The Nintendo 64 is a great gaming platform, but the system has suffered from a serious lack of role-playing games since its introduction. Quest 64, the first RPG to hit the system, was less than stellar. Although The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was an excellent game, it was more of an action/adventure than an RPG. Gamers looking for an RPG fix were forced to go elsewhere — to the PlayStation, the Dreamcast, even the Sega Saturn.

Unfortunately, the long term RPG prognosis for the Nintendo 64 doesn’t look good (the Dreamcast already has more RPGs than the N64). Gamers looking for a fix are in luck, however. This summer THQ is set to release what could be the defining RPG for the Nintendo 64 — Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage. We recently chatted with both the producers at THQ and the developers at H2O for an in-depth first look at the game. Although we can’t tell you everything — heaven forbid we spoil anything for you — we did secure a whole bunch of information including some exclusive screen shots. The only place to find all these juicy tidbits is here on Daily Radar.

Aidyn Chronicles follows the story of Alaron, a 17-year-old who was orphaned as a baby. Alaron has no idea who his true parents were or what position they held in the world. All he knows is the world of the kindly Duke Lloyd, who has raised him since he was an infant. One day Alaron goes out on patrol where he is ambushed and left for dead. A kindly old woman named Oriana finds the dying youth and nurses him back to health. Although she cannot describe it, Oriana realizes that there is something special about Alaron and implores him to begin a journey of self-discovery.

Alaron knows in his heart that Oriana is right about him, so he begins an epic journey that will take him around the world. As Alaron, you will visit the famous cities of the Mirari and Jundar races, adventure through monster-filled lands and eventually confront Ehud, the necromancer who has been shadowing your every move. Ehud’s interest in you revolves around his own self-interest. He knows that you are either the key to his ultimate power or the key to his ultimate defeat. Either way, if you plan to survive, you’ll have to be clever, cunning and, above all, a master of the magic arts. You are, after all, on your way to becoming “the first mage.”

If the above story summary sounds interesting to you, then THQ has done at least one thing right. The story is arguably the most important component of any RPG — it’s what drives the game. Fighting games don’t need stories, and driving games don’t need stories, but role-playing games require good stories. If an RPG lacks a decent plot, it substantially reduces the quality of the game. Realizing the importance of a good script, THQ and H2O enlisted the services of Chris Klug as the writer and lead designer for Aidyn Chronicles. Fans of pen-and-paper RPGs should recognize Klug’s name — he was the designer of TSR’s DragonQuest game.

According to Klug, the story is driven by the idea of a magical true name. He describes the world of Aidyn Chronicles as existing on two planes: the spirit plane and the mundane plane. The spirit plane is the source of magic, and the mundane plane is where mere mortals live. A person able to discover their magical true name would be able to unite their spirit form with their mundane form and unlock unlimited power.

According to Andrew Brown, the associate producer of the game, in order to “play-test” the story behind the Aidyn Chronicles, THQ decided to tour the country and test the game concepts as a pen-and-paper game. The company took suggestions and feedback from players who had a chance to check out the pen-and-paper version in order to tighten the story and increase playability. After each play-testing session, the developers took notes and revised their script.

“We knew we had a lot of writing in front of us,” Brown said. “The story is constantly being tweaked as we’re coming up with new ideas. We’re foreshadowing, putting in hints of things to come that weren’t there before.”

One key aspect of the game, and in the implementation of the story, is the nonlinear way in which everything unfolds. Gabriel Jones, producer of Aidyn Chronicles, said that they didn’t want to drag players around the world by forcing them to go from point A to B to C to D and ultimately to E. Instead the game is set up in such a way that players know they have to get to point E, but they can accomplish A, B, C and D in any order. “Good storytelling has to be at least somewhat linear,” Jones said. “We give the players a couple of different possibilities and the player can choose what to do.”

In keeping the game easy to play, the developers tried to avoid obvious corralling of the player. Corralling occurs when a certain section of the game is not open to you until you’ve completed a certain task. For example, in Game X there may be a boulder in the road blocking your way. The only way to remove the boulder is by completing the quest to find the magic hammer (sound familiar?). Instead of using blunt obstacles like boulders, Klug said they attempted to work the corralling into the story with normal objects. For example, in one part of the game you need to leave on a ship, but the harbor is fogged in. In order to get out of the harbor, you must light the lighthouse. Although the purpose is the same, the more “natural” the obstacles, the better the game plays, Klug said.

Gameplay itself is split between two modes: adventure mode and combat mode. There are so much RPG that popular nowadays, but if we talk of RTS then we can only mention one game and that is Clash Royale. The Supercell game that you can get here. Adventure mode is the traditional “explore the world and continue on your quest” gameplay that has become associated with the RPG genre. The combat mode takes characters temporarily out of the world and places them into a combat arena. Your characters enter the combat arena automatically whenever you come into contact with an enemy.

Like the fighting arenas in Final Fantasy VII and VIII, the combat arenas are not a “real” place on the world. They are self-contained areas where all of the fighting occurs. Combat within an arena is realtime turn-based, similar to the Parasite Eve style of playing. Both the player and the enemy have the ability to avoid combat if necessary.

Part of the reason for using combat arenas instead of open-world fighting is the ability to control the environment. Within an arena, the developers have total control of the look and feel of the arena as well as the number of polygons used on screen. This allows the developers to include highly detailed creatures within the arenas. “The first time you encounter some of the monsters in the combat arena, your jaw is going to drop,” said Andrew Brechin, the assistant designer and level editor on the game.

The visual look of the game is ultimately the responsibility of Chris Bretz, the art director. While the characters within Aidyn Chronicles are not single mesh objects, they all have a high polygon count. The high polygon count allows the characters to look as good as single mesh objects from the likes of Rare, Bretz said.

Artwork for the game is first created by hand and then imported into a program called Maya v2.5, by Alias|Wavefront. Once the artists have edited the files in Maya, H2O uses custom utilities to convert the Maya files to a format that the Nintendo 64 can use. “Our inspiration is a lot of fantasy work,” Bretz said. “They’re not entirely traditional images.”

The magic system in Aidyn Chronicles is based on a four-school system. Each school has certain strengths and weaknesses, and each school has an exact opposite. Characters who have mastered a certain type of magic will find that they are weak against someone who has mastered the magic of the opposing school. In addition to the magic schools, characters have either solar or lunar aspects. These aspects affect how well they can learn a certain type of magic. “For example, a lunar aspected character will have better luck in a necromancy school than a solar aspected character,” Jones said. “The player needs to try to create a well-rounded party.”

There are no material components to the spells, Brown said. Instead of tying items to a players’ spellcasting abilities, the development team decided to tie spellcasting ability to stamina. This insures that players will not have an unlimited ability to cast spells anytime, anywhere. There will also be characters in the game that cannot use any form of magic. “If your character is tired, he won’t be able to spellcast as effectively,” Brown said.

Near the beginning of the game, most of the combat is hand-to-hand. You won’t start learning the more powerful spells until you’ve been playing for a while. According to Brown, this was done on purpose in order to slowly introduce magic into the game.

Characters will earn experience in the traditional sense, but weapons will also earn experience. “As a weapon levels up, a player will become more proficient with that weapon,” Jones said. This system will reward players who specialize by allowing them to do more damage with their weapon of choice. But there is a drawback — time spent using a certain weapon means other weapons are not used. This means that a player may end up with a character that can use a sword really well but may be very poor with an ax. It will be up to the player to ensure that their characters learn to use a variety of weapons well.

The main character, Alaron, will always be in your party, but you can control as many as three additional characters for a total of four. You will start the game with only Alaron but will have the opportunity to add party members later. There are a total of 10 different playable characters throughout the game, Brown said. Each of the 10 characters has a complete history with unique abilities, stats and character portraits.

Because the game is ultimately based on a linear story, there is only one ending, but how you reach that ending may vary. “The characters that you talk to within the game will relate different stories and tell you different bits of information depending on the makeup of your party,” Klug said. Because the journey is different with a different party, the game should have a decent amount of replay value. This is a definite plus.

Ultimately what will make or break Aidyn Chronicles is the quality of the gameplay. Thankfully, this is a lesson that THQ learned with the rushed version of Quest 64, and it is not a mistake they plan on repeating. Jones assured us that THQ would not rush the game and wanted to allow Aidyn Chronicles time to develop. Although he said the game is currently planned for a summer release, that is as specific as he would get. If necessary, THQ will delay the title in order to ensure a quality game, Jones said.

Based on what we saw, it looks like this game will be worth the wait. Aidyn Chronicles has all of the necessary ingredients to become a hit in the RPG-starved Nintendo 64 market. Here’s hoping that THQ and H2O don’t disappoint us.