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Grim Reaper and Tea Parties

  • Kylaila
  • 11/05/2019 05:30 PM
  • 1419 views
ghosthunter: Grimm's Hollow

Grimm's Hollow is a sweet sentimental story-driven game that is gorgeous to look at and has some solid if at times unbalanced gameplay behind its story to boot. Following the story of Lavender as she searches for her lost brother, the few flaws can easily be forgiven, making it a great game well worth checking out. It's also a nice Halloween treat.

Aesthetics:

In case you haven't noticed looking at the gamepage, the game looks gorgeous. This impression is not just based on the art present, but the polish with which it is presented. There is a custom menu, custom sprites, custom portrait art, as well as an incredibly cohesive color-scheme with purple being the color basis. Even your enemies follow this scheme with variations of blue, red, pink and purple ghosts. The only 'real' contrast is a bright green anomaly with story function that breaks this carefully crafted color scheme.

Furthermore, everything is full of love and detail. The reapers are a cute semi-uniform bunch, with the head reaper being the only distinctly different sweetheart alongside the baker who provides you with food aka items (mostly sweets, because everyone likes sweets. I'm not everyone, but they still look cute!). Just as gorgeous are the enemy sprites. All of the enemies are so distinct I can recall most of them with ease, as they have been given distinct styles both gameplay-wise and artistically.

In fact, everything looks so polished that the bugs and quirks I encountered felt strangely out of place when so much time and effort has been devoted to creating a fully cohesive aesthetic experience (these shall be listed later).
It's a beautiful game, either way.

Story:

The story is the main driving feature of this game for me, even though the entire package is solid. We encounter clearly flawed characters full of heart and follow a simple story that is more of an emotional examination rather than a full retelling of 'what happened'.

For one, we know for a fact our protagonist is dead and now in a sort of afterlife dimension in which there are two main inhabitant categories - spirits with too much energy that need to be 'reaped' (read: attacked and knocked out/killed/absorbed) to pass on, and spirits aka reapers with too little energy that need to 'reap' the other kind to eventually move on. No-one asks how or when or why we died, though, and nobody seems to care, including our own protagonist herself. The story doesn't in the slightest explore how we died, either, though it does delve into how we lived just for a moment.
We also know that she is frantically searching for the possibility of 'Timmy' being there, even though for all we know he might not be here at all.
Eventually, we also realize Lavender isn't a very trusting person and tries to play it safe until she has figured out her environment.

Contrast this to the cutest ghosty reaper you can conjure and you have an amazing baseline for exploration, and a really well-balanced atmosphere. It isn't all gloom and doom, though we do have some of that too. Instead of how she died, we examine how she copes with death in general. Does she cope? What drives her and why? Can she warm up to the surroundings or does she quietly reject them? Does she need help?


No, you're not. The smile after this says otherwise.

Lavender, as well as some other characters, feel flawed. That's a great thing, as she feels incredibly relatable even if one might not agree with all her actions, and one is rooting for her success not just on a plot-line, but also on an emotional level. The only downside is that most random reapers do not get any screentime to distinguish themselves, though that places the focus elsewhere.
There are two endings in the end (I believe there might be more, though I left the game satisfied), and while the tension leading up to them caught up to me trying to frantically reach said endings, the endings themselves are excellent resolutions of the story and legitimately made me cry. In a good way.

Lastly, I feel the story didn't always melt into the gameplay (seeing how most of the time will be spent in caves wandering around reaping ghosts, especially after just arriving with a full fanfare), but it does paint a picture in which 'reaping' is a normal unavoidable thing, and it shows how other reapers are actively pursuing doing so as well (you can find them collapsed or resting many a time). Towards the end more and more incentive is given to continue through the caves, though, and as the pace quickens, Lavender also becomes uninterested in random banter - a great touch.

Gameplay and Quirks:

Gameplay is for the most part solid. The entire game spans 3 different caves to explore, with the third one being the largest and most intricate one, and the only one you may not explore in its entirety.
As such, you spend a while in combat as you meet on-touch encounter ghosties that either move a lot, or block your way. In battle (which is an ATB system), you hit things with a mini quick-time event deciding whether you miss, hit or crit (similar to Undertale's one, which is also similar to Shadow Hearts' system), by hitting things you can save up mental energy to use special abilities, buffs or spells. Enemy spells can easily be avoided if you time a different quick time event properly. You may also run from a random encounter, but I did not once succeed at running from a battle, though often I did not attempt to do so (not sure what the odds are for this, but they seem to be low).


Ok.

There are a number of ability and stat upgrades which are tied to the 'energy' you reap off of ghosts/ghosts drop. It's at the same time also the currency for buying healing items, should you need them (the game provides plenty if you explore and help out other reapers). You start with the 'pierce' ability, but anything else you need to unlock using this system. My favorite probably has to be 'Flinch' with which you make the enemy ghost skip a number of turns. Stunning's neat.

Large parts of this system feel incredibly elegant and polished, though other parts make it seem less so and could definitely benefit from touch-ups. As a matter of fact, the developer mentioned that such touch-up could be coming our way soon.

The good:

Enemy types feel incredibly distinct, have their own name, form (color scheme as well), and their own battle patterns. There are tanky ghosts who protect others and need you to use piercing attacks on (note: the normal protect status of their protected friends does NOT fade once this ghost is down). Later ones increase this protecting ability to 'protect +' to reflect your attacks entirely, but this effect fades once they are down as far as I recall. There are healing ghosts that either heal their allies or hurt you, but are fairly squishy (later ones heal 999, which made for a nightmarish fight in the one instance these two types were combined). There is a species called 'divide and conquer' that kept multiplying unless you either stunned or killed the newly spawned ones. There is a species that starts the fight sleeping but which is incredibly strong when woken up. In short: the enemy types are so different it's great, they feel great to fight, and make for different approaches to battle. Honestly, the 'mid-bosses' felt far less memorable than these guys, and were more of a means to progress the story.

Battle commands were intuitive and fun, allowing for some planning and strategizing as most buffs/debuffs lasted the entire fight. There is a 'Shatter' ability that reduces the enemy defense and also deals good damage at the same time, making it a great attack staple. For longer fights one might consider buffs. The dodging option was interesting and fun as long as it wasn't stacked too much (it did make the one fiery ghost a push-over as it only charged and attacked with a spell that was easy to dodge - still a threat if you slipped up though, I am sure). Upgrading is fun too.

A nice touch is that if you faint, you are simply brought back outside as you are already dead. You simply need to recover and move on, and here the story factors into where and how you wake up, which was a really nice touch.

The meh:

Quick-time events stack. They stack and interrupt your selection of abilities even, so if you push down to select another ability while the enemy is charging for such an attack, it will also count as the input for the dodging mini-thing! Sadly, in the third cave a number of enemies spam these and constantly interrupt the flow of battle. ATB systems make me antsy to use my turn asap, but I could not do so and had to wait for the slow bar to pass many a time. The sheer volume of stimuli also can be overwhelming over time, especially in that one nightmare fight. They also clutter the interface (enemies on the left, ability selection next to that, next to which is the dodging thing, next to which is the character sprite). While all these abilities looked polished, they felt very fiddly as the game moved on.


Featuring: beautiful custom menu and stuck reaper face.

In the same vein, the upgrade system looks great, but it is a very fiddle system especially towards the beginning and end of the game. Upgrades at the start are so substantial you are encourage to use all points immediately after battle. Starting stats are very low and need to be increased through this system (HP, def, speed, attack and ability score/damage). At times defense only went up by 1, other times 3, and felt a bit jumpy in its values. While generous, HP could be increased from 50 to 100 and 250 very quickly, though you naturally needed to balance attack and other things too.
So basically at the start spikes hit really hard, and at the end it felt that investments no longer truly mattered as upgrades stopped feeling substantial. This allowed you to invest into other abilities too, but it just felt a bit finicky. In the end, given the sheer volume of abilities to invest in, I am impressed it worked out so well throughout the game (though the third cave clearly pushed itself to have stronger more difficult encounters). I cannot really think of a good solution for this either (though I am reminded of Digital Devil Saga's system in which you were free to invest into new spells and abilities, but had to 'train' them in battle first before they became usable).

The later healing enemy drains your ability power which is frankly just really annoying and slows down battles without it being any fun. Support abilities are like that, such as the healing, but still.

Another gripe that I had throughout the game is that various events can be repeated if you didn't immediately go to where the game thought you would go. This includes a conversation in which you receive a cake (the strongest purchasable healing item) - if you do not leave the area this can be infinitely repeated, making for infinite cake. It does reset once you leave the area, however.

Other times include: The first tea party with Grimm. If you choose to go back you see the scene again, and while the door-interaction-note is overwritten with 'this is closed now' the door is visually actually open again.
After the Baker accompanies you for cave 2 and goes missing, he can still be found in the room where you woke up if you fainted. I don't think I took screens of other instances, but I would not be surprised if there were.


A few times throughout the game (after the cake giving and the first time I fainted in cave 1 I remember) the regular reaper face portrait stuck around despite the conversation having ended. I had to talk to a number of people for it to eventually reset when I talked to the right person. While it visually blends well into everything, it is really annoying when traversing menus (saving and reloading the game also doesn't help).

The gamepage says "multiple endings" but it means 2. 2 endings.
Edit: There may be more due to my not having explored the last cave to the fullest. Please pardon that oversight.


A true nightmare.

One enemy encounter in the third cave is virtually impossible as it requires you to one hit the tank ghost, except that the healer in the back heals him up for 999 whenever they have taken damage. Even 100 hits did not kill them, and all buffs/debuffs at my disposal didn't help. It also doesn't help that said healer ALSO sucks out your ability powers, meaning you need copious amounts of time to get any abilities/debuffs/buffs going. It also doesn't help that both of them spam these quick time event dodged attacks that interrupt everything and are just a sensory nightmare when stacked. It also doesn't help that I couldn't flee from this battle (tho it was a regular on-touch encounter). It also doesn't help that you cannot stun the healer, even if you couldn't deal damage. All this combined made it a literal nightmare for the senses, motivation, and just plain impossible to beat once locked into battle. Restarting the game or letting myself die were the only options.

Battles in general felt messier (as did the dungeon layout) in the third cave. It is understandable given that enemies now need to deal with your copious amount of HP, but it just felt slightly less polished than the previous dungeons. While this list does look quite extensive, most of these did not interfere with your general playthrough.

All in All:

Grimm's Hollow is a great story-driven adventure with a generally fun battle system to fill the gaps. It's beautiful, it's emotionally rich and while it doesn't feel as polished as it looks, it is well worth checking out. Also Grimm the reaper is absolutely adorable from start to finish.

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This is late, but thank you for the detailed review Kylaila! I'm sorry about all the bugs and mistakes in the third cave and the battle system - people have told me that cave is ridiculously hard, so I'm going to work on changing some of the encounters. (The update is coming along slowly though).

Thank you again. :)
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