Aphelion: Episode Two wraps up a sci-fi epic

Review of Aphelion 2 on XBLIG: Buy
Wings of Omega refines the deep gameplay of Episode One. Fans of JRPGs will enjoy the climax and conclusion of this tale.

Aphelion Episode Two: Wings of Omega is the conclusion to the sci-fi epic started Graves of Earth. If you haven’t played that, then you should stay away from Episode Two, as it drops Savion and company off in medias res after the infiltration of Odyssey Tower—and there’s not a thorough recap of plot points, so you will be confused.  That said, I recommend you read the Graves of Earth review if you haven’t played the series, as I’m mainly going to cover what’s changed.

While the first game was a deep console RPG, its interface had a few rough edges. I’m happy to say that Wings of Omega has fixed them. The game opens with a tutorial on how to play, and instructions in the databank provide more details on combat mechanics that were previously undocumented (such as the combo system). The databank now has grouping, making it easier to keep up with the background lore. Scrolling in long inventory lists now works, and the shopping interface shows stat bonuses provided by equipment. The character abilities screen is much easier to use as well, although still a bit confusing.

Gameplay received a few tweaks, but is mostly unchanged. The four returning characters (Savion, Ashley, Rita, and Drake) start back at low level, and a fifth character—Delith, a scientist rescued from Odyssey Tower—is introduced. While the returning characters’ ability trees retain their original techniques, the trees themselves have been greatly revamped.  The long lists of abilities in Graves of Earth have been consolidated; to compensate, characters don’t gain ability points as quickly.  The revamp seems to promote replay through New Game+ (where characters retain their abilities and levels through a new playthrough), as I wasn’t able to fill out as many ability trees in a single playthrough as in the original.

Wings of Omega is also a bit less linear than its predecessor.  The new teleporter system acts as a hub, allowing travel to any previously visited location.  There are several side quests available in the city of New Berlin (including the return of the Coloseum.  As with the abilities, the later side quests seem designed with the New Game+ feature in mind—with level 50 characters, I found some of them were more deadly than the final boss battle.

There are a few rough edges to these new features, however. The teleporter and the elevator in New Berlin force a series of rapid scene changes, which translates to waiting on the load screen. It’s especially frustrating since there’s no “auto-continue” feature as there was in Graves of Earth—you have to press A to get back to the game from the loading screen.  In addition, the Marduk tank—a mode of transportation used in one segment of the game—is an interesting diversion, but some of the details aren’t well-implemented.

I said in my Graves of Earth review that Aphelion feels like a mix between Mass Effect and Final Fantasy VII. After playing the conclusion, I’m going to revise that: it starts out as Mass Effect, and ends up as Final Fantasy VII.  This may be good or bad, depending on whether you like JRPGs.  Don’t get me wrong, the story is still complex, but there’s a significant amount of saccharine mixed with the intrigue this time around.  Savion’s mysterious dark side (which appears to be a literal second personality, not just a metaphor) remains dormant at the beginning, only to rear its head later in the game.  Frustratingly, though, there doesn’t seem to be any reasoning as to what it is or why he has it—it’s just there to make Savion seem cool and angsty, and to occasionally play deus ex machina.  A romantic subplot—only hinted at in episode one—gets sappy quickly.  Many of the sci-fi plot elements feel like overused tropes: a nanomachine-based Genesis project and the genetic engineering of human-alien hybrids.  And the ending—let’s just say certain elements have been done before.

Aphelion: Wings of Omega gets a Buy. If you’ve played and enjoyed Graves of Earth, you need to play this.  You may not like how it wraps up, but its cliffhanger demands resolution, and it’s a fun game either way. If you haven’t, go back and play the first game—it’s an amazing console RPG.


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