Kyy Games’ and Headup Games’ Trulon: The Shadow Engine is an intriguing opening to what could become an epic franchise.  However, in order for it to achieve greatness, the developers are going to have to work much harder to make the combat more satisfying and the regular enemies much less of a grind to get through to allow players to feel more of a sense of accomplishment in this steampunk/magic hybrid world.

Trulon: The Shadow Engine is a good enough looking title, although I would prefer a more unified vision for the characters and backgrounds.  The overworld map is 3D with a small sprite representing Gladia, the game’s protagonist Monster Hunter while gameplay takes place on hand-drawn 2D maps with much larger, more detailed characters.  In combat, these sprites are replaced by more pixelated renderings during attack animations.  Animations are sparse throughout, but look especially lacking when walking through the otherwise lavish maps.  Otherwise, the visuals are appealing, making great use of light, color, and shadow to help create mood and enhance the atmosphere while highlighting the differences between “Cosy (sic), idyllic farmland Tripudia and dark, industrial Maelon.”  There is an impressive variety of enemies to face, and Gladia encounters many memorable characters during her journey.  Sound and music are adequate, if not especially memorable, though I really enjoy the sound of Gladia’s weapon.  It sounds exotic, and makes me wonder exactly what she’s firing at her opponents.  The game’s story is well told, with interesting flavor text and generally enjoyable dialogue.  I like the idea that not all of the characters accompanying Gladia are selfless, brave heroes like she is, that they suffer from their own doubts.  It makes them seem more human and they are therefore much more relatable.  It’s also interesting that those in authority are not trying to be ineffective, just that they can’t seem to fully grasp the situation at hand.  There’s some cool political interplay between the two nations, and I like seeing the contrast between Maelon and Tripudia, even though it can be a bit ham-fisted at times.

Trulon: The Shadow Engine controls well enough for an RPG, with characters responding as they should and commands being fairly easy to enter during exploration and combat phases.  I like that exploration is rewarded generously with loot and XP, and that you don’t have to wander TOO far afield to find goodies while working towards your objectives.  Unfortunately, because your party members only have three inventory slots each to equip items, you’re going to spend a lot of time micromanaging your gear.  More useful are the spell and attack cards which make up the bulk of your combat experience.  Battles are waged by playing these action cards on each party member’s turn, allowing you to attack, cast spells, heal, etc.  In a clever turn, certain items enhance the abilities found on specific cards (such as adding a healing bonus to a specific attack type, or paralyzing opponents with another).  Again, finding the balance of useful items and useful cards is tricky and requires more time than it probably should.  The combat system is interesting, but the random appearance of the cards each round make battles more of a crapshoot than a satisfying strategic experience.  I’ve lost and won the same battle simply due to the appearance of a more useful card which is more frustrating than fun though I do like that the game lets you continue from the exact battle where you fell rather than forcing you to return to an arbitrary checkpoint.  The randomness inherent in the battle system wouldn’t be as much of an issue if common enemies weren’t so difficult, making even “simple” battles take far too long.  In the early going, your party simply doesn’t have a good enough healer to mitigate all the damage your members will take from opponents.  While you fully recover between battles, a lack of restorative items in combat makes you rely on a healing card that may or may not come as you get pummeled by foes you should otherwise have no trouble dispatching with ease.  While you CAN skip some battles, I really don’t recommend it because you’ll need the experience boosts in order to deal with the tougher (!) boss battles.

Trulon: The Shadow Engine should be praised for trying to do something different, especially with its combat.  With better difficulty balancing and an overhauled loot system, it and future games in the series could very well become must-play titles.