Zephyr’s Pass Preview

Zephyr's Pass

Zephyr’s Pass is an upcoming retro RPG set to release for the Game Boy Color, and I got the chance to take an early look at it.

The thing about Zephyr’s Pass is that it’s more than retro-inspired; it can be fully considered a retro title. The game runs on the Game Boy Color’s original hardware and will be available as a cartridge once it releases.

I don’t have a Game Boy Color in hand, as I never had much access to Nintendo’s hardware due to regional issues; thankfully, the developers were nice enough to provide me with a ROM file.

Emulating the game was as easy as dropping it into Retroarch, and it was a pretty painless process. The game will be available for purchase as a ROM once it releases, since not everyone has the retro hardware to play it properly.

The demo I was provided with places us at a later point in the game, and this was done to keep us away from any major plot spoilers as well as to help show how the game’s combat will be at later points.

What I know about the plot is that the main character is named Abel, and he wields a magical wind sword. Abel is rumored to be a hero of legend and is most likely Zephyr’s chosen one to save the world.

For those unfamiliar, Zephyr is the god of wind in Greek mythology, and fittingly enough, the demo drops us in a place that reveres him in an indirect manner. Zephyr’s Pass‘ demo puts us in the shoes of Abel as his airship crashes in the middle of the desert.

Abel and his crew happen to find a village in the middle of nowhere, and most of the villagers are faithful servants of the wind. They don’t seem to be exactly sure of what it even is, but they revere it nonetheless.

The village is a classic example of misplaced faith, as everything that happens gets written off as something orchestrated by the “great gust”. Both the fact that the western part of the town has been completely blocked off by rubble and the village’s ongoing food shortage are seen as the great gust’s will.

Abel investigates the food shortage while walking around town, getting to know the villagers and what they think of the situation, and ends up linking the problem to livestock theft. Abel works with a young boy named Shawn to figure out who’s been stealing the animals, thinking up a pretty ingenuous plan.

Abel and Shawn wait until night and disguise Shawn as a sheep to see who will try to take him, but Abel’s crew doesn’t even really care about the plan, telling him that he has until sunrise to get things done or he’ll be left behind.

There’s a pretty interesting dynamic between Abel and his crew; he basically does whatever they tell him to and essentially works as a low-level pirate. The dichotomy of him being a hero of legend who also just runs errands because he’s a kid is pretty fun.

Shawn, now dressed as a sheep, does get kidnapped, and Abel gives chase, getting him confused with the other misplaced sheep multiple times. Zephyr’s Pass actually has quite a bit of understated humor in its dialogue; it’s never in your face, but it does have some funny moments.

The segment where we are looking for Shawn also serves as our first taste of combat, as the path to finding him is full of cloaked men and dangerous snakes. Zephyr’s Pass has real-time combat, which is very reminiscent of the early Legend of Zelda games.

The game’s combat is pretty basic, as you just walk up to enemies and smack them with your sword, but I can’t bring myself to complain about it. To truly be a retro title, Zephyr’s Pass would have to be simple, and I’m glad it doesn’t try to shoehorn a bunch of mechanics into the game just because it’s being released in modern times.

Like it or not, Zephyr’s Pass is a Game Boy Color game, and those games were very straightforward, aside from some obtuse quest design here and there, which thankfully Zephyr’s Pass doesn’t seem to have.

It does seem like combat will gain some depth as we progress through the game, though, as Abel can unlock more items to use alongside his wind sword. In the demo, we get a shield, which essentially just blocks projectiles while we hold it up.

While looking for Shawn, we also stumble upon the game’s first dungeon, which may have my favorite implementation of door maze mechanics. Each room in the dungeon has 12 doors, three in each cardinal direction, and the player has to walk through the correct door to progress.

Instead of teleporting you around and making it a frustrating experience, Zephyr’s Pass just has you walk into the same room until you figure out the next door. You never actually lose progress in the puzzle as you clear it, and you can always narrow it down to three doors by checking your map.

This is the best implementation of this type of puzzle I have seen so far, as most games choose the sadistic way and have you try your luck with random doors until you essentially brute force your way through.

At the end of the dungeon, we get a really fun boss fight against a massive statue, which forces us to make use of our newly acquired shield. The fight happens on a really narrow platform, and the boss’ gusts of wind knock Abel off, forcing the player to use their shield when not attacking.

After defeating the statue, we find out that the village’s leader was behind kidnapping the sheep all along, attempting to sacrifice them to the wind god, hoping for prosperity, even though the sacrifices were leading to a food shortage.

Abel spares the village’s elder, who then realizes that the young boy is actually the wind god’s chosen. After that, Abel goes on his merry way, hoping to eventually save the world from an unknown villain.

Something that doesn’t even have to be mentioned is how nice the game looks, as the post is full of examples. The game does a lot with its limited color palette and has some fantastic pixel art; the characters overworld sprites especially remind me of the Final Fantasy games.

Zephyr’s Pass is a very enjoyable retro experience; it’s simple, and I think that’s a positive trait in this case. It manages to easily blend in with other RPG titles from the era by simply sticking to the basics of combat and exploration.

It’s not often that we see a proof-of-concept like this manage to be well-written, artistically impressive, and fun while still respecting the limitations of older hardware. I give my props to Zephyr’s Pass and gladly await the final release.

Zephyr’s Pass was played on Retroarch with a ROM sent by incube8 games. Zephyr’s Pass has no set release date but will be accessible in the future both physically as a Game Boy Color cartridge and digitally as a ROM that can be played on any system that supports emulators.

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Fan of skeletons, plays too many video games, MMO addict, soul-like and character action enthusiast.

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