The first A Valley Without Wind was a tough game to sell. When trying to convince friends that the low budget looking 2d game was worth the $15 price tag, it was hard to verbalize why. If forced to be a succinct as possible, AVWW was more interesting than it was fun. Months later Arcen Games is at it again, giving anyone who owns the first game entry into a beta for the upcoming sequel. And now, after spending some time with said sequel, I find myself in a very similar situation. Because the reality is, if forced to review A Valley Without Wind 2, I’m not sure what sort of rating I’d give it.
Enemy spawns can be extremely cheap, with multiple monsters appearing in single tiny rooms, leaving you unable to proceed without taking untold damage. Character animations are stilted, the background music will change abruptly, the list of surface layer problems with the game is quite long. But the majority of these hitches never take away from the game’s sense of discovery. They’re part of the the game’s charm. Under the hood, there seems to be a lot of complicated stuff going on in AVWW 2, and the fun is in getting your hands dirty. You need to dig into it and figure out what makes it tick.
The premise is a bit thrown together, with the world being in some sort of apocalyptic scenario. Players control a mage who has weaseled himself into the inner circle of Demonaica, the rather generically named evil overlord who does… evil things. AVWW 2 never really digs too deep into plot specifics. By doing this, you attain the power of immortality, which the demon lord and his closest companions have been using to stay in power. After receiving the very same life extension, players and their small band of revolutionaries set out to salvage the world, eliminate Demonaica’s influence, and kill his generals until they stay dead. What this equates to in terms of gameplay is just as convoluted as the premise itself. AVWW 2 takes ideas from the original, and reworks them into a form that’s actually manageable. Where the first was much more of a old-school sandbox experience, the sequel is more of an actual game with concrete goals. It’s one part turn-based strategy and one part 2d platformer. Once in the game proper, players find themselves on an overworld map,broken up into a grid of uniform squares. During each turn, you move your team of survivors around the map, have them forage for food, build structures, all the usual tasks one would expect. But once all the units have acted, it’s time to venture into a single square, and this is where it becomes a 2d platformer. Players can choose between one of four classes, each of which level up after clearing certain squares, and these determine your attacks.
The attacks themselves are what make the platforming sections so interesting, and are also what can break the game. Certain enemies have obnoxious attacks which are far too difficult to dodge, and the random enemy placement can lead to near impossible situations. You will get hurt; the strategy comes from trying to mitigate this damage. Since XP isn’t given on a per enemy basis, exploration is incentivized as opposed to simple death and destruction. Attacks can just as easily function as defensive maneuvers, dispelling incoming attacks, allowing the player to breeze past groups of enemies. As the punishments for death can get quite harsh late in the game, you’ll find yourself wanting to get in, grab as much treasure as possible, and reach the end of the level as swiftly as possible. Enemies become more like environmental obstacles, and less like creatures that must be crushed to continue. And did I mention AVWW 2 has rogue-like qualities? Every time a new game is started, players can choose various map sizes and difficulty levels, and the board is then randomly generated. Platforming sections follow suit, with each square generating its own environment. If all of this wasn’t enough to pile into a single game, there’s also co-op. Up to eight people can play within a single game. Because why not? At this point, when so much is already being attempted, what’s another mechanic thrown on top of the pile? Scenes on screen are at times so utterly chaotic, bearing such unpredictability that it’s simultaneously hilarious and fascinating.
If A Valley Without Wind 2 did anything, it kept me intrigued far longer than I imagined it would. I was constantly given new ways to deal with the same problems, and the game forced me to experiment. Arcen Games seem to enjoy throwing various systems at the wall and playing with the splattered remains until they find something that works. The results may not always be brilliant, but they sure as hell are interesting.