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by Wes Biggs, Guest Contributor - 10/28/2005 7:02am EST
[Image] Heroes may be born, not made, but to play this game, you'll have to make one. EDGE offers you a choice between the four classic character classes: fighters, thieves, mages and priests. Fighters, as always, rely on brawn, thieves on sneakery, and mages and priests on the magical arts, offensive and defensive, respectively. You can also choose to play elves, dwarves or humans, each with their unique characteristics, and choose between male and female. Each combination lets you pick one of several avatars. The illustrations are superb and varied, and your chosen avatar is reflected in the normal view of the game, not just the status screen.
Like all good RPGs, your character's attributes are represented by several statistics. You can shape the basic ones (strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, agility and charisma) at the beginning of the game, and they grow automatically as you gain levels. In EDGE, gaining a level means you've got to acquire a certain amount of experience -- mostly by killing things, but solving an occasional quest won't hurt -- as well as find a qualified trainer, in order to "level up". Each level gained also increases your hit points (life) and mana (spellcasting power), enabling you to take on the next challenge.
[Image] But enough background. Most of the time you'll spend in EDGE will be in the isometric 2D/3D view. The graphics show evidence of the huge amount of time Zane and co. (OK, mostly just Zane) have spent sculpting the world. From the town of Kale to the dungeons beneath Castle Xersia, buildings, trees, paths and scenery are meticulously rendered. Humanoids and monsters alike (your character avatar included) cast shadows, run, lunge, move and even bleed with remarkable realism. I found myself staring into the beautifully trickling pixels of a stream, until a rock-throwing orc got a little too close for comfort. There are forests, caves, towers, deserts -- you name it, all beautifully detailed. And it wouldn't be a true RPG without secret doors and hidden treasure awaiting your discovery.
The realistic qualities do have limits, though; you'll notice you can't go along the back walls of buildings where your character would not be visible from the overhead view, for example (some games will do "cutaway" graphics in this scenario). Similarly, there is no night and day in this world, and you don't have to worry about feeding yourself like you do in some examples of the genre. Movement, while nicely animated, is based on a grid system; if you're used to a completely smoothly scrolling view as in PC-based RPGs, EDGE seems slightly jarring at first.
There are actually two view modes. In one, the "camera" is positioned slightly behind the character, so you can see further in front of you than behind. In the other, your character remains in the middle of the screen, regardless of where the action is. The game takes advantage of the full screen size on any Palm device (and comes pretty close when used on the Pocket PC platform -- more on that below). On the Zodiac this means a full, glorious landscape view. The Zodiac's silver select button, by default, toggles the visibility of the action bar, which shows your stats at a glance and provides icons for accessing your attributes, inventory, quaffing potions, casting spells, and more. I found myself turning this off when exploring the wilderness, and back on when needed for combat or interaction.
[Image] EDGE has a multitude of user-configurable options. Uniquely, you can change the way that combat works, opting for an automatic system where your character does their own fighting, to the best of their ability (provided you give the order to attack) or a so-called "twitchy" system that plays more like an arcade game, where buttons control individual actions of attacking and defending. The former mode is more like a pen-and-paper role-playing game, and is pretty much required on devices with limited input options; the latter mode works great on the Zodiac and allows for some sophisticated fighting styles, if you've got the twitchy skill. It's particularly useful when you're mobbed by more than one creature at a time.
The default controls make great use of the Zodiac's various buttons, and are mostly intuitive, though they take a little bit of getting used to. All of them can be reconfigured using the preferences menu; here I'll touch on the typical setup. The analog pad controls 8-way movement. It's highly responsive (which is good when you need to take evasive action). You can also move by tapping a destination on the screen. The triggers on top control blocking and attacking, or starting a conversation with more peaceable types. The D-pad lets you choose options when interacting with non-player characters, including buying and selling items; while adventuring, its keys are mapped to the most common actions, like picking up loot, switching between your sword and longbow, or taking another slug of the last potion you used. By and large you can get by without using the stylus, though occasionally it (or a fingernail) is necessary.
Potions play an important part in EDGE. You'll need to be well stocked with healing draughts if you plan to spend much time in the wild, and if you're a magic-user, you'll need mana potions to top up your tank as well. While the game doesn't necessarily exhibit the "level treadmill" that others of its genre do, battling your way through a particularly rough area can sometimes require a bit of back and forth: kill some monsters, get some treasure, buy some potions, repeat. In a pinch, you can also rest briefly to regain some health, as long as no monsters are about.
Your character will receive quests as you speak to others and discover new information throughout the game. You can browse through these as a sort of to-do list at any time; as quests are completed, they get a check mark. Depending on your chosen character, the quests will differ slightly, adding to replayability.
[Image] The conversations you have with others in the game are nicely done, and with their varying personalities and images, NPCs (non-player characters) add greatly to the flavor of the world. When conversing, you can usually pick from one of several statements for your character to say. You can even make snide comments, and the NPCs will respond appropriately.
The EDGE map is broken into a number of smaller sub-areas for performance reasons (there is a slight pause to load new scenery when you move between different areas). Once the monsters in a given area are dealt with, they don't re-spawn, which means you can clear an area once and for all, and it can be a safe haven in the future.
The world is full of different types of magical items. These can give bonuses to your attributes or even provide new ones, like partial invisibility. You can make some coin by selling the objects you don't need, provided you can find someone to buy them. The variety of items is great, and you may want to experiment, as different weapons or devices might work better against certain foes.
In general the game is well balanced. Because death is always around the next corner, you'll want to save your game fairly often, unless you have a lot more faith in your skill with the blade (or ability to run away) than I do. You get five save game slots, a nice feature that allows you to have several characters going at once (or share EDGE with your significant other without worrying that he or she will overwrite your painstakingly equipped uber-cleric). You can also exit at any time by pressing the Palm home button, and come back to the game without losing your place (you'll get a "Continue" option on the startup screen).
If you're thinking of changing your handheld (I'd say upgrading, but for games like this, the Zodiac remains the most ideal form factor), you'll be pleased to note that EDGE runs on all hi-res Palm OS 5 devices, and even on some Pocket PC ones, provided you've got the StyleTap Palm emulation environment, which must be purchased separately (the StyleTap development team worked closely with Zane to enhance their product to correctly handle EDGE). When played on the Zodiac, EDGE uses the rumbler to good effect in addition to the full audio soundtrack and sound effects. These can all be turned off if necessary from the preferences menu, where you've also got volume controls.
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