NOTE: This review covers the Castle of N’mar expansion as well as the base game. The content of the expansion changes how the base game plays in certain areas, so it’s difficult to discuss the two independently.

I’ll be the first to admit that Visual Novels are hardly my forte. I love stories and I love games that are story-heavy or focussed on narratives or interactions between character, but I’ve never been able to properly give the genre a chance. This is partially due to time constraints, but also due to how different it is to other, more “gamey” genres – since Visual Novels eschew a lot of traditional gameplay mechanics and tropes, the genre as a whole looks a bit daunting. So, Loren The Amazon Princess is pretty much my ideal entry point to the genre – it ticks a lot of standard Visual Novel checkboxes, but it marries it to a strategy-RPG system that helps support the rest of the game.

The mechanics that prop up the main meat of the game – the story and characters, which I’ll touch on later – are relatively simple, and work well enough. For most of the game, you’ll be travelling around the world map solving quests and murdering enemies. The combat system is interesting at first – it’s sort of a hybrid of standard turn based RPG battles and a really simplified strategy RPG. You place a selection of characters, usually up to six, on a 3×2 grid which consists of two lanes – the front lane protects the back lane. So you’ll need to position your less hardy units, your thieves and mages, behind a wall of fighters. You then take turns, based on a really complex and slightly incomprehensible initiative system, attacking the enemy, who operate on largely the same rules as you, and being attacked back.

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You get a ton of characters to choose from as well, and they all bring something different to the table. Each character has two classes, both of which change what you can equip and what skills you can unlock. You’ll have one of three basic classes – fighter, thief or mage, imaginatively enough – and then every character also has their own unique class. These range from mundane stuff like Gladiators – huge hulking tanks – to the more curious like the Hero class. This one belongs to your main character, and is essentially a cleric or healer – you get a bunch of healing spells and buffing skills to aid your allies. Classes are balanced oddly – while most work well enough together, with each able to deal damage either by attacks, skills or items, there were a few characters who weren’t really too viable. Most notably, one character was a spear-wielding thief who was also a great and powerful fighter… except she remained mostly useless in combat throughout the entire game, falling way behind everyone else in terms of both damage and health. Thieves in general seem pretty underpowered compared to warriors and the absolute powerhouses that mages are, with their best ability to do damage coming from using a couple of items.

The game’s structure is very reminiscent of Mass Effect or Dragon Age – you travel around the world, solving quests and, more importantly, gathering companions to aid you in your achieving your overarching goal. These similarities go deeper than that superficial comparison – the entire way you talk with various characters and react to situations draws heavily from Bioware’s games.

Every time you get a choice, whether it’s while talking to a character or during some other scene entirely, you’re presented with a list of options. Generally these come down to three choices which are reminiscent of the dialog wheel from Mass Effect – a kind, friendly response, a snarky joking response and a gruff forceful response. This works well enough on paper, but it’s implemented in an infuriating way. You usually only get to choose between the words Friendly, Joking and Forceful, and occasionally Romance – you don’t actually get to see what your character will say until you choose. Thankfully, you can reverse the dialog (and scroll back up through text you missed or need to read again in general) using the mouse wheel, but that’s never explained in-game. I ended up saving before each choice in case I inadvertently messed something up before finding out about this. Needless to say, I was a bit annoyed and also rather confused.

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At times, this basic formula is shaken up, and it’s here where things get really interesting. Some are really simple, like the occasional puzzle or riddle which never manage to come close to being taxing, while some are more complex and can temporarily change the flow of the game. During certain segments you’ll have to fight through hordes of enemies, for instance, which involves fighting a succession of battles. You can tackle three different groups of enemies – a smaller, easy group, a large and difficult one or one somewhere in between – each of which will give you different amounts of progress towards your goal. You’re also able to rest between encounters, but doing so gives your foes time to gather their forces and will make subsequent fights harder. There are other twists to the formula – one dungeon is essentially a series of choices and puzzles with the occasional fight or encounter – and, all in all, the game manages to keep things fresh, even if the basic mechanics are very simplistic.

Unfortunately for Loren, the setting and story – which are hugely important – are simplistic as well and, worse, are largely uninspired. The setting is fantasy by-the-numbers, and the story isn’t much better. The main plot is, after the opening, mostly about the reemergence of some ancient evil and gathering forces of good (or, at least, a less awful shade of evil) to fight said evil. Again, it’s all very Bioware-esque. There’s a few good twists, and some of the events are genuinely intriguing – especially with the expansion installed. With that, what starts as a very black and white quest suddenly becomes draped in many more shades of grey. But still, at heart it’s a very simple tale that doesn’t really do much to make itself stand out.

The world of Aravon (even the name sounds generic) is incredibly plain as well – forest-dwelling elves, mountain-bound dwarves, a morally grey human empire and evil dwarves. That’s just the tip of the mountain of cliches making up the setting. Again, there are a few things that are done interestingly – introducing Amazons to a standard fantasy setting, for instance, or the tensions between the different races of elves – but it’s largely by the book.

So, competent but simple game mechanics, an uninspired setting and a story that doesn’t do much to distinguish itself. Is there anything that makes Loren stand out from the crowd?

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Fortunately, there is – the characters.

Your motley crew is made up of a dozen or so characters from various different races and backgrounds, all with their own personalities and quirks. Obviously they’re not all equally as interesting – while none are particularly boring, some are distinctly less intriguing or enjoyable to interact with than others. Temple monk Sauzer, for instance, is particularly disappointing, getting very few lines and nothing really to set him apart. And the writing itself isn’t quite a masterpiece – there are some sloppy portions and there’s occasionally typos or clumsy passages – but it works, for the most part. The game’s generally fairly well written.

But still, plenty of them are really interesting and fun to interact with. They all have their own personality quirks and little details that make them stand out. It can be fascinating to see how they interact with one another, how those different quirks bounce off one another. Conflicts are a pretty common occurrence, sometimes even escalating to the point of becoming potentially lethal, so there’s a good deal of weight behind your decisions with your companions.The way the group grows and changes is enjoyable to watch, and, if I’m being honest, some of the revelations and incidents genuinely affected me emotionally at times.

Being a Visual Novel, and drawing heavily from the Book of Bioware, there’s also the obligatory option to woo your various companions. And, honestly, this facet of the game is handled really well. Both male and female characters can choose to pursue a number of their allies at once, and not all options are open to or the same for everyone. Romancing characters opens up a whole slew of extra dialog and scenes that would be otherwise unavailable, a lot of which can affect the course of the game’s story or change your viewpoint on certain characters quite a bit. Ultimately, you have to choose one and stick with them – there’s only a few scenes that really overlap, with other loose ends being tied up via the game basically just asking you who you want to end up with outright.

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While we’re on the subject of romance, however, it’s worth pointing out that glaring elephant in the room. I’m referring to the art style and how it seems to… well, to put it politely, it’s focuses on a very particular sort of aesthetic. To put it less politely, the game’s art is fanservice heaped on top of gratuitous fanservice. The Steam version only allows for the more modest costumes to be worn, but even that’s still kind of over the top. And if you turn the modesty option off? Well… impractical outfits are nothing new to both RPGs and Visual Novels but Loren takes it to an interesting level. A level I’m not too sure I’m comfortable with. The visuals work – it’s all simple images with very few animations. Nothing flashy, but when the writing is the main focal point it’s understandable.

In the end, it’s kind of hard to say if I’d recommend Loren, honestly. It’s definitely a good game, and  I enjoyed my time with it. The game was fun and some of the scenes were genuinely emotional. But it’s a combination of a niche genre and another, slightly less niche genre, and it’s a rather lo-fi experience, all things considered, and the artwork can definitely be off-putting. Consider this a recommendation, then, but with a rather large asterisk attached – it’s not for everyone.

Review: Loren The Amazon Princess
A competent enough RPG/Visual Novel hybrid. While it's enjoyable, it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.
Pros
  • Enjoyable characters
  • Fun battle system
  • Decent writing
Cons
  • Bland world and story
  • Art is needlessly risque
  • Some odd decisions behind the UI and features
6Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Deputy Managing Editor

Alison has been gaming for about as long as she could walk, or talk. As time went on, she became deeper entrenched in gaming - from videogames to pen and paper games, they're all great as far as she's concerned. She's even studying software engineering and game development at university! Follow her on Twitter @HandsofaDream

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