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Journey through something special and wonderful.

  • boos405
  • 09/09/2018 04:14 PM
  • 567 views
I want to be clear that I played Version 2.01 of the game, which is a more recent update at the time of this review. This version, in comparison to the first release, has a lot of bug fixes and a couple other changes. All of which by the sound of them probably made the game better for me.

I also want to note I am giving this 5 stars based on my enjoyment with the game. That's not to say it's a 100% completely perfect game, although a lot of it felt that way to me. Even so, I still believe certain parts of the game could have been handled better which I explain in detail in the review below, but that does not stop me from wanting to give this 5 stars.

This is also going to be a lengthy review as there is a lot to cover, so there is a quick summary in the next two paragraphs of what I think overall. Those who don't want to read the whole review, just read those two paragraphs. I have left the main pointers on what I think could've been done to improve the game further at the very end.

This game has a lot of strong points to it. To name the ones I noticed most, they are, the whole story and presentation of it, the mapping visually, the level and dungeon design with good puzzles and use of events, the different times music would play in the game, where it was used and when it was used, and a lot of thought and effort was clearly put into the game as a whole. This summarizes why I gave it 5 stars. However it lacks a lot more in combat battles but the battles still play out better than a lot of people's first RPG Maker games and it's easy to get through them to proceed further into the story until the very end.

I also recommend this game to anyone who is willing to have the patience to read most of the words in every cutscene carefully, and enjoys a more slower paced action adventure game with a few different subplots and good gameplay ideas. Also for those who enjoy a bit of backtracking in quite lengthy but done well dungeons. Puzzles are mostly simple, but certain detective elements can get complicated during the second half, for the most part you can read the “Hint” section on this game page to get through those points, and if you still struggled you can directly ask the developer a question, as Nakoruru, the developer of this game, does a good job answering those questions to all players.

Story

The story is hard to summarize as there's a lot of different parts to it. You can break up the story to make each major point more simple and basic, but then each of those parts together fit nicely in making the whole story more complex and engaging along the way. To me, it was very enjoyable.

Nothing is wasted here, you won't find any cutscene or moment of dialogue that is wasted or would have been better cut out of the game, as everything is thought out and presented so carefully by Nakoruru. A lot of questions that create suspense and a sense of mystery will rise throughout the story as well. I really think this is the biggest strong point as to what makes the game's story so fun to both actively interact in and watch through.

Before you begin as the main character you have the option to play the prologue which goes through the game's backstory. If you play this game I do recommend playing the prologue first and be a bit patient with it, as it ties in nicely with the present plot. Many cutscenes throughout the game, and especially the ending, has some connections to the prologue.

The backstory and present story both have heavy elements and theme of fictional religions, the military armies of this world, and wars related to them, and less major but still there are themes related to politics too. I think it was beautifully crafted. None of this is presented in a boring way as a first impression on judging a book by it's cover could give, rather just the essentials are explained and presented to move the plot along nicely, creating twists, surprises, good conflicts and motivations for all the major characters in the game. That of course includes our main party members, the villains and also a few more than minor NPCs that you meet along the way, which you could consider major character to the game's main story and linear subplots.

I think for a lot of people some of the beginning backstory of the game may come across as confusing however. To begin with. The reason for this is that your introduced to a lot of different characters at once, with names that aren't easy to pronounced and remember for most American and other English players.

So my advice would be to take your time reading the names and every word in the dialogue carefully, as almost every single word used has a purpose for being there.

By the end of the game a lot of the backstory should hopefully make more sense as it did for me, but there may still be some confusion, as that was also true for me.

I also like how Nakoruru choice to present the backstory, where the major characters themselves would speak in relation to what you are told, giving you an idea of how the scene of what is just described to you would play out if it were to have been shown in a lot more depth.

You are also shown a nice visual background with some pictures and animations during the backstory making it more exciting to watch. The backstory is also split into two different parts, where the second part is told to you just after being introduced properly to your main character, some mysteries surrounding her and her first conflict.

I think this works nicely as both parts of the backstory don't take much time to explain, it doesn't feel like a load and load of dialogue that goes on constantly, but a good summary, summarized well at a good quick pace without being too rush either.

The backstory is also rather tragic.

The rest of the story is in the present, and it is also handled very well. I like the way Risa and Karys have different personalities that cause them to react to each other in different ways. I'd say they are the main two characters of the game with the main goal being Risa wanting to escape the continent where armies and villains and our main antagonists have appeared to hunt her done right now. So it's more of a survival type of plot mixed in with both identity and discover plots, but with a lot of subplots along the way where Risa goes on adventures to help and aid others out.

There are many main antagonists to this game, most of which you end up fighting eventually as bosses and I think they're all written well and are well suited in there roles. Some of them however, can sound quite terrifying with there motives and goals which are very extreme and the sort you'd expect a villain in a horror themed game to have. I won't spoil them, but beware there are more darker and horror type of themes explored in this game's story and three scenes with a bit of blood, two in the game's story and one on the gameover screen. These are the only three occasions however where blood is used.

I'm not against the horror themes and blood in this game, and would like to be clear that the blood is used to show a character been executed or killed off when it is used, and the horror themes help develop the personalities of the antagonists and there beliefs further, but at the same time I didn't expect it in advance. It may make some people a little disturbed and uncomfortable though, but even then these themes are every minor.

The main party contrast these horror themes, by themselves being much more light-hearted with there interaction and plot twists, both with humour and a bit of comedy in there personalities and what they say sometimes. I'm glad Nakoruru decided to do this as with main party member I prefer those elements and feel it's just right for this game's story. To me, they fit in the story more this way.

Risa is also a nice main character to play the story through as she discovers many things at the same pace as the player does. The discovery elements are very well handled and Nakoruru is really talented in this area. It all adds nice surprises, mysteries and plot twists to the game as well as conflicts you can be suspended about and want to know how they get resolved.

You could also make a few stories based on the backstory of the game, as it's left in a way a prequel could've been made. I'm not saying that is or isn't a good idea, but the possibility feels like it's strongly there in this game and for this game alone that adds more enjoyment to it in my opinion.

You will also be introduced to some interesting story related puzzles. One major one during the second half of the game takes place in a large town with a detective themed subplot that requires talking to a lot of NPCs to investigate the situation. This is very fun as it requires you to interact with a lot of different NPC's both major and minor ones in the same huge town, and this subplot does peak your own interest and comes with it's own twists, surprises and turns.

In fact I enjoyed all of the surprises the game offered and some of them I did did not see coming. The only part I felt was too obvious to me was when Marius, one of the early villains of the game, said there is a spy among Risa. I thought it may have been better instead if he had said he has a trick to capture Risa, something similar but more subtle. As well as that, I thought of perhaps changing the shape of the spy villain in the gallery picture into making it less obvious as to who it was when the event that happens, I just thought it would've added more of a surprise and shock if it happened suddenly with more subtle hints then the way it was presented right now, but saying that, I still enjoyed this moment and the parts leading up to it, as it was still handled well.

While I would not normally comment this in the story section, I have to say all the visuals and mapping effects added to the story experience and create certain moods and atmospheres that were nicely done and handled. Here in this game story, gameplay, music and mapping all mixes well and combined well with each other to the point when you break down the game and analyse it you can talk about all four in all four categorizes quite easily.

The combination of all the different tactics Nakoruru used when making and presenting the story made the experience feel very special, very appealing and addicting.

There are also a lot of questions that arise from the story as a whole, they all create some suspense and mystery and not all of them are answered at the end of this game. But not every mystery gets resolved in this game, as Nakoruru plans to make a sequel to explore the unanswered questions further, with the intent in the sequel to answer those questions then.

There is also a hint in the same character selection section of the game that there may be more than one sequel, but don't quote me on that for now.

Characters

I covered most of what I plan to say about characters very briefly in the story section, I will just make clear that all the main party members have there own goals and motives for joining Risa on her journey, and I find them all interesting with clear goals and rather like the way the main party members interact with one another as there relationships are shown and develop.

Antagonist fit there roles well too, and the final “human” one is a nice surprise that fits perfectly as an antagonist for Risa.

NPCs also have life to them and a purpose for being where they are. They usually add to the game and help make it seem realistic that there is a war going on right now and how it both effects and affects different people in different ways. Some NPCs have major roles in the subplots of the game. which is also nice.

Some of them also deepen Risa's identity and discovery plot, that is also presented at a good pace and very nicely throughout the game. While a few different ultimate goals relating to Risa is only foreshadowed here, I'd say otherwise the identity and discovery plot concerning her is resolved at the end of this instilment of Journey To The East. So it should be stratifying enough to play this single game alone, but at the same time I'd expect any player that enjoys it to be excited for the planned sequel too.

Gameplay

Story and gameplay really mix together and well here. I also enjoyed the feature of collecting the hidden pictures for the picture gallery and how each one would give more hints and detail to the story aspects of the game. They felt rewarding enough to collect for that reason, but if you were able to collect them all you'd get a reward for the final boss fight.

I was able to get all of them except for one, so I except from my experience that most players will get them all except perhaps miss one or two without looking at the Hint section on this gamepage.

Dungeon and level design is also another very strong point in the game for a few different reasons.

First each of the dungeons feel unique and differ from others, not just with chosen mapped tileset, but the structures of them too. You will find a few areas that you will keep backtracking in for a various amount of reasons. Such as locked doors that require keys, needing to press certain switches in certain rooms, finish certain puzzles to remove a barrier or defeat certain bosses for certain rooms to unlock automatically. These mechanics all enchant the dungeons to make them feel very enjoyable. Story and gameplay mix well here.

Level design is also wonderful as it's very appealing to roam around the maps. I really enjoyed a part of the game when you are trying to escape from a fortress and you go through two maps that are long hallways. They were beautifully designed and to just enjoy roaming and navigating through them created a nice atmosphere at the same time. This is an example of a part of the games charm and why it feels so wonderful and special at specifies moments. I really was left with the impression a lot of thoughts and creative ideas went into every location in the game.

Second Nakoruru took an approach I recommend a lot of people do in there games, which was to make a lot of objects intractable to find hidden items, for example checking every box, shelf and pot in the game would help you find items throughout the entire game. I didn't see any indication in game telling you this though, so if I am right and there wasn't one it'd been good to add that it's worth interacting with all objects at the start of controlling Risa.

You are also able to steal items from the enemy and to have a good amount of drops from the enemies. I thought the combination of the three features was very fun to the extent Nakoruru used it here, but I still felt stealing and your rewards for interacting with objects could've been improved upon.

As there were a lot of objects in dungeons, you could find a lot of health items in each dungeon of the game through interacting with the objects. There were some treasure chests as metal boxes used in one of the later dungeons but otherwise, for the rest of the game, this feature was chosen to replaces the treasure chests mechanics.

I did however feel more thought could've been put into the mechanics of what each item does. As most of the items just regenerate a certain percentage of HP. I think mixing in more items that would restore MP and more that restore TP would've been better, as well as perhaps having a few items that could add a bonus effect in a battle like a slight buff to the character or debuff some or all enemies slightly. Some bonus items like this can feel a bit more rewarding to find without making too many items like this.

Perhaps some cure items and more experimenting with status effects would've improved this further as well.

Stealing as well I felt was handled a bit strange. There were some items with enemies worth stealing that had a high chance of success, but most of the time the more useful items would have a 20% chance or quite lower chance, and I just thought it's not worth attempting to steal them as it's unlikely you'll get them. Not because you couldn't eventually get them if you kept trying multiple turns in a row, but because you had to focus on the combat too to not die and you are also limited how many times you can steal in each battle.

The puzzles are mostly on the easy side but still with a bit of challenge. I like them as they as as I feel too often in some games I've played they can be too difficult or overwhelming, Nakoruru I feel put a lot of thought into the difficulty curve of them, making sure not to fall into that mistake.

There are some riddles later in the game as well, and I failed a lot of them. I was thinking about the trivial quiz question from the beginning of the game, where you can unlock a picture for the gallery once you give the correct answer to the question, and I was expecting the riddles to be similar, but I think they were more like trick questions rather than trivial quiz questions, and so that caught me off guard. Still though, if you get them wrong you fight a fight you can beat quite easily and then move on so Nakoruru provided a good solution here.

Now there are actually three parts of the gameplay that I wasn't very fond of. The way on-screen encounters were handled, the odd feeling I had with the battle system and the save function being limited to certain locations.

I do think on-screen encounters is a great feature to have in most games and they especially do fit with all the other elements in Journey To The East, but I'm used to seeing the encounters only start a battle when the player or the enemy touches the other. The latter are the way I think they should've been handled.

Here, enemies can spot you from a single tile away and force an encounter from there. The way many maps are designed to be very narrow with the way the mechanic was handled here makes it near impossible to avoid most of these encounters, and when you are also told to try and avoid encounters quite a bit in the game I feel the gameplay suffers from that.

I understand that Nakoruru wanted the player to engage in battles but suggesting to players they can avoid many encounters and then almost forcing them on the players is not the best way to do it. I have the impression though this was done by accident and not deliberate.

Instead it would've been better to implement a feature where some enemies appear near the player during the dungeons and that then forces a few encounters, as well as have separate more easily avoidable encounters with the character movement. That way the player can choose whether to fight more or not and have a real sense of being able to sneak by characters, like the story at moments suggests it should be, and still have them fight enough of the encounters to be at a good level during boss fights.

Then saving I felt was a real issue. I did get game overs quite a few times in the game, separate from the booby traps, and during these moments I had to replay certain portions of the game just to return to where I last saved. I see a lot of games do this, and I never so far liked this feature in any of those games.

I would advice keeping the mechanics of having on-screen save points but also let the player save from the menu during most points of the game. The only sections I would disable it is where they could get trapped if they saved. That's my personal opinion and advice, to avoid any disappointment when having to play portions of the game all over after getting game over's.

Lastly my thoughts on the battle system. It is good in the sense that there are a lot of different skills and you have at least a few skills useful against different enemies at all times, so it's hard to exactly describe why I still found it so odd, but I felt a bit surprised in not a good way by it.

You do have elements with strengths and weaknesses and that is good, but I feel better strategy could've been used against both the enemies and the bosses. Perhaps more use of buff and debuffs along with other state effects more often would've improved it.

I also felt every area could've done with one or two more different enemy types that played different roles during the battles.

There is also a mechanic on Risa where she gains certain special MP skills by defeating bosses instead of levelling up, I did like Mind Shield a lot but I felt for the most part they could've been handled better against the enemies you fight.

You also have to rely heavily on items, both HP and MP restoring ones, in most battles, and while I think it's great to make items needed in battles I feel the gap was a little too much here.

I did like having one boss that reflected physical attacks, as well as another boss with two enemies that reflected magical attacks, as during both these fights they encouraged changing strategy and trying out different skills. That's the sort of thing I felt more of the fights could've done with, as quite a few of them felt similar to the other fights.

I also did not like the pacing with combos on the weapon skills. Near the beginning of the game first chapter, you can have a tutorial on weapon skills. The buttons needed to be pressed have a much longer time length then they do in every combat fight after, and I felt a time length between the two would've been best.

I was able to hit the right buttons sometimes, but very rarely and not that often overall. The time length may be slightly too short.

In comparison, the lovely mini-game at the Psion Guild had the button pressing happen as a good length. This mini-game actually made me think of the Pokemon video games.

I also found it strange that you'd have to learn the weapon skills and they cost gold, yet MP consuming skills seemed more useful to me and you'd get them either upon levelling up or defeating bosses automatically.
In most instances the special MP consuming skills, or in Rauf case the limited skills that need reloading with MP, were more useful than the weapon skills for me. They seemed to be the skills needed and relied on much more in the game. Victoria as well felt as being a very strong character, and that came a surprise to me.

I may be wrong in saying the weapon skills were not more useful sometimes, but if that really was the case as the player it did not seem that way to me, so I missed out on it. Perhaps more strategy between the two would've been better. I felt TP and the special gauge skills for things like steal increase at a fast rate, and I think perhaps it would've been better if those mechanics increase at a lower rate but did more powerful moves or better buffs and debuffs when using them. Something to have made those features of the game more useful then they currently were.

There were also instances in the game against enemy troops where some of the enemies felt weaker than others, and the stronger ones would take a lot lot longer to KO. This does not happen often, but when it does it's very noticeable. Especially at the very end of the game, during the last section of it before the final boss ending, I notice the mage-like characters had way more health than a lot of the other enemies.

While I think it is good and interesting to have certain enemies in a troop be weaker and other stronger, and I'm glad Nakoruru is experimenting with that, I felt the gap here I think was too much and that was the main and real issue.

I think all the issues I had in combat could be summarized as 1. Having some more strategy in battles and 2. Better balance at certain points with the features and some more variety and differences with enemy troops. That probably would've also required further experimenting and playtesting to discover the best solutions, and then they would've improve the game combats further from there.

I don't think Nakoruru was far off with there ideas for combat, just needed a bit more thought on those two pointers.

That said, the battles were definitely still better then a lot of first games I have played, and they did not ruin the overall experience of this game for me.

Mapping & Graphics

Nakoruru uses a mixture of RTP and custom graphics that are mostly edits of the RTP. Both combined well together and I do feel the custom graphics all did add to the experience of the game.

The main characters are mostly customized characters from the RTP face generator, but there are some default RTP facesets too. I feel for one of the villains that you fight at the very end of the game, it really does suits that villain to have that faceset, and for the others I didn't mind those facesets being used at all.

There is also some parallax mapping used here, and they help make certain maps very visually appealing too.

A lot of town maps have very narrow paths, one tile to move through, but most NPCs do not block your way so for that reason I didn't find any disadvantage to this in this game. Except when trying to avoid on-screen encounters, however if those encounters were touchable to start a battle I don't think this would be a problem. More often then not you'd have more wider tiles to walk through when on-screen encounters appear, just in towns it seemed to be mostly 1 tile.
A lot of the mapping is really really good and does give off the feelings you'd want them to have. Such a the huge town map that you spend most of the second half of the game in, as it really does leave you the impression it is big and full.

The world map also shows clearly there is a war happening, and I feel it's handled very well.

Everything else has been covered in the story and gameplay categorizes of this review, because, for this game, it's more suited in those categorize then here.

There are also some custom graphics for some of the battlers, mainly a few of the bosses.

Audio/Music

This is a mixture between RTP and custom music from other resources. I did not recognise any of the tracks outside the RTP ones and I felt they all fitted and suited the game well. They all help create the right atmosphere and mood for the different locations you visit in the game.

Nothing felt out of place to me, and I really enjoyed the fact the battle music kept changing. The ending music was also a nice surprise to have.

Nakoruru really put a lot of thought into what plays where and when, this is another excellent point with the game.

As well as that, Nakoruru used voice sound effects for the characters during battles. They were nice and helped you get a clearer idea on there personalities, such as realizing how Risa sounds too Karys. A few of them I felt the words they spoke didn't match every single battle, I think it was mainly on Victoria I felt that, but I can't remember for certain.

Also bosses have there own sound effects too, and I felt all of them fitted them very well. They also played sound effects when being hit and that was really fun, especially with the more abomination-looking monsters near the end of the game. I'm thinking of the unholy form of that one antagonist, but still another example on how dark and more horror themes are explored in the game.

Originality

I more or less covered this already, but there is a lot of originality used well in the game. From the gameplay perspective, a lot of interesting features and mechanics were chosen with the different dungeons, and I thought the different puzzles, the detective subplot and Psion Guild mini-game all combined together at different points of the game helped make it more original and different from your typical RPG Maker game.

From the story perspective, it felt when breaking down the story a lot of the ideas are seen in a lot of different anime plots and some other video game plots, but when the story is combined together it feels it uses these different elements in new ways that aren't in a single anime plot or video game.

As a metaphor, it's like taking one of different ingredients to bake a cake from a variety of cakes then mixing them together to create a new cake. Excepts it's not just randomly done, it's done with careful thought so you end up with a delicious cake that also is new.

A lot of different elements of the story I have seen before, but I've not neither seen before the full combination of those elements nor the way most of them were presented here.

Conclusion

I've covered this in the first few paragraphs at the top of the review, so I'll just leave the main ways I think the game could've improved.

1. A save option enabled in the menu for more parts of the game.
2. More MP and TP restoring items, as a list of hidden items you can find. Perhaps some other bonus items like curing state effects, buffs and debuffs too, but still not too many.
3. More strategy with both enemies and most of the bosses. Of course, just a little with the enemies and then a lot with the bosses. Perhaps buffs, debuffs and state effects could've been used here to create that. As well as one or two extra enemies in each dungeon that had different roles from the others. Roles to me mean enemies with different advantages and disadvantages so they'd differ from one another further. Perhaps as well have different skills in the party more useful against different enemies a little more.
4. On-screen encounters that happen only when the actor or the enemy touch, so some could be more avoidable which would have fitted with the story elements of this game more. Of course if it fits the game like it does here, still having some enemies that the players may have bumped into or were more alert of them, so there is a nice mixture between the two.
5. More subtle hints with the subplot about the one Marius talks about, and the shape in the picture of you unlock it, as well as the scene where it plays out.
6. Clearer hints in the game for how to get certain persuasion points in the detective themed subplot. Getting the potion and then talking to the right guy is mainly what I'm thinking of here.
7. This one I'm not certain about, but maybe a few optional side-quests would've fitted around the town area. Perhaps 2 or 3 short ones? I know there is already a lot of what you have to do however, but I felt this would've been good. I wouldn't have wanted any of the subplots in the game to have been the optional side-quests however and would agree I feel they all fit in the main story that's not optional nicely.

That's it. Hope you enjoy this review and if you try the game, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. As I have kept saying throughout this review, Nakoruru clearly put a lot of thought and effort into Journey To The East and it shows.

The game felt like a special and a wonderful experience overall and it's not always easy to craft a game with the end result leaving that impression on you, but Journey To The East has successfully done that for me.