Abyss of the Sacrifice (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £30.99 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

The game has the following CWs: Mentions of suicide, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, parental abuse, and human experimentation.

Hrm. Hrm, and other thoughtful noises.

The characters have, at times, a seriously rocky relationship. And there’s good reasons, plural.

Abyss of the Escape is a visual novel/escape room game, in which five girls are trapped, seemingly alone, in the ruins of FOUNDATION, an underground home for humanity after the surface basically got fucked. And shit’s not going well for them, not helped by certain things along the way, and the secrets and traumas each person has. It’s interesting, dark stuff.

It’s such a shame then, that it’s timeline implementation is awkward, and many of its puzzles are obtuse, some downright frustrating in their lack of information. I had to rely on hints for a fair few puzzles, and a few, in particular, I would not have found the solutions to without either pixel hunting, or looking the solution up. All I will say about that, if you play it, is that two numbers you haven’t lit up are hidden inside another, single digit number. It must also be said that some of the puzzles feel out of place for the situation.

Huh, big barrier in the garbage room? What purpose did that serve, except to arbitrarily separate the two characters involved for a dual viewpoint puzzle? Making tea? Good Doctor, I understand that you don’t want to let your daughter near your best tea, but an entire puzzle about tea making is only going to interest the tea fanatics. Who will then get turned off by the puzzle lock on the crucial ingredient. Although the last puzzle of that scene did fit the character of the Doctor.

I kicked myself after realising the solution. And this is an early puzzle.

And these two faults kind of taint the whole experience, which is a shame, because there’s some legitimately good writing in there, including the main twist. The rather heavily foreshadowed main twist.

Aesthetically, it works. Clear UX, some good illustrations, solid music, some good VA, and overall, as noted, good writing, because a good twist is foreshadowed, but even heavy foreshadowing works if it doesn’t quite make sense until the twist.

But yes, the awkward implementation of the timeline, some obtuse and sometimes arbitrary puzzles, they bring the game from legitimately good and interesting, to a cautious recommendation with heavy qualifications.

See this? THESE HELP PEOPLE GET INTO YOUR GAME IF IT’S A TADGE BIG.

Timelines, VN devs. I’ll stress this and stress this until it sinks in. Timelines. They make our lives easier.

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Saviours of Sapphire Wings (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Both this and Stranger of Sword City, £9.99 for each of the two soundtracks)
Where To Get It: Steam

On the one hand, this is a twofer with another step based RPG, Stranger of Sword City Revisited, but… Both games are big enough that it would just not be fair to review them together.

I’m not exactly happy that this is the closest we get to nonbinary, but… I took it.

Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a step based, first person JRPG, which is to say, y’all walk one step at a time through areas, dungeons, whatnot, have random encounters with monsters, some not-so-random encounters, and, of course, bosses. Levelling’s pretty slow, so if you want a game that can be consumed in bite sized chunks while still giving a feeling of progress, this… Isn’t it. You will grind, and you won’t be fighting bosses until you’re good and ready. That potential turnoff for folks out of the way, let’s get on with the meat and potatoes.

After all, there’s another reason that it wouldn’t be fair to review this with its companion: The two have major differences between them. In Saviors of Sapphire Wings, you are the reincarnation of the greatest knight of the round table (of this world), who fell in the final battle with the demon lord. Whoops.

He’s a big, slow, and BLOODY CREEPY boy…

But you’re reincarnated now, and, over the course of the early game, recruit two new members. A priestess and a warrior. More will join your ranks, but bonds of trust must be built up, by talking to them and counselling wisely, feeding them, and winning battles with them, a bond of blood. The more powerful that bond, the more powerful they will become. And, naturally, y’know… Demon Lord, gotta be pretty damn powerful to get up to that level from nothing.

So there’s less character creation in Sapphire Wings, although this is definitely not to say none. But there are no character switching shenanigans, the people you join with are set in stone. But honestly, they provide such a nice balance this early on, it’s not a hassle. Stat increases are still relatively minimal, skills largely fixed… But it simplifies things, allowing you to concentrate on enemies.

Some enemies will feel very familiar because, uhhh… They are. Does this make it worse? Nah, it means if you’re playing both games, you know relatively what to expect. The big ol’ scythebugs are weak to fire, these enemies are weak to wind, most mob type characters can summon other mob type characters, which is something to consider when you’re low on HP or trying to grind… It works.

We have the classiest of rides…

Aesthetically… Yup, artwork’s pretty good, music’s good, sound is okay, everything’s clear, we’re all good, great character artwork… It works, and this is good.

Like with Sword City, there’s a lot I could mention. A lot. But I will say that the story is good, you’re getting Sword City along with this (also reviewed this month), and if you know and are cool with the time demands a JRPG like this wants, then yes, this is a solid choice.

I am not the heroic type. But I do admit, slaughtering the real monsters is a satisfying experience.

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Stranger of Sword City Revisited (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Both this and Saviours of Sapphire Wings, £9.99 for each of the two soundtracks)
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. Bated breath and everything. Actually, it’s nice that my breath isn’t bated anymore, it was a real hassle. But yes, Stranger of Sword City is being Revisited, and I am very much down for trying it.

After all, when I last saw it, that one samurai guy kicked my ass, and I want to return the favour this time around with more quality of life, y’know?

Why yes, that is a Japanese schoolgirl with a big honkin’ sword, demon armour, who’s just sliced up a giant monster but good, why do you ask?

So yes, as mentioned in the Saviors of Sapphire Wings review, this is bundled with said game, and both are step based, grindyish RPGs in the vein of Etrian Odyssey or Wizardry, where you have to take the time to get powerful enough to beat that next asshole that’s blocking progress. You explore maps, you get random encounters and not-so-random encounters and bosses (I wouldn’t dare call any of them, except the beginning goblin, a miniboss), and you try and level up to get more special bosses murdered, to eventually…

Ahhh, but here we get to story, and honestly, I like this: You’ve been transported to a different world, a world where the detritus of multiple worlds ends up, including ours. And you are a chosen soul. Think that’s cool?

Well, it actually means everyone’s after either your allegiance or your head. And there are three major factions, each with their own goals to work with. It’s relatively minimal, with the focus more being on the world and its encounters, but it is interesting stuff, and the world is an asshole.

I do not wish to discuss the implications of your starting equipment at this time, thank you…

Aesthetically, it works a’ight. There’s a custom uploader for character portraits, but beyond this, and the great character/monster art already in the game, the UX is mostly workmanlike, pretty clear, everything important identified… It’s solid. I can’t really say the sound effects wow me, and the music’s alright, but overall, it’s solid, and that’s cool.

Mechanically… Okay, let’s get one thing out the way right now: If you want a game that respects your time, gives you an experience that doesn’t involve a whole lot of repetition, neither this or Sapphire Wings is it. This is an old school JRPG, and you either grind or die. Now that we have the turnoff out of the way, the game’s systems are relatively simple.

Creating multiple characters is a must for the game, as party members have a limited amount of resurrects, and if you’re not using those, they’re out for quite a while, several dungeon expeditions, in fact. Levelling and classes, well, they have fixed roles, fixed trees, and stat improvement is relatively slow, but consistent. What’s important here is that the game’s length is somewhat increased by keeping characters consistent in levels, and making sure you have backup roles, in order to ensure progression is relatively smooth.

At this time in the game, these are chumps to me. Their boss, on the other hand…

You will get caught off guard by bosses. You will run away from fights. And you will be making use of all your tools, including the new feature, Freemen. Technically, the other “new” classes are not, in fact new (the Puppeteer and the Clocker, who do enemy control and time fuckery respectively), but the Freeman most definitely is, and, at first? Doesn’t seem that useful.

However, even if they can’t take to the field like any of your other heroes, they level up in base like any other party member (At a reduced rate), and their levelling benefits… Make your life easier at home. Better experience gain for folks at the base. Better rates from the smith. Other fine benefits like that.

I could say a lot more, but, apart from the big caveat of “It’s an oldschool JRPG”? It’s a really solid game, and I’d already been looking forward to this Revisited version precisely because I already knew it was a cool member of its subgenre. It comes with Sapphire City, also reviewed this month, so it’s a solid purchase overall. Give it a go, JRPG fans.

I am no stranger to Sword City. We just never got past the hatesmooches phase in our relationship.

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Journey to the Savage Planet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99 (Expansion Scenario: £5.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

I just keep finding cheerily dystopian games with guitars in, don’t I? Well, this one’s particularly cheery in its corporate dystopia, and is a metroidvania style deal in which your abilities allow you to explore the world more, see interesting beasties, and get yourself wrecked by them, so it’s not like I can complain. All I can do is eat the monsters that look rich. Or, more accurately, drain their mineral contents so I can make sweet, sweet traversal items and upgrades.

MUAHAHAHAHA, SUCK IT, HELPLESS CHICKEN LIKE CREATURE!

And, just like a metroidvania, there’s a fair amount of being lost, because, apart from shortcut points, you’re basically relying on muscle memory and a few upgrades to work out what’s what, and where.

So, first things first, the humour. Oh god, the humour’s on point, and it’s clear which rich asshole(s) Kindred corp’s head are inspired by. They shall not be named, for they are also namesearching rich assholes. But it’s pretty obvious, and oh boy are they smug, clueless jerks who’d rather throw money and people at a problem than use resources efficiently.

That’s our job, apparently.

Humankind. Whether it’s possible, advisable, or even safe, we will try to [BEEEEP] it.

Aesthetically, the game is pretty clear, with a clear, unobtrusive UX, cool alien designs that make the beasties in question instantly recognisable (along with other features, equally clear), and a broken world that feels awe inspiring at times to travel in. Musically, well, it’s good, it’s frontier western guitars, and yup, dystopian future with space-trucker guitars again!

This is not a bad thing. This is, in fact, a good thing. Equally good is the world. The pufferbirds are very satisfying indeed to feed to the grinding maws, to punt, and to generally bully, the creatures are, overall, well designed, big glowy weak points and all, and they feel like they belong in this screwed up, shattered world. Which, like your journey, is one big, long WHOOPS.

But it’s an enjoyable whoops that controls well, has some good acting (and some delightfully godawful adverts), a dystopian story that nonetheless made me laugh, and an ending that I saw coming a few hundred parsecs away, but still delighted me in the details. I found some of the later stuff and some of the bosses a bit of a drag, mainly because said boss fights were multistage, but also relied on maneuverability with limited healing, but overall, I found it well paced, and likable enough that I wanted to 100% complete before hitting that lever to take me back home.

Pretty landscapes. Filled with creatures that want you dead, and you want dead too. It’s all good…

And after I do, what I’ve found will totally be used safely for the betterment of mankind. Right?

Oh. Yeah. Comedic hellscape.

WHOOPS.

This review sponsored by CAMPING CUBICLE, the portable office cube with a coffee maker in-built, so you can feel like an office drone even in the farthest reaches of space, as you should!

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Cloud Climber (Review)

Source: It free!
Price: It free!
Where To Get It: Steam!

It’s the end. You’re the last one. And you’re thirsty. But that, honestly, means you can enjoy the last great fruits of humanity’s labour, for good or ill. One. Last. Lap. That’s what Cloud Climber is, a short narrative game about walking through the last remnants of a once… Of a people who worked really hard when their backs were against the wall, one last time.

I wish it were…

See, the world is all desert and sandstorms below. Water stopped coming up the buckets years ago. And that first utterance of the game, that first “Well, I’d better see if anyone else has water”, already has a sense of defeat. But not despair… The calm acceptance of someone who knows it’s over, and there’s nothing they can do about it. One. Last. Lap.

It’s short, so I really can’t say more without spoiling things, but it’s a beautiful set of towers, a beautiful, desolate, and ruined landscape, wood and stone that’s somehow stood the test of time, stood despite building code, and even common sense, has been forgotten. And all for one last push at survival. One. Last. Lap.

It looks so starkly beautiful from up here, doesn’t it?

The music, like the narrator, is calm, appreciating the beauty, gentle strings melding effortlessly in counterpoint to the winds below, the creaking of wood, the rattles and squeals of doors that have warped over the time they’ve been left alone. All presaging One. Last. Lap.

And finally, the acceptance is complete. It’s over. You are the last one, you’ve worked hard. Time to take a well deserved break. And your last lap, your journey to find what you’ve finally given up on finding…

Haha, all I can say is that I’m not sure if it’s a reward… Or a mocking coda on humanity’s…

One.

Last.

Lap.

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