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All You Had to Do Was Follow the Damn Train CJ!
- 01/01/2019 02:52 PM
- 381 views
Railroad Tracks by socah
Length: ~5 hours (with greatly increased movement speed)
You know how occasionally a game just tends to pop up out of absolutely nowhere with no warning? Enter Railroad Tracks, a game which actually seems to have been available on steam for a while but only just made its way to rmn. It's an elusive game for sure. The screenshots barely showcase any in game content and the description... well actually the description is pretty descriptive but I didn't read it before playing so shhh. Anyway, as it turns out, I've had Railroad Tracks wishlisted on steam, presumably before it was actually out.
So what exactly do you do in this game? Well, Railroad Tracks has you playing as a silent protagonist, exploring a surreal world to collect several things to unlock the endi- okay it's basically a Yume Nikki fangame. I mean, it definetly does not play out much like a traditional Yume Nikki fangame, there's actually a lot of unique things here. You don't have a real world where you go to sleep to enter the dream world, you pretty much simply start in the "dream world." There are no effects to collect. Instead, you have memories. None of these give you any extra abilities like Yume Nikki's effects, instead they work as quick teleports to the location you found them. There is no nexus connecting every area with doors, instead you have a railroad that does span across the world, but works more as a path between areas rather than a hub. In a way, you might even say Railroad Tracks is just a game that draws heavy inspiration from Yume Nikki instead of a direct fangame due to the lack of several traditional features found in fanga-
Nevermind, I take back everything I said. This is absolutely a Yume Nikki fangame.
Now one other major way Railroad Tracks differs from the traditional Yume Nikki fangame is that it actually has a story told with text. You could argue that Yume Nikki and its fangames do actually tend to have a story most of the time, just that you're supposed to make your own interpretations of it from the symbolism and recurring themes. This can definetly be observed in Railroad Tracks too, but you do still have your base story told via the memories you discover. There have been Yume Nikki fangames to have dialogue and stories in the past too, sure, but I think Railroad Tracks pulls it off really well in that the story fits in dynamically with the gameplay. Something I really like about this game is that it does not force you to go after the memories in a certain order. You can unlock the story in a non chronological order. For example, I first went through the metal shed in the starting area so the first memories I saw were mostly about the main character's love interest, Luna. However, if you choose to take a different route than me, your story may begin with memories of the main character's father. In that way, it always keeps a consistent mystery you organically uncover more of. For example, the first few memories I found always brought up the main character's job and that neither he nor his love interest was fond of it, so I was intrigued to find out what the main character's job was. Okay, I know what you're thinking, "Frogge, the game literally calls him pierrot and the description says he's a circus artist!" but listen up okay, I didn't know what a pierrot was until I googled it after beating the game and you already know I didn't read the description, I thought pierrot was the main character's name, shut it.
As for the story itself, I definetly enjoyed it. As I already mentioned, I absolutely love that you're allowed to explore and uncover the story in your own desired order, not a linear order forced on you by the game. And the game is very well written in such a way that this never really becomes confusing. Every memory you find still teaches you something new, even if you've only found memories from the start of the story up until that point and the current one is from the very end or the middle. It's not hard to attach all the pieces together on your own. Something that further helps is that the memories aren't always about the same thing, instead seperated into several subplots. There's three main characters in the pierrot's life, Luna, who I've already mentioned is his love interest, his father and his mother. Most memories are about these three, but there's also a few about his own experiences with school, a war and his travels through the titular railroad tracks.
I really like this game's story. There's a lot of common tropes it falls into, such as the generic abusive father and school bullies, but everything ties together really nicely and the basic concept of playing as a circus clown (Yeah, I was able to figure out what his job was while playing, I just called him a clown since I didn't know what a pierrot was like I already said) has always been interesting to me.
And like I said, the symbolism you'd expect to see from a typical fangame is still there too. If I were to give Railroad Tracks a theme, it would be solitude. The dream world always feel empty. You can find NPCs around the world sometimes, but they never seem to care about you, only walking around minding their own business. The few NPCs you CAN interact with disappear after you try to talk to them. Most of these seem to be women, so I feel that the implication here is that those women are either Luna, pierrot's mother, or both with how they both left him. I dunno, that's the best interpretation I could make of it. Some of the people you encounter will be in costume, implying that they are probably your circus troupe, and you do come across a lot of cats too, which I'm guessing were, you know, circus animals.
One of the most recurring imagery in this game is actually flamingos, however. They're even brought up in one of the memories and pierrot mentions that flamingos have been haunting his dreams for a while. I decided to look up on google what flamingos symbolise (what, i'm not a symbolism expert okay I also need to google things ):< ), and apparently dreaming about flamingos means that you should release your emotions and let them guide you. I feel there's no explanation needed here, this has pretty obvious ties to the story. Though if you insist on hearing my non-googled interpretation of it, here's what I think. Flamingos are generally considered silly animals, standing on one leg and looking like little idiots who flip their heads around in confusion all the time. And the main character is a clown. Do I even need to point out the parallel here? Just one minor nitpick here is that the afromentioned memory talking about flamingos is about how the main character has grown to fear the color pink, but the flamingos in this game are absolutely red, not pink. You literally cannot convince me otherwise, because they are. I thought it was just due to the screen tint, but no, they're actually red in the gamefiles too! Anyway, moving on.
With the story out of the way, we can move on to the second best aspect of the game which is its visuals. Railroad Tracks has completely custom assets, and great looking ones at that. You all probably already know how much I have a pet peeve for 1x1 pixels in a game that mostly has 2x2 pixel art, so I'm happy to say that this game was completely consistent in its pixel sizes in the tiles and sprites! There's a few things here and there that do not obey this rule, such as the font and the default rpg maker rain, but I'll excuse both for once because I'm so glad about the tileset consistency.
One very interesting part of the game's visuals is that most areas actually seem to be isometric. Huge kudos to the dev for somehow pulling off the isometric look really well. I do find it a bit strange, however, that most maps are isometric and yet you can't move diagonally? It would be a huge timesaver for the thin, diagonal corridors you will come across more than a couple times.
The mapping itself is usually pretty empty. Some areas of the game literally have gigantic empty spots of nothing but grass and dirt, with only occasional flowers thrown in. I guess I can sort of give this a pass because, like I said, the world of Railroad Tracks is meant to be feel empty and lonely. The huge amount of empty space does sometimes become a problem, but I'll get to that later in the gameplay section. I do love how interconnected the world of Railroad Tracks is, too. I usually found myself accidentally stumbling upon areas I had already been to countless times through new entrances, and it always made me go "oooh, so there was another area here that I could have actually gone to and I completely missed it." There's a lot here for you to explore and it's easy to even feel overwhelmed at first. Without the typical Yume Nikki effects required for unlocking certain areas, Railroad Tracks actually opens its entire world to you straight off the bat and you can literally go anywhere you want without needing to do any extra work. I like this a lot too, it removes the stress of going extremely far from the starting point, very deep into the world, only to realize you're missing an effect required to go in further.
As for the soundtrack, there's definetly a lot of great ambiance here. That being said, I can't deny that some of the shorter loops get annoying way too quickly. The game even has a few loops that seem to be no more than a second in length, so the same noise just drags in the background for areas. The music seems to be pretty off key, but I'm no music expert so what do I know. My favorite track has to be the one that plays during the memories, and I did enjoy a lot of the scarier music you can find in several areas across the game too.
That being said, not every area in the game looks as gorgeous as the others, sadly. Instances like this are rare, but they're definetly there.
MY EYES ARE BLEEDING.
Now the gameplay is where Railroad Tracks suffers the most. It's not because of the exploration based gameplay with little interaction, no puzzles or battles et cetera, I'm completely fine with that. The walking simulator genre is one of my favorites. That's not why the gameplay is lackluster. It's the movement speed and the huge amount of bugs.
I'll start off with the movement speed. And boy was this torture. You move so, SO goddamn slowly in this game. I get this was probably intentional and that it was supposed to make the world seem larger as well as enhance the atmosphere, but jesus christ after an hour of playing the game I could no longer bear it to the point where I went into the game files and increased my movement speed to the max speed rpg maker xp would allow. And you know what, I actually enjoyed the game a lot more this way. For the first hour of the game, getting across even the tiniest maps was absolute torture, so imagine trying to explore the huge empty areas like this. I get that the developer may have just used the default Yume Nikki fangame walking speed, but I think they missed the fact that those games always give you speed effects which make you twice as fast to make exploration less tedius, and usually put those in an area very close to the nexus so that you can go get it from the start of the game. If you're not gonna have that in your game, you might as well just make the default movement speed faster. I mean, even with the maximum speed rpg maker xp would allow I still found that it takes way too long to walk across the railroad tracks, so how do you expect people to do it at the slow ass speed you start off with?!
But hey, I did go into the game files and easily fix that, so I guess it wasn't a huge problem. But then there's the ridiculous amount of passability errors. Passability errors is the name of the game in railroad tracks because you literally cannot go two maps without accidentally running into a passability error. I usually just go over bugs like this quickly in my reviews and mention that it did not hinder the experience much. But I shit you not when I say that this game literally has one of those in at least 85% of its maps. I noted down the first few that I came across, but then I came across so many that I just stopped because there were too many for me to even count. A few I can just name from memory are the fences near the church you can walk through, trash cans in the gray apartments, the ceiling in those attic rooms with the balconies, a sign near the large graveyard, and many, MANY more. Some of them even let you get out of bounds. In fact, whenever I found myself getting stuck in a maze map in this game, I just ended up looking for a spot that lets me step off the boundaries and cheesed my way through. And yes, I did that multiple times.
"I don't think I was supposed be able to get out here," a compilation. This isn't even all of them.
And while these types of bugs are the most common ones I came across, they weren't even the only ones I came across. There's a few weird continuity errors, such as a few doors in the crypts that play a door opening sound effect when none of the others do, for some reason. Railroad Tracks could definetly have been playtested much better. What I recommend to the developer is to make yourself faster and give the game another playtest, and you'll be surprised how many you'll accidentally stumble onto when going fast.
It's a shame, because outside of the bugs, this is actually a really well polished game. The few cutscene-y things you come across in the game play out really well and there's no jarring random cuts or anything.
The only other thing here that I would bring up would be that the memories could really use some sort of indication that they ARE memories. Representing them through orbs, books, shinies or pretty much anything would be much better, because currently every time you run into a memory in this game, it feels completely random. I never felt like, "oh hey I found a memory!" I felt more like "oh, another one of those, how was I supposed to know that was there???"
And you get softlocked on this exact spot, for some reason.
But all in all, Railroad Road's visuals and story make it worth a go. I just suggest that you do what I did and increase the movement speed because otherwise this game is an absolute pain to play, but it's pretty enjoyable when you're faster. I give the game three and a half incorrectly colored flamingos out of five.