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Promising, but highly disappointing

  • NTC3
  • 01/16/2015 06:01 AM
Middens started off with real promise. It had unique collage art style, a setting (the so-called Rift) unlike any other, a combat system centered on summons and status effects, and an intriguing opening voiced by Genie, an enigmatic Talking Revolver. Those were elements of a great game, but instead of building up on them, the creator has chosen to expand outwards, and ended up burying them under mountains of pretentious filler. I’m sad to critique a game like that, but Middens is one of those cases where the praise typically lavished on it is duly unjustified.

Aesthetics (art, design and sound)

The collage art used is very unique, and unlike most RPGMaker games, the levels are not static. On the contrary, animations are very frequent, and you’ll often find entire rooms shimmering in some unearthly glow. Unfortunately, the game really doesn’t know when to stop and catch its breath, and there are literally far too many different art styles used, to the point that later backgrounds feel like an overblown parody of the neatly accomplished designs you’re greeted with at first. Backgrounds animated with some sort of oily paper effect will outright hurt your eyes, and the painfully white rooms with random objects (actual cats collaged in are a particular favourite) aren’t much better. The Rift might’ve been intended as a dream world of some kind, but those dreams aren’t worth looking at even then.

There’s a similar situation with the BGM; there are about 70 tracks in the game, and they’re all mp3, thus accounting for its 200 mb file size. Out of those, however, only five or so are actually good, and the rest is mediocre filler, some of which is outright unpleasant to listen to. All of that art and music is spread over hundreds of rooms within the game, and again most of those are junk: there’s little to do besides staring at another example of his art, and the forced weirdness just feels tiresome after a while.


These rooms aren’t completely empty, though. Usually they have an NPC or two, but they’re always limited to one line. Some games (i.e. Standstill Girl or A Blurred Line) manage to create interesting stories when these quotes are combined together, but here it never adds up. Middens claims to have obtained the NPCs’ lines from occult tomes, last words of death row inmates and other fascinating sources. I have no way to check it, but even if true, I don’t care, because I want my NPCs to be actual characters, and not devices for delivering weird quotes. Technically, you have a choice to attack and kill any NPC you want, or to leave them alone, but because none of them feel like actual characters, there’s no real reason to bother. The game does try to tempt you into murder in two ways, but these are obvious and not very effective.

First way is by placing dangerous-looking, yet peaceful NPCs in your way when exploring areas, and you’re supposed to be scared enough to shoot first and initiate combat. Doing so enough times would also leave you drained for when a truly aggressive creature (more or less that area’s boss) shows up: this trick might even work once, but once you figure it out, there no reason to waste time on more fighting when it’s repeated. Then, there are some NPCs who’ll give fetch quests to bring some weird items to them, and you’ll soon find that the “area bosses” drop similarly weird items (i.e. Blotter Paper, Marriage License or a Teenage Diary) alongside Nothings (more on that below), but they’re never the exact items these NPCs seek. Apparently their items can only be looted from the peaceful denizens of the Rift, but I never felt like going on a murder spree just so that some nameless questgiver I don’t care about can give me a reward I likely don’t need.

Thus, I walked peacefully past everyone but one guy who claimed to raise children to become serial killers. The one time I did try attacking someone for no reason, I found that they’ll beg for mercy instead of attacking during some turns. You’re allowed to spare them by fleeing from those fights, and on the whole it’s a nice idea, and something I really want to see more of. Sadly, the effect is diminished by spared characters just standing there on the map, and their dialogue towards someone who just tried to kill them remains completely unchanged. Furthermore, the “bad” characters like the aforementioned serial killer guy will never beg for mercy, making the whole thing feel even more simplistic. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the game didn’t argue that all murders are equal and karma is a false concept that can be used to justify everyone’s death. In game, this is represented by Nomad gaining 1 Nothing every time you kill someone regardless of context in which it happens. Thus, the only outcome to me fighting only when forced to, with the flee option barred, was when my Nomad’s blood was referred to as “blood of the pacifist” at one point.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the main plot so far, but that’s because there isn’t really one. Nomad is just a player insert who has zero personality and Genie, his talking revolver, is the only real character in the entire game. In the prologue, he asks you to commit yourself to him in the prologue and explains the game mechanics in a sort-of tutorial. Once he finishes doing it, he tells you to “cleanse the Rift” and suddenly goes silent, never trying to urge you on in spite of always being in your hand. There are moments later on when he does say something, triggered either by reaching the far-away areas or by obtaining enough Nothings; I’m not sure which.

Like the rest of the game, these mini-cutscenes somewhat interesting, weird, and aren’t particularly well written. I wouldn’t have a problem with those scenes if there were a lot more of those, but they’re so few and far away that their arrival feels like mana from heaven. Because of their scarcity, the conclusion feels very abrupt, and it’s also highly unsubtle, with Genie literally breaking the fourth wall to tell the game’s moral (the thing about karma I mentioned above) to the player. It’s not particularly original, and rendered void afterwards when Genie mocks video games in the same sentence, not realising that if Middens doesn’t take its own medium seriously, then I have no reason to give weight to any of its morals.


The combat system here is quite unusual, with the protagonist being rather weak and possessing few abilities. Instead, the main power here lies in your “chakra points”, called Lam, Yam and Om. Of those, Lam is a brute-force damage dealer, with the most powerful melee attack and who can cast spells of more than one element. Om is a healer, also responsible for various buffs and inflicting melancholic damage, while Yam is mainly there to inflict status effects, and casts choleric. All of those have to be summoned by Nomad during the first battle, and then summoned again (or revived, if you’re short on Nerve) during the second before they remain present for the rest of the level. When combined with the almost total lack of Nerve-restoring items (in comparison to extremely frequent healing items), this system discourages attacking non-aggressive NPCs in unexplored areas, as you might end up unable to summon them during a major, non-skippable battle, and thus have to face a boss-like enemy at an acute disadvantage.

The combat is boring at first, because Middens is another one of those RPGs too afraid to give you skills until you level up several times. Unlike other games, there are also no shops, and no equipment to be found besides the things you start with. Exploring and running into aggressive enemies is thus discouraged until you hit level 5 or at least level 3. This can be done either by grinding on Thrones (game’s only non-unique enemy, with no skills of its own) or by setting Nomad to exercise and having a tea break: that ability gives non-combat XP for every push-up you allow Nomad to make, though don’t expect the game to tell you that. Once you reach that level, the fighting actually becomes good, as Yam’s status effects are brought to the forefront.

All creatures that attack you first have boss-like stats and always have a couple of powerful abilities, and so straight-up combat is quite difficult. However, they are always vulnerable to at least one status effect, and each battle is a satisfying puzzle to pick the right effect to neuter them and/or hurt them a lot if they’re vulnerable to Lichen. Then, you find the element they’re weak to (choleric, sanguine or melancholic, with phlegmatic absent for some bizarre story reason) and structure your strategy around that. It helps that outside of Thrones and Void Demons, all of the enemies are unique; weirdly, their sprites on the map never looks even remotely similar to their combat model. Another annoyance is the sort-of whistling sound played by Nomad every time you win battles: it might be intended as a mockery of traditional victory tunes to go alongside Middens’ anti-violence message, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Outside of fighting, wandering around and exercising to get more XP, you can also use the Guitar ability to have Nomad literally go out and play the instrument. He does so automatically, so don’t expect any rhythm minigames, and besides hearing his melody, you’ll typically have the more supernatural levels change colour and/or pulse along with the tune. It looks very cool, but like I said above, there are so many unnecessary rooms that it grows stale quite fast. There’s also a gameplay reason for playing it, too, as it’ll open some blocked entrances and lure in the worms (Vermis). There are dozens of worm varieties, and your inventory will soon be stuffed to the brim with all of them. However, their function always boils to acting as either healing/status-negating items, or as elemental and/or status-inducing grenades. The animations used can be quite cool, but the actual damage they inflict isn’t much larger then what your summons’ abilities can already do, and so they’re only there for those who fight a lot and find themselves unable to summon chakra points for major battles.


Middens had great promise, but as a finished product, it serves only as a proof of two truisms. Firstly, it shows that RPGMaker is fully capable of processing great graphics and animations if you have the skill to make them. Secondly, it again shows that if your put effort into a game, you can overcome anything but your own misplaced priorities.


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Well.... I was gonna play this game, but the dev's hateful bullying attitude toward the review makes me nope.

If you don't want feedback, don't put yourself out there. Period.
Glad I dodged a bullet here!
"It's frustrating because - as much as Corf is otherwise an irredeemable person - his 2k/3 mapping is on point." ~ psy_wombats
A wise man once said, 'judge not lest ye be judged and for the measure you use'.

And millions of foolish men have used it incorrectly to validate their fallacious arguments.

What "judge not lest ye be judged" actually means has nothing to do with what occurs on Earth, despite what so many others - most of whom have neither interest nor background in Scripture - have hijacked it to score a cheap win have argued, What this means is not to play the role of God and condemn eternally others for something you're more than likely guilty of as well yet refuse to acknowledge. It's the same as the story of the woman caught in adultery. Why did all the men walk away disheartened after Jesus said "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"? Was it because they knew that they had sinned once in their life? No, it's because they all were guilty of adultery with that woman (why else would they be there to condemn her) and who would've been stoned to death as well.

They feared the repercussions of their own sinful acts and turned away as to save themselves. This is what "judge not lest ye be judged" actually means.

You also forgot Matthew 7:3, which is the other half of that oh so popular saying in the secular world. "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
notorious rpgmaker 2k3 shill
Oh jeez, didn't even check the date on these, goodness.
The TM is for Totally Magical.
Hey! I remember this dramasplosion! Fun times!
notorious rpgmaker 2k3 shill
This seems like a very solid and concise review. It looks like it covers a lot of ground and seems to fairly judge. I would take a lot of these criticisms to heart, honestly. NITC3 has clearly taken the time to very cleanly put their thoughts about your game on the table. Not agreeing with them is fine, but being antagonistic towards a critique just because it wasn't praising your work wholly means you'll never really grow as an artist. Accepting that you can make imperfect things is a fundamental aspect of getting better at your work, and an outsider's perspective (in this case, the reviewer) is a good way of learning that. Sometimes you may think something is good because you know every tiny aspect of it or because you've bonded with the project, but that connection to your work doesn't make an outside look at your product irrelevant. In fact, I would cherish an outside look at my work, personally, because that represents the majority of people observing it to some extent. if you're making something, you ARE making it for you, yes, but you're also making it for someone else to experience, and there's a lot more of them than there is of you.
Oh, and my high horse. It'll take a big gratuitous dump on your grave. :)
Just joshing...No one's high horse is really going to take a dump on anyone's grave. I'm sorry Fidchell...I expect you'll be buried according to the proper and traditional rites.
Holy shit I don't know how I stumbled onto this but I'm glad I did. These replies are more entertaining than half the games on this site.
the world ends in whatever my makerscore currently is
If you measure a rock in weight then the rocks weight is measured.
Dear Liberty,

You have taken the figurative as literal. It's a metaphor. If I said you and I were in the same boat, for example, it wouldn't be meant literally...unless you know...we were in the same boat(on a fishing trip or something).

Also, your review of my review of their review is wildly redundant.

If my kids were bullied in school I'd have something to say about it. If your want to vacate your bowels on my game...well then I can empty my load on your turd.

Then you say, "How dare you excrete on my excretion! You arrogant cur!"

I can negate your negation of my negation of their negation...lol...but Middens exists and no negation is equal to the creation of something...except maybe...the destruction of everything.
You just don't get it. You're tone deaf and not hearing the notes. You want me to describe music to you? If you cant perceive it...you can't perceive it.

Tell that to Beethoven. Or any other deaf person who learned to play/enjoy music in the past. Tell that to blind people who like to paint or people who have no taste but like to eat. Your analogies do not make sense. It's a fucking game, dude, not the Mona Lisa or one of the Great Pyramids. Just a game...

Seriously. Get over yourself please. So you got a review you don't like? Learn to look at the good parts and take the good from it. You are honestly coming off as more than a little dickish.

I was going to play this game and give it an honest LP. I'm now not - because anything I might have to say about it that isn't a ringing endorsement would get ignored and thrown away as 'lol, she can't see my vision'. Quite frankly, developers who can't hear the bad about their game don't deserve the review they do get.

(Oh, right, I believe you made a point to ask about my swearing before. I swear as either common talk, anger in some cases or for emphasis. In discussions like this it's almost always the first or third. In the case of my previous comment it was the third - to show fucking emphasis. Deal with it.)
Just joshing...No one's high horse is really going to take a dump on anyone's grave. I'm sorry Fidchell...I expect you'll be buried according to the proper and traditional rites.

But I have to think that it's a bit unrealistic to ask that I lay quietly while the peanut gallery violates my naughty bits.

I may be short of grace, but style...you wound me.

A wise man once said, 'judge not lest ye be judged and for the measure you use'.

Try walking into an art gallery in downtown Chicago and pinning insults to paintings. Then turn to the responsible artists and tell them to accept it. See what kind of reaction you get.


1. The quotes featured in Middens are many times derived from spiritual texts many thousands of years your ancestor. It's interesting you would call them trite. Do you believe the advice of ascended masters, the Book of Proverbs or the Tao de Ching is pathetic? Apparently so. They're not my words ...and yes you can solve my riddle.

3.The answer to the first riddle is, 'They lived' the answer to the second riddle is, 'Change'. Neither of these statements contains qualitative appraisals.

4.You're right...no review of Middens, whether positive or negative, is meaningful. That's true. That's my opinion.

Middens is what it is. You want me to combat your points to the plotline and gameplay mechanics?

There's nothing to fight.

It's like a joke where everyone laughs and you're the one left in the room silently scratching their head. You analyze the joke from top to bottom but can't find what's funny about it. The more you try to explain it the less funny it becomes.

"Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."
— E. B. White

You just don't get it. You're tone deaf and not hearing the notes. You want me to describe music to you? If you cant perceive it...you can't perceive it.

If the short can measure the long...accurately and fully encapsulate the whole of someone's life in two words. Describe to me 1000000 years of history in one pithy sentence.

Well, you certainly seem to think that it's possible. Otherwise, you wouldn't have reduced all of the characters besides Genie to a single quote. Nor would the numerous critiques of consumerism be simplified to statements as trite as "Buying goods will bring back your loved ones!" Also...

Liberty, your comment is disingenuous to the other reviewers who enjoyed the game. Perhaps you should take off the brown-tinted glasses?

These two quotes above are in direct disagreement with each other. If the short cannot measure the long, thus making my review irrelevant, then reviews which praise your game must be equally irrelevant. It's really either one or the other.

You have approached Middens as if it were Mario Kart.

Unlikely, because then I wouldn't have included the Storyline section, which takes up nearly half of the review.

Much, if not all, of your argument is based on aestheticism. The target goal of aestheticism is beauty. Seeing beauty as a standard to judge any work is sterile and lazy. Art arises in unique social contexts with distinct values for different people. Creators develop a specialized aesthetic on their terms. There cannot be – and should not be -- an overall aesthetic.

Nope, that's just one definition of it. My definition of aesthetics is about the audiovisual elements working together in order to, again, evoke emotion from the player, and the success is judged by how strongly these elements manage to evoke the intended emotion. Middens fails at that, because soon, my only reaction to its frequent stylistic changes was annoyance, and not particularly strong one at that. You can say that inconsistency was a statement, but you ignore that this statement would've been adequately made with about 20-30% of the areas you've ultimately included. Believe it or not, dwelling on a theme for too long can dilute its impact, and that's exactly what happened here.

Let's go back to the 2-3 areas with that oil blur-thing flowing in front of the screen. That stylistic choice obviously signifies something and draws attention to the area, except that there was nothing specific to draw attention to. There was just more collage of things, a couple of NPCs who are again reduced to a single quote and a couple of enemies (Hell Maw and Nocturnal Maw, if I'm not mistaken). If that area was found early on, I might've been intrigued, but with about a hundred similarly weird rooms/corridors before that and a couple dozen or so after, it was just one of many. If you wanted it to stand out more, there should've been more interactivity: as it is, there's little difference between the rooms once you stop caring for the artstyle changes.

Your review assumes that a soundtrack should be a collection of catchy tunes that are "pleasant" to listen to and demerited what is obviously meant to be experienced outside of comfort.

Same as above. Soundtracks in games like Silent Hill or little-played The Suffering have been made to truly discomfort and succeeded at it very well; and thus I described them as great even if they often weren't comfortable. That's not the case in Middens: most of the tracks were just there, and the more unpleasant ones never elicited a strong sense of dread, unease, or something of the kind: it was again mostly irritation.

You accuse the game of poor pacing---never realizing that in Middens the player sets their own pace.

You don't set the pace at which the plot unfolds, partially because it's never clear what is actually needed for progression, and partly because the ending (one of them, anyway) is not available until you accumulate 30 Nothings. If the player was fully capable of setting the pace, which is what you claim here, then the player would've been able to skip to the end, or to any plot-significant section, at any time. (FYI, the 2008 remake of Alone in the Dark actually allowed for that, even if it was a shit game by all other metrics.)

Instead, you've got that barrier in front of the player, and there's still quite a lot of fighting and running about places if they intentionally set out to get those Nothings. Thus, the pacing criticism is absolutely valid.

What is unfair about writing a review of a review? He should be happy I covered his review in good detail and glad I took the time to read it and reply---even if you don't or he doesn't personally, agree with the points of my review of his review.

Was it intended to offend? If so, it didn't work, as I remain unperturbed. You certainly haven't covered my review in any great detail, however. Nearly all of your comments thus far have centered on the aesthetics section, which makes up a minority of my review. I've yet to see any proper response to my criticisms of the game's plotline or the gameplay mechanics.

Oh, and lastly, I've just checked other reviews, and three of the positive reviewers also haven't developed anything. To the surprise of no-one, you didn't dismiss their opinions as irrelevant for that reason. Tis' the season for hypocrisy, it seems...
I'm not staff anymore, so please don't ask me about that,especially game engine related stuff.
1) People need to really chill the frack out.
2) If this is really that much of a source of drama, I may have to check it out post McBacon Jam. I'll be sure to speak my mind on this one on top of that.
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
Enough. Personal attacks aren't necessary.

Reading these comments has been very disappointing to me.
Hey Fidchell...I hate to break this to you...but when you die you'll be buried under a six foot mountain of pretentious filler in a casket fashioned from wasted potential. At your funeral you'll be eulogized with not particularly well written dialogue and saluted with seventy musical tracks that are unpleasant to listen to.

No actual characters will attend the funeral--just vessels for quotes about you. They'll say, "This person really knew how to beat a dead horse" and "They swept into board discussions like a jackal hungry for carrion".

Oh, and my high horse. It'll take a big gratuitous dump on your grave. :)
Perhaps you should get off your high horse and understand not everyone enjoys pretentious, gratuitous "art games." No need to start attacking people because they've rated your featured "game" below 3 stars. :)
This game is about the inadequacy of traditional RPG gameplay mechanics to convey meaning in today's world. By abandoning representationalism, myformerselves was free to express himself with pure aesthetics. Specific interpretation gives way to a more visceral response. Middens obviously challenges the know-nothing complacency of those who prefer safe, predigested, bucolic genre scenes.

Seriously, though, I think you all could have been a little less antagonistic and a little more courteous (and make fewer assumptions as to motivations) in your responses to this review. Fair points have been made, but the underlying tension is negative.
"you can totally measure a brick in inches. It's a different measurement but it's still fucking valid as fuck."

I said weigh....not measure...but weigh. You cannot weigh a brick in inches.

No need to swear....did you write this review? You seem very upset.

If the short can measure the long...accurately and fully encapsulate the whole of someone's life in two words. Describe to me 1000000 years of history in one pithy sentence.

What is unfair about writing a review of a review? To use your words; he should be happy I covered his review in good detail and glad I took the time to read it and reply---even if you don't or he doesn't personally, agree with the points of my review of his review.

Sure, you may disagree with points but do not just ignore the whole thing or write it off as to mean that I didn't read his review.

Dissecting a work by its individual parts is called judging the general by the local and it is unsound. Just as it is unsound to use the local to judge the general. All exclusions are infact false because nothing exists independent of anything else. Every phenomenon occurs synergistically.

It is especially poor taste to remove a work from its context...as this review does. If value could be discerned without context an artifact bowl from ancient Rome would be worth the same as a plastic plate. If character could be discerned without context the average Victorian male would appear a pedophile by today's standards, and a Medieval painting would seem poorly drawn.

I have by all statements made valid counter points. Partiality has nothing to do with it. Liberty, your comment is disingenuous to the other reviewers who enjoyed the game. Perhaps you should take off the brown-tinted glasses?
myformerselves: It can take a person five minutes to read a ton of things, that doesn't mean that:
A - It didn't take hours to write and rewrite that piece of work, or that
B - The piece of work is equal to the amount of time that it covers.

The review covers the game quite well and in good detail. You should be glad that someone took their time to both play the game and write up a detailed review, even if you don't, personally, agree with the points of the review.

Sure, you may disagree with points, but do not just ignore the whole thing or write it off as to mean that the person didn't play your game. That way lies arrogance and ignorance. You don't have to like what they say but perhaps you should look at your work with their eyes and not your rose-tinted ones and perhaps you'll see why they said what they did.

It might be personal taste on their part or perhaps they have valid points that you can't see for the ignorance inside yourself, and yes, maybe they are wrong, but that they spent time to write this means that they had something they wanted to communicate to you and writing it off as null and void is a pathetic thing to do.

Look at your game and this review with non-parental eyes and maybe you'll see things that can be fixed in your game or take on as advice for the next game. But do not just write off a well-written review as a wash just because it doesn't say what you want it to say.

That is just stupid. This is not a beauty pageant and you can totally say 'the battles were great but the art was pretty bad' when it comes to games. You can break them down and that is what a review is supposed to do - dissect them into parts and point out the good and bad so that the creator knows what to fix.

Even beauty pageants have different sections, after all, and each participant is judged on those sections. Only the sum of them will show whether that participant is queen or not, but it is a sum of parts, not an overall score. They totally get different scores on their answers to questions (design theory), just as they get scored on how they look in a bathing suit (graphical content).

A contestant whose mind is not all there can still win a beauty pageant. A game that is fun to play is still worth something even if it's graphics are shit. Honestly, you're acting as though any kind of negative note means you think others believe your game is worth nothing. That's not the case, but people will rate based on what they think of the game and if they believe that it's brain is not all there or that it doesn't look as good in a bikini as another game, that's fine. This isn't a fucking beauty contest and there is not just one winner.

(BTW, you can totally measure a brick in inches. It's a different measurement but it's still fucking valid as fuck.)
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