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One Pirate: Adventure In Summer Island (review) 
 PostMon Jan 07, 2019 11:14 pm
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What is happening?!?!

One Pirate: Adventure In Summer Island is a game released in 2018 by TheCrimsonDM (Masks: 15 Pages, Hero: Adventure In Animal Kingdom, My Little Pony: Trixie’s Adventure On The Rock Farm); it is an update of a game originally developed circa 2013. It is a sequel to One Pirate: Adventure In The Crystal Cave.

After having been tortured by the navy off-camera, the heroic pirate Raiden and his ship are caught in a storm without a sail. His first mate (and sometimes brother) Reed is in bed recovering from injuries sustained at the hands of the navy’s cyborg peace keepers (not pictured); but while attempting to tend Reed’s wounds, Raiden himself falls unconscious. Waking up in an inn and trying to check on Reed again, Raiden is interrupted (and assaulted) by an un-introduced female character who insists on taking care of Reed herself. Reed has a fever, so – according to the unnamed woman - Raiden must find the Kob’e herb in a nearby forest filled with monsters. There’s a radio in the inn that can change the background music; but when Raiden uses it, a misplaced text box appears in which a female character named Sarin (like the chemical weapon) warns him about dangerous purple plants. Also in the inn, an unnecessary text box appears to apologize for the quality of the game. After returning to the inn and giving the herb to the lady, the story jumps ahead two days; though there is no real change in the situation. The player finally learns that the female character is the innkeeper named Enna Reeds (not to be confused with regular Reed) and that she saved the two pirates from a shipwreck, though apparently Raiden didn’t remember any of this during his several days at the inn (or bother to ask).

Raiden is bored and decides to go back to his ship to get some… things? To reach the ship he must pass through the town of Summerville, which contains boring NPCs and interesting shops, and several doors to nowhere. A special item shop will trade exclusive items for more common ones (though I never acquired anywhere near enough Stingers to trade for the Poison item). The library contains books that flesh out the lore of One Pirate (much of it unashamedly cribbed from the similarly named manga/anime One Piece), and it’s weird stuff – feudalism, pirates, gods, demons, demi-human races, cyborgs, and one world government. It’s neat to read about, but it would be a lot cooler to actually see this crazy stuff in action (most of it never becomes relevant). Heading north toward the ship, Raiden finds a sign bearing a note from Enna Reeds, which is simultaneously encouraging and hostile (though it is unclear why).

At the beach the tide has receded, leaving a dry maze around the ship (complete with block-pushing). Onboard the ship, there are four items to collect; but frustratingly, they only appear in a certain order so it becomes necessary to revisit previously-searched rooms to find them. Leaving the ship Raiden encounters a female pirate named Lu Fei (who resembles a gender-swapped version of One Piece protagonist Luffy); but not much of consequence is learned. When Reed returns to the inn with the items, Enna Reeds sends him on another fetch quest to get some more… stuff… from some ruins (Lu Fei tags along for the time being, but goes her own way once the loot is recovered from the ruins). When Raiden returns yet again with the collected stuff, the inn is surrounded by a previously unmentioned mercenary faction called the Darkwatch (who dress like ringwraiths); Raiden fights them.

Suddenly the player is transported inside Reed’s nightmares as he converses with his female split-personality Little Sister (?!) and fights a female demon Seven who also possesses him. Things get weird. It’s hard to discern exactly what’s supposed to be happening at this point, but Reed might be three or four different personalities (and it isn’t ever clear which is real). Reed wakes up from his coma possessed by Seven, fights off the Darkwatch surrounding the inn, and then attacks Raiden. Then… [something, something, something] … Reed’s okay again and joins the party. Raiden appears to be fully aware of all of Reed’s personalities and is not fazed by any of this, though he does little to clarify the situation for the player.

At this point, the game starts to break down a little. It’s not clear where to go from here, Enna Reeds’ dialog is stuck on the previous quest, and some adjacent maps (such as the treasure house) are severely broken. In the southern part of Sunnyville, the pirates meet Sarin (who erroneously appeared earlier in the radio). She’s upset about her brother, who has been kidnapped. Sarin joins the team, and the party is off to fight the Darkwatch and save her brother (who never actually appears in this game to my knowledge). South of Summerville several long text boxes apologize for the state of the game every time Raiden takes a step within a certain area, as random graphics (meat, first aid kits, and money) spontaneously appear on the ground at his feet (these items can’t be collected, unfortunately). Inside a dungeon in this area, the Darkwatch have summoned a demonic Lovecraftian monstrosity that must be stopped. After wandering around the area for a while, the pirates stumble upon a restaurant where they find Silvia (from the previous game) who now dresses “seductively” and goes by the name Snow; she seems upset and wants to join the party for some reason. Silvia is even more performatively horny than in the first game, and seems to have no regard for consent. It’s a little weird.

A little farther east the heroes find a navy settlement called Marine Town, inhabited by many redundant NPCs. The passability is incredibly dubious here (NPCs wander onto ceilings and into walls), many NPCs are unresponsive, and most doors lead nowhere. The inn (which is ridiculously huge, winding, and linear) is being terrorized by the Darkwatch, who must be dispatched. I chucked at the idea of the Nazgul moving into the Prancing Pony, refusing to leave, and sitting around arguing about the definition of “irony.” After beating the Darkwatch thugs to a pulp, they reveal that Sarin’s brother is being held in the Darkwatch base to the north. However Sarin’s brother has already escaped (never to be heard from again), though the dungeon’s final boss Dark Elf reveals a MAJOR PLOT TWIST.

After this point, the narrative starts to make more sense in a way (if you squint hard enough). Many jumbled plot threads are tied together in a way I really didn’t expect after the preceding five hours of harebrained shenanigans. Unfortunately, just as the story is coming together, the gameplay gets even more muddled than before. Back at the inn, there are duplicates of all the party members (oops). Reed says he’s created his multiple personalities to hide his true identity from the navy (though his/her true identity is still painfully unclear, as is the navy’s motivation for hunting him). For convoluted reasons, the heroes need to acquire an artifact from Lu Fei at her hideout near East Beach. Even though a character lectured the player on how cardinal directions work early in the game, East Beach is frustratingly located on the west coast of the excessively large island map. Lu Fei’s dialog in the pirate hideout doesn’t seem match the current objective - she says nothing about the artifact, but rather states vaguely that a lake is located in the south.

The route to the lake is blocked by unmovable rocks bearing a warning that the demo has ended; but by this time I had invested too much time in One Pirate to be hindered by this. After debugging my way past this obstacle and acquiring a (second) special axe to chop down the trees in the area, the only landmark in sight - a nondescript hut – gives me a message that it’s not time to enter it. Debugging my way inside, the dungeon seems to work mostly as intended. There are still some issues though. Reed refers to Fei as a good friend, even though he only ever met her once (when she said a single vague sentence about a lake). After defeating Dark Elf again, the heroes still don’t find the artifact they need; and when the next scene begins, Enna Reed is still stuck on her previous dialog box and has no useful information about where to go from here. Unable to progress, I gave up. It took me 6 hours 17 min, and Raiden was at level 35.

Compared to the previous game, the writing is a mixed bag – more clear in the micro, less focused in the macro. Capitalization is vastly improved and the immediate meaning of sentences is never indiscernible, though misspellings and grammatical errors still abound in almost every text box. There are so many ideas competing for narrative space that the game takes on a feverish quality. Heavy themes are introduced that never pay off; and plot holes, dangling narrative threads, and highly contrived beats are rampant. It is as if the story is constantly saying, “Oh, by the way… [some new information never mentioned before that should be super important if it ever came up again].” It’s a maddening assault on logic, and after hours of this I started to feel like I was losing my mind. I can't tell if the whole thing is supposed to be some kind of transgender metaphor, or if it's just so loopy that it leaves itself open to any possible interpretation. The story has legitimate charms though (I admire its epic ambition and dogged commitment), and there are genuinely funny gags among the deluge of nonsense.

The art is similar to last time, but with breasts (almost every new character is a woman with prominent cleavage). Portrait art is better; and – though still blocky – sprites don’t look unfinished this time. I found the ghost sprites for dead heroes to be pretty amusing. Throughout the game, maps are much more ambiguous and troublesome than before (both graphically and mechanically). Some tiles that appear to be doors aren’t, whereas some tiles that don’t look like doors apparently are. Hero sprites disappear under floors/walls or float above roofs/appliances. It’s all aesthetically consistent with itself and the previous game though; One Pirate definitely has a “look,” which is something not all games achieve.

The music in Summer Island is infinitely superior to that in Crystal Cave. I enjoyed the softer tunes that referenced folk, swing, easy listening, and opera. My favorite track by far was a strange ADHD hybrid of orchestral film score, rock, R&B, and spoken word that plays in Summerville; it is utterly ridiculous, and I love it. This is all stock music of course; but the selections are much better than before, and it never became obnoxious. In Crystal Cave I once wondered, “Is this Flogging Molly?”; whereas in Summer Island I instead wondered, “Is this Enya?” (give me Enya every time). The sound effects are mostly fine and good, but the confirmation beep has audible digital clipping at the end that is incredibly harsh on the ears.

Combat is greatly improved from the last game. Blindly holding Enter isn’t usually a viable strategy after the earliest stages, forcing the player to actually engage with the combat system. Not all of the special skills are actually useful, but several of them are crucial to surviving the game. Everything still happens a bit too fast for my liking, but I’m not generally a fan of Active Time Battle in RPGs with menu-based combat (I prefer having time to assess the options and make meaningful decisions, rather than selecting a menu item in a panic out of fear that the heroes will die while I’m reading spell descriptions). Over the game’s length, random encounters eventually become tiresome; but I will gladly accept this over the impossible-to-lose combat of many homebrew RPGs.

One additional orphaned note: the “Current Quest” reminder in the main menu doesn’t always update. It was nice to have though.

One Pirate: Adventure In Summer Island is in many ways the mirror opposite of its predecessor – long, sprawling, unfocused, and ambitious. It's like a One Piece fan game with the stream-of-consciousness logic of a story invented spontaneously by a kid (“and then they... and then they... and then they...”), but with an epic scope, split-personalities, demon possession, dream sequences, cyborgs, and lots of cleavage. I can’t recommend it without caveats (it’s very long and broken); but if you’re interested to see how completely bananas a homebrew RPG can get, spend a few hours on Summer Island. You might even acquire a taste for the Kool-Aid.
...spake The Lord Thy God.
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