Originally conceived as a browser game, Tears of Avia spent a fair amount of time in the prototyping stage before creator Andrew Livy decided to leverage the game’s conceptual potential and make it into a standalone game. Now part of a larger team, Livy and his peers make up CooCooSqueaky – an indie game studio inspired by both Western and Japanese visual, gameplay, and narrative design.
As such, CooCooSqueaky’s first title, Tears of Avia, falls into that unique genre spectrum between Western RPG and JRPG. It looks like a JRPG… but also a little like an isometric Western RPG. Its characters are drawn anime-style, but are written in English and sport more cartoony colors. JRPG fans will find plenty of things here that seem familiar but feel just a bit less, well, Japanese than they did at first.
At its core, Tears of Avia was always meant to be a turn-based tactical RPG with a major focus on build crafting. The known range of different playable characters consists of somewhat-expanded class archetypes: ranger, mage, warrior, brawler, and priest. There is supposed to be more later on, but what is here doesn’t necessarily hold anything different from what’s been done before. Since Tears of Avia is meant to be about build crafting, or “min-maxing”, each class has three skill trees with four tiers per tree. For example, Reina, the scantily-clad ranger, has Archery, Beast Mastery, and Natural Affinity trees. Players need to pick the right skills to complement the different classes in their party. So picking a character’s role is intentionally paramount; tanking with the warrior and laying down painful DPS with the ranger, while the priest heals and the mage nukes, is a strategy that needs to be invested in with both skill points and forethought.
Though the early EGX prototype build only featured one mob battle, a boss battle, and some hub world time, there was enough there to get an idea of how the game is supposed to flesh out. Combat is pretty simple, there’s a player turn and an enemy turn. Characters have a red meter for HP and a blue meter for skills and spells. Each character can move once per turn, be it before attacking or even after attacking. The attack and movement ranges are composed of square tiles. Interestingly, the classes all get a selection of effective, hard-hitting attacks right from get-go. The ranger has trap-like nature spells for example, like a druid, while the warrior can certainly tank but also deals good damage. It all seems empowering at first, especially since the prototype build didn’t have any manual stat distribution upon level up.
In practice, each skill tree seems effective to a fault so far. The ranger’s Beast Mastery skills are basically just damage spells with occasional damage-over-time proc effects, which doesn’t quite differentiate them from her Archery skills. It does help balance and variety that only five skills can be equipped at once and certain skills have weapon restrictions, but with a total of 33 upgrade-able class skills, it may be a good thing this is all still a work in progress. In battle, enemy AI is rubbish, and each character’s movement and attack ranges feels about the same. Fortunately, characters can take a fairly high amount of damage per hit, which will help in balancing. Oddly, the boss fight included in the build devolved into interacting with some bombs he threw out and throwing them back at him. It was strange that the boss was about a gimmick and not strategy, given the conceptual focus on min-maxing.
If anything, the Unity Engine-powered prototype build gives an idea of what the game could be, which is all it should do at this point. Between quest zones and dungeons, players are placed in a hub area where they control Reina (whose movement controls are not PC-friendly yet) and can level up, buy equipment, and talk to the other party members. Additional quests are meant to surface here, organically through conversations with the party. Visually, the game does look a slight cut above a tablet game, and performs fine. Though it’s a nice mix of anime-style cel-shading and cartoony graphics akin to games like Torchlight, Tears of Avia can look a bit generic for the time being.
CooCooSqueaky have their work cut out for them. Even if Tears of Avia will just have battles, dungeons, and a hub area, this means that it will need to grab players with its writing, balance, difficulty, and depth to be exceptional. Talking to party members will need to actually be engaging, especially if it can result in quests. The plot, which features a mage who froze an evil army and his beloved along with it, may be simple enough to take a backseat for the character arcs. Meanwhile, turn-based tactical combat with movement and attack fields requires a significant amount of balancing and testing if each class’ large selection of skills is going to even matter. On one hand, Tears of Avia can become a game that demands careful planning and thought, while on the other, it could easily end up brainless.
With a Kickstarter up and running and a Greenlight on Steam, Tears of Avia might deserve your investment if you see its potential. Only time will tell what direction this game takes as it furthers into development, but it has a promising idea backing it up for now. Tears of Avia is planned for release in 2017, on PC and Mac.