Author: Nerow_Alexangelos / Rowen
Released: January-November 2006
Engine: RPG Maker 2003
The title of this game probably says more about its development than getting an idea of what the story could be about (zing, still got it kids). It barely got past the status of being a notable proof of concept demo and always seemed to be re-iterated on over and over. The last incarnation of this game doesn’t even have the same title (on RMN it’s known as Ghosts of the Arcanum), at some point the author was compelled enough to share the history of the game’s development through screenshots. Through the several UI changes, the swapping of ideas and scenarios, it’s hard to remember which of these screenshots represent what I remember of this game.
My mind conjures up a haze of a saturated maps with a semi advanced DBS showing off potential features. There’s a deliberate noir-like tone enhanced by the charsets dressed in garbs that would fit in The Matrix. That’s probably apparent in all 4 of the demos, but it does beg the question of how one compartmentalizes game releases. The creator of Arafell likely wishes to bury the 2005 demo in favor of the newer refined commercial 2016 release. That’s 11 years of conjuring what Arafell was eventually going to be before the full release finally concluded it. There’s a similar discourse on how a certain popular TV show based on a set of fantasy novels should have ended. But what if the media in question never ends, and what if it’s split in multiple re-attempts?
The first demo named Finding Forever Eden – Intro contains a whopping 2 maps that feature a cut-scene introducing the game with a voice over followed by a slow text crawl (that’s still faster than l i t t l e m o n e y) explaining the lore of the game with terms that would make for good metal band names like “Celestial” which refer to angelic beings tied to the titular “Forever Eden”. I won’t go to much into the story as it kind of is what you’d expect from an RPG lore dump, but there is something about it that focuses a lot on biblical interest and spiritual connections.
The second demo released in around March 2006 simply titled “Finding Forever Eden”, features a battle training area complete with a scrolling abstract white grid background. A mysterious character tells you about how battles work and you’re thrown into a fight with 6 beings known as “Glitched Shado” there’s not a whole lot to the fight really as they have really large HP pools that can be dispatched with a strong AOE. But then the fight just resets again. The load file does have a NPC reference to the game Eldritch, a game made by Legion which is cemented in ancient forum history.
Onto Finding Forever Eden 4.0 (May 1st 2006), though not quite the 4th game in the series it was common for many RM creators to never have a consistent way of numbering versions. We can at least assume it came before 9.0 though. The title screen no longer features a hand drawn anime character and leads into a rather abstract menu backed up by the signature white grid. There are many menu options and seperate story cutscenes. Much of the dialogue is rather hard to understand. As evident by the music, it feels like being thrusted in the middle of a Kingdom Hearts cutscene with no context for what’s going on. There’s a dream sequence that resembles the beggining of KH too, but there’s a more mature slant to the world that gives this game its own voice. It steers clear of any common RPG terms like “Potion” or “Magic” and instead has a lot of abstract replacements for what you’d typically see in most other fantasy affairs (for example the poison status is called “Impurity”).
The battles are slightly improved this time around, featuring a context command that allows you to perform moves in specific situations. For instance in a battle surrounded by two enemies you can jump up in the air to let the enemy hit the other. It’s not complex to use at all, but it does add a cinematic flair to the combat filled with black robed figures. It concludes with more monologues from a mysterious robed figure, and our amnesic hero is left with a lot of questions before a Coming Soon message appears. In my own way, I too want answers. None of the demos really resemble what I remember of this game, and yet the game’s themes is very bent on memories and illuminating the truth in darkness. I certainly don’t remember this much story, so it’s still a treat. Perhaps 9.0 will shed some light.
This is the first shot I see and it basically confirms what I remember. A foresty cabin area with a combat demonstration. By now the aesthetics of the text boxes have become a muted black with a thick white border. What’s also apparent are the custom symbols that became widespread when hacking into the RPG_RT became common knowledge at this point. To be able to witness the subtle UI color differences between builds is an exercise of realizing how re-iteration is sometimes a slow gradual process.
The funny thing about the schizophrenic nature of the story in the 4.0 demo is that it’s analogous to how much the story-line and presentation keeps changing ever so slightly in development. The main character Rowen is subjected to dream-like sequences with the drive to find out why he is in the situations he is in. There’s a large focus on memories and anthology style of story telling where details are obfuscated in favor of ramblings about light and darkness. It’s not to say that the development having setbacks is some kind of avant garde way of making this more than it is, it’s just that the tendency to wander in ideas seems to correlate with the game’s unwillingness to sum up anything concrete.
The screenshots section on RMN tells a story that the game’s development started as early as RM95. The game also went through some unreleased progress on the author’s youtube channel. Some time in 2016 the author asked about engine recommendations. One day it might return in some form, but at this point it’s not really about remarking on the shoulda couldas or hoping that this game would be released, but to at least derive some admiration for what made the tiny snippets of this project so memorable. It’s not that the demo has any compelling gameplay or moments, but that the shell of what it wants to be can lead to a pretty cool set of ideas. The Matrix meets Kingdom Hearts is a rough way to sum it up, but I can’t think of any other media that tries to attempt that either. Only in a strange niche part of the RPG Maker community could a thing like this appear in the void.
For more thoughts on the game I’m doing an experimental commentary video over the demo gameplay footage. Let me know what you think of the format: