The small kingdom of Celystra was prosperous under it's old king, "Korros the Wise". The prince, Lythare has ascended to the throne and his wife given birth to a child on his coronation day. However two days later this newborn infant disappeared, presumed kidnapped. Lythare blames the kingdom's Champion Knight-Paladin, as well as several members of the court for failing to protect the child, and imprisons them in the dungeon. The Champion's son, knowing that his father must not have deserved imprisonment sets out on a quest to find the baby with his two companions. However not much is known of the fate of the child, so perhaps other quests and objectives will need to be accomplished first.
The Aethra Chronicles: Volume One: Celystra's Bane is a shareware medieval rpg in the tradition of SSI's classic Dungeons & Dragons licensed Gold Box RPGs. Taking it's inspiration from that, the game uses a similar system based on die rolls against stats/skill combinations. Players begin by creating 3 characters, choosing their class and stats in various stats such as Strength, Agility, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Presence, Memory and Reason. The player then assigns skill proficiencies in a variety of abilities dependant on those stats (such as Spell Lists, Pick Lock, Woods Lore, etc.). Combat between characters and monsters is turn-based and the player can recruit an additional 3 characters for a total of 6. As with most shareware games, the first episode ("The Book of Prophecy") can be freely distributed, with the other two ("Gems of Power" & "Demon's Might") available only to registered users.
The Aethra's Chronicles is the only game ever made based on the Role-Master system, a pencil&paper game similar to AD&D but based on percentage instead of dices. Note that the publisher of the Role-Master system have closed their doors, which provides to Aethra's Chronicles a double taste of nostalgia. The plot of the game is quite cliché (a newborn prince have been kidnapped and you must find by who and why) and some bogs are quite annoying (like quests completion when you havent completed it) but the originality of the game system help to forgive such things quite easily.
You make two main characters (a hero and his friend) and two henchmens at the beginning of the game. Henchmens are part of your party but they are very less powerfull than your hero and his friend. Be warned : the combats are hard, be prepared to die often before learning the basic tactics to survive in fights. It can be frustrating for the casual RPGer.
The game offers over a hundrend of different creatures to fight, from wild animals to Red Dragons. Like in almost all RPGs, as your characters progress in the quest, you will face stronger monsters. Combats are though from the beginning to the end : a good tactic and a good strategy according to the strenghts and weakness of your party and of the monsters you are facing is required.
This game cannot be recommended for the casual RPGer for many reasons but can be enjoyed by the hardcore RPGers who are looking for something different.
Despite amatuer graphics and a cliched plot, this RPG's depth and playability (which runs smoothly on a 286) may surprise you. The game can be a bit tough at times, but not overly difficult. Most of the puzzles in it are simple. The only complaints I have are a couple quests which you can complete without actually doing them (yes, you heard me right)-- an annoying bug that one might consider a boon.
All in all, an underrated and one of the better shareware RPGs that is worth a look.
Note: Although the game advertises two more episodes, they unfortunately were never made. This version for download here, i.e. the registered version of the first episode, is the only one that was released to the public.
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