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Shamble Tactics

  • kumada
  • 08/19/2018 06:09 PM
  • 1149 views
There are two basic ways to get a 3.5 star from me. The first is to make a game that is consistently medium-good the whole way through. The second is to make a game that is really good, but with some significant issues.

At Last Alone: Risen is the latter kind.

ALA:R is a short Final Fantasy Tactics-clone with some great concepts and a surprising fixation on epidemiology. It uses FFT's clunky battle system--interspersed with a little bit of exploration and a little bit of visual novel storytelling--to tell the tale of a small town crab-festival gone horribly wrong. You play as the members of a Shatter Team--which, from what I can gather, is an elite unit of the crown's own commandos--sent to investigate reports of a prion-disease outbreak. With your small five-humans-and-one-dog squad, you must respond to the incident, identifying the cause and treating any affected survivors.

ALA:R doesn't lore-dump anything on you. It assumes that you either know the broader setting, or you'll catch on fast. I did, and it was refreshing to find out about the world through play, rather than by having to navigate a lengthy opening text crawl.

ALA:R's world is also totally wild. At first glance it reads as a standard medieval fantasy setting, but it has some really striking bits of modernity jammed in, and I loved it. The Shatter Teams, in particular, are a great storytelling device because they ensure that whenever interesting stuff happens in the setting, there's going to be a team of highly trained, well-coordinated badasses responding to it. However, the fact the characters in the setting know what Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is, as well as the difference between monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies is also fascinating, and I want to know more about the lore behind this.

Even the small microcosm of the setting that you explore is really flavorful. There's a whole bunch of lore-drops surrounding crabfest, and that kitschy, small-town extravaganza serves as a great counterpoint to the darker tone that the story takes. Reading the ubiquitous notes left behind by the stricken villagers made me feel a bit like I was investigating a T-virus outbreak in Stars Hollow--which is to say that the cognitive dissonance kept me highly engaged.

I was less attached to the individual team members, although they all had distinct personalities. They were likeable enough, with their individual quirks and their bickering, but none of them had anything resembling a narrative arc. The main character came the closest, but she was boring and professional, and that boring professionalism never really cracked, even during the last minutes of the game.

Those last few minutes are a stumbling point, because they take all the slow-burn investigation-horror that the game was building and run it through a chipper-shredder. What should have been the end of the first act of the story was instead its final mission, and the ultimate result was that the ending felt both forced and rushed, leaving me disappointed with the story as a whole.

This wouldn't be quite so bad in another game, but by the end of the first mission I knew I was playing ALA:R for the story. The gameplay is clunky and slow, and the party is essentially unbeatable, so every combat is awkward padding around an otherwise interesting plot.

In fact, the combat design is almost a how-to on making a game drag. Characters have tons of HP but deal relatively little damage. Stunlocking is easy. Enemies run when they hit low HP. They don't have any way of healing themselves, so they just motor out of there faster than your team can move. Performing useful, combat-related specials requires TP, which can only be charged up by regular-attacking, and so you spend most of your actions not doing anything cool. Maps are huge, but thankfully the enemy clusters in very close to your team. Unfortunately, they also deal very little damage, and even if they can somehow gank a character, there are oodles of healing items in your inventory and no consequences to being KO'd.

In my playthrough, I never once used an item, and my real challenge was killing enemies in a single turn so that they couldn't run away and drag the battle out even longer.

Honestly, I think ALA:R would have been better served as a more conventional RPG, just with huge mobs of enemies in scripted, infrequent combats. That way every fight would feel like a boss fight against a whole squad, and EXP distribution wouldn't be based exclusively on who got the kill--creating a funnel-effect that encourages over-feeding one of your characters. I respect the developer for doing something less conventional with ALA:R, but I think going more conventional with the combat would have saved effort and allowed for a little bit more story content and a more satisfying resolution to the game.

Overall, I think this is worth a playthrough for its atmosphere and setting--and to learn from its missteps--but it could easily be a 4.5 or 5-star game with some reworking. It has a tight concept, executes it moderately well, and it's only the mechanics that get in the way.

Posts

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Thanks so much for the review! Your comments are all very solid and I'm glad you found the world interesting! The tactics engine is finicky and balance has been a challenge... still much room for improvement! :D

While I still may revisit the tactics engine down the road, I wanted to let you know that I'm currently developing a more classic jrpg experience with many of the same characters and the same world.
I am interested in this new rpg! Do you have a page up for it? ALA's setting is super crazy, and I would love to see more of it.
No page up for it yet... I don't have the requisite screenshots needed to post it here. I have an instagram that is a devblog for it. I'm getting close to getting it done, though!
I'm looking forward to it!

If you ever need testers--actually, correction, if you ever need testers *after* October 8th when my kickstarter ends and I get to be a person again--let me know.

Edit: oh god I just glanced at my review and there are so many typos. How did those slip through?!
Also, as I think more about your review, I wanted to come back and say "thank you" for getting the juxtaposition between kitschy crab fest and the dark story tone. You're the first person to mention that. Made me smile. :D

Good luck on your kickstarter! Those are lots of work!
That juxtaposition was perfect. I love that kind of contrast, and it felt very intentional.

And thank you for the good luck!

I have a bunch of support from friends and an awesome publisher, and I've helped out on other kicks before so it's not totally overwhelming, but this is my first time taking the helm. I'd foolishly assumed that I could write a collection of short stories *during* the kick, like I do when I'm helping out with someone else's campaign, and oh man that was not a clever decision.
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