Can you see the hidden switch in this picture? If so, you're smarter than me and I give you permission to print a t-shirt saying as much.
I don't know if this is a typo of Slave, if I'm being called an ointment, or if this is some kinda jargon thing I don't understand. It's really really early too, and I thought about it the whole game.
I've changed the title of this series of reviews because the whole Vs. thing is played out and too confrontational. I've also been told by TMC that it's too hard for his machine logic to figure out whether or not I'm fer a game or agin it. Hopefully this is satisfactory.
Bale is an exciting new game. It gets a lot of things right. It makes a few mistakes. The only thing really wrong with it is the version number: 0.12. Do I nitpick the 12% or do I assume that the 88% is gonna be off the hook? I say it every time, but that makes it a hard game to judge.
Usually, I hate games that pound you over the head with a bunch of story to start with. Bale does that, but it does some nice things to mitigate the text-dumpiness. First and foremost, it has the best Fallout-style dialogue system I've seen in an OHR game. I can't guarantee that your choices have any effect on the gameplay or the story, but they at least make you feel involved and that's a start.
Guo's writing style appeals to me. The wizards talk in a serious librarian sort of way, your slug monster party-mate is more chummy. Periodically there's text adventure style narration to tell you what the character sees, which is usually is right on the mark for telling you what the character senses, without trying to tell you how the character *feels* about what they sense. A common pitfall of the "Give the player choices in dialogue" trope, deftly avoided. Well done, Guo. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every game that tried to pull some "The princess is dead. You are so sad about this." bullshit...
I guess I haven't directly talked about the plot yet, so here's my cliff's notes version: A group of wizards are besieged by an ancient parasite that is leeching their powers. Given enough time, it will kill them, and anything they could do to stop the parasite would only make it stronger. They revive You, a dead warrior from a hack and slashier time, to sneak up behind the monster and kill it. Kind of like fantasy Demolition Man: great concept!
The parasite could be a bit more immediately threatening, and there's a lot of wandering without quite enough breadcrumbs to lead you to the next spot. My experience was maybe a bit more drawn-out than others might be, because I missed a switch that was meant to open the way and spent a long time looking through literally every other room trying to find a way forward. At the end of the demo, I was left wondering about my character in the long-term. With the parasite gone, what good is he to the wizards? Is it going to be like a genie, hard to put back in the bottle? Or will there still be a place for him in this world?
Exploring the game is a pleasure, thanks to good decisions in map design. I don't remember there being any random battles: Everything was NPCs walking paths, patrol style, on the map and you could "stealth" your way past them with proper timing. Bumping into one leads to a fight, and for an avoidable battle it's a pretty appropriate level of difficulty that takes about the right amount of time. It definitely gets easier when you pick up the little slug dude, and again I made things harder on myself by not finding a very obvious piece of armor early on in the game. It automatically chooses a target for your basic attacks, and I'm not sure why. Feels like there's a good reason though, and I can't remember wishing it was otherwise.
Another thing I really like is the save points: They automatically heal you and restore your MP. I believe they also revive any monsters you've killed to that point, which makes the otherwise entirely risk-free option of going back to one have some consequence. If you don't want to go that far, scattered throughout the dungeons like action-game powerups are Anima globes, which give you a bit of health or MP depending on the color and are a really well implemented feature. A lot of games would've messed it up and made them have some kind of obnoxious textbox or effect, or let you "waste" them if you happened to want to walk on that tile. It only lets you collect one if you need HP or MP, and it refills it without any muss or fuss that would get annoying over the course of a dungeon crawl. Another posssible pitfall dodged! Very very good!
The only feature that Guo tried to implement that falls on its face is the "Scry" option. Outside of battle you can use an item in your inventory marked "Scry" to try to "Reveal that which is hidden". I took this to be something like Final Fantasy V's "detect secret passages" ability, and spammed it everywhere to no obvious effect. There was one section of map where it seemed like there was some kind of wall-map error preventing me from walking on certain seemingly open tiles, and I thought "Ah-ha! Now that's where I'm supposed to use scry", but I was wrong. Just some kinda wall-map error. Maybe this part just isn't finished?
As for the rest of the things I don't like, the library has a TON of books in it, and it's hard to tell if it's important. There's maybe a little bit too much jargon, or at least it's introduced too fast. Anima and Pneuma, all kinds of different magic minutiae, different factions. Am I gonna be quizzed on it? The level-up system lets you put points into different stats, which I always like, and I'd consider this a really really good thing, except I put all my points into Speed, not realizing till way too late that this was a turn-based game and it didn't seem to be doing anything for me. Punishing you for me being a moron.
One thing's not hard to judge: The title screen and theme music are prog rock as hell and I love 'em. In fact, the music in general was super appropriate to the tone and what was going on. It made the few areas without music feel really empty. The sound effects were kind of harsh. The maptiles are fantastic. There's lots of dancing torches and shimmering water that makes the place feel alive. Doubly so for the Anima/Pneumo stuff. Movement is always good. I love the style of the battle backgrounds, and the sprites have a good mixture of true quality and old school OHR Quality. The hero reminds me a little of FUABMX's walkabouts.
I guess I'm a bit more positive about the game now, than I was when I wrote the first paragraph a week ago. It's not a finished game at all, the rug's going to be pulled out from under you right when you're getting interested. There's a few sections of map that are way too big and obnoxious, and I'm going to chalk that up to "not finished". One of the switches is easy to miss, and that's going to make you wander that big obnoxious map more than you'd ever want to. Because you're trying to ambush the parasite, you walk all this way to get around behind him and then once he's defeated, you pop through the hole where his head was and now you're back just to the left of where you started. Literally going around in a circle. There's nothing really wrong with that, but my brain was a little bothered by the concept. That boss fight was a little bit underwhelming too. Definitely don't play it if you want a complete experience, but if you want to see a good start with a lot of well-implemented features that successfully elevate a game above the ho-hum RPG standard, check it out.