Loren the Amazon Princess
Sometimes heroes aren't made, they're born. But what happens when the person suddenly responsible for the destiny of a world doesn't want anything to do with it? Loren is the beautiful, powerful, and extremely sheltered princess of the Amazons. Her prowess as a warrior may be staggering, but she has a lot to learn about the world... though she isn't really interested in doing so. But when her mother the queen vanishes, Loren is determined to track her down, and her first foray into the world beyond the castle walls might wind up being both legendary... and eye opening as she changes to become the heroine the land needs. Loren the Amazon Princess, a deep and involving tactical RPG clothed in a visual-novel style fantasy adventure.
As either the human male Saren or the female elf Elenor, you begin the game as little more than a glorified servant to Loren, having spent your entire life a slave to the Amazon empire. At the start of the game, you'll be given a series of choices that determine your class and starting abilities before you and your taciturn princess set off to rescue the queen. Of course, in short order you quickly discover there's more going on in the world than Loren's mother disappearing, not that Loren cares about it. But whether she likes it or not, she's about to be thrust into the role of hero against an ancient, vicious enemy. Her decisions will unite and decide the fate of the entire world... and maybe even remove her own blinders and make her realise what matters and what doesn't in the grand scheme of things.
Loren is, for the most part, played like a visual novel. You'll click to travel to locations, watch events unfold, and select your choice of response from a list whenever you're given one. For the most part, this comes down to deciding your character's overall tone when talking to people, and it goes without saying that not everyone likes a smug, smarmy jerk. Loren herself tends to make most of the big decisions, however, so as the player your most important job is keeping everyone alive. This doesn't just include buying and equipping everyone's armor, weapons, and accessories like a fussy toddler pageant mom, but also handling the distribution of stat and skill points as your party levels up.
The combat is, by and large, a big portion of the meat wrapped around Loren's bones, and depending on the difficulty setting you choose can either be a walk in the corpse-strewn park, or satisfyingly challenging. It's turn based, and you can see the order in which characters and enemies will attack, allowing you to carefully plan out your actions. This is a bit more important than you might think, since many character abilities depend on others being activated first by someone else, or by a particular status effect being active on whatever enemy you're targeting. Since you can adjust the difficulty whenever you want, you'll never get stuck, and the ability to just pass on any fight that isn't plot-required means random battles are only a factor when you want to grind some levels.
Analysis: Despite the lengthy cutscenes and dialogue, a hefty chunk of the enjoyment you'll get out of it comes down to the game's satisfyingly complex combat and the freedom to make it as challenging or simple as you like at any time. This isn't to say the story and writing aren't good, because they actually are more than competent. The plot falls into standard "big evil with destined hero" territory, but the huge and likable cast combined with the thought put into the plotting and progression to make this one to sink into. Provided you have nothing against an exceptional amount of T-and-A, that is. Even turning the censor option on doesn't make the characters look as if they're wearing anything approaching sensible armor, which, yes, is somewhat of an issue when they're otherwise presented as completely serious and competent warriors... who apparently don't feel the need to protect their soft, squishy torsos from blades or arrows. Surprisingly, the romantic and sexual scenes you'll see late in character romances are, by contrast, extremely tasteful and both tenderly and coyly written that imply rather than reveal for a more meaningful experience.
Jokes aside, Loren is actually a very lovely game if the ridiculous clothing and proportions aren't a killer for you. Characters are beautifully drawn and designed, and enemies in particular can have some great artwork representing them. Unfortunately, the visual novel style presentation means you lose out on a lot of the impact of some very important scenes. It's somewhat disappointing to read about a frantic, pitched battle or an emotional moment when all you get to see is the same character portraits stuck in the same positions staring at you like puppets against a bland background. I would dearly love to have seen a few more hand-drawn pictures depicting all those important events, and it certainly seems like stunning artwork would have been more than up to the task and delivered a more cinematic experience.
Additionally, Loren has a rather surprising amount of romance options for the character to choose from, and for different sexual orientations as well which is a welcome addition. These courtships play out surprisingly realistically and with some real feeling and emotion that means it's easy to get wrapped up in the people your character is coming to care about. The problem is that apart from Loren, the only characters who get any real development or expression are the ones you're actively trying to romance. The rest simply wind up feeling like they're just there to drive the plot along, which is a little disappointing since there's so much rich backstory and characterisation behind each that could have added a lot to the overall story if it weren't locked away behind the romance. Fortunately, the announced expansion promises to add more quests and background story for the cast, which should go a long way towards rendering that complaint moot. In the meantime, however, I'm left feeling like Dora and I never got the chance to really connect, and somehow I think she and I could have been the bro-est of bros.
If you make active use of the freedom to save whenever you like and in different slots, the replay value for Loren mostly comes down to chasing the various love interests down. Luckily, there's an expansion on the horizon called The Castle of N'Mar, which will include three new characters (two of which are romanceable by both genders), new locations and plots, and more. As she stands right now, however, Loren the Amazon Princess is still a surprisingly deep experience with tactical combat, memorable characters, and a lengthy adventure you can lose a long time to without realising it. While how much you enjoy the complex combat will be a large factor in how much you enjoy the game, players looking for a high-fantasy adventure with a ton of love and hard work put into it will definitely want to check this one out. Just be careful about cozying up to Loren... there's something about having a girlfriend who could rip your arms off like a Wookie when she's angry that's a little frightening.