The Dink Network

Cast Awakening Part 1: Initiation

December 22nd, 2013
v1.0.3
Score : 7.0 good
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Skull
Peasant Male Finland bloop
"I'd like to be a tree..." 
I'm rewriting this review, because after reading through the version from 2009, it was utter garbage (what was I smoking when writing that stuff?!). Sure, a lot of my older reviews are absolutely awful, but this one is such a popular D-Mod, I felt it deserved better. The score still remains the same, as my points of view about the D-Mod itself haven't changed at all. I'm just tidying up the English and trying to give a more detailed explanation. You know, like an actual review.

So, Cast Awakening Part 1 by Dan Walma, better known to the site as Redink1. Many consider him to be one of the best, if not the best D-Mod creator of all time, and Initiation to be amongst his finest work. I can understand why. The D-Mod has a lot going for it. But sadly, I think it also has a lot not going for it. It's as if it had every opportunity to grab my interest, yet fails to do so with most of its aspects.

This is one of the few D-Mods that falls into the Epic -category, but here we already run into my first problem; the fact that it's very arguable whether this D-Mod really is an Epic or not. I know there's really not a definitive rule to this, and the length of D-Mods has changed overtime, but if you were to take a D-Mod like Stone of Balance, for example, you could probably fit 2 or 3 Initiations within that D-Mod. Or approximately 1 in Cloud Castle 2. So that really raises a question mark on whether this D-Mod really belongs in the Epic category or not. Personally, I'd say no, and that it's a Quest. My reason for bringing this up is that whereas it's been proven without a doubt that size does not matter at all when it comes to D-Mods, Epics do tend to have a certain respect from people, causing them to perhaps be slightly overpraised. Of course, if this D-Mod was a Quest it would without a doubt be one of the best Quest-sized D-Mods out there, but I do think some of its flaws would be slightly more discussed.

Story:
Well, here we have a problem right away. Because the story is without a doubt the weakest part of the D-Mod. In fact, the story of this game is one of the weakest I've ever seen in any D-Mod. The fact that this D-Mod came from the creator of Cycles of Evil, which had one of the best stories ever told in a D-Mod, makes it VERY disappointing.

The storyline is that Dink is led to believe he has joined the Hall of Heroes Society, when in fact it is a trick by The Cast to lock him in their stronghold. Dink escapes the prison and has to escape the gigantic Cast base. That's pretty much it.

The way I see it, a story needs to happen throughout the game. However, it happens anything but throughout the game in Initiation. All the story we get is that of what happens in the intro, and what happens in the endings (which mostly contain nothing storyline-wise, except for with one ending that promotes a sequel, which never happened). Really, I'd go as far as to say that there is no actual storyline. There is just an explanation as to why we end up playing the game, and then there are endings that barely anyhow connect to anything you just went through, leaving you feeling somewhat unrewarded. Imagine if The Lord of the Rings explained how Frodo got The Ring and had to take it to the volcano in the first 5 minutes, just to set up all the action, and then in the end when the action is over, just ended by showing the main cast celebrating and getting their asses drunk at a pub.

Also, there's just a brief explanation as to why The Cast kidnapped Dink. Sure, The Cast is one of Dink's most common enemies so it really needs no that much of an explanation, but a more clear motive would've still been nice. Sadly, there is really no further explanation than a few lines talking about Dink defeating Seth. But I admit, I haven't played the D-Mod in a while and have only finished it once or twice, so maybe there was some explanation that I forgot. But nothing big enough to stick in my mind.

Map:
It's disputable whether the map of this D-Mod is good or not. It's not too detailed, but it isn't an empty screen after another, either. I think with this D-Mod, it really falls more into personal taste. Some might enjoy the map, others don't. I'm one of those who didn't, but I can still appreciate it for what it's worth. Let me offer my personal opinion about the map, which has nothing to do with it being good or bad, but more of why I didn't find it very enjoyable:

The problem I have with the map is that there's really no world to explore. And since this is an Epic (or at least a very lengthy Quest), it is fairly disappointing. The whole D-Mod takes place inside the Cast stronghold, which consists of different levels, including "The Prisons", "The Mines", "Mad Lab", "Recreation" and some weird, trippy as shoot side-world. But all of these levels look basically the same. I mean, sure, there might be some different coloured walls on the cave, and the decoration might change a bit from level-to-level, but I still find it getting boring and redundant to just be in a "cave", which is what 85% of this D-Mod takes place in. After completing about... 3/4, I'd say, of the game, you finally get to see something different in the Hall of Heroes, where the map starts looking more like a castle/dungeon. But to move forward in the story (not to mention, if you want to complete side-quests) you need to go back to the previous levels at points, which just pisses me off at this point, because I thought I was finally done with the cave-scenery. With a D-Mod of this length, it really is a problem that the whole game takes place "inside", so to speak. In Stone of Balance there are different kinds of lands to explore to keep it refreshing and interesting. In Cloud Castle 2 the whole map is a desert, but it is kept interesting with constant new dungeons and areas. Even the original Dink always has something new to keep it fresh. But here, there's no world to explore. All you have is the same levels to look over and over again, hoping desperately to unlock some new area or the next level to get some form of variety.

And as if just to taunt you, some of the endings show parts of the world outside the stronghold, for brief moments. It almost made me feel like "Yes, finally I got out of that first dungeon. Now time to start playing the actual game" just to see Dink walk away to an ending scene. The map outside looks great, too. It's well decorated, whereas the stronghold's map can be a bit bland at times.

Graphics:
Hey, could it be something that I actually like about this D-Mod? Yes, it could! The graphics are very good in this D-Mod. Nothing that I fell in love with, but still nice. The old graphics are used well. There was a bunch of stuff from SimonK, which always means pleasure to the eyes (possibly in more ways than one). The completely new graphics include knights without helmets, new weapons as well as some new doors with different colours, plus a lot more. These are not quite on the level of SimonK's stuff but look very good nonetheless. When it comes to graphics, it seems SimonK is more of a guy who creates his own stuff from scratch, whereas Redink seems to be more into editing RTSoft's already existing graphics. Both do a tremendous job! There were also some new cave-tiles with different colours. Don't know who did those.

Overall, the usage of already-existing graphics was great, and the new ones were very good, as well.

Music:
Not much to say here. The music is good and fits the situations. But I do wish Dan had used more MIDIs than just one per level (if you don't count fights etc.). I understand what he was going for, but if the map got redundant, the one-MIDI-per-level system only adds to it. Also, if there are ten screens with monsters in it after a row, why do we need a new random battle MIDI picked everytime we enter another screen? Plus it to load the level-MIDI back when the fight in the screen is over? This takes lots of extra time, and got really on my nerves when I died and had to go through the screens all over again. Even with Aural+ some of the battle MIDIs take a while to load. Just have one battle music per one monster-area!

Also, just a minor nitpick, but in the intro there is a scene where one MIDI has to load 3 times when the scene itself is approximately only around minute and a half long. As much as I like this MIDI, wouldn't it have been better to just include a longer one instead?

Gameplay:
The storyline wasn't focused on, the map felt uninteresting, the graphics were ok, the MIDIs too though with some problems. So far not looking very good. So it can only mean one thing, right? All the effort was put into the gameplay, correct?

Well, I am happy to say yes! That is correct. The gameplay is what really makes this D-Mod, and what really shines about it. It's obvious the gameplay is Initiation's main focus, its core, whereas everything else just pretty much tries to "guide" the player into the gameplay. There's lots of unlockable areas, side-quests, new weapons and spells, interesting minigames to kill your time (including roulette), collectables and just cool puzzles that you're required to complete. The gameplay's not perfect, and it too can get a bit redundant at times, but it is still done extremely well. If everything about this D-Mod was as great, it'd definitely be in my top 3 favourite D-Mods, which it currently is not (maybe more like in top 20).

One thing I have to say though, is that the fighting can be extremely difficult, even using the easy-mode. And I consider myself a pretty hardcore Dink-player too, so it's not due to lack of skill (I hope ).

There's some wacky side-quests going on with Death, some bizarre side-world which I still have no idea how Redink coded. There's also 4 different endings. But sadly, none of these are super-interesting. A lot of D-Mods don't have super-long-amazing endings, but you'd think that out of 4, there'd be at least one that you'd find a bit rewarding. Sadly, this wasn't the case, at least for me.

The NPCs in the game I found uninteresting and really didn't care for much they had to say. The D-Mod tried to give them character, succeeding somewhat, but I still felt like something didn't click. Unlike in CC2, where I can actually feel for every NPC and connect to their everyday life, here I felt like they did have character, but that it wasn't used anyhow and really played no bigger part to anything, including my interest.

There was also some voice-acting done by Dinkers in the intro. This I thought was really good and surprisingly many were amazing at the whole voice-acting thing. Aunt Maria sounded a bit off, and Dink didn't have a voice, but that's ok. My favourite of all the voices was the idiot knight, who I believe was voiced by Kyle. That was so hilarious, and one of the best vocal performances I've heard. Maybe Kyle should start voice-acting? Maybe if this whole voice over thing was done for all the NPCs, they could've been made a bit more interesting. But at the same time I understand that would be an insane amount of voicework to ask for.

Also, I felt a lack of cutscenes in this D-Mod. Good cutscenes make me feel rewarded for getting further, and are that small thing that pushes you to finish the D-Mod. But there were very few of them here, which sometimes had me thinking what was the point. The cutscenes that were there though, were quite good.

But all in all, the gameplay is *the thing* in this D-Mod. I've beaten the Mod pretty much down to ground at this point, but this is what saves the whole game for me.

Good:
The gameplay is amazing, and the D-Mod is worth a download just to experience it. The MIDIs are well picked. The new graphics look great and the voice-acting is funny. Four different endings. And the D-Mod does offer a genuinely good adventure, even if it does have what I think are many flaws.

Bad:
There is really no storyline. The map gets very redundant. Some decisions with the MIDIs baffle me. Quite uninteresting NPCs. Unbalanced combat, though not impossible (maybe should've made the hard mode the easy one and the easy mode even easier? Heh). No world to explore, which I think is a VERY big problem for a D-Mod of this length. Barely any cutscenes. The endings really don't offer much.

Overall:
7.0.
I do believe Initiation is good, and do suggest you give it a go. Maybe you'll like it, or maybe not so much. A lot of people seem to.

But personally, I don't think it's as great as everyone says it is. It suffers from many flaws, in my opinion, that overshadow the good sides. I get the feeling Dan was focusing a bit too much on the gameplay, which really paid off in that regard, but should've spent an extra month or so writing an actual storyline for the D-Mod. The storyline is the most important part of a D-Mod, if you ask me, and when it's not there, everything else feels like it falls flat too, because, simply put, there's no motive for the player to play. Also, I'm just not a fan of the whole idea of having a D-Mod this lengthy entirely taking place in one stronghold.

I hope nobody thinks I was too unfair or bashing towards this D-Mod, as that isn't my goal or anything, but all the points I raised do bother me, and I feel are very valid.

Fit for:
It's not a bad D-Mod, so I suggest everyone gave it a try. But I also feel it has many flaws, so don't be surprised if you don't find it the most enjoyable D-Mod ever.