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Page 4 of 5Last, there are Drama Stars, which are effectively an alternative to save-scumming. The Drama Stars are represented on the user interface as three eight-pointed stars, which are filled up in bronze, then silver, then gold levels, one point at a time, and you'll do so by opening doors into new rooms, speaking with NPCs, solving quests, and winning battles. Filling them will impart you different abilities, from instantly reviving a party member, to improving the party's rolls , to removing all negative spell effects; the level bronze, silver or gold will determine the effectiveness of the action. The only downside? You lose your current Drama Stars when you reload the game, so they're best used rather than wasted. It's a novel approach to solving the old save/reload problem, and it works to some degree, though when I was low on Drama Stars, I was more inclined to simply reload anyway. Still, at the very least it will probably keep you playing longer and living with the consequences, rather than quitting or reloading in frustration.
Overall, I found all of these mechanics to be quite well-balanced, and most importantly, enjoyable, with strong risks and rewards. There is a great synergy created by these disparate systems, and ultimately, they feed into the basic question of "do I keep pressing on, or slink back to town in shame to lick my wounds?" I feel that all good dungeon crawlers really revel in posing that decision to the player, and Frayed Knights absolutely nails it.
Old-School to a Fault?
Beyond all this praise, however, there are a number of faults with Frayed Knights that keep it from being an absolute must-play. The first, and most damaging of complaints, comes down to the user interface. There is no way to get around it: the interface is ugly, clunky, and, while never hard to use, feels like it's stranded 15 years in the past. Although I can understand the nostalgia factor for some players, there's a good reason why RPG interfaces have moved forward in the last several years. The inventory, for instance, requires the player to switch between "use", "transfer" and "discard" modes, when this could be much more easily accomplished by using a context menu or drag-and-drop functionality. Another example is the cast menu - not only do you use the same menu to switch between using feats and spells, but finding the spells you want to use can become quite difficult, as the sheer number means that you'll need to navigate through several pages just to find the one you want, and combined with the fact that there's only three quick slots, means you'll be spending a lot of time looking at menus, and this can really take away from the otherwise quick flow of combat. Once you've got the hotkeys down, the game plays much faster, but there's a pretty big learning curve, and frankly, it just feels old-school for the sake of old-school, not because it makes for a better game.
In keeping with the problems with the user interface, the overall presentation of the visuals and audio are not particularly great. Frayed Knights isn't an outright bad-looking game, but it is by all accounts quite primitive, with very basic geometry for its environments, repetitive textures that don't always line up with one another, and simple lighting. However, as an indie game, it's understandable that the game doesn't look amazing; the real problem comes in art direction, which can be quite inconsistent. Most of the enemy models look fine, but the style seen in the rest of the game's NPCs is very inconsistent, ranging from fairly realistic, to outright cartoonish, to JRPG-like. Unfortunately, some excessive load times, clocking in at 30 seconds or more, really bog things down, and really shouldn't be there given how primitive the visuals are. Sound, much like the visuals, is very sparse, with some decent sound effects in combat, but no voice acting to speak of, no environmental ambiance, and no footstep sounds. Music ranges from outright annoying and poorly-composed, to reasonably catchy and atmospheric, and I feel that here, more minimalism would have been preferable over the occasionally overblown and bombastic tracks, which at best feel woefully out of place.
There are also some gameplay and balance problems. Although for the most part Frayed Knights' difficulty fits snugly in the "hard, but fair" category, there are times where it will feel like the random number gods are out for your blood, and even with 90% odds I would find myself frequently missing the same spells over and over. If there's any additional modifiers at work in combat, there's no documentation to indicate it, and while I can't blame bad luck on the game, I get the distinct sense something's a bit off in the game's number-crunching given how prone I was to losing streaks.