Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Prideful Sloth || Overall: 8.5/10

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is the unique exploration/crafting game from indie developer Prideful Sloth.  Usually a game doesn’t make itself unique by omitting, but in this case, the fact that there is absolutely NO combat really provides for an interesting experience.  Exploring, unlocking, and collecting are the main activities that you’ll be participating in, and while it is a slow burn at first, once you get into the rhythm of the game its charm will reveal itself to you.

The entire game takes place on a secluded island named Gemea.  As a nameless human vacuum, you’ve come by boat to clean Gemea of its crafting materials.  I call you a nameless human vacuum because you are provided no name, and also because for the first two hours you’ll be doing nothing but picking up rocks, sticks, flowers, and random shit on the ground with no idea what to do with any of it.  You’ll stumble upon a couple of quests that will send you every which way across Gemea, picking up even more rocks and sticks until you realize you have about 200 of each, and then you question the meaning of life and existence.  Is there a reason why Gemea doesn’t have some bureaucratic government agency to do this for them already?  They obviously have some sort of problem with rocks and sticks.  I guess the main threat of the game has libertarian motives.

The quests you happen to stumble upon are very simple, and the quest-givers look the same/animate the same way.  You go around and complete quests for the sake of completing them, sometimes getting useful rewards, but often you’ll get nothing for your efforts.  Each zone has a number of things to do, and as you complete them you’ll be notified.  The main story sees you collecting Sprites, which allow you to unlock blocked off areas, covered by a magical dark mist called “Murk.” While the story set up could have been a bit more impactful and set up the island/scenario in a more elaborate way, it seems like most of this was intentionally left extremely simple and you are forced to “fill in the blanks.”  There aren’t really any charming characters, and most of what you do is by happenstance and not necessarily because you wanted to.  There are at least some important quests that take more effort to complete than others, but most of the unique areas associated with the main quest will only need to be visited once, it seems.

The best way to describe this game is a mix of Dark Cloud or Zelda and Stardew Valley, but removing all combat.  The story sensibilities of a generic hero-type character who has come to save the island by collecting magical Sprites that only s/he can see, reminds me of an old 3D fantasy-adventure game.  Exploration is a big part of this game, and you’ll constantly be finding new nooks and crannies as you accomplish goals across the island.  You’ll also begin to run an assortment of farms, one in each zone, but there is very little maintenance or work that is required to be done on these farms.  You aren’t planting and watering crops, but rather leaving animals in pens and picking up the materials they produce.  Each animal creates different materials, so you’d want to have a variety across the farms.  There is even less maintenance required once you hire a farm hand that will essentially do what you need to do on each of these farms, freeing you up for more of the regular tasks and exploration across the island.

While Yonder is a relaxing game, it is mostly about exploring, and I found myself constantly making detours to suck up all of the random shit I could.  I had no idea why I needed to pick any of them up before I could actually craft with them, but I did it anyway.  Until you learn how to actually craft, you will get by by taking advantage of the barter economy.  It is a bit odd since all of the things you will initially be trading are just strewn about the island so freely, but that fact is reflected in the “Value” of the items you are trading.  Since there is no traditional currency, you’ll just have to fill your bags with everything you don’t want and then trade for something you do want.  The only purpose to trade is to craft or complete quests, at the end of the day.  There are a number of traders in each of the villages and once you meet or exceed the value of what you are trading for, the deal can be completed.  You’ll want to have the value of both sides be as equal as possible so you don’t lose out on materials in a bad trade.

Crafting is a large part of the game, and each profession has its own town where you’ll embark on a quest to learn a few recipes and then become a Master.  Once you actually begin these Master crafter quests, you’ll be wishing you didn’t skip any resources up until this point because you’ll realize you need like another thousand more of everything.  You’ll eventually start taking quests that require you to use your crafting talents to complete, but sometimes its easier to just trade for what you want than going through the motions of crafting.  There are also trading posts which provide a unique material that can only be created there, so you’ll have to bring the prerequisite with you if you need them.

The island of Gemea is a sizeable area to explore.  It is larger than it may seem when looking at a map but it doesn’t take very long to get across it, either.  The transition between each zone is very natural and you almost can’t tell you’re in the next zone sometimes.  The different biomes give enough variety while still being “realistic” in that you could expect grasslands to be next to a forest, and that a desert would be on its own secluded area away from the main island.  Not that they are necessarily needed, but there are no survival mechanics such as getting tired or hungry, despite there being a day/year counter.  You can run around on the island for two years straight and you don’t get tired or hungry.

As with all games nowadays, new additions are inevitable.  If combat were ever introduced, it would be nice to break up the monotony of running around unfettered forever, but I understand why they didn’t include it in the game initially.  It would ruin the main “threat,” which is the Murk and the underlying reason why it has spread across Gemea.  While it doesn’t matter to me that generic puffy people who ask me to do inane tasks are under threat from the Murk, my real connection comes with how beautiful the island itself is, and wanting to see it preserved.

At first I was not a big fan of the art-style, but as I grew accustom to it, it is probably one of the prettiest games I’ve played recently.  Every single part of the island is a joy to be in and I love being in all of the different biomes, seeing what new things I can find despite having already been there.  One of the great things about Yonder is that new things can constantly be found or unlocked due to progression or simply because you didn’t stumble across the thing before.  Fast-travel points are also in only-barely-convenient places and require a quest to be completed before being able to connect to the travel network at that location.  So, sometimes fast travel might be more annoying than regular travel.

No loading screens past the first loading screen is also great for not breaking the immersion.  Cutscenes are used sparingly, as well, but what semblance of a main story there is, often has you listening to a very large Sprite telling you where the Murk comes from and how to fix Gemea’s problem.  The superb sound design really delivers in creating the right mood and feeling for each biome, with the music supplementing the ambient noise.

The only real fault of Yonder is that if you are not intent on giving it a chance, you may not find enough to motivate you to keep going; it is a very slow burn.  It wasn’t until around the six hour mark where the game “clicked” for me.  By the time I had begun writing this review I had put in nearly eight hours of game time; typically I’m able to formulate my opinion about a game way before that.  Because there is so much to explore on the island of Gemea, there is a lot of potential game time, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.  If the game grabbed me earlier in the process with some sort of interesting character to latch onto or being forced into the main story for just a couple of quests, I would have personally had a favorable opinion a lot quicker.  As is, after the introduction they instead dump you in the middle of the first zone where you can have at all of the rocks and sticks you can suck up into the singularity you call your backpack.

As previously mentioned, there’s a lot to explore and do in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.  Give it a good few hours before making your mind up on it and you may just find one of the indie hits of the year beneath the “real-life Murk.”  Being a human vacuum doesn’t really go away, but at least you’ll be using the crafting materials for something… eventually.

 

Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition (PS4) Review

Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.5

Ever date someone? Yeah… me neither, but let’s play pretend. Let’s say they’re nearly perfect for you. The type of person that not only tolerates, but even shares your hobbies with a pleasant personality; no shortage of devotion and enough physical beauty to put the Greek’s description of most gods and goddesses to shame. In short: the perfect fantasy. Now, let’s say with all their apparent assets there is still one thing about them that gets on your nerves; a single stain among the canvas of perfection that is your potential lover.  You try to ignore it but it pops up in every conversation, and when you try to accept it, the very thought of encountering it again causes a sharp chill to run up your spine. Despite all their positive qualities, you can’t help but notice their one glaring flaw and have it mar the relationship entirely until you’re forced to break up with them. Don’t you think that sort of thing is a tragedy?

Laura
It’s not you, Laura. It’s the way you chew your food.

Taking a stab at the Roguelike subgenre, the developers at ACE Team have teamed up with the good people at ATLUS to give you Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition. A 2D side-scroller and an updated edition to the Steam and Xbox versions for the PS4, Abyss Odyssey is a game about swords and sorcery that takes place in Chile. Yeah, that’s right, I just said Chile. *Add wink and boastful head nod here.*

Chile
One of the few countries that actually looks like what it’s
named after. If you twist your head and blink.

A huge departure from most games in general, Abyss Odyssey takes place in a fantasy version of 19th century Chile. The backdrop serves as the ambiance to a rather mystical and dark setting for the tale. It borrows heavily from Chilean lore to infuse the game with monsters ranging from the macabre to the downright menacing, even as the setting may change drastically from floor to floor. The further you go into the dungeon, the more apparent it becomes that the developer, ACE Team, is very familiar with Chilean lore — it is probably a happy side-effect of basing a game in the country where their headquarters is located. The playable characters do not fall far from that aesthetic either, and feel like they were plucked right out of some dark fantasy painting hanging in the corner of some alternative art house. This all comes together to make it feel like you are traversing through some sinister nightmare… because that’s exactly what you are doing.

The story in Abyss Odyssey is a simple one but it does small and effective things to bring it to life. Though the tale of a nightmare becoming reality is a common one, this is the first time I’ve become so enthralled with the concept.  Most of the story doesn’t take place in grand cut-scenes but is instead hinted at through character dialogue and the various documents enemies drop. Once you get the whole story, it brings new meaning to previous interactions and sometimes provides motivations for the main characters. Furthermore, Abyss Odyssey does an excellent job of integrating the game’s mechanics into the story. Wonder how the main characters keep coming back to life? Well, it’s because they are also part of the nightmare and, like any dream, they can be reimagined. Is it odd that the dungeon changes with every play through? Not so much if you consider it a part of a person’s nightmare, ever-changing and malleable to the dreamer’s will. These traits in the story already warrant high praise but that isn’t even the best part.

Every character has a story. From the main characters to even the lowly NPCs, Abyss Odyssey takes the time and effort to give them a reason for existing outside of the gameplay mechanics that they are there to represent. One of my favorite examples of this can be seen in the dying soldiers that can be randomly encountered throughout the dungeon. They are there as a fast and easy way to give the player a chance at more loot but each comes with a story all their own. Sometimes the story is courageous, other times it’s heart-breaking, and can even be downright embarrassing, but each story helps make the world of Abyss Odyssey feel real. Those dying soldiers weren’t there solely for the player’s benefit, they had dreams and aspirations all their own.

screen2
Protip: When you die, you really don’t. Before even reviving at the beginning
of the dungeon the game gives you control of a random mook. Make it to an
altar and you’ll be instantly revived from death.

The music does a fine job of complimenting the nightmare aesthetic. Each theme is a haunting melody of classical beats that wouldn’t seem out of place in your nightmares… only if you were more cultured and/or educated… you swine! Though, the way the game interacts with its music deserves some credit. Often times it can be used as an audio cue of what is nearby, and other times it can ratchet up the intensity of specific encounters. There is a certain enemy whose theme overtakes the current music whenever you find him. This sudden musical clash makes his appearance all the more terrifying during the fight. These sorts of “reactionary” musical queues make the music feel almost as alive as the setting.

So, by now you are probably wondering why, despite all of accolades I gave this game, it has a big fat 6.5 under its review score? You’re probably also wondering why I would start a video game review talking about dating? Well, that’s because I have a good reason for each. First, the combat sucks. Second, allusion is a pretty awesome writing device.  To put it plainly, at its worst, the combat is a clunky and unresponsive mess and, at its best, it is a poor man’s version of Smash Bros. The shielding, dodge-rolling and fighting mechanics seem mostly there, but what isn’t there is the polish the titular party game has gone through over the years. So while the game may have the know-how coded into the game, it doesn’t possess the necessary grace to pull it off properly. The rigid animations and unresponsive controls lead the player to fight against the stage and controls instead of the monsters in front of them. So much so, that I began to dread every encounter because either my attacks would whiff past enemies or my controls would randomly not function the way they were intended. This also applies to the game’s competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, both suffering from the same bad combat mechanics. It’s really quite the horrible stain on what could have been a great game.

screen8
Okay guys, as usual. No items. That weird-eye-lion-thing only.
FINAL DESTINATION!!!

I could have forgiven Abyss Odyssey for anything other than the combat. This tragedy could have been avoided if the music was lackluster, if the story was bland or if the graphics were 8-bit. Instead, the game falters on its most important aspect, the combat; it drags everything else down with it. Instead of enjoying the world this game takes place in, I’m forced to drop it like an annoying girlfriend. This game could have easily gotten a 9.0 or 9.5, instead it’ll have to do with the 6.5 I gave it. It just wasn’t meant to be.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Message Quest (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Royal Troupe || Overall: 7.5

Heroes come in all shapes and size, and that’s precisely the problem in Message Quest. Published and Developed by Royal Troupe, Message Quest takes a step back from the usual hero’s story and focuses more on the one that literally delivers the hero’s call rather than the hero receiving it. Set in a land about to fall to ruin, the laziest member of the Order of Heralds must deliver an important scroll to an even more important hero in an attempt to save Avarange. The problem is that Feste, our main character, would much rather laze about than bother finding a hero who could be just about anybody. Thus leaving the player as both his conscience and fourth-wall-breaking audience member, you must goad, manipulate and eventually encourage Feste to complete his noble quest. The player will find a point-and-click adventure along the way.

Who Done It
Unfortunately, the answer to who killed Mr. Boddy remains
to be found.

The first thing you’ll notice about Message Quest is the art style. Bright tones and dark outlines give it a style similar to any stained glass window you’d find at a church, mosque, synagogue or personal shrine to your favorite anime character (I don’t discriminate).  Furthermore, each character has distinguishing features that are often exaggerated to easily tell them apart and add to their charm along with their mannerisms and random sound effects they make. As for the other sounds you hear, the music is littered with melodies that remind you of renaissance fairs or classic fairytales. Thankfully, despite the short length of the game, there are enough arrangements to prevent any individual song from going stale.

 

Message Quest is pieced by equal parts story and gameplay. The story section consists of a charming, but not too intricate, tale about Feste overcoming his laziness and being introduced to the virtues of hard work and responsibility. Unfortunately, it didn’t convince me that a lifetime of laziness can change in a story that probably played out over the course of a few days. Especially for a person who I had to literally drag out of their home to start the quest. There is also an interesting dialogue tree mechanic where you pick what each character in the conversation says, though in implementation I didn’t find it all that necessary considering it never really changed the story’s outcome. Still, there is a bit of fun in the tale and some nice references to other fantasy and classic tales as well. The characters are also amusing, though a bit one-dimensional.

Responsibility Stool
We need more virtue based furniture. I suggest the honesty sofa,
the loyalty table and the chastity bed.

The gameplay was really average at best and mostly consists of an assortment of jigsaw puzzles, and the usual point-and-click affairs of clicking on and manipulating objects in the background to advance the story. It’s hardly even difficult to lose track of your objectives, with the game having a convenient scroll at the top of the screen that tells you exactly what you are looking for, plus another button that shows you which items are clickable. The truly interesting bit was the odd battle mechanic this game featured. It more of a mental combat meant to deplete an opponent’s will and pump up Feste’s own will with a funny assortment of actions like jogging, making a puppy-dog face and playing dead. Though fun, it didn’t happen nearly enough for me to truly enjoy it.

Battle System
“Don’t make me pee my pants, woman!”

Overall, Message Quest is a pretty decent game that doesn’t quite hit all of its high notes. It’s very pretty, has a decent story and so-so gameplay. It’s also pretty short with it taking me all of an hour and a half  to complete, even as I took the time to explore my every option. To make up for the length of the game, the price point is befittingly lower, coming in at just under three dollars on Steam. While Message Quest isn’t necessarily ground breaking or a shining example of its genre, I can see it being the perfect video game chaser to play in between longer games since there is still some enjoyment to be had.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Odin Sphere (PS2) Review

Developer: Vanillaware | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.0/10

Warning: This review has spoilers since the game is like 5 years old at this point.

If ever a game has attempted to be Shakespearean in its story delivery, it is Odin Sphere.  Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling action beat-em-up game starring five different playable characters.  The story and how it is presented is very much the forefront on what is “unique” about this game, but the mechanics involved are also very robust and allows for a challenging experience whether or not you want one.

Without doing much research or knowing much about the game beforehand, if you dive right into it, you’ll probably be a little bit confused.  Confused because you start out the game as a little girl in the attic of the house she presumably lives in.  You’ll see a book, and then you’ll see a cat named Socrates.  Nothing really happens unless you start reading the book at which case you’ll begin the story of Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Demon Lord Odin.

My personal experience with the game began 2 or so years ago.  I had played the game quite a bit but never actually beaten Gwendolyn’s storyline, so when I had actually gotten through her book, it was quite intriguing to see the oh-so-dramatic events and the ending for Gwendolyn.

For the first 5 books, you will play characters who are somehow connected to the royalty of the world of Erion.  The five different characters go through the events of the story from their points of view, and will occasionally fight or interact with other characters you have controlled or will control later on.  Needless to say, the story itself is very non-linear and if you stick with it you will see an interestingly multifaceted story unveil before you.  The only thing that detracts from this are the boss battles in which you defeat bosses in different areas or under different circumstances, but still the same fight when all is said and done.  It feels kind of weird “killing” or severely debilitating the same dragon repeatedly, considering he had just been defeated or will be defeated again by another one of the characters you play in what seems like a day or two story-wise.

Besides the blatant “replay the same game 5 times” aspect of the game, which you really kind of do, they do toss in different mechanics for each of the characters you play with.  The different weapons and characters all have unique and different feels, and it keeps the gameplay more-or-less fresh as you go and play through the story again.  As for the mechanics itself, you will mostly be hitting the Square button over and over.  Jumping and the direction of the analog stick while you press the Square button affect the type of attacks you do, and it is a pretty standard combo fighting system.  There aren’t any huge combos to pull off, but most of the challenge in the game comes in the strategy in which you defeat the enemies that are laid out before you in each section.  Almost every character is able to parry attacks and perform knock-backs.  Gwendolyn, using a spear, can block and glide around the map.  Cornelius, using a sword, can block attacks and do a spinning attack in mid-air.  Mercedes, using a bow, can fly, charge her attacks, and use a unique magic spell.  Oswald can activate shadow powers and make all of his normal attacks hit around twice as hard and twice as fast for a short period of time.  Velvet, using chains, can attack all around her, charge an attack and swing across the map. Using each individual character’s strengths to your advantage is vital to defeating the challenges presented.

Each character has the same repertoire of magic “Psypher” attacks, but they are earned in a different order.  The essential purpose of these Psypher magics are to make the game easier for you — you will need to use them to defeat tons of enemies or defeat a boss you just had enough of instead of just spamming your basic attacks.  Basic attacks can also only be spammed to a certain point, as they are limited by a POW gauge.  The POW gauge will decrease as you use your basic attacks and then you’ll have to run around or stop attacking for a few seconds for the gauge to fill again.  If you fully deplete the POW gauge you will stun yourself for a good 4 to 5 seconds waiting for the gauge to fill to 100% again before being able to move.  A lot of the strategy you employ during the harder fights in the game rely on a careful balance of your attacks and trying to be conservative in your spams.  The game mechanics are fairly engaging and can be quite fun despite its simplistic approach.

What makes the game more of an Action RPG is obviously with its leveling and, to a lesser degree, alchemy system.  Your Psypher and your Character each have independent levels.  The main way to increase your levels is by the way you use Phozons.  Phozons are magical orbs that appear after you defeat an enemy.  You can choose to absorb the Phozons into your Psypher weapon or put a seed into the ground and after a certain amount of required Phozons, pick the fruit (or meat) that grows out of the ground.  You also have a limited storage menu so you’ll have to constantly be managing it as you play through each section.  The food that you can buy or grow in the game can also be used between levels to increase your hit points and gain more experience at a more efficient rate than just eating the food alone.  When you are able to access the Pooka Village, you can visit either of the two restaurants and have them cook up something using your food and adding some permanent hit points.  Using these restaurants are vital to increasing your characters stats — the natural hit point increases from leveling up are about half the amount you actually want to have by the end of each book… at least on Easy mode.

One of the things Odin Sphere has going for, or against it, is its difficulty.  I started playing the game on normal, and ended up dying so many times on shitty trash (non-boss) enemies that I changed the difficulty to Easy.  It was more-or-less smooth going from there, but there were still some tricky bosses that made me question whether or not I was still on Easy.  The bosses at the end of the game were also quite difficult for an “Easy” setting, which makes me wonder how hard the Normal and Hard settings actually would be.  It really made me question what kind of enjoyment people get out of dying over and over on games like this… it really isn’t that much fun to keep dying, but to each their own, I suppose.

The visuals are definitely one of the other unique aspects of this game.  Vanillaware is known for their awesome-looking 2D hand-drawn visuals that stray from what you normally see in gaming today.  They also like to draw chicks with huge boobs and sexy legs and little to nothing to cover it all.  Girls with less-emphasized features also exist in the game, so it’s not that “one-sided” as far as it goes.  Suffice to say, all of the chicks — even the queen of death — are all banging and who wouldn’t want to see these chicks getting ass-rammed with their boobs flopping around?  There’s a lot of provocative fan-service animations and poses the female characters in the game do, as well.

The art style is also interesting because you will see giant men who have toothpick legs.  Not all of the men in the game are that disproportionate, and there are a couple of different mythological races in the game such as Dwarves and Fairies.  Most of the game is influenced by Norse mythology and mixes in with normal fantasy, and the art style definitely goes with what is going on, as it is essentially a “storybook” being read by the little girl in the attic every time you start up the game.

The point of the game probably won’t culminate into much of a cohesion until the end of the game, which all of the events that transpire in each individual character’s book leads to.  The last phase of the game is a series of five difficult boss battles, and provided you leveled each of the characters appropriately and they have enough items to assist them in the final battle, you will choose one character to fight each boss up to the game’s ending.

The game begins to split its path when you choose the correct or “incorrect” character for a particular end boss.  Each boss is to be paired against one of the characters you have played as “the prophecies state” that you collect while playing the preamble.  There is a satisfying ending as long as you choose the correct characters, but there’s not a whole lot that is “plainly explained” in the context of the story.  The purpose of the girl, which I believe her name is Alice, at the beginning is more-or-less justified, giving the story, which you thought as a “child’s story” to be something more of a sad, dark history of the world she lives in.  When Cornelius and a Pooka-cursed Velvet appear in the attic she has been reading her books in, it affirms that the books her “grandpa loved to read so much” actually were real after all.  The set of five books, including the Armageddon and Wheel of Fate books combined ends up being the “Odin Sphere” book written by an unnamed, unknown character whom we can only assume the identity of.  It can be also be inferred that the writer is “you” since you were there at all of the events that had transpired.

I sort of wish that they would have added a little bit more of an explanation on certain things that were left open to interpretation in the game.  The question behind who wrote the Odin Sphere book series is probably the biggest question, and how Cornelius and Velvet affect the world after they turn back into humans, and where the people of Valentine originally came from, and what the actual origin of the mechanically alien-like Cauldron is.  The total rounding up of all the loose ends wouldn’t have taken much effort, considering they were more-or-less extraneous aspects of the story that were still interesting.

I spent a good 40 hours or so on this game, and I probably would have liked to spend about 10 hours less than I did, having to beat the same bosses over and over, in what seems like a forced fashion.  They could have, and should have trimmed any of the “forced” boss encounters, especially considering you don’t even get any experience from those battles anyway.  Once you complete a book, it’s nice being able to replay the story from the beginning, but all of the locations you opened up through your first time through should have been open as well so that people trying to grind up levels a little bit for the Armageddon didn’t have to go through the same stuff again.

The inventory UI, while having an interesting take, was probably the most frustrating thing about the normal gameplay.  I wished so many times that I could open the bag view and use all my items there rather than having to use it through the swirly-circle-single-bag-at-a-time interface.  I would lose items many times and just go through each of my bags not remembering or not knowing or not seeing where something went.  Once all of the books opened up and I was grinding levels for the Armageddon, there is no way to change books without resetting the game entirely — that seemed like an oversight on the part of the design team.

Odin Sphere can be a real challenge to get through and see it through, but I feel like it’s worth it, since what the game set out to do is probably not going to be done again.  I loved the art, I loved the way the story was told, and the game play was a good stylistic compliment.