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Good Game Gets +1 Bad Karma

Shattered Hourglass is a traditional RPG made in RM VX Ace. It features most of the familiar hallmarks of typical RPGs, including turn-based combat and map exploration. It isn’t super-long, but it packs a lot into what it has. The 30-ish hour estimate is pretty accurate for play time. It took me just over 40 to clear most of its content.

I feel a little bad barging in here and ruining this game’s track record (it’s had 5 stars consistently before this), especially since sawworm was working on it as I played, and I can tell they’re enthusiastic about it. However, I do my best to be a fair judge, and I found aspects of this game lacking just a bit too much.

Let’s talk about graphics!

Seems to be a mix of RTP and custom graphics/rips. I could be wrong, I’m not familiar with VX Ace’s standard assets, but they have that blocky aesthetic I’ve heard about (and I recognized some berry sprites from Pokémon). For the most part, the game’s visuals fit together just fine. A couple things stand out here and there, but not too terribly much. I wouldn’t say they’ll wow you, but they aren’t especially jarring, either. For example...

“My cat and robot may be from other dimensions.”

That’s about as bad as it gets. You can tell the style doesn’t match, but it’s a minor clash. Over the course of the game, I don’t recall anything particularly jumping out to punch me in the eyeballs.

“Except this wacky shark.”

In short, the graphics are fine if you aren’t too picky.

Let’s talk about audio!

If there were any custom SFX, I don’t remember hearing them. I recognized those RTP sounds, even if they are revamped from their earlier days. They’re used appropriately, so it’s only a problem if you can’t stand them anymore.

The music comes from a few different places, but I didn’t recognize it. I only know because there’s a music room you can visit to listen to any track you’ve already heard. The track titles name their artists, so that’s a nice touch to give credit. Similar to the graphics, there’s a little variance in the music style, but not significant enough to clash. Nothing sounded out of place, and there are a lot of nice tunes in it.

Also of note is that battle music varies by location, so you won’t always hear the same standard battle theme every five seconds. Even boss tracks have some variety to them, so there’s plenty to keep it fresh. Apart from the occasional fadeout loop, no complaints.

Let’s talk about story!

And here comes the part I had the most gripes with. The story is not this game’s strong point. Apart from the actual content of it, the writing suffers from some noticeable awkwardness. I don’t even mean typos and grammar so much as poor wording and phrasing. This may have changed some since I first played, as the game has undergone several updates since, but sometimes you get moments like...

“You don’t say?”

It’s worse in some places than others. The game could really use a once-over on its text. There are some typos as well, but most of what I noticed was just peculiarities like in that example. They made it difficult to take the game seriously, but then again, the game doesn’t exactly take itself seriously, either.

“If the meme-spouting robot was any indication.”

The plot is mostly a string of weird happenstances. You play as Duran, who is a time mage. These particular mages are rare, and some consider them dangerous since they can alter history. The trouble starts when a mage-slaying samurai comes knocking on his door one day (not joking, he actually knocks), and Duran escapes via some sort of spell that leaves him in a snowy field with a healthy dose of amnesia. He remembers his name and occupation, but that’s it.

For the next bit, you’re trying to escape the samurai, who still pursues you. Then it flips around and you’re chasing the samurai, even though you still aren’t strong enough to really oppose him. The reason is because the samurai now seeks time powers, even though he had set out to destroy them in the first place (and I’m not even sure that was the initial reason).

Everything that happens in between is basically filler. The people Duran meets, the dungeons he explores, the evil he stops; he takes it all as it gets in his way, not because it had anything to do with him specifically. Even most of the party members join him out of the blue. There’s a distinct lack of purpose to the entire journey. On the one hand, I get it; you gotta fill that content somehow. But on the other, it’d be nice if there were more reason to these trips than “well, we need to get to Town E through Forest D, Cave C, and Desert B.”

Also, you’ll want to keep careful track of your current objective, because the game is terrible about reminding you. I’ll admit, I didn’t play this as consistently as I meant to, but when I got stuck and my plot flag NPCs only had jokes left to tell me, I was floundering on more than one occasion. The game has a quest system that tracks any little things you start, but it could really use a main quest log so you don’t get yourself lost.

In terms of dialogue, the characters are quirky, but ultimately flat. The game has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that almost never lets up. You might get a chuckle if it’s your kind of thing. Sorry to say it isn’t mine, so this cast had little to offer me. I saw them through their quest and never felt attached to any of them.

In a way, it’s kind of a shame that the story is so weak, because it has more layers to it. The game has multiple endings (some of which come earlier than the actual end), and how it goes depends on who you recruit and certain choices you make. It’s here that I need to mention one thing I especially disliked. Your ability to progress is occasionally tied to your “karma.” The picture I drew at the start of this is from the single most stubborn moment that almost got me hopelessly stuck. There are optional quests you can do that net you karma, be it good, bad, or neutral. If you don’t have at least 5 good karma before this point in the game, Papyrus Zulwhern the Ice Lich will cutscene kill a member of your group, and you’ll get a bad ending. There’s no indication that karma is the stat you need to raise to prevent this. I only know because the developer told me.

When I found out this was the case, of course I set out to try and find more karma. As it turns out, it’s VERY SCARCE at this stage of the game, in spite of being about fifteen hours in. Many of your opportunities to gain this karma can be missed, and if you failed too many of them, you’d have to start the entire game again. What made this especially frustrating was that a lot of the quests you can take at the time don’t yield any karma at all. Those that do often depend on text choices from lists of three or four options. Choose wrong, and you fail, even though the correct answer is rarely clear. The game almost requires you to save scum so you don’t screw yourself over. Not good.

Needless to say, after this I spared no effort in making sure I got every bit of karma I could. I would have preferred to play normally and let whatever happens, happen, but when the game denies itself to you for not playing a certain way, well...you either play along or hecking quit. If I weren’t in it to review it, I probably would’ve hecking quit. So, to summarize, the story is kinda wonky. The text and dialogue often come across awkwardly, the plot isn’t very compelling, and the events will blow up in your face if you aren’t careful with your decisions.

Luckily, this game has other redeeming qualities.

Let’s talk about gameplay!

Much of what this game offers is pretty standard in terms of RPGs, but it gets enough of it right to be worthwhile. Sawworm is very good about rewarding exploration. Checking random junk around towns will regularly yield results. Treasure chests are stashed in just about every corner of dungeons. If you went walking down a suspicious-looking corridor, you might come back out the same way, but you’ll have something else in your pockets for the trouble. There are secrets everywhere, so it’s plenty rewarding.

That said, there were some methods of hiding things I didn’t appreciate as much. One common method is the “hidden warp tile.” To be fair, you can usually see the inaccessible treasures from somewhere on the map, and there’s a note early on that informs you these tiles exist. Most can be found fairly intuitively, but for some, I only located them by cramming myself into every walkable tile on the map. Not a big deal, but could be better. Of greater annoyance were the password chests, which required trivial knowledge from outside the game to solve. In those cases, you either knew the answer already, or you were out of luck. I despise having to leave a game and hop on Google to find the answer for something, so those irritated me (and some of mine yet remain shut).

So the game has exploration down, but how about mapping? Well...


Dungeons are pretty uninspiring in this game. They mostly consist of a bunch of pocket rooms connected by narrow passages. Encounters are random, so it’s not like that’s a problem, but there’s no rhyme or reason to their design. They feel randomly thrown together. This is truer of dungeons earlier in the game than later. You can tell sawworm got better at it as they continued, though dungeons never quite stop feeling jumbly. Really late dungeons play with elevation more often, so those are nice.

Maps are generally cluttered with a lot of stuff to bump into, but they’re navigable enough. A lot of decorations can be passed over, so it’s less of an issue. There are some passability errors where you’ll stub your toe on something that looks flat, or step over a thing it doesn’t seem like you should. The game’s pretty good about it, but they do exist. Also...

“What axe, Treephop?”

I’d like to say combat is this game’s big sell, but that’s only really true of bosses. Regular combat is annoying at best. Some early dungeons only feature one type of enemy that only uses a basic attack, and the groups you fight are one, two, or three of them. Also, it feels like way too many monsters in this game are poisonous. I swear, there was at least one in almost every area. It’s percent-based damage that follows you on the map with no visual indication, so you’ll pop into your next battle with 1 HP and be like “Oops.” True story, I lost my pet eagle this way.

So regular enemies are dull as hell, but they often have nasty tricks that make them even more of a bother, and they’re also hardy enough that you can’t quite mash through them. You’ll want to hit their weaknesses to speed things along, provided you can find out and remember their weaknesses. There’s an item you can buy that will reveal an enemies stats and vulnerabilities, and one character has a skill that does it, too. Once scanned, they stay that way permanently, and you can check anytime you’re fighting them. I’d like to say this feature helped me, but I was extremely stupid and didn’t follow the simple on-screen instructions that explain how to view the stats (hey, they’re tiny!). I didn’t realize this was possible until I was 30 hours in. I only blame myself for that one. >_<

“Look how small they are!”

Still, there’s something to be said about the system of elements in this game. Basically, I can’t make heads or tails of it. The elements mostly adhere to some basic logic. Fire beats ice, holy beats undead, etc., but beyond the extremely obvious stuff, you have to test or scan to actually be sure. The game will pop up a “Weakness!” when you nail it, but there’s no definite way to tell what it will be sometimes. You may scan something only to discover it has NO weaknesses, even if it seems elementally aligned. I feel like it could be more deliberate and intuitive. Some basic rules and color indicators would help immensely. I mean, it only takes one turn to scan, but is that really an excuse?

Anyway, as I said, the bosses are where it’s at in this game. I encountered some truly challenging foes in my quest, and figuring out the best way to deal with each one was rewarding all on its own. While I did have a decent general strategy that worked for a lot of them, it wasn’t a catch-all, and mashing attack was never a viable option. I can’t tell you how many times I’d see the results of a round, then stop and think for a minute (or five) before deciding how best to proceed. But as much as I liked the boss fights in this game, there were a few things about them that bothered me, too.

First up, bosses have a nasty habit of sneaking up on you. You’ll be walking along and get jumped by some stubborn foe after you’d been exploring for an hour, and suddenly the stakes are raised as you desperately chip away at its health bar. You could step out onto a barren mountaintop with a single flower, take three steps, and meet an ice dragon that crawls up from literally nowhere. You could be talking to a quest NPC to deliver the item they asked for, only to have a local deity take umbrage with you and bum rush your group unprovoked. The game is so bad about signaling its bosses, all I can recommend is to save constantly. Save everywhere you go. Save every time you’re about to do something. Save after doing it, too. Save before talking to the friendly-looking snowman. Save before going into a suspicious room. Save before going into any room. The game tracks how often you save to make you feel bad for it, but DO IT FOR YOUR OWN GOOD JUST TRUST ME ON THIS OKAY?!

“201 is not an excessive number of saves.”

So I did grow weary of hard fights popping out of nowhere to ruin my day, but the fights themselves are quite enjoyable. A big part of this is the variety of skills at your disposal. The characters get about thirty or more spread across different categories, so you have lots of options about how to approach your problems. The game also has a job/mastery system that lets you swap out skill sets from the menu, allowing for even more possibilities. Skill use isn’t always straight-forward, either. Spells will cost MP to cast, but may also require TP, which you build up by taking actions in battle. You might desperately need a skill that’s unavailable simply because you haven’t been fighting long enough to power it, so you have to manage yourself carefully. Some classes also fuel their skills with HP, so that’s a very risk & reward way of playing.

In general, I handled the bosses I encountered well enough. Even if I lost, I could usually figure out something to do differently. I never hit a wall or had to stop to grind. However, I did find some that I really didn’t like. There are some bosses with sleep-all skills that will go to town on your napping party if you don’t have equipment to negate it (meaning you had to go in already prepared). There are also some with multi-instant-death skills that really suck to try and bounce back from. To my knowledge, they’ve been nerfed, but I haven’t forgotten their rudeness.

Let’s wrap this up!

Before we conclude, I wanted to mention a couple miscellaneous things, just to acknowledge them. First up, this game has a very handy fast-travel system. Every town has an associated scroll you can use to instantly zap yourself back. They’re consumed on use, but as long as you remember to buy another when you get there, you can travel conveniently at almost any time.

The game also has a fishing system that I really didn’t care about. Some people are gaga for these things, but I’m just…whatever. Something something RNG gambling addiction. There’s an entire fish-o-pedia to fill out, and apparently some sweet rewards if you bother to find them all (and the fish themselves are decent healing items), but I just couldn’t care.

Next, mentioning again the job/mastery system, this expands every 10 levels for every character, so your options eventually become staggeringly large. However, for my personal playthrough, I was already happy with the niches my party had settled into, so I never really experimented with the other classes much. What you choose could change your entire strategy…or not. How should I know? I barely used it. Since the game has multiple endings, you could tap the replay value by using alternate jobs while seeing how the plot proceeds differently.

That said, it could probably benefit from a New Game + feature.

This game is not a flawless experience, but it does have plenty going for it. Although finished, I hope sawworm can polish it up more, so it can reach the glory it had before I decided it deserved a…

3.5/5 “A fun game that works well, but has real problems holding it back.”

If you're not a good person, an ice skeleton will murder your girlfriend.


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Thank you so much for your time and effort for your awesome review, halibabica!

I'm glad that you've pointed out so many cons and pros (All noted!). So, I can improve my game better in time.

Take care and good luck with your upcoming reviews!
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
You're welcome! If there was anything you wanted to know about that I didn't mention, feel free to ask! I'd be happy to answer.
201 is an excessive number of saves
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
Only if you like replaying stuff.
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