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Hack 'em, slash 'em, shoot 'em up, boom!

  • Strak
  • 07/29/2022 10:04 PM
  • 479 views
Above Hell is an action based RPG with some very unique and interesting mechanics, engaging gameplay, lots of original assets, and very little story. I'm going to break this review down into individual segments, each with their own rating, then compile them together for a final rating.

So, without further ado, let's begin!

Gameplay - 5/5
This is where Above Hell truly shines. When trying to describe this game to a friend, I ended up describing it as a Zelda-esque Metroidvania style RPG with Final Fantasy elements thrown in the mix. That might seem really confusing, but when you start to play the game it makes total sense. You start the game with very little equipment, just a sword and potentially some health packs and bombs. Unlike most RMXP games, this game does not feature random encounters or turn based combat, but rather uses a battle system similar to the Zelda series, where enemies can be fought directly on the map using whatever weapons or tools you have available. As you progress, you'll acquire more gear, including guns, bombs, spells, and various other upgrades. You can improve your equipment, and learn new skills that synergize your weapons together in unique and interesting ways.

Although I like to compare the combat to Zelda, the rest of the gameplay is more adequately compared to a Metroidvania style. At the start of the game, the entire world is open to you. You can freely travel anywhere you like, however certain paths may be blocked based on what equipment you have. As you improve your gear and get stronger weapons, you'll be able to face stronger enemies in different regions and eliminate obstacles that previously blocked your path. As you clear these obstacles, you'll find more upgrades that allow you to explore more, and on and on. Ultimately, the goal is to build your character strong enough to the point where you can face any challenge, and eventually fight the final boss. From what I can tell, this can be done at any time if you know where to go, have the right gear, and are sufficiently strong.

While the difficulty can be a little overwhelming at first, and learning the mechanics may cost you a couple gameovers in the beginning, the game does get to a point relatively quickly where you can handle most situations with ease, and the combat becomes incredibly fun. I also found the random events to be a nice touch, as you could travel through the world and come across something completely new in a region you'd already explored. There weren't really a ton of bosses, and the ones I encountered (aside from the final boss) were fairly basic, but the combat system itself made them entertaining nonetheless. The game can sometimes be a bit unforgiving, where you may find yourself blindsided by some strange hazard you've never seen before which kills you instantly, causing you to lose your progress, but the game allows for saving at any point, so if you're diligent about it you won't have any trouble.

Story - Nonexistent?
I mean, okay, Above Hell does HAVE a story, but it's very much just a premise for the gameplay, and not at all a guiding factor. I wasn't expecting much here though, because the game page itself says not to expect an epic narrative. For that reason, I'm not going to dock points on this review for the lack of story, but I also won't add any.

One thing I will mention is the side missions. They're okay, but again, not exactly gripping, narrative wise. Most side quests are basically just fetch quests, however I did enjoy that you could complete them in any order, and in fact collect the items before even becoming aware of the quest. And the rewards! Finally, a game that doesn't simply award money or items as quest rewards! For many side quests, you can learn brand new abilities, such as a spin attack, or combining spells with sword swings. You can sometimes earn EXP for a reward, or get a brand new item to use in your arsenal. Now, sometimes this can backfire, as I discovered when I turned in a mission that rewarded me with an ability that I actually didn't want, and couldn't disable, but the majority of the rewards are exciting and well worth the effort.

Graphics - 3/5
Alright, so in my personal opinion, I'm not a huge fan of the graphics. However, since that is simply a personal preference, I'm going to try to be unbiased with my review here. The tilesets used in Above Hell are (I believe) original, which is a plus. Even if the overall quality isn't as high as what you might see in other widely available resources, having original assets gives this game a character that you won't get anywhere else. No other game uses these assets, so you've got something unique, and that's a great thing.

However, some of the assets do clash pretty hard. Seeing a high-res graphic for a portal or various animations paired with some 16-bit graphics is definitely jarring, and lacks consistency, but overall I can't complain too much. The game accomplishes what it goes for, and that's more than what can be said for many projects out there.

Music - 4/5
Kind of in the same boat with the graphics, not a huge fan of the music used in the game, but I will at least say this - it fits the theme much better, and is much more consistent. The music is also original, I think, and tracks will play seemingly at random, which is actually a nice touch for a game like this. I typically prefer one or two tracks to represent a region, but doing so usually leads to horrible repetition. Having a library of tracks that cycle through no matter where you go prevents the music from getting too repetitive and boring. In addition, there is an option to disable the music at the start of the game, so if you just want to sink into the game while jamming to your own tunes, you can do so.

The only point I have about the music that I consider to be a negative is that when every region plays all the same songs, the regions start to blend together a bit. Sometimes, I actually forgot which region I was in until I checked the map and realized I was on the other side of the world from where I thought I was. But that's a minor detail, and more due to my lack of attention.

UX and UI - 3/5
I didn't want to include this in the gameplay, because a game with great gameplay can have bad design, and a game with terrible gameplay can have amazing design. If you don't know what I mean, check out the Good Design, Bad Design series by Design Doc on YouTube. A lot of what I look for in games is based on that series, and has really helped me to realize the difference between a good game, and a game with good design.

Above Hell sits somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards good design. The menu is custom, which is interesting! Unfortunately, it does have a few very small bugs which can throw off the feel of it. Inventory is a little tough to view, as instead of showing a table of items that you have available, there's an option that displays an individual line of text for every single consumable item that you have. Unique and interesting, yes, but also cumbersome if all I want is to check how many keys I have. Quest items can be displayed, as well as which town they go to, but unless you've got the names of the towns memorized that won't help very much. That said, it's nice to be able to open the menu and immediately see exactly what level your weapons and tools are at, and navigating the menu is very simple. Up and down selects menu options, left and right selects spells. That's it. Clean and easy.

As for the HUD, it's also quite clean. Health and stamina is displayed in the top right, as well as your equipped item. Switching equipment is easy, although a hotkey feature might have been nice, as I often found myself scrolling too far and dropping a bomb when I didn't mean to, simply because I forgot that I picked up a new item that I had to scroll through. Something simple, like pressing E to unequip all items and go barehanded would have been great. Especially in towns, where I accidentally stabbed villagers several times when trying to turn in a quest item. Now, I personally would have preferred the HUD to be aligned slightly differently, and maybe with more consistent gauge sizes, but that's a personal preference, and one I won't criticize too harshly.

The last thing I'll mention for UX is bugs. This game does have quite a few, and some of them do break the game at certain points, but overall it's not too bad. I did come across a bug where I tried picking the lock on a door, only to have my entire HUD disappear, I couldn't use items, and I couldn't leave the map. I had to reload the save and use keys instead of a lockpick to fix the bug. I had a similar situation happen when picking up an upgrade, only to have the menu get locked out so I couldn't save. Sometimes enemies would seem to be immortal, or have ridiculous amounts of health, and sometimes my abilities wouldn't trigger when I expected them to, leaving me vulnerable in key situations. It seemed as though the more upgrades I got, and the more that was happening on the screen, the more prone the game was to throwing a bug. None of them made the game crash, which is a plus, but there were several times where I ended up softlocked as a result of a bug. However, being able to save at any time mitigated the frustration that those bugs caused, as I was able to reload a save from only a few minutes prior in most cases.

Overall - 15/20
While Above Hell is certainly not a perfect game, it does shine in some key areas. The gameplay is addictive and progresses nicely, and I'm highly impressed with the uniqueness of the gameplay using RMXP as an engine. When helping out with a minor script, I took a look at what scripts were being used, and I was surprised at how few of the mechanics were scripted! It seems to be mostly event based combat, which is not easy to pull off, especially in such an old platform. That impressed me, and I hope we get to see more games breaking the boundaries of their respective engines. That said, the game does have some flaws, but nothing that I would say makes the game unplayable. Not everyone is going to like this game, and some of the features may be a turnoff for some players, but I would recommend anyone looking for a new experience to give this one a try. Stick with it until you get some stronger weapons and abilities, and watch your enemies fall like wheat before a scythe. Kudos to moam for the hard work and attention that went into this game!

Hmm. 15/20 would be a 3.75 star rating, which doesn't exist. So, in recognition of the effort and passion that went into the project, I'm awarding an extra 0.25 stars, for a total score of 4 stars. Looking forward to seeing what the developer comes out with next!

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Thank you so much for this super-detailed, in-depth review!!! You are so awesome, this made my morning! :)

That's a shame about the bugs you came across that locked your game up. When I was obsessively testing it, I found a few like that and fixed them, but it's definitely tough in a game like this to find every single one. I do plan to keep testing it over time and fix any other glitches I find, so if you find more specific ones, feel free to let me know and I will fix/update it.

Thanks again!!!!
Absolutely, and yeah it can be tough to nail them all down, especially when you're going against the engines regular battle system. The more you fight the engine, the more it fights back, but overall I don't think any of the bugs were too bad, especially since you can save anywhere. I just got into the habit of saving before entering the next room, and it took care of most of the problems.
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