artadv2.jpgThe earliest console RPGs didn't have a lot of story to them. The world is in trouble; go save it! And the player did. This would involve freely roaming the land in search of greater levels and better gear until they could defeat the big bad, sometimes helping random people along the way. Modern RPGs tend to be driven by grand storylines and sometimes offer the player very little freedom to roam. Those that don't are called "open world" RPGs, and although the early RPGs could be considered their forerunners in that regard, there are still differences between the open roads of old and the open worlds of today. Artifact Adventure captures the look and feel of old console RPGs like the original Dragon Quest/Warrior and Final Fantasy games, but it has a few modern additions that turn it into something special.

The game gives the player a lot of options at the beginning, some more obvious than others. This starts with party creation. There are four party slots to fill and six classes to choose from in any mix the player might want. The characters get names, but no other customization options are given and the characters are given no backstories. Play starts at the castle, where the king urges the party to defeat the Swamp King and save the land.

artadv.pngTo get them started, the king offers the party a choice of items: they can have an airship, a set of four artifacts to get started with, or the Key of Time. Artifacts can be found all over the place and when picked up give the party member at the head of the formation (this can be changed in the menu) a new special ability to be used in and/or out of battle. The value of the four artifacts, then, is giving the party some abilities right off the bat. The value of the airship is equally obvious to anyone familar with JRPGs: mobility. The airship gives immediate access to anywhere in the world, though that comes with danger, since the nearest cave to the airship's starting point is deadly to a level 1 party. The Key of Time comes with a mysterious promise of providing access to "the wisest men in all the world."

That first choice is clearly a big one, one that dictates in part how challenging the start of the game will be. The player could even go so far as to accept none of the king's gifts, to bypass all of them and go straight out into the wild. The castle town has still more choices that allow the player to customize their starting difficulty. If the player goes down the well, there's an NPC at the bottom to whom they can sell party members, one by one. They can get a little over 4,000 gold for the first one, almost double that for the second one, and almost double that for the third one. That starts the player off with a huge amount of gold that can be used to buy a nice artifact and upgraded equipment for the now-solo party member.

artadv4.jpgThis is probably the best time to mention that when I was first trying the game, I accidentally sold one of my party members. The NPC said he'd give me 4,000+ gold for "the one at the back" and I accepted without fully realizing what he meant until the NPC said I'd "never see 'is face again." Wait. Did I just...? Yup. Sure did. Whoops. If I had decided I really wanted that person back, I'd have had to revert to my first and only save, right after the initial order from the king to defeat the Swamp King.

There are other choices interesting choices after that, too. The second town's economy revolves around a well full of healing water. The healing effect comes from an artifact at the bottom of the well which is guarded at all times because the town relies on it so heavily. You can go down to the bottom of the well and talk the guard into letting you have the artifact to help you on your quest. He'll let you have it because the Swamp King needs to be defeated for everyone's sake. But he reminds you that the town relies on it before he does. Alternately, there are a pair of suspicious men in the inn who will pay you well to pour something into the drink supply in the guard room. They don't tell you why, but you can guess.

artadv3.jpgArtifact Adventure does a great job of mixing old school aesthetics and gameplay with modern innovations that blend seamlessly into the retro style of the game. There's a good balance of tradeoffs to add replay value and death takes player to the last inn they saved at with costly revival penalties instead of lost progress. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys JRPGs and especially to folks looking for a throwback to the past. It's Windows-only and has a regular price of $7 on Steam and Playism.