Sacred Odyssey: Rise of Ayden Review

I’m usually on board with Gameloft games, as they tend to take winning formulas from other franchises, give them their own bit of spin, art and story, and let them loose on the iPhone. Sacred Odyssey is about as near as we’re going to get to The Legend of Zelda on the iPhone anytime soon, and so allowances are made even though plenty of people would argue that Gameloft just rips off other games. Sure, maybe — but so do other games, and at least Gameloft puts a lot of work into them.

But despite all the polish that Sacred Odyssey: Rise of Ayden carries with it — and it’s quite a bit, a title Gameloft markets as “the most ambitious action-RPG on the iPhone” — it never really gets ramped up to being very fun. It hits a few high points, but a general lack of difficulty and a repetition of situations and enemies limits how engaging Sacred Odyssey ever ends up being. This is a Zelda knockoff in practice, maybe, but it never succeeds in matching Zelda’s spirit.


Sacred Odyssey: Rise of Ayden (IPhone [Reviewed])
Developer: Gameloft
Publisher: Gameloft
Release Date: Mar 21, 2011
MSRP: $0.00

Sacred Odyssey puts you in the role of Ayden, a farm boy who eventually winds up trekking across the kingdom on a mission from the princess to gather up important artifacts to battle a big bad evil thing. You’ll find a sword and shield and take to horseback, traveling to other cities and fighting through dungeons to find four pieces of a Grail that should help you defeat the big evil.

It’s all familiar territory. Sacred Odyssey hands out quests as you go in the style of a game like Fallout or Fable, and you can check them from a menu screen, which helps keep you (mostly) up on what you’ve got going on. The main quest is pretty straight-forward and always marked on your minimap. Side quests take a little more paying attention, and while you can usually figure out where you have to go just by virtue that there aren’t that many places to visit, you won’t get a marker to help you out.

While there aren’t a ton of paths through the world, it’s still a big place — the option to ride a horse anytime you’re out in the world is a nice one, and you’ll spend quite a bit of time wandering the world, finding treasure chests and exploring. About a quarter of the way through the game, you’ll get access to an airship by helping its captain, which allows you to fast-travel between different locations in the world. That’s a nice perk, and Sacred Odyssey gets it out of the way early so you have the option pretty much from the start.

This is also one of the better story offerings in an iPhone game on the market right now. Great voice acting and thoughtful, often humorous and goofy dialogue adorn Sacred Odyssey’s major character interactions. Whenever you’re speaking with someone about something that advances the main storyline, you’ll get voice acting, and there’s quite a bit of it. A lot of the characters do a pretty decent job with their lines — Ayden and his obligatory fairy companion get up to some interesting banter, and she’s far less annoying than Navi ever was. Story shines as Sacred Odyssey’s biggest achievement: it doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense, but the game takes note of that and pokes a bit of fun at itself and other members of its genre. It’s refreshing that Gameloft is aware enough of what it’s making to be able to toe the line of delivering a fantasy offering at the same time as acknowledging the weirdness and humor in the cliches.

But the game goes a little downhill from there. While the main quest keeps dragging you forward to do accomplish more things, the story is a little thin. The dialogue acknowledges this a few times, and Ayden actively remarks about how important characters like to give him instructions while glossing over the logic behind them, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re basically aimed at different locations for no reason except to engage in a big fetch quest. You never really have a reason to keep moving forward except that there’s more game ahead of you. This doesn’t feel like a real odyssey, but more like a trip to a really complicated Wal-Mart that abruptly ends with fighting a huge dude.

Not counting bosses, you’ll fight a grand total of five kinds of enemies throughout the game (and the last type only two or three times, all told), and they never get any smarter through the many times you encounter them. Combat approximates intensity and strategy without ever achieving them, since the AI commands enemies to charge straight at you and attempt to poke you with a stick until you murder them. When they get close or you get surrounded you, the best plan is to dive clear and start slashing away so you can hit all the enemies at once. You can also block every single blow directed your way by simply holding the shield button.

You fight the same orcs and kobolds throughout the game, in every dungeon, outside of every town. They carry the same weapons, they fight in the same way, and they are never, ever a challenge. They’re also incredibly stupid, and will often run straight at wall and obstacles, ignoring the fact that they aren’t moving as they barrel inexorably toward you. Boss fights are a little better, but still simplistic, and once you know the two-step attack patterns, the difficulty falls away in a hurry.

Eventually, Ayden comes across a few items that perform different actions. You’ll get a gauntlet for smashing things and moving blocks for block puzzles; a gold hawk that is basically Link’s multi-targeting boomerang; and a gold snake that’s basically Link’s hookshot. They function exactly the same way as their Zelda game counterparts, except their less useful in general, only coming up during specific situations. They can be pulled out in combat, but refuse to reliably allow you to target things, especially under pressure. You’ll kill bosses with them and occasionally mantle an obstacle or grab a secret item with them, but that’s it.

Despite your progression through new equipment and a couple of big, intertwining dungeons, Sacred Odyssey never becomes all that exciting. Combat stays the same throughout the game, despite the fact that the game tells you collecting a million little hidden artifacts throughout the world will make you stronger. They don’t, really, except for the one that adds to your life bar — once you have two or three of those, you’re basically invincible. If you do get into trouble, there’s never a shortage of consumable potions on hand to revitalize you.

But the entire time I was playing through Sacred Odyssey, I felt like I was waiting for it to start. I kept telling myself, “Soon I’ll get a new sword or a new item and THEN the game will get exciting.” But it never happened. Sacred Odyssey never deigned to throw anything more at me than a larger group of orcs, which really just meant more diving and more pounding away at that sword button.

In other places, there’s a slight lack of polish that makes the game frustrating. Ayden has the same tendency to get hung up on the edges of objects that the enemies do, making getting around really frustrating. Idiotic AI means that enemies can inadvertently trap you with their stupidity — at one point, I was attempting to climb down a ladder to fight a group of orcs, but their endless running straight into the wall at the base of the ladder meant I couldn’t reach the ground. So we just stood there, stalemated, until I got lucky and slipped past the orc. I think it only happened because of a graphical glitch.

Unlike Gameloft’s other offerings, Sacred Odyssey never ¬†gains the sort of transcendence that its inspiration games give. The sense of exploration isn’t really cultivated, the game fails to reach an epic feel because you’re just as capable a hero at the beginning of your adventure as at the end, and it’s tough to really feel pulled into the story because there’s not a whole lot to give you the sense that the world is in danger, other than the fact that a big glowing blue Zordon in a tree says so. Sacred Odyssey is too easy and too thin, and while it may be long, it struggles to stay interesting and give you a reason to play it.

Pros:

  • Great voice acting
  • Huge, expansive game world
  • Interacting with NPCs and getting their quests can be fun
  • Solid writing that’s both fantasy literate and humorous
  • Pretty ambitious for an iPhone game

Cons:

  • Enemy AI is pretty terrible; not enough enemy types exciting
  • Game is filled with improperly mapped objects and invisible walls that make movement frustrating
  • Story is pretty thin
  • Pretty easy in general
  • Your hero doesn’t really develop — you’re at the same strength level at the beginning as at the end
  • Equipment doesn’t really allow you to do a whole lot

Final Score: 65

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