Platform: PC (also available on Xbox and Game Pass)
Where do I begin? Having made my way through 95% of the game’s content because nostalgia ruled my heart, I can clearly see the love and passion that went into it. It invoked that feeling of being a kid again playing on the SNES or the N64, of retro consoles before we got into modern gaming. Of finding secrets hidden behind random walls, and of guidebooks that came with the game filled with artwork, tips and help. It heavily borrows, or inspired by, elements of the Zelda games. Those worlds had so many secrets to find, and no hand to guide you. You had to figure out how to solve everything and where to go. The recent other game I finished playing had a similar deal. The graphics are cutesy, in a 3D isometric world and you play as an anthropomorphic animal – in this case, a fox – as you traverse in search of items of power.
Developed by one man, Andrew Shouldice, for several years until he partnered up with publisher Finji to help polish and finish it up. This game is a prime example of why anyone working on anything solo needs a friend, a buddy, just somebody to bounce ideas off and tell you “This is a stupid idea” when you come up with a truly stupid idea. The last half of the game falls under this entire category. To me the game ended wonderfully when I collected the three random items I needed. In fact, it should have ended there officially but Andrew went and committed a gaming cardinal sin. You never take away the player’s upgrades near the end of the game. Start of the game is fine. But if I’ve taken the time to explore your carefully crafted world, went down all the nooks and crannies to find items to better myself, and you reduce me to barebones? You know how I feel? Like you don’t care about the player having a fun experience. It feels like you created a game because you wanted a world filled to the brim with secrets, with hidden paths and shortcuts and failed to remember you need a fun core gameplay loop.
Combat is the worst thing about this game, and it is the core mechanic. You press x/y/b, depending on which slot you like, three times for your sword. The first two swings stand in place, and the third lunges. You can dodge three times at the start, but because of stamina, it’ll take time to refill. If you run out of stamina, such as dodging three times, the meter turns red while it refills and you take additional damage. You are only invincible during the start while there is dust on the ground. Except I’ve repeatedly found that sniper enemies will still hit while there’s dust on the ground and only the first half second counts as a dodge.
Many of the stronger enemies have a strong predilection to running away from your attacks until they back into a wall. Given how you stand still for your first two attacks, you can see how infuriating this might get. You can alleviate the issue by using a found magical grappling hook to pull enemies towards you, stunning them momentarily. You only have 8 uses of it with your un-upgraded magic meter, and the only way to restore it, short of using a shrine, is to eat blue berries (150 gold) or hope the enemy drops little blue cubes which refill a small portion. You can find additional tools that all use magic, as well as various items that buff, heal, or damage enemies. Gold is earned from defeated enemies, or hidden away in chests. Upgrades start off relatively cheap but get insanely expensive quickly, costing upwards of a 1000 gold. There are several items that cost as much, and having scoured the world, and fought numerous enemies, there’s no way I could buy all of them without spending several hours mind-numbingly grinding away.
The world in question is very intricate, with several different zones that are interlinked by often hidden methods, out of sight, or locked behind several mechanisms. There is eventual fast travel. The map at first might seem too simple, but closer looks reveal little drawings showing secrets or paths, merchants and your position. Like Zelda games, there are various dungeons which require an item or tool to get to, and which become the theme for that zone. There’s a bit of backtracking as getting new tools allow you to reach previously unattainable areas. It borrows also from Dark Souls with the use of the shrines that heal you but also refresh all slain enemies, and that you drop a portion of your currency on death. You can recover it later and cause a mini-explosion which damages nearby enemies. Yes, there are sections which you’ll be running through repeatedly on your way to your body because the save points are far and few, and the shortcuts aren’t yet apparent.
These are the worst part of the game because they grind everything to a halt. The bosses are overdesigned: given moves that attack much more rapidly than the dodge system can handle, or have such fat pools of health that even with max upgrades, it feels like a slog. Some of the later bosses have such varied movesets, and abilities, that I can’t help but feel jaded because all I have is a boring 3-hit combo. I can find a shield eventually, but it can only block 2-3 hits before running out of stamina. It can parry, but the system is so obtuse that I only got it reliably working one time. You hold right trigger to block, but if you double press it quickly, you can parry. Except there’s a noticeable delay to me pressing the action, and it happening, and given the fast paced nature of each encounter, there’s too much effort for minimal gain as a player to reliably learn it.
The penultimate boss fight consists of you fighting against several waves of various mobs of enemies you’ve already encountered before. There’s 7 in total, and each contains roughly 20 or so units to fight. This entire ordeal begins anew should you die. This entire section happens after you find the three magical items, and lose all your upgrades. You are at your weakest fighting the strongest enemies in the game. It is not fun. It is simply a chore. It is the type of idea a friend would have said, “Hey, Andrew, I don’t think you’ve played any modern games, but this is a stupid idea.” It gets better, or worse? This section of the game features invisible enemies that give no indication of position, except for when they attack, or are above water. If you do manage to hurt one, it reveals itself. If you try to attack them, they float away from you at high speeds so you waste your time. They also kill you in two hits.
The final boss fight has two phases to it. Luckily, you get to go around the entire overworld again to acquire back your upgrades without any added benefits! The boss kills you in 3 hits at maximum upgrades. I have to spend 20 minutes for phase one, and then the same amount for phase 2 and I have to execute with perfection. Yes, I haven’t beaten it yet, and probably won’t. These are some of the worst gameplay choices I’ve ever seen in a game.
The combat with the magic system works great in the first portion of the game, the enemies are fine tuned enough that they require skill to avoid their attacks, and aren’t too fat with health. It did not feel like the bosses were designed with a healthy attitude. One like, “hey, how can I use the systems I gave the player in a fun and challenging way that relies on their own skill?” Instead, we got the usual mentality rearing its ugly head of “Fuck you, player.” Every boss is a fat sponge of HP with mechanics that stop all your moves or learned abilities resorting to one possible play: mash attack and dodge attacks. Though sometimes you can’t, because of that aforementioned limit to stamina, and bosses react by throwing out multiple attacks and projectiles that cannot be fully dodged. This detracts immensely from the experience. The latter half of the game turns into a chore by spiting me for playing by purposefully crippling my character.
Which is a shame to be honest because that initial moment of first starting the game, of being unsure where to go, and slowly learning what you had to do, it had echoes of greatness to it. And as you explored finding hidden chests, you’d get those bangs of dopamine, the thrill of being proved right that there was something tucked away! But then you started to fight enemies, and after the fifth cowardly enemy, you started to take offense to the design. You have to be aggressive but you constantly get punished for it. You collect all three magical items and then find yourself going, “what now?” and the game also tells you that. And then when you do find out, it turns the game into a giant chore. I don’t feel any accomplishment or pride that I got past that section. I feel annoyed, you purposefully wasted my time. That whole section was filler because you don’t know how to end your game.
Then I learn of the secrets. Of how if I listen to this random wind chime, I can figure out directional inputs on the d-pad, and input a random string of d-pad commands to summon a treasure chest, or to open doors. Of the game leading me to a hidden website link, where I can download an audio file which can then be run through an audio spectrum analysis program to find a hidden message. I have to analyze the random scribblings on the wall to find a code. Pardon me to all them politically accurate words, and apologies to the autistic community in advance, and all those with legitimate mental issues, but… How retardedly autistic did this developer get? You poured all that time and effort into designing something like that but you can’t be bothered to create a fun combat system beyond three strikes? You can’t be bothered to fine tune the bosses to such an extent as you fine tuned those secrets?
This is another one of those Game Pass games that got the Microsoft treatment where they influence positive reviews of the game. It’s a 6/10 game at best, and the nostalgia is what helps keep the rose colored glasses on so you can’t see the ocean of red flags. If I didn’t consider the later portion of the game, and maybe if the puzzles didn’t require a savant or autistic mind to normally solve, pardon my bluntness, it would be a much better experience. And if the bosses had their health meters tweaked, and their damage lowered, it would be a better game. It took me 13 hours to get to the final boss and explore much of the world (9/12 hidden secrets and half of the fairies), and if the boss wasn’t such a health sponge, I’d give it another go until I beat it.