8.0 Overall Score

Written by on March 15, 2010 in

I’ll be honest with you.  I’m a sucker for RPGs whether they’re of Japanese stylings or inspired by the design philosophies of the West.  It was only natural for me to be a little excited when I found out about Risen.

The opening cinematic was actually very well done.  There was enough action and enough mystery to motivate me to find out more about the world and my character’s part in it.  The setting is a volcanic island called Faranga.  As a stowaway aboard a small vessel, you witness an unnamed Inquisitor’s defeat by a giant Titan.  After he teleports away to escape, a large wave shatters the boat.  You and a woman named Sara are washed ashore from the shipwreck.

While the opening scene was very well-rendered, my first impression was that the actual in-game graphics are rather poor.  Typically, I wouldn’t mind this.  But in this day and age, the difference was jarring enough for me to comment on.  Textures are dull, lacking much detail outside of a rough pattern and color.  The animations are serviceable, albeit unimpressive.  In Risen’s defense, while the visuals are dated, it took only a minute or so for me to dismiss this fact and get on with playing the game.

Objects you can interact with are conveniently called out with descriptive text.  Interaction is a simple button click that either puts you into a canned animation as in the case with things you can sit on, or brings up an inventory screen in situations where you can add things to your backpack.

Speaking of the inventory system, it took me a few hours to get used to it, but I could not overlook the way Piranha Bytes designed the button assignments.  For instance, when trading with a merchant, your inventory is displayed on the right side, the merchant’s on the left.  You navigate items with the left thumbstick.  To switch from your inventory to the merchant’s, you must use the right thumbstick, then resume navigation with the left.  Although this doesn’t break the game, it’s an example of how the inventory system is, for lack of a better term, fiddly.  I mention this only because, as with any RPG, you’ll spend a good amount of time managing your items.  Be prepared to struggle with it at first.

Inventory aside, combat is rudimentary with the basic attack mapped to the right trigger, parry with the left.  As I fought my way through a few starter enemies, I noticed a couple things that took me out of the moment.  First is that the turn sensitivity seems a bit high.  I found myself turning much too quickly, and I could find no option to adjust it.  Also, there were times the whole screen would shake.  I’m not sure if that’s supposed to emulate a tremor (Faranga is a volcanic island after all) or if it’s a problem with the graphics.

The music is generic.  I can recognize the opening tones of Mass Effect, the beginning chords of Oblivion, and the victory tune after a Final Fantasy battle.  Risen, on the other hand remains unremarkable, with no overarching theme or memorable riff to act as the musical signature to the game.

Voice work, on the other hand, was a little more interesting.  Actors deliver lines with British accents.  If they were fake, I couldn’t tell.  In fact, some of them sounded like London mobsters right out of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.  Entertaining, no doubt, and they do add a bit of character to the game.  The other side of this double-edged sword is that it didn’t fit with the setting.  On a side note, many of the names are Spanish.  Eduardo, Ricardo, The Don, Inquisitor Mendoza, coupled with near-cockney accents left an aural disconnect that was more distracting than it was charming.

Yet, for its unrefined presentation and unusual design choices, there are a few things Risen does do well in aspects that can make or break a roleplaying game.  One of these is the sense of progression.  Piranha Bytes decided to take an unconventional approach with Risen.  There is the typical experience points accumulation and levels to be achieved.  Each time you level up, you earn Learning Points, which doesn’t sound unusual.  Where the game breaks from tradition is that attributes and skills are not automatically increased, nor is there an option to manually assign points to your character’s stats.  Instead, the game requires you to find people to train you in exchange for gold and an expenditure of Learning Points.  In some cases, the trainer will send you on a quest before imparting any knowledge to you.  Opinions may vary whether this adds depth to the leveling system, but in the very least, it’s different and interesting.

Another area that the game does well is with exploration.  From the onset, there is a need to find out where you are and figure out what’s going on.  The first conversations you have with the island’s inhabitants hints at a situation that needs investigation and resolution.  On your journey through the story, characters give you a myriad of tasks to complete, some of them taking you to areas you may not have otherwise explored outside of the main quest.  As you hit the main plot points, you’ll be treated to an interesting, and ultimately satisfying tale.

The tale itself is the strongest aspect of the game.  The premise is that all over the island ancient stone structures have been emerging from the earth accompanied by monsters no one has ever seen before.  As if that weren’t bad enough, magic-wielding Inquisitors have swooped in to claim everything coming from these ruins and take control of the island.  What are these structures?  Where are these monsters coming from?  Why are the Inquisitors so interested?  They claim it’s for the safety and betterment of all.  Locals complain of their oppressive rule.  Whom should you believe?  Every one of the characters and factions have their own motivations that fit with the setting and overall plot, never feeling unnatural or contrived.  Even with its open-ended quest structure, Risen’s plot is well-paced and provide much-needed high points when you’re ready to move on from the optional quests.

For these reasons, Risen perpetuates my love of RPGs.  Yes, visuals are unimpressive.  Yes, the sound is generic.  Yes, the interface is archaic.  Yes, the game leaves me with the impression that it’ unrefined at best, unfinished at its worst.  However, beneath the surface lies an engrossing roleplaying game that will appeal to dyed-in-the-wool RPG fans.  If you’re willing to forgive its technical flaws, you’ll find an engaging, time consuming adventure.

A copy of this game was provided to TMG for the purposes of evaluation and review.

Married Gamers Rating: B-


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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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