Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf Console Edition
The game at a glance
I have to admit I was pretty impressed with the graphics of this game when I decided to give a go, considering it had been out for quite some time. You’re welcomed into the book of this story, and prompted to make some initial choices to determine how your character should be built. While fairly simple in terms of stat choices (you only choose a +1 in one of the 3 main stats) and when it comes to pick a starter weapon, you are faced with an extremely important choice right from the beginning : you need to choose 4 powers out of 8, which will not change for the rest of the playthrough. Carefully reading the explanations here is crucial, unlike most game where you just pick something to start knowing you can learn the rest later.
Once you’ve made your choices, the story begins and you start reading the pages, occasionally faced with some choices. You eventually come face to face with your fight enemy and the game changes drastically, going from reading a book to a proper turn based RPG screen all in animated 3D. The reason I point that out is because it creates such a contrast between both play phases : you go from the feeling of reading a nice book, just making some choices on the way, to actually playing a regular game during the battle phases. This back and forth between chill fireplace reading atmosphere to fighting your way through more realistic battles is something I really enjoyed.
Playing a book
While my favorite part of this game is the battle system, the book part is also really interesting. First of all, it establishes a pretty unique atmosphere, in which you can chill and read the story at your own pace. Many illustrations come to enhance the experience, with even sometimes art that takes a whole page and is slightly animated, making it pop out. Everything is in the color of ink and paper, making it really look like an old book full of legends.
The most interesting part though, is to be presented with many choices to make. While most of them have little incidence on your global objective, they drastically chance a number of things. Depending on how you choose to approach a situation, different short term outcomes will occur, changing the narration and affecting a number of things such as damage taken or avoided, items found, or even how the next battle will start. For instance, deciding to set some oil barrels ablaze which enemies around can have them start the fight with the burning status. Being cunning and having them trigger a trap can lower their HP at the start of the battle. Or simply surprising them or being the one ambushed after a reckless action will decide who will get the initiative. Especially in hard mode, those choices can really make your life a lot easier or harder, and it’s a lot of fun to try and see the different outcomes.
The final (but very important) thing your choices is going to affect is character progression, which occurs at the end of each episode. You will randomly get 3 extra stat points among strengh, intelligence and agility. While there is no way to make sure to get the points where you want them, the repartition will be heavily influenced by the choices you made during the episode : reckless actions increase the probability of getting strengh, smart choices favor intelligence and acrobatic or intuition choices will favor agility. Battles are not a source of experience here : they are meant to be obstacles to overcome, the character growth actually happens in the book part of the game.
Feels like a board RPG, plays like a video game
Many elements of this game remind you of board RPGs. From the way the character sheet is make, the way you get to choose your stats in the beginning while the narration comments on them, and the map general look. Even your current location is shown as if it was a token that you move around across the board. Everything looks and feels like you’re playing with a combination of book and board… Until battles occur.
When those start, there is a transition from paper style artwork to 3D model and environment, making everything literally come to life. Paper and ink becomes fully colored graphics, static art becomes animated, and what was written in the book such as a trap harming the enemies has all become reality ! I love the way this transition works, going from the chill and safe atmosphere of the book to a deadly battle requiring your immediate attention.
A great and immersive Battle system
While I enjoyed the book and board aspects of the game, the battle system is where the fun begins. Apart from random battles that can occur anytime you try to move on the map, the story battles occur as you’re reading the book and there are not that many (unfortunately). However, they are meaningful, in my opinion. More often that not, RPG battles are pretty trivial and based on how leveled and geared you are, and you can reach incredible levels of power that allow you to destroy foes way too easily. Here, leveling doesn’t work this way : you only get new stats and increased ressources at the end of episodes. No matter how many fights you farm, you will not get any stronger. The only thing you can do is upgrade your gear but that is pretty limited as well. Also, enemy encounted are pretty balanced with your current gear and power level so every fight (as least the story ones) must be taken seriously. Enemies are strong enough to trash you (especially in hard mode) and you can’t just spam attacks on them and hope to win : you need to balance your stamina, Kai, consumables, cooldowns, offensive and defensive options to win, which is something I absolutely love. Battles feel like ordeals you need to overcome in order to progress further, not like chores you farm in bewteen story progression.
Also, despite being a turn based battle system, the game manages to keep it active and interesting. First of all, there is an action bar that fills up with time, like the ATB you can find in final fantasy games. Once it’s full, you get to act. The difference is that your bar now starts to deplete and acts like an hourglass : you have until it’s completely empty to perform as many actions as your ressources and cooldowns allow, meaning you can do quite a lot in a single turn. Most actions are gonna demand your attention, as QTEs are required to perform most of them. Even dodging an attack will need to be confirmed by an input, followed by another one if you wish to counter. This makes even turn based battles much more alive in my opinion : it’s not just about taking the right decisions, you also need to be attentive during the battle or you will miss out on some unforeseen opportunities. Being an RPG, RNG will also heavily influence the flow of battles, thanks to critical hits and dodges, from you or the enemy. Every action counts, every fail counts, and in hard mode bad luck can mean defeat. While a bit frustrating, this is part of the essence of classic RPGs, and your job as a player is to fight against the odds to prevail. This keeps me much more interested that just mashing buttons, or commands to be honest.
The hero and only playable character. I can’t stress enough how badass I think he is. His style, his ability to take clever decisions and his fighting prowess while always outnumbered really made it a pleasure to play his role.
The only other character that you keep crossing paths with and cooperating with. She is very dedicated and strongwilled, determined to see her personal quest to its conclusion. Your choices will determine how you will get along with her.
The most common enemy in the game, but still a threat nonetheless. They tend to accompany stronger foes or serve as reinforcements. While not as dangerous as the rest, they should not be underestimated.
These enemies are much stronger than giaks and pretty much serve as mini bosses especially in the beginning of the game. They hit hard and can take a beating, as well as recover with potions much more efficiently than giaks who are pretty much their minions.
The brute type. Very imposing, resillient and strong, these are also pretty slow. They will also often try to overpower and grab you and you will have to repel them through QTEs.
Probably the most problematic type of enemy. They seem to have everything : Hard hitting attacks, grabs, self heal and magic. These should definitely be the first ones to go down whenever possible.
My favorite bits in this game
There are two obvious things that made me love this game, and the first if the book/board RPG feel it has. When you’re into this kind of atmosphere, you can’t help but feel at home in the interface when you look at the map, the menu, and the book pages. Simply creating a new character is something I love like in any game where I have multiple choices such as Dark Souls for instance. choosing starter gear, starter stats and spells might seem like it’s not much, but it means a lot to any RPG fan.
The second one is of course the battle system, which offers no easy way out. Enemies are much tougher than you, especially in hard mode, your actions, levels and gear upgrades are limited, and it feels like you win battles with a combination of brawn and brain rather than blasting away the opposition after becoming way too powerful Saitama style. I love games that keep me on my toes and make me think rather than just farming for power.
My Personal Rating
- Gameplay 90% 90%
As far as turn based battles go, It’s honestly difficult to ask for much more. It’s pretty active, the game doesn’t wait for you, you need to perform QTEs to validate most of your skills or actions, even random ones such as dodging opportunities. As such, you never get bored during battle as you need to be active all the time instead of simply watching and waiting after your selections. The only thing I could have asked for it to be better would have been QTEs as dynamic as Legend of Dragoon.
- Audio 70% 70%
While I didn’t think music va especially memorable, it definitely did a good job when it comes to mood. You get the chill vibe from the book part, and the battle theme sounds ominous enough to signal a change of pace. I simply regret the absence of some voice overs, I believe a narrator could have been nice, Like in Dragon’s Crown or Darkest Dungeon.
- Graphics 80% 80%
The graphics here should be split bewteen the book and battle parts. I love the way the Book part is rendered, with an old paper and ink feel to it, and gorgeous artworks as you go from page to page and chapter to chapter.
The battle part if completely different as it’s in 3D, and is also pretty good. It’s no advanced graphics of course, but I was honestly surprised at the quality overall, especially from the many animations during battles. The finishing strikes, the nuumerous different abilities of both the character and the enemies, it really made battles look badass.
- Lifespan 70% 70%
I knew it was a rather small game, but I can’t help being disappointed at how short the game was because I was having fun and didn’t want it to end so quickly. If you’re a trophy hunter like me though, you need to at least play the game twice to get everything, including hard mode (which was a blast anyway) meaning you will get to enjoy it even longer. There are two endings and the different choices, spells and builds make it worthwhile to play through it again, if only to try out everything.
- Writing 90% 90%
The obvious strong point of the game. Being presented as a book, it makes sense that the writing was especially good. The story and narration were great, with some changes depending of your choices, and even more hidden content, like lore in the journal is well written and gives a lot of details on the story, the world and its inhabitants.
- Trophies 80% 80%
The game if perfectly balanced trophy wise, with all the normal components you could expect : Collectibles, completion, battle related, etc… A total of two playthroughs ar required for the platinum which is perfectly fine considering how the game is pretty short for an RPG.
The final word for the lone wolf
“ … ”
As a big RPG fan who loves anything and everything of that category, this game was a real treat. It combined many good traits of the physical RPG mediums and converted them into a nice video game. I play it again from time to time which is generally a good indicator of liking a game beyond completing it once or twice, even once you reached 100%.
I really hope to see more games like this in the future.