It’s probably worth mentioning to begin with that I’d already written one review for Trulon: The Shadow Engine before this where I really let rip into the game for having so many bugs – one in particular which completely halted my progression and left my save file redundant. There’s nothing more terrifying to gamers than a game-breaking bug which puts the hours you’ve spent with a title to waste, and unfortunately Trulon: The Shadow Engine was riddled with them.
Thankfully the developers have been on the ball and released a new patch that rectifies most of these issues, allowing players to actually complete the game. I managed to play through again, finish it, and enjoy Trulon: The Shadow Engine for what it really is – a charming old-school RPG that doesn’t hit levels of greatness, but does enough to provide a fairly competent adventure.
Trulon: The Shadow Engine is actually based on a book called ‘Shadow Gears’ from authors Johan Lillbacka and Jak Koke. I haven’t read the book nor had I even heard of it before playing the game though, so I had absolutely no experience with it other than being a bit interested when it first launched on mobile devices in 2015.
You play as Gladia, a young adventurer who seeks a cure for the mysterious disease that is infecting her home land of Tripudia. This sees her go on a journey through both peaceful and perilous lands as she and her companions take down countless foes and find out who exactly is behind this harmful plague. It’s a competent tale, but one that felt a little underdeveloped given the game’s roots as a novel. It’s not that the story is bad, but rather it never really broadened itself to hook you in. It just felt like a series of typical RPG events that unfold, with a lot of the character’s back stories and the world around them feeling a little undeveloped. Even the opening is presented through a series of static images that leave you with no real clue as to what’s going on – I wasn’t even sure if it was actually an intro or just images that relate to events that are going to occur in the game.
My favourite aspect of Trulon: The Shadow Engine by far is the game’s visual style. Heading from town to town and exploring the perilous dungeons is an absolute treat thanks to the whimsical and vibrant look of the game’s world. Even the more gloomier areas are perfectly portrayed, with ambient lighting keeping even these downtrodden locales looking fantastic. It really felt like I was playing a modernised version of the classic RPGs of the 16-bit era, with an array of fantasy locations that whilst a little confined and linear are absolutely full to the brim with personality.
Character and enemy design is great too, offering a hand-drawn aesthetic that keeps characters looking different from the environments they inhabit. It’s a good look – whilst there were two different art styles on show in the world, they flowed together perfectly and really complimented each other.
Trulon: The Shadow Engine’s battling plays out as a turn-based RPG, but with a series of cards dictating the action. You don’t have traditional commands such as ‘attack’, ‘defend’, or ‘magic’, but rather use a set of cards with a variety of different actions on them. You start off with a set of basic cards made up of simple commands, but you’re constantly expanding your collection by finding cards in the environment or by earning them when you defeat enemies.
I’ve always found card battle systems in games a bit hit and miss, but Trulon: The Shadow Engine falls somewhere in between. There were plenty of cards on offer in the game and their effects were well balanced, but the random nature of how you draw them left battles a bit too unpredictable. You could be faced up against a fairly standard opponent, but if you don’t draw the correct cards you could find yourself meeting a quick end. You can customise decks and set them up to suit your play style, but with a demand for a balance of offensive and defensive cards you can quickly find yourself running short of one or the other when you really need them the most. Using a card discards it from your pile too, so you can’t rely on using it again in the same battle. It just felt like I didn’t have much control over how battles play out; the random nature of drawing cards meant I was forced to play how the game forced me to, which isn’t something I’m a fan of in an RPG where I like to sculpt teams around my play style.
That doesn’t mean you won’t have some fun battling though, because when it does work well and you draw a decent set of cards combat can feel incredibly empowering – some encounters are really tight but very fair. I had some pretty tense battles where the luck of the draw actually provided an exciting showdown as opposed to a waiting game where I’d hopelessly stand by hoping to draw a specific card. It’s at these moments where Trulon: The Shadow Engine really shines, but with so many battles to take part in throughout the game they were very few and far between. The consistency isn’t there, though at least a foundation has been set – with a bit more variety and a little bit of fine-tuning, the developers could potentially have something special here for future ‘Trulon’ releases.
Outside of combat most of your time is spent travelling through the world and completing the main questline. You get a few side quests handed to you by NPCs too, so there’s plenty of extra tasks to complete. It doesn’t stop the adventure being a short one though – you should easily finish Trulon: The Shadow Engine in around seven hours. It’s fairly short by traditional RPG standards, though in honesty it lasted long enough when you consider the frustrations that could come with the battle system.
I can’t end the review without giving major props to Trulon: The Shadow Engine for providing an overworld. If there’s one thing I really miss in RPGs these days, it’s having a huge world map to explore. I used to love it in the classics, so having one here was a real treat – I dunno, I guess I’m just a sucker for traditional features.
Trulon: The Shadow Engine certainly isn’t a bad game, but the random nature of the battle system and slightly underdeveloped story leaves it falling behind the masses of better RPGs that are out already.
I love the vibrant visual style whilst the nods to classic 16-bit RPGs do give it a good amount of personality, but this charming adventure just falls a little short on most other facets of design.
Developer: Kyy Games
Publisher: Headup Games
Release Date: 24/02/2017
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PC, Mac, Linux