I am not really familiar with this game’s studio. Liquid Entertainment I only know for the Karateka remake and that they have made a couple of D&D games, the strange War of the Ring-title, and out of all things: Desperate Housewives: The Game. I could say I was intrigued by Rise of the Argonauts for basing itself on Jason and the Argonauts’ search for the Golden Fleece, but while I have a huge interest in Greek mythologies, this was not the reason for it. The only reason I wanted to look at this title, was because it had a cool shield for a desktop-icon. First impression is important, after all.
A better version of Shadow of the Colossus
As the title might suggest, this is not entirely the same story of the Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece or a retelling of the movie: Jason and the Argonauts. This version starts with Jason already being king over Iolcos and about to get married to Alceme. As they are performing the rituals for this ceremony, Alceme is assassinated and the whole building is infested with fiends unknown to Jason. After fending them off alongside his army and close friend Hercules, Jason tries to find a way to get his wife back. Hercules mentions that the Oracle of Delphi might be the one to ask, and thus Jason sets out on the ship Argonauts, named after the navigator on board, leaving the land to Pelias’ care.
It should be notified that while this tale is quite different from the original versions, I have no problem with this for multiple reasons. First off, stories from ancient Greece have been retold with different setups each time, including Jason’s story, with names and wives for example being changed by each narrator. Second, taking a new spin is not necessarily a bad idea, as it has been done by many other sources, such as Disney’s Hercules or Dreamwork’s Sinbad. Movies, games and books are different media with their respective strengths and shortcomings, and a story needs to be adapted in order to work on the decided format. Because of this, I am more interested to see what this take on Jason’s journey does differently and whether it is for the better or worse.
From the setup, it is easy to look at this as a cliche setup with someone travelling far distances for love. I am honestly not fond of this in general due to how forced and simplistic it can feel, but it is surprisingly well done here. Jason and Alceme share good chemistry with strong dialogues showcasing true devotion to one another, making me believe they have a past together outside of the flashbacks. This makes the beginning portion inviting, and it is continuously made better by the journey itself.
This adventure leads Jason to multiple interesting locations, each with a devotion to one Deity, which in return, reflects their cultures. Saria, for example, is filled with Centaurs living in a magical forest trying to cope with odd trickeries, while Mycenae is home to Ares and gladiator-fights. This is really neat for giving each area a different style and tone, which makes them easily memorable.
However, this leads to one of the problems this interpretation has: historical accuracy. I can forgive the ship of Argo’s rather impressive technology as it is even highlighted in a conversation, but there are some attires and buildings like the coliseum, that are rather akin to Roman architecture than that of the Greek. These mistakes are noticeable, but thankfully few and easy to overlook as buildings are more chaotically made and no clear function for entrances and exits, which is a good contrast to the Roman’s more practical setups.
I also believe these inaccuracies could be artistic choices, as 90% of the game feels appropriate, like meeting Daedelus as a blacksmith with a troubled past, Medea withholding dark powers, or philosophers discussing whether the Golden Fleece was a mistake or not. The dialogue overall is wonderful, as they reflect a person’s mood, the cultural heritage and/ or ongoing events, making every world not just feel alive, but personal as well. There are only 6 locations you will visit in total, but each brings something unique and memorable both in inhabitants and concept. Be it a ghost-village where light never shines over the ruins or the rich land of Iolcos, no two areas are the same.
Each land also suffers from perils that must be dealt with in order for Jason to get further, which is another way to make you get in depth with the lands lore and inhabitants. There are plenty of statues and art-work that can highlight more about this world’s history, and every one of them is interesting and worth your time, as they never go overboard with lore. This is also helped by a marvellous script that also extends to the characters’ dialogues.
Everyone speaks according to their personalities, but always keep it in tone to its time-period and this makes every dialogue feel mature and thought through. In fact, there are dialogue-choices that Jason must partake in, which reflects both the Dieties’ wishes, and how you choose to approach a situation. Being as brutal as Ares, honest like Apollo, choosing trickery to Hermes enjoyment, or pleasing Athena with your justified call. It makes the choices feel more diverse than the traditional “good, bad and neutral” choices, which is a lovely way of making Jason both a memorable character, but also one representing you.
This sense of quality extends to the conversations between characters and they are all lovely to have a chat with. Be it Hercules’ kind and supporting concerns, Achille’s ego or simply characters chatting between each other as you walk by. No one becomes stereotypical either, as their setups are only what differentiate them from others, not their single personality-trait, with even some going through an arc. The dialogues can go quite far with even providing philosophical questions that extend to if Jason’s journey is truly a correct act, due to how selfish it is. This is not a rare element, and I applaud the developers for going the extra mile to make every word worth listening to.
This is not a long journey, but Rise of the Argonauts crams in a great adventure with its setup. Diverse and memorable locations and cultures, intriguing characters, well-written dialogues, and doing Greek mythology justice, makes for one of the most exciting adventures I have seen in years. It might not be as grand as Jason’s original journey, and does do some interesting if questionable design-choices, but I was having a blast from beginning to end, and actually cared for Jason’s quest to save his loved one.
Story Score: 8.5/10
The Gods will watch your fights
Yes, this is a hack and slash, with a focus on immersing you into its world. This might sound like a strange description, so allow me to explain. Jason carries three different weapons that he can swap between at any time, and a shield at hand. These weapons range between a hard-hitting mace, a swift sword, and a long spear. All of them have their uses, with spears being throwable and can attack enemies at a distance, the sword-swings are the quickest, and the mace smashes enemies and shields with ease. They all have a light attack, that can be combined with an execute attack. These attacks function as a heavy attack, and can outright kill an opponent if they are staggered or fallen to the ground, which is a nice combination.
This is a simple setup and Rise of the Argonauts does not go further with this combo-system, and I applaud it for just that. This is because it makes every attack and weapon important to consider, without going overboard with diverse combos that can lead to forgetting smaller ones. The only other attack Jason has, is a desperation move where he will make an area of attack and that is it for melee-attacks. However, what will be just as important, is your dodge-maneuver and your shield.
Their functions should be self-explanatory, but they have two fantastic details about them. One is that they are not hindered by attack-animations, making it easy to use defensive moves should you be in trouble. The second part is what the developer did with the hit detection. Your weapons can hit multiple enemies in one swing, but even if you are not actively blocking, your shield will deflect wherever it is. This is a brilliant form of detail and one that did help me on a number of occasions.
The enemies always come in a huge pack and are fierce with their attacks and dodges, making them fun to fight. The problem is that while they use different kinds of swords and/or shields, they are simply re-skinned for different areas, with even minotaurs being similar in concept to previous foes, just sturdier. This does not mean that there are no form of diversity among enemy-types, as depending on the weapon they are carrying, they will act accordingly, such as single-sword wielder will dodge and move quickly, while those with a tower-shield will deflect attacks more, and so on. However, it will only make you take in consideration what weapons the enemies are using, not the type. This sadly makes it so the combat never gets to evolve.
Despite this flaw, combat is still fun due to good use of your varied abilities, and the boss fights fare much better with interesting concepts, that are more than just the mundane dodge-hit mentality. They can be giant foes throwing magical attacks that must be dealt with differently, or against a humanoid character that has quick attacks with an uncommon weapon. All of the bosses make for entertaining fights and memorable for their unique setups that gives them some flavour.
Although the general enemies do not evolve, you do. Since Jason left Iolcos, Zeus is no longer supporting, despite Hercules also joining on your journey. Instead, the gods Hermes, Apollo, Athena and Ares will help you in your journey through their own skill-trees. How you upgrade them is not by a familiar XP-bar. Instead, whenever you do something noteworthy, such as killing a certain amount of enemies, helping a character in a sidequest or any similar achievements acquired, you can devote the accomplishment to one of the deities which will fill up their bar and eventually lead to a skill-point. This is an amazing feature, as it makes achievements actually valuable, and gives sidequests and dialogue-options more meaning outside of its story-purpose. It is now about how you want to approach a situation for everyone’s sake.