sure how I feel about is the change to the soundtrack. The original game featured a rather wonderful score that had more than a touch of chiptune about it, giving the retro-style gameplay an even greater sense of retro flair. The new game features a number of recognisable themes from the first game, but a much more “realistic” sound to its score. It’s good — but is it as charming as the bleepy chiptunes from the original? I’m not sure. One thing I will say, though; the title screen music is absolutely gobsmacking and well worth just sitting and listening to for a bit.

I’ll be checking this game out a bit more in the coming days, and I’ll be intrigued to see if it can hold my attention. I liked the first game a lot, but the fact I never really felt like I was getting anywhere put me off playing a long way into it. This new version appears to have fixed that particular problem with a much more focused experience, so I’m keen to see how it plays out. Knowing my general abilities in the strategic department, I am anticipating a complete loss at the hands of the overlord within 20 turns, but we’ll just have to wait and see about that, won’t we?

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