Aphelion 2

Aphelion Episode 2 Wings of Omega features 5 playable character, tons of skills, quests, fast-paced dungeons, NewGame+ and a lot more! The 6+ hour story continues and Savion must contend with enemies on two fronts as you unravel who the true orchestrator is of the attack on Earth!

Looking just as fantastic as the first game, Aphelion: Episode 2: Wings of Omega continues Savion's epic, high definition quest to save the Earth while fixing many of the issues which somewhat tarnished the Aphelion: Episode 1: Graves of Earth. The ability system is more streamlined, going from nearly 15 attributes to a more manageable eight. The pacing of the story is much better this go around, with events playing out more reasonably than the sucker punch of key events from the first release. Finally, the graphics feel tighter in Episode 2, particularly in regard to the stellar environments and animation. With all of these fixes and a plethora of added content, including a new playable character, Wings of Omega is a wonderful addition to the Xbox Indie library -- if players can overlook some key gaffs and glitches which fight to hold the game back.

When we last left Savion, he had just fought Psycho Mantis cosplayer Selus and rescued the scientist Delith amidst the on-going war between the Ereit army and the invading Crimson. The heroes of the first game feel more rounded this time, their character development more believable thanks to the game spending more time shaping the cast. We see a few scenes about Savion's relationship with Ashley, Drake coming to terms with the rest of the party (though his character feels inconsistent with the Drake of Graves of Earth), and Rita growing from her experiences with the crew. That said, this is Delith's game from start to finish, and the bulk of the dialogue and setpieces are centered around his backstory and development. The game still feels rushed as far as plot and characters go -- Lunatic Studios crams way too much drama and action into the game's six hour story -- but Delith's story feels fully developed and enjoyable as presented in the game. He regrets his actions at Odyssey Tower among others, and his guilt shapes the overall tone of the story. The conclusion to Aphelion is a nice change of pace, but elements of the ending sequence come out of nowhere and leave much to be desired. The writing still isn't the best nor especially memorable, but it's a clear improvement over the first half of the tale, and the game is better for it.

Gameplay improvements make Aphelion 2 a better experience as well, but, unfortunately, it seems that for every improvement, there's something else keeping the gameplay from advancing. The shortening of the ability trees is a welcomed addition, but eight different traits per character of five levels each still feels like too much for a six hour game. It doesn't help that Drake remains as broken a character in Wings of Omega as he was in Graves of Earth, his Trickshot technique typically doling out mid to high double digit damage for just 15 energy points while main character Savion's Reaper barely scratches five digits at a cost of 35 energy points. Drake also has Crippling Toxin, a move which is ridiculously effective and can literally break the game. Crippling Toxin can be earned very early into the game and will literally not allow an enemy a chance to fight back, stalling the opponent indefinitely and giving each party member a dozen or so moves before passing the turn along. The drawback? The move crashes the game. It's unfortunate that so much of the game's balance seems to be based upon this move, with the final bosses of the Colosseum (bonus boss fights) and the extra dungeon seemingly impossible without this cheap move. Actually, I only assume that of the extra dungeon's boss because the regular enemies themselves are so tough and can two shot a party member dead even at level 50, requiring a commitment to grinding that I just don't enjoy. The extraordinary high difficulty of this non-essential dungeon is sure to enhance the game's length for those looking to take on the challenge, and Lunatic Studios also again delivers a New Game+ which lets players start the adventure over again while retaining levels and items earned from the last completion.

Wings of Omega is too ambitious for its own good. There's a new vehicle combat section with the vehicle having its own ability tree, but the section just isn't long enough to make use of investing much into climbing the tree nor does the tank offer any significant changes to the gameplay to be interesting on its own. Crafting allows players to fashion advanced weapons and armor from items, but the party's ability points are better off dumped into unlocking the special moves, leading to the feature to be largely ignored during normal play. In addition, the plethora of items to be bought, crafted, and found leave players refitting the party frequently, resulting from a steady string of small but unnecessary bumps in the road. There are side quests this time around, but they are poorly structured and easily overlooked with rewards rarely being worth the trouble in backtracking and grinding for the requested items, even with the convenience of the new teleporter system. The story arc which makes Delith so relatively interesting leaves the existing cast largely in the dust, their paths and personalities still feeling too abbreviated despite the increased time spent on them and better pacing over the previous game. Likewise, having Delith expand the party to five members means two must be left behind during combat, and the game just isn't long enough to allow players to play around with different configurations much, particularly given how Drake's supremely overpowered special moves ensure that he finds himself in any party. The two extra difficulty settings and New Game+ sound promising and do extend Wings of Omega's length, but I doubt many players will find the story and battle system enjoyable enough to warrant replay let alone finish the extra dungeon.

While there's a bit more one can nitpick -- I still don't know what the Developer had stores offer items of the same price with some exceeding all stats of the others -- Aphelion 2 remains a solid RPG with some great looking visuals. The 1080p graphics are clearly the game's strong suit, full of beautiful artwork and sharp detail. The battle scenes are gorgeous and varied -- the sewer battles look amazing with its cracked wooden slabs, framed by water lilies and fine grass under a dank mist. Later levels feature reflective floors and other highlights which make the battles spark, not to mention how fantastic the character art continues to be, the detail and color of the Crimson Guardian's shield still impressing me. The animation still looks a bit chunky given how immaculate the game's artwork is in Aphelion 2, only because the game just doesn't present enough frames to make these amazing sprites' movements look completely smooth given the otherwise high caliber visuals. It's difficult to hold that against Lunatic Studios, however, as I doubt the game would fit within the Xbox Live Indie Games' file size limit even if the Developer was willing to do so. The environments look much better in this second episode, too, looking far less sterile when held up against the combat artwork, though the perspective still leaves many elements on a level blocking Savion's progress when they should not be (ie., pillars still prevent the player from passing behind them even though the tops of them should not interfere with Savion's movement). Minor criticisms aside, Aphelion 2 is easily the best looking independent RPG I've ever seen, and any criticisms of its graphics should be taken with a grain of salt.

Aphelion: Episode 2: Wings of Omega is a fitting conclusion to Savion's story. The ending won't satisfy everyone, but there's plenty of depth here for RPG fans to explore, Lunatic Studios delivering some of the most impressive games seen on Microsoft's indie channel. I would be remiss to not mention the excellent soundtrack, including the return of Selus' awesome theme, but there's just too much aesthetically wonderful things to go over in a review that players will just have to see and hear for themselves. The only lasting, worthy complaint I can hold against the game is simply wishing the gameplay could match the impressive presentation, but as the Aphelion saga closes, even with some mild structural disappointments, I still find myself itching to see what lies ahead for Lunatic Studios in the future after delivering such an impressive calling card.

February 21, 2011
July 8, 2010 | 240 points
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