There may be a lot of PlayStation VR games created since the peripheral’s launch last year, but there seems to be a distinct lack of RPGs or platformers. So when VitruviusVR announced that their HTC Vive title, Mervils: A VR Adventure, would be coming to our side of the fence, I was very excited. What’s more, the experience had been described as a mix between Zelda and Mario. Needless to say, being compared to some of the best and classic action platformers around certainly didn’t hurt the excitement factor. Rest assured I wasn’t going in expecting Super Mario Galaxy VR though. What I saw was a small developer creating one of the longer virtual reality journeys so far and that would certainly bring some challenges. Will those challenges lead the way for success or failure you may ask? The truth is somewhere in the middle with a dash of appreciation for trying to be the first of its genre on the PSVR.
Mervil’s backdrop is a kingdom and its lands that grow increasingly under attack by monsters, time, and one of their own in the form of Balazar. This guy is a former Mervil (the place and people share the same name) who grew to full of himself and his abilities. Therefore he and his magic powers were banished from the land. He grew bitter over this as time went on and you guessed it, Balazar got stronger and some help in his corner. However, time itself was after the Mervil Kingdom too. A shield protecting their castle continually diminishes and access to the country’s crown jewel, a powerful book, has long been forgotten. This is where your character comes in as the chosen hero who starts from small beginnings. Your job is to travel far and wide while searching for the missing pages of the aforementioned book, and in tandem with your combat and puzzle solving skills, use it to defeat Balazar.
Right off the bat you need to understand this isn’t a grand adventure. It’s pretty by the books as far as the chosen hero and doomed land trope go. There’s not much exposition or detail given to your quest other than occasional trash talk by bosses and words of encouragement by allies. All you know is that Balazar wants to destroy your home and you have to fight him in order to stop it. No rhyme or reason beyond that. Although it could be due to gross incompetence. There’s two seemingly powerful wizards on your side of the fight but they do little more than provide occasional magic help. Then there’s a world full of citizens who couldn’t do a basic task without your assistance. So your run of the mill hero might actually be the only one who could do anything in the first place. However, these plot problems can be forgiven because it never tries to be anything more than it is. The quest structure would be nothing without the citizens needing your help and honestly takes after 90’s gaming. I realize this can be a nostalgic throwback for some.
The gameplay is equally as simplistic. You + sword + dodging = Mervils’ combat. Each enemy will have a certain attack pattern that must be avoided while you whack them with your weapon from a third person view. The health for everyone is indicated by hearts and how much of them you have. One hit takes away one heart most of the time. The amount of enemies that will spawn around any given map are decently varied, but there’s not enough of them to present a challenge. Essentially, combat feels like it’s tacked on. Luckily, some boss battles ramp up their numbers and makes your normal opponents an actual threat for once. Those bosses themselves though offer some of the better moments in the game. They won’t be any more difficult but will be more exciting and require more than a lone dodge and hit.
Weirdly enough, the best moments are the exploring and platforming. There are twelve levels between four different “worlds.” Each set of three have a distinct look and ascetic to them. After you Spyro-esque travel to each one, your character is plopped in a moderate sized, floating map. My favorite is easily the first world that is full of green grass and blue waterfalls. Most of the time you’ll be able to explore and find hidden parts that offer additional book pages and important items. Other times a stage is all about solving puzzles which can be buggy if not easily solvable. A few of them were finished because I could manipulate something in some way. Regardless, it still doesn’t make you feel any less accomplished when the solution is found. The grand total of all your traveling, exploring, battling, and puzzle solving will rack up around eight to ten hours of your life. Yes, that is more than impressive for a a first gen virtual reality title that offers just enough to keep things from getting stale.
But where’s the RPG mechanics within the PSVR you ask? Well, there’s a minimal character creation feature alongside a very few unlocks for weapons and armor. The more pages and coins you collect, the better the ability granted to you such as health, damage, and style. On the virtual reality side, it works even though it’s not in first person. You do feel like you’re in this medieval-like land and all who inhabit it. As usual there will be settings to adjust to meet your non-nausea needs. The “blink” movement set is present and how sensitive your button inputs are. I was happy to discover that I could play the entire game in free cam without getting too disoriented. In fact, the only issue I had was entering small spaces. It was like the game didn’t have enough room for my character and the camera behind him and things got all shaky. The technical side of things were enjoyable as well. Graphics were acceptable considering the genre and platform it was on except for the NPC models starting to look very similar very quick. The voice acting in delivery was fine, but there was an echo that followed every word. Like something went wrong while the recording was happening.
Above all else though, these next two things really annoyed me. There’s a boss in the game that I was one strike away from defeating. I went for the killing blow and as soon as I made contact, the game crashed. The blue glow of the XMB screen greeted me. I booted Mervils back up to find that I had to restart the entire level over again because apparently the crash affected the auto save as well. Definitely not a happy Kyle. Then occasionally our by the numbers hero would get stuck in small places like corners or wagons full of coins. It only lasted a few seconds where I mashed the jump button, still annoying all the same.
It may not tread new ground, but Mervils: A VR Adventure is a decent start to platform RPGs on PlayStation VR. I can even say with confidence that if this released twenty years ago, you'd be seeing it as an underrated video game on top ten lists today. The story and gameplay are incredibly oversimplified but the platforming and minimal exploring make this a virtual reality endeavor worth experiencing. If nothing else because there's not a lot of other titles in the same genre out right now.
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* Reviewed using a base PS4.