Anime aesthetics, crystals, bad mages that are always laughing, the destruction of the world as we know it. Standard fare for turn-based strategy games, like this one, Tears of Avia. We all know what to expect when we see our anime-like protagonist and this game delivers on the promise. A prophecy has our hunter meddling with things out of her reach, fighting demons and zombies.
It’s all there, we all have seen it a million times before, but there’s something warm in stories like this; maybe they remind us of older games, the ones that started with all the tropes. Anyway, Tears of Avia has a story, has some dialogue, it’s all too predictable and standard, but it’s OK as a background. The plot never manages to be very interesting, to take center stage, but it’s just enough to induce some nostalgia and to make us follow the threads between fights. Also, the voice acting is anime-like enough, and decent too, to be fitting.
Of course, there’s a lot of fighting. When we’re not exploring towns to find information and talk to our party drinking in the tavern, we are obliterating demonic creatures in forests and open fields. Said explorations is too simplistic to be engaging: we run in mostly empty spaces to find the points of interest that cannot be seen from afar thanks to the isometric perspective and the total lack of a map. Also, the camera is frustratingly old-school, zooming out when it should not and changing points of view without good reason.
It’s not too big a problem, because the areas we are exploring are always too easy to navigate. Sadly, the same issue applies to the battlefields, which are very simple in their design, but cannot be easily understood because they are not properly mapped. So, if your enemies are standing far from your characters, good luck finding them. What makes this worse is the AI: foes mostly stand in one place until you go near them, and then they just run to attack you, charging. There’s no nuance really, no strategic thinking and planning. You just crush the charging enemies as they come, dealing and getting huge damage. Then, after the fight, you’re just fully healed. There are no stakes, so there’s little strategy.
Making matters even worse, the attack moves are weirdly over-powered. If you pay even the tiniest bit of attention to building your heroes, you will destroy most enemies with one hit. To compensate, the game just throws a large number of foes at you at all times when what it really should have done is spice things up tactics wise.
To be fair, Tears of Avia does try to be engaging. The characters level up too quickly and you unlock a surprisingly large number of skills for them, even in the first hour. Then, you see that the available slots for these skills are not enough, and you have to choose some of them to take to battle. This means that you have to understand what every skill does and try to mix and match between heroes and their powers to create the ideal party for each situation. It works sometimes, and it can be fun, but it’s a system that is constantly brought down by other issues, like the frustrating menus and the simplistic equipment mechanics.
It’s really hard to understand how the different pieces of equipment compare to each other, because the menu is not helping at all and when you actually get it, you see that there’s not much to it, it’s very formulaic. You just equip the item with the big number, but to get there you have to go past annoying UI problems. Then, the overall visuals don’t do much to improve the game or immerse you in its world; they are just passable, with most problems found in the animations (some characters don’t even move when walking). The music is better, fitting and not bad, but very forgettable.
The interface causes confusion mid-battle too, because nothing is very clear and you will end up healing the wrong companion or hitting the enemy next to the one you wanted to. The battle system also tries to so some interesting stuff too. It’s really very slow and not animated enough to be satisfying, but there are some cool features. One of them comes in the over-reliance to conditions: a skill might do more damage if the enemy is burning, another might heal some more if you have low health.
There are many such mechanics and it’s a nice way to add a strategic layer to every skill. The most interesting thing, however, is the way you deploy your heroes in battle: you don’t have to do it at the start. You can deploy one character when the fighting breaks, do some stuff, and then deploy another. It’s a cool touch and does make the battles more engaging, because you need to manage your party accordingly for each different encounter.
All in all, Tears of Avia is a game for hardcore fans of the genre. It’s rough around the edges, it’s a bit generic, but it does have something going for it. Some interesting mechanics spice things up in the otherwise bland fights, the story is serviceable but utterly forgettable and the world just feels like a D&D session.