Faery: Legends of Avalon opens in a fairly routine fashion. The customizable player character is awakened from a period of protracted slumber and instructed by his king to traverse the varied lands, and right the varied ills that were then plaguing them. In efforts to this end, various worlds are visited, each distinctively different from the last aesthetically and atmospherically. The starting area – the titular Avalon – is relatively unimaginative, being primarily a mountainous area, with long coastal stretches and lapping waves. Looming high above the landscapes is a tower, at whose zenith rests Oberon, the mentioned king of the fairies, who serves as a commanding figure and primary quest-giver. While voice acting is lacking throughout, his character design is quite compelling, with a rather lanky shape and prominent horns. It is creative, and the whole game abounds in creativity and wonderful art direction once Avalon is left. It is rather unfortunate that the starting environment is the weakest of all visited, not really engaging the player in any meaningful way. Still, a brief bit of dialogue commences, before freedom is promptly handed over to the player.
The controls are very intuitive and even graceful, with impressive animations. The player character, alongside his varied companions, can explore the maps through flight, and with the overall rapid movement speed, exploration is a joy. Soaring high into the air, only to pan the camera downwards and get a view of the entire environments gives the illusion of largeness to the world, when the maps are objectively rather small. This emphasis on verticality is most noticeable in the second area, centered around a towering tree, citizens of all races spread about, many residing at the base alongside massive roots, more adventurous types dwelling high above, small houses and lanterns fashioned in some of the uppermost branches. True, all environments are abounding in invisible walls, but the game is fairly open-ended in terms of exploration, again made more pleasurable by the stunning art direction and excellent world-building. Beyond this magnificent naturalistic environment, inspired heavily by traditional fantasy tropes, a large sunken ship – the Flying Dutchman – is then made accessible. Stationary and plagued by departed sailors and covered in the veil of night, it is most notable precisely because of the stark contrast from the previous environment, it being characterized by brightness and nature. In this manner, the game seems rather ambitious, and this variety ultimately wards off any staleness from settling in. The final environment is again a marvel; a city of various districts, heavily stratified by class, it draws on middle-eastern tropes. Again reflecting the creativity and charm of the title, this entire city is fashioned along the body of a scarab, constantly in motion and travelling throughout a seemingly endless desert. Of all the environments, this is certainly the most unique, and the game ends on a high note.
This exploration is facilitated by a rather hands-off approach. There is a map present within the journal, but it is essentially useless. Similarly, there are additional tabs which provide information on quests and overall progress. There are no objective markers, information gained largely by interacting with the citizens of the varied worlds. Despite this, very rarely did I get lost, so excellent and logical is the design. True, there are some frustrating components present; the game relies very heavily on dialogue as dispersal of information, and skipping over the tiniest of topics can stall progress in the quest. Impressively, though, a seemingly trivial task oftentimes explodes in terms of complexity. In Avalon, for instance, the initial objective is to recruit a pair of party members and show to Oberon inklings of potential strength. The first companion, a female fairy, is recruited fairly easily. But the second on the island, an academic gnome figure who delivers his lines in verse, must be appeased by gathering together his scattered diary pages, the acquisition of each tied to its own elaborate quest strands. It is excellently done, and while there are some mundane, insignificant quests within the world, many of them are quite involved and inspired. The game somehow feels modern, even while incorporating more dated, traditional components, actually assuming intelligence on the part of the player, rather than simply pointing him directly to an objective, cruelly questioning his intelligence.
The remainder of the gameplay beyond exploration, dialogue, and questing actually is basic, maybe a little too straightforward. The game is a traditional turn-based affair, the player character fighting alongside a pair of selectable companions acquired throughout the narrative, each seemingly with their own strengths, abilities, and spells. Rather unique to the title, as the controllable characters level up, they are afforded additional moves in combat; opening with the capability to move but once per turn, by the end game all characters can attack three times per turn. There is a balancing component here, standard attacks and basic spells only using one turn, more elaborate spells taking up two and even three turns. There is a cooldown component for the stronger skills, so there is actually a lot to consider, especially when factoring in the different attributes of each spell, some dealing water damage, others fire, each damage type having a secondary effect, like burn damage over time or vulnerability to a subsequent attack. There is even a rather robust upgrade system, with many unlockable skills and abilities, though admittedly many are unexciting passives, like increased damage or magnified damage with physical attacks; they are plain but expected inclusions, fundamental to all role-playing games. Active abilities are also purchasable, like new spell types, which are far more exciting and fun to experiment with. Cumulatively, these upgrades, or “metamorphosis” as they are called in-game, are actually reflected on the player character’s model. An initial choice, for instance, involves selecting a pair of wings, with a choice of traditional bird appendages, or the more creative option of dragonfly wings. Similarly, tattoos can be etched on the body, gradually increasing in size as they are upgraded. There truly is a lot of depth here, with armor options and choice of weaponry; the bow is the only weapon, but it has multiple permutations. Despite this supposed depth, though, even on hard difficulty, the game can be far too easy. The encounters can drag on, even a basic battle lasting four or five minutes, even as the threat level is minimal. It can feel like a slog. There are no random encounters, each enemy visible in the gameworld, though they never respawn, so grinding is a virtual impossibility. This keeps the pacing intact, and does ensure balance to the gameplay, with no concerns about over or under levelling. Unfortunately, the combat may be the least exciting of the game’s various systems; exploration and NPC interaction both excel – they are both very compelling. And yet, the combat, inferior as it is, seems to be recipient of greatest attention.
It is possible I made the game somehow easier with my character build, as I focused largely upon physical resistance and healing spells. The latter emphasis was highly critical, as I was not dependent upon a party member for health restoration. Being defensive and liberated in this manner, I was able to select two companions with greater offensive potential, though I was still able to make contributions to combat. Regarding the combat, the first turn of a battle is usually experimental. Each enemy has different resistances, some resistant to physical attacks, others resistant to magic. The enemy design isn’t logically indicative of those strengths or weaknesses. A red enemy would logically be weak to water damage, right? Not always. And despite the incredible creativity of environments, many of the enemy types are mundane and uninspired. Exploring Avalon at the beginning of the game, conversing with mermaids and coming to grips with the controls – these are good things. And then to enter the first battle and encounter a crab is pretty deflating. This problem persists throughout the game, and is especially noticeable in the tree world, where wasps and termites are primarily combatted. There are more imaginative creatures, like a dryad who serves as a boss in one realm, through to ghouls and zombies, and even a spirit residing in The Flying Dutchman’s figurehead. Still, these highs serve only to amplify the lows. The lack of enemy diversity, the lack of challenge, and the relative lack of strategy result in a core combat system which is certainly not bad, but rather uninspired. I greatly enjoyed building my character, though a lot of my choices were made for cosmetic purposes. There is the mentioned diversity of equipment, but there is no economy system of any sorts; defeated enemies do not award gold, neither is it awarded upon quest completion. This absence may simplify things relative to other RPG’s, but a streamlined approach like this in not always a bad thing.
Brief note must be made of the music. It is stellar across the board, each world having its own unique themes and overtures. This music – alternately epic and whimsical – only serves to make exploration more compelling, while the atmospheric effects are also impressive, from chirping birds and insects through to gales and violent waves. Voice acting is lacking entirely, but I think it contributes to the game’s charm; I would rather have no voice acting than bad voice acting, and the slight emotes characters make during speech, coupled with subtle yet endearing sound effects, makes dialogue rather unique, and certainly more fast-paced than that offered in more refined games of far higher budget, where the delivery can be painstakingly slow. Technically, too, things are well done, with decent draw distances and textures, bolstered by incredible creativity. The world building, too, is very strong. With a plurality of races, there seems an aspect of lore and history to the world, inklings of this complexity made apparent in the narrative – humans are mysteriously regarded with disdain, for instance, and there is a great deal of compelling intrigue present. But resolution and elaboration never come – the game ends abruptly and disappointingly. Very short in terms of length, I never felt boredom playing the title. With improved battle systems, the game truly could have been something special. A rich world has here been crafted, ripe for development in future titles. It has been ten years now since the title has been released, so that potential shall – tragically – remain unseized upon.