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From the outside looking in, 2008's Rise of the Argonauts doesn't look like a smart purchase. The box art isn't tremendously appealing, there isn't much media or promotional information floating around the internet on the game, it was developed by a small, relatively unknown developer whose other credits include Desperate Housewives: The Game, and its metacritic score currently stands at a ho-hum 54 out of 100. However, if you can get past all of those superficial excuses, you'll find an entertaining hybrid between Greek mythology and a Bioware-like western RPG.

Being based on the myths of Jason and the Golden Fleece, the game opens with the rightful king of Iolcos, Jason, on his wedding day. He is to wed the love of his life, Alceme, the princess of Mycenae and a "child of the war God Ares." Tragically, the ceremony is interrupted by the Blacktongues, a fanatical cult who've dedicated their lives to the witch goddess Hecate. Alceme is slain in the ensuing battle and a dark cloud surrounds Thessaly. The natural response of most would be to lay her to rest, but Jason has abandonment issues and instead appeals to the Gods for their aid. Apollo, Hermes, Athena, and Ares hear his call and recognize his cause as good and just. They reveal the existence of a mythic Golden Fleece, which can supposedly undo Alceme's death, but warn him that her soul will wander lost forever if he fails to collect this legendary object in a timely matter. It's an interesting premise that opts to weave many other Greek tales into one dynamic adventure.

Even if your only exposure to Greek myth is watching Disney's Hercules when you were a child or taking an introductory course while in university, I'm sure you'll find many distinguishable elements in the game's narrative. Rise of the Argonauts' progression allows Jason, you character, to cross paths with the fallen god Hercules, the flawed warrior Achilles, and the vain Medusa, among others. The Gods also play an important role in the game's events, as Jason often goes to them for guidance and requires bearers of their bloodlines to progress to the fleece. You don't need to be knowledgeable of the mythos to understand what's going on, but history nuts will really appreciate the level of detail taken to the game's events.

Rise of the Argonauts opts to smartly incorporate the personalities and whims of the Gods into more than just the game's narrative though. They also act as the means to which Jason learns new abilities and develops as a character. His completed tasks and acts of kindness throughout the game manifest themselves as "deeds." These deeds can be as simple as killing a set number of combatants or as complex as traversing Thessaly to acquire certain items for NPCs. Jason can choose to dedicate his deeds to Apollo, Hermes, Athena or Ares, who in turn grant him "favor." With enough favor, you can unlock new abilities, passive traits, and "God Powers." The system goes even deeper than that, as your conversational choices will also influence your favor with the Gods. Want to be a complete ass to everyone you meet? Ares will love you. Are you a kind soul that helps the weak? Apollo smiles upon you. Do you simply enjoy being quippy and clever whenever possible? Hermes is your boy. Would you punish the guilty, given the opportunity? Athena will grant you her favor. Each God represents a different skill tree, combat proficiency, and personality type. Ultimately, you can opt to max your standing with one of the Gods or try to please them all. It's intelligent game design which, to be frank, makes God of War look lazy by comparison.

Combat is vaguely reminiscent of Jade Empire, as your character is controlled from a third person perspective and has three situationally optimal fighting styles (sword, spear, and mace). There's nothing spectacular about the mechanics; there is a rock-paper-scissors approach, which can be altered by activating God Powers or utilizing advanced abilities with any one weapon. Naturally, you also have your Argonaut buddies, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and personalities, alongside you throughout the many battles you face (Hercules, Atalanta, Pan, and Achilles). Their AI is smart enough to hit things, but there's little strategy to commanding them or preparing them for battle. Overall, combat is pretty basic (and occasionally faces slowdown), but its serviceable enough to functionally accompany the story.

In spite of a few technical shortcomings and the general lack of polish that typically accompanies budget titles, Rise of the Argonauts is a really enjoyable experience that gets a bum rap for shooting for the moon and barely missing. If you're a fan of western RPGs, I would suggest picking this title up next time you find it in a bargain bin. The favor of the Gods is well worth the price of admission.

Trent Seely

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