Millennium: A New Hope
Episode 1 of 5
“Millennium: A New Hope” is an episodic “RPG Maker” creation developed by Aldorlea, a small Indie development house that has nearly 20 “RPG Maker” games to its name. Seeing as the state of the RPG has become dire in recent years and Aldorlea has recently had a significant number of games from their library greenlit for sale on Steam, I figured it was time to see if my favorite genre could be saved by user-generated content.
“Millennium” looks like a SNES game. That’s really all there is to say about the graphics. “RPG Maker” typically allows users to create custom 16-bit tile-sets for environments and characters… and “Millennium” meets this standard adequately, but not spectacularly. There is a lot of variety in the game’s environments, as well as forbidden areas that are inaccessible (presumably until a later episode). Character models are distinctive, but overall lacking in frames of animation. There are also no special animations for cutscenes, with any specifically active scenes described via text.
Combat takes place in first-person perspective, similar to the ‘Dragon Quest’ franchise, with large character portraits near each character’s stat-block. These portraits are actually a bit too large, as they tend to cover-up smaller enemies that are situated toward the front of the enemy ranks.
The soundtrack, however, is quite pleasant, with a range of catchy and suitable tunes for the various towns, dungeons, battles, etc. I found myself humming along with them quite frequently.
“Millennium” suffers from a couple of annoying technical issues that don’t really qualify as ‘bugs,’ but make the experience suffer regardless. For one, the resolution of the game is always somewhat low, there are no options available to change it, and a sliver of each side of the view gets cut-off. Another issue that drove me insane is the fact that everything in-game that is supposed to respond to directional presses is overly sensitive, be it character movement or menu item selection. I frequently made mistakes in combat due to the selection highlight moving two spaces instead of one when I pressed the directional key, and the simple act of exploring the world, dungeons, and towns is rendered tedious due to sloppy walking controls. Even worse, the ‘confirm’ button is associated with X on a standard Xbox-style controller, while ‘cancel’ and the main menu are both associated with the B button instead of the standard layout of A for ‘confirm,’ B for ‘cancel,’ and Start or Y for the main menu. All of these technical faults could be resolved by the player if “Millennium” included some keybinding options, which are essential for any game released on PC.
I had no idea what to expect going into “Millennium.” The character designs are ambiguous enough that the game could have any kind of weird setting. Fortunately, “Millennium” isn’t particularly weird and takes place in a fairly uninspired mid-fantasy setting, where there aren’t a lot of magic, monsters, or demi-human races, but still enough to make it clear that the setting is fantastical.
“Millennium” opens with a man named Stanislas ranting at some guards outside the prosperous capital city of Mystrock. Apparently Mystrock is a stupidly-wealthy hive of aristocracy that is unwilling to provide aid to the surrounding rural areas that are slowly becoming consumed by swampland and taken over by wild beasts. The guards, being the caricatures of the lapdogs of nobility that they are, drop a boulder on Stanislas, breaking his leg.
At some point, Stanislas’ family drags him home and treats his injury. His daughter, Marine, turns out to be the actual main character in “Millennium,” as she is sent to do some busywork that her father would have done himself, were he not injured. Seeing the poor treatment of non-residents by Mystrock first-hand, as well as the small amount of resources it would take to revitalize the countryside, Marine, being a hard-headed firecracker, decides to do something about Mystrock’s anti-social behavior: She plans to run for office and win the next Mystrock election.
When her cousin, Benoit, shoots down her idea of winning the election without any kind of wealth or influence, Marine decides to pursue other options for influencing the government. She discovers her angle in the Trial by Combat option codified in Mystrocks laws that states anyone can challenge the elected rulers to a martial arts competition in order to seize leadership, provided they can gather a team of 13 warriors for the fight. Marine sets out into the countryside with Benoit in search of warriors. She manages to find two before the game abruptly ends.
Yes, “Millennium” is an episodic game, with Episode 1, “A New Hope” lasting approximately 15 hours (for a first playthrough) and serving as a brief introduction to the overarching plot. There are a total of 5 episodes in the entire “Millennium” saga that were released over the course of 5 years (2009-2013). Normally I am not a fan of episodic games because the episodes are spaced too far apart or the momentum behind development peters out and the game evaporates without a conclusion. “Millennium” is actually complete at this point, and I find myself interested enough in where the story is going to want to play Episode 2 at the very least.
“Millennium” doesn’t have a lot of deep characterization or expansive world-building lore. However, it does have plenty of unique angles and plot points that help it stand out in a crowd of bland, trope-riddled RPGs by professional developers that have become intolerable in recent years. Between the strange and headstrong female lead and the pro-socialism slant to the main plot, “Millennium” proves a tasty sampling of things to come in the later episodes.
It’s fairly difficult to mess-up a turn-based RPG. Sure, it’s possible to overload it with flashy graphics that slow the battles to a crawl (“Millennium” doesn’t – the battles are blazingly fast). It’s also possible to create tedious battle or equipment systems based on gimmicks that make everything take forever without requiring any real strategic thought (“Millennium” doesn’t).
“Millennium” just provides a nice, clean, turn-based combat system pitting the player’s party of 1-4 characters against reasonable-sized groups of enemies. Boss battles require strategic use of character abilities, and sometimes a bit of luck. If there’s anything wrong with the battles in “Millennium” it’s that sometimes bosses feel a little bit like damage sponges, making fights drag out longer than needed, even after it’s clear that the player’s party has everything under control.
“Millennium” also provides a range of gameplay options that allow players to decide, in part, just how old-school they want to be. There is an option to switch between random encounters and visible enemies in dungeons as well as an option to turn on green arrows that show the correct way through each dungeon. I found the arrows super helpful, not for finding my way through the dungeons but for making sure I explored all of the side paths before following the correct path. It’s also possible to save anywhere in “Millennium” and the game provides plenty of save slots.
The other main aspect of a traditional RPG like “Millennium” is exploration and secrets. “Millennium” has a built-in quest system and a built-in secrets system which encourage the player to thoroughly scour every area for hidden goodies ranging from items to picnic baskets (?!) filled with experience points to magic orbs that can be traded for stat boosts at the four stat guilds scattered around the overword. Most of the secrets in “Millennium” require a sharp eye to pick-out the subtle visual hints that something is hidden nearby, while a few of them are a bit TOO well hidden to the point of being in FAQ-required territory. The only really bad thing about “Millennium’s” obsession with hidden goodies and secrets is the 100% missable hidden shop that also happens to be the only place in the game to acquire the key necessary to unlock a handful of treasure chests. Missables in RPGs are always a bit of a sticking point and “Millennium’s” inclusion of a missable area with repercussions through other aspects of the game is unneeded and undesirable.
The only real downside to “Millennium’s” gameplay design is that some of the dungeons feel like they just go on and on and on during the player’s first visit. Most of the dungeons in “Millennium” are quite expansive, though after clearing each one the player is given the chance to simply ‘go through’ them if they happen to serve as a transition between two areas. Unfortunately, aside from the ‘go through’ option to avoid retracing one’s steps through dungeons over and over, “Millennium” is devoid of methods of easy travel. There is no teleport spell for returning to previous towns, nor is there an exit spell to hastily retreat from a dungeon in case of emergency or to avoid excessive walking upon backtracking into a completed dungeon to pick-up a secret.
“Millennium: A New Hope” is an impressive example of the kind of surprisingly high quality game that can be made with “RPG Maker.” Between the tantalizing bits of plot revealed in this first of five episodes and the no-nonsense classic RPG gameplay, I’m looking forward to seeing how the remaining episodes pan out. While I would have preferred an all-in-one game, I can heartily recommend “Millennium” to those jaded RPG fans who are tired of the crap flowing from professional RPG developers lately.
Overall (not an average): 4/5