Category Archives: Indie

Game Review: Bad End

Not even a month into the new year & I’ve already completed three games.  Not bad!  Granted… they were all new games that I got over Christmas sales, so they don’t actually tick off my backlog, but… Oh well!

I can’t quite pin down one thing that drew me to today’s game, Bad End.  It could’ve been that it has decent reviews for a little indie visual novel game, or that it was discounted even more than it’s $2 price.  But probably a large part was that I have a thing for horror stories that take advantage of modern technology.  This love of being haunted through progress started with the movie Stay Alive, a movie about a video game that kills people if they die in the game.  And Bad End’s premise is basically the same.

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The titular Bad End is a game within the game.  Players take the role of regular high school student Kyuuhei, who begins investigating rumors about a new mobile game that kills people after his best friend mysteriously dies of a heart attack the same night he texted Kyuuhei about getting the game to work.  Believing this can’t be a coincidence, Kyuuhei discovers that no one seems to know where this game came from, despite its popularity, & threads from people who get the game to work always end mysteriously.  Kyuuhei takes it upon himself to finish the game without making any mistakes to hopefully end the curse so no one else dies, but between the mental fatigue and ghostly phone calls, the line between the game world & reality starts to blur.

As with most visual novels, all of your actions are limited to simply selecting between various choices when the game prompts you.  But as the title suggests, these choices are littered with Bad (or quite literally Dead) Ends.


20170103185103_1Narrative: The overall impression I left the game with was that it was a missed opportunity.  There’s nothing in the story that I can point to as bad, but I don’t feel it was as good as it could have been.  The concept of controlling a character in a visual novel that’s controlling another character in another visual novel is interesting.  And the mystery revolving around the Bad End game (in the game) is well-paced.  I enjoyed solving the mystery along with Kyuuhei, always trying to stay one step ahead of the game.  I felt excited when I caught on to where the story was going, as well as a sense of accomplishment for being right.

That being said, I did find the resolution disappointing.  It was very clichéd, & surprisingly cheesy for a Japanese horror story.  If you know anything about Asian horror, it’s usually that there’s no happy ending.  I did figure out what was behind the cursed game, & it made sense… but I felt Kyuuhei was way too forgiving about the whole ordeal.  The “misunderstanding” killed a lot of people, including Kyuuhei’s stated best friend, & yet he seemingly overlooks this detail because he gets some T&A out of it.  I swear his last scene in the game comes across as, “It sucks my best friend in the whole world died, but at least I got a girlfriend!”  I don’t know… I’m not a guy, so maybe that would be their response, but it just irked me.

But, for me at least, the biggest misstep is all the squandered opportunities the story provided Bad End.  It had the potential to do some interesting things.  They could’ve done some fourth wall breaking stuff by having the character in the mobile game be self-aware & work with Kyuuhei (something that would’ve made sense given the origin of the cursed game), or even some double-fourth wall breaking stuff by having Kyuuhei realize he was being played.  At the very least, I would’ve liked to have seen something other than you-mess-up-once-&-just-die.  The way the store page & trailer presented it, I expected the real world to gradually become more dangerous as threats from the game started chasing Kyuuhei with each mistake he made.  What I got, however, was make a wrong choice & a ghost hand comes out of your phone & strangles you.  The End.  Maybe it’s not fair to judge a game based on what I wanted, & there were some clever bad ends in the beginning (like choosing to believe your friend really did die of natural causes, not pursuing the mystery & living happy life, or going insane from the constant calls from the dead because you couldn’t take the pressure of making a choice in the game).  But it really did feel like the studio dropped the ball.

Overall, aside from a disappointing resolution & some clichés, I can’t say there was anything “bad” about Bad End’s story.  But it wasn’t memorable either.

Score: 3


20170103213327_1Mechanics: What can you say about the mechanics in a visual novel game?  You use the mouse to select an option when prompted.  That’s it.  It is nice, though, that you can save whenever you want, meaning you can save before you make a choice & start back from there if that was the wrong choice.

As for the choices themselves, for the most part if you pay attention to what’s going on in the game it’s not too difficult to make the right choice.  Except for the very first choice made while Kyuuhei’s actually playing the game.  Kyuuhei’s first choice inside the Bad End game gives you one of three directions to run & there’s absolutely no way to know which one won’t get you killed.  It’s obvious when you make the right choice why it’s the right choice, because it’s the direction that leads you back to the main street, but prior to that the game gives you no clues about what’s in any of the directions you’re given the option to run in.  And given that you can actually make one free mistake (meaning you get a second chance) it feels like the developers knew this & were just being mean-spirited.  Like they wanted you to die here.  That just feels like bad design.

Not much else to say.  Just don’t be stupid, & in most cases you won’t die.

Score: 3


untitled-1024x680Aesthetics: If you’re not familiar with the visual novel style, most of the graphics consist of a background with still images of the characters speaking superimposed on it, with dialogue boxes beneath.  And while Bad End has all that, in comparison to other visual novel games I’ve played recently, the images are very uninspired.  Again, not bad.  They just look like your average anime.  The backgrounds are pretty generic, which is doubly bad considering you’ll be seeing the same places over & over.

The music likewise feels very stock.  I know I’ve heard some of them before, but I’m not sure if they’re stock music that comes with whatever program the developers used to create the game or if it’s from a royalty-free site.  Worse yet, none of the music seemed to really fit with the accompanying scene.  The normal music is way too cheery for the game’s themes, & the music intended for scary scenes wasn’t scary.  And as there are no voices, or any other sounds, the music is all you have to focus on.

Overall, there was nothing particularly bad in the presentation, but nothing to make Bad End stand out, either.  Everything felt very stock, & gave me the impression of not putting in much effort to give their game a unique feel.

Score: 2


Replay Value: Low.  There’s really no point to play Bad End more than once after you’ve beaten it.  Even if you’re dying to get all the achievements for seeing all the bad ends, because you can save before each decision you can just pick up where you died.  The game’s always really short, only taking a few hours to finish.  Score: 2


Breakdown

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Final Score: 2

Final Word: Bad End reminded me of those Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure books. While there’s nothing glaringly wrong with Bad End, there’s nothing memorable about it either.  The most interesting thing about it is an interesting premise, & it doesn’t even handle that well.  Overall, I can’t recommend Bad End to anyone really.  Even with the low price, I can recommend much better visual novels to put that money toward over this.

–  GamerDame

Title: BAD END
Consoles: PC, iOS, Android
Rating: M
Developer: Arai Koh Create Office
Publisher: YOX-Project
Release Date: November 25, 2015

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Filed under 2, Horror, Indie, Mobile, PC, Reviews, Visual Novel

Game Review: Betrayer

There’s a good reason why, in my breakdown of the aspects of games, I use the term “aesthetics” as opposed to something like “visuals.”  Aesthetics concerns itself with “the nature of beauty, art, & taste & with the creation & appreciation of beauty.”  It goes beyond graphical fidelity.  It incorporates all the senses.  It’s the artistic direction of a game, & takes into consideration the choices made in the entire presentation, from art style to sound.  Shooters may be evolving toward photorealism, but I don’t find that interesting to look at.  I know what reality looks like; I’d much rather look at something unique or interesting.  Of course, this is a subjective idea, & what appeals to one person might not appeal to all.  But can a game stand on presentation alone?

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Betrayer takes place in 1604, where you play as an unnamed colonist who set sail from England to Virginia, only to find the colonists have disappeared & the entire landscape drained of life (& color).  As you venture in, you’ll find yourself beset by crazed Conquistadors & wrathful Natives.  And a mysterious Woman in Red, the only survivor but lacking memories of who she even is, beckons you to put the lost souls of the dead to rest.

2016-02-05_00001Betrayer is a first-person action/adventure game.  One of the unique features is the ability to travel between two worlds: the normal world & a dark, sinister spirit world with the simple ring of a bell.  In order to progress through the regions, you must survive both, finding clues about what happened to the colony & helping the dead remember their fates.  The second unique features is the combat, specifically the stealth aspects.  Stealth is more based on sound than on sight, allowing players to do things like use the wind to mask their footsteps, or use noise to locate clues & enemies.

Narrative: Initially, the mystery of the colony was interesting enough to propel me through the game.  But looking back now that it’s over, I realize most of it was pointless.  The parts of the story actually related to the overall plot don’t show up until the last quarter of the game.  And while I can’t fault the game for world-building, it ultimately feels like I could’ve plowed through most of the areas, only doing what was necessary to unlock the next stage, & not missed out on anything plot-wise.  The deal with the crazy Conquistadors is never explained, & they fall out of the plot about the same time the pertinent backstory picks up.  And I hated history, but even I understand that the colonist didn’t get on with the Native Americans.  They didn’t need to spend so much time establishing that.  Though to their credit, they did at least show how both sides were in the wrong without it seeming heavy-handed.  And the ending… eh.  It’s a fine line between leaving a game open to interpretation & poor storytelling.  I was fully prepared for the entire game to be about the PC being stuck in Limbo, what with the world swapping, but then the devs pulled a twist at the very end & just left it.  After solving the mystery of the encroaching darkness & helping the Woman in Red restore peace, she apologizes, you ask why, & Bam!  Giant shadow-wraith things, then credits.  It felt like there was no closure.  I suppose you could argue she betrays you in the end, as that is the title of the game, but there was a lot of betrayal going on.  I’ve seen some interesting theories, but honestly the game doesn’t present itself as being deeper than what’s already been stated.  It doesn’t set itself up for a cryptic ending.  So overall, I felt the story could’ve been tighter & better paced, & the ending could’ve been handled a lot better.  Score: 2

20160326165452_1Mechanics: Two of the best features in the game in terms of mechanics are the combat/stealth & the exploration.  While the combat itself is nothing new, I appreciated the period accurate weapons.  Flintlock pistols & black powder muskets make for tense combat, as I spent a lot of time running around like a loon while reloading my guns.  Because of this, stealthily taking out enemies is the best option.  Betrayer is the only game I can think of that incorporates sound into its stealth.  Enemies are more likely to hear you than see you.  I loved the ability to use the wind to cover my footsteps & creep closer to enemies.  It felt very realistic & made me feel immersed in the world.  However, it seemed to vary just how far away enemies could see me, & they had the advantage of homing shots, especially the skeletons.  Exploration was also fun, & finding the clues & chests were rewarding.  You can locate all of these by sound alone, meaning you never have to use your map if you don’t want.  Unfortunately, the rest of the gameplay gets a bit repetitive.  You follow the same pattern in each level.  There’s no reason to locate all the chests expect to get the gold to buy weapons & ammo, which you don’t even need to do because the best weapons are all found by digging.  And while we’re on the subject, why, in a colony composed of farmers & builders, is there only one shovel in the entire state?  The only time the game shakes up its formula is at the very end, & then it’s just backtracking.  Overall, the combat, stealth & exploration are fun, but I can see a lot of people getting bored with the repetitive nature a few levels in.  Score: 3

Aesthetics: Definitely Betrayer’s greatest strength.  The art style was what attracted me to the title in the first place.  The stark black & white world, with bright bits of red to indicate targets (enemies or items) is very eye-catching.  The lighting is also quite exceptional, especially in the dark world.  It fits the mood of the game perfectly, making you feel tense.  The game can be played in color by simply adjusting the color saturation levels, but I feel that goes against what the devs were trying to create.  The game looks good, either way, though I do think some of the lighting effects look odd in color.  Here are some comparison shots.

The sound is also stellar, as expected given how important it is to the mechanics.  There’s no music, allowing you to become immersed in the wild world.  This is especially important for locating when enemies are near.  Overall, it’s a perfect example of a game’s style supporting its mechanics.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Low.  I don’t see much reason in playing a second time, & you can continue to explore after the credits in case you want to unlock the achievements.  It’s not a long game, either.  Depending on how thorough you explore, it’ll take about 8 hours.  Score: 2

Breakdown

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Overall Score: 3

Final Word: Betrayer excells in its presentation, creating an eerie atmosphere with its unique art style & marrying aesthetics with mechanics, but can become a bit repetitive & lacks a memorable story unless you count confusion.  Personally, I recommend it for its uniqueness alone if you can get it on the cheap.

– GamerDame

Title: Betrayer
Consoles: PC
Rating: T
Developer: Blackpowder Games
Publisher: Blackpowder Games
Release Date: March 24, 2014

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Filed under 3, Action, Adventure, Indie, PC, Reviews, Stealth