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Breezy gameplay, a narrative that subverts and surpasses expectations

It's difficult to classify Geiken on the gamepage alone: Everything that describes the plot or characters is by necessity vague because learning these things for yourself is such an integral part of the game. The screenshots are governed by the same logic and at a glance aren't particularly impressive, little more than a title screen and a handful of maps. Between the vague descriptions and the obtuse summary it's easy to imagine someone giving it a once-over and moving on, but in a weirdly contradictory move the gamepage is like the game itself: To make sense of it you have to understand the context. To understand the context you have to play the game.

Geiken takes place in an impressively well-realized world where all the usual mechanics of a JRPG, from poking around the homes of strangers to the menus themselves, are bent to the service of the story. This results in a tightly-woven narrative that belies its initial bordering-on-cliche simplicity without neglecting gameplay: If you're at all familiar with JRPGs you should be comfortable with almost every aspect of Geiken. The combat system is the notable exception, being the old-school-Zelda-style ABS rather than turn-based, but it plays well and is unlikely to be a stumbling block for anyone save those with a pathological hatred of action RPGs. Zelda games are cited as inspiration and the influences are obvious along with the also-cited Fallout and Elder Scrolls, but I also got a strong Shin Megami Tensei vibe in places, particularly with the narrative's emphasis on choice and responsibility.

Geiken's writing and world-building are its strengths and there's a genius in its willingness to plant narrative seeds that only bear fruit much, much later. This doesn't mean that the interim is boring: Geiken keeps you busy with quests and dungeons, including optional challenges that grant unique tools or companions, while introducing its narrative and primary characters in a wholly organic way. Twists and reveals feel natural rather than forced or gimmicky and there are more than a few "Aha!" moments when things come together. The game is geared towards exploration; if the combat errs on easy or simplistic it's to encourage players to venture off the beaten path. Some maps are huge and curious players are rewarded with both items and tidbits of information that add detail and depth to the world. There are also moments of genuine humor sprinkled throughout, occasionally starkly contrasted (through not jarringly so) against the otherwise-serious events.

It's worth noting that Geiken has six possible endings and the choices that affect them are spread through the game, with options becoming available or unavailable based on your decisions. While this may sound frustrating to those who chase the Golden Ending, it plays out beautifully and is tied to Choice and Consequence, two central themes. While Geiken has plenty to do - you won't finish it in a single session - it's so well-crafted that it's hardly a chore. Like a movie that gets better on subsequent viewings, Geiken (and your understanding of it) benefits from multiple playthroughs. The game comes with a guide that includes a basic walkthrough for the endings to help point you in the right direction, but I highly recommend you do your first run blind. Then, if you intend to replay it, start a new game with the ending fresh in your mind.

+ Story and world-building is top-tier; it's hard to discuss without spoilers so you'll have to take my word for it.
+ Even minor NPCs are well-written and have personality; characters that matter are fully-realized, villains included.
+ ABS turns it into an ARPG and adds involvement to the game as opposed to seeing the same battle menus over and over. There's a bit of optional complexity with various items, like a shield that deflects attacks with button-presses.
+ Exploration is encouraged! You can finish the game by going from Point A to Point B but curiosity is rewarded: Wander around the map, check the bookshelves, talk to everyone.
+ Multiple endings add replay value and their relation to the plot means that you actually want to see them all.

= You have to command your party members to attack which can feel clumsy, especially if they've been KO'd and you have to revive them and command them again. It might be smoother if they entered combat on being attacked, though it was admittedly satisfying to hit S and see my party surround a boss and gang-stab it to death.
= There are several puzzles that must be overcome and a few optional puzzles that lead to bonus areas/items; all are solvable with critical thinking but your opinion of them may vary with personal preference.
= Character portraits are RTP/generator art. It doesn't impact your enjoyment but there are a few moments when expressions don't mesh with the mood or text.

- You'll be traversing those huge maps on foot until fairly late-game and fast travel is granted even later. This can get tedious if you're hunting for extras, especially in one area where trees and tiered ground makes navigating a bit of a pain.
- Some enemies and optional dungeons are unexpectedly brutal even at higher levels, especially given the relaxed difficulty of standard combat. Save often and make use of all those slots!
- There's slight lag in certain areas, mostly larger maps. My ancient laptop handled nearly the entire game but made one area, requiring fast and precise movement, literally impossible; this shouldn't be an issue for anyone with decent hardware but heads up to those with similarly ancient computers.

Final Verdict: This game's commitment to and execution of its themes is truly impressive and the gameplay is fun and easy to grasp; while there are optional challenges for those who want them, the heart of Geiken is its story and its world and that's where the game really shines. Yes, the character art is RTP/generator standard; yes, the combat is ABS. Don't let that deter you from playing: Geiken sets itself apart from the hordes of RPG Maker JRPGs and it's something you should experience for yourself.