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OFF but with more cats
- 11/05/2014 04:32 AM
- 4241 views
This is a review of version 1.0.0 of HOME.
First, the premise: HOME is a game that appears to take place after the special "Judge" ending of the original OFF. However, despite this being hinted at in the beginning cutscene, the game starts off much like the original OFF in zone 0. Except this time, instead of the player controlling the batter, we're given control of the Judge instead. From here the game plays much like the original OFF, except for that it's told from the Judge's perspective as he follows the path the batter originally took through the 3 different zones in OFF.
Now for the actual review itself:
Graphics are good for the most part in HOME, in that they do a decent enough job of emulating and expanding on the graphical style seen in the original OFF. The monster designs aren't quite as surreal as they were in OFF, but for the most part nothing feels out of place. There are also a number of hand drawn CGs which, although they suffer from anti-aliasing effects due to the low 320x240 resolution, are still good for the most part.
One of the ways that HOME is different from OFF is that some of the old NPC sprites that were in black and white before have been colorized, which is fine, but the talk sprites corresponding to these NPCs that appear in the dialogue box remain uncolored. This creates an odd disparity between the talk sprites and their corresponding on-map NPC sprites, so it seems like an odd design choice to me. I personally think the talk sprites should be colored in accordance with the on-map sprites, if they're going to be colored them at all.
I have one other specific issue with one of the sprites below, which I have put into the spoiler tags below, since it's somewhat of a spoiler:
The batter's new battle sprite here just really bothers me since he doesn't look like he has proper stance or anything in this pose. His elbows are way too low (they should be higher and out if he's getting ready to swing) and the position his one leg/knee is in also looks weird. Right now it looks like he barely knows how to use a bat, let alone kill ghosts with one.
The sound effects in HOME feel very much like they fit in the world of OFF. Some of them may have been lifted from the original game, but there are definitely new sound effects as well and they mesh and work well in the situations they're used in.
Music in HOME is sometimes hit and miss, but most tracks normally "hit" rather than "miss". The tracks that work well are the ones you'll be hearing throughout most of the game, those being the ambient background tracks that play as you explore the world, along with the main battle theme. The ambient tracks are definitely the best part of the soundtrack overall. But the music for some of the major bosses is questionable at times, and these occasions were the only times that I didn't really like the music that greeted my ears. There were a few good boss tracks however.
There were a few instances where the music would cut out and would just not start up again, but I've been told that this is a minor bug that relates to french/accented characters in the file names of said songs that would be fixed in a later patch.
Here I'll talk about the 2 major elements that make up most, if not all of the gameplay in HOME: Combat and Puzzles. You will be dealing with these 2 elements for the entirety of the game.
Like OFF, the combat in HOME is turn-based. The player and their allies have both HP and CP (competence points, replacing the standard MP used in most RPGs), CP being used for Competence skills, which are the game's equivalent for magic. However unlike OFF there is a bit more strategy that can be employed in the game. Certain monsters are weaker to Special attacks rather than Physical Attacks, and there are 2 different main weapon types, one which focuses on increasing your physical attack power and the other on your special attack power. There are also skills that weaken enemies to certain elemental attacks, which is a very useful skill for taking down bosses. Item variety in HOME has been expanded from OFF, with some items that can restore the HP or CP of the entire party, among other items that are usable in combat. Enemies are also more likely to cast status effects on the player, which can make or break you in certain battles.
The "Auto-attack" system that was present in OFF returns in HOME. This is an option which you can use in battle to have the player AI decide battle commands for you, so you end up being a bystander for the battles if you choose this option. This is nice in that it helps ease the pain of the many random encounters you will face throughout the game (and speeds up the battles since the AI chooses commands instantly), but it also removes player interactivity from a large portion of the game. I was able to get through pretty much the whole game using the Auto-attack option, aside from some bosses (one of them being a "hidden boss"), so despite there being many additions and improvements to the battle system, I didn't actually participate in combat most of the time. In fact the time I had the most fun with the combat system was against the hidden boss, which actually felt challenging in comparison to the bosses you encounter through the main storyline.
The characters in HOME level up as they collect experience from battles, just as they would in any other RPG. However the level cap in HOME is set fairly low, and I reached it by the time I was around 80% through the game. This was without any attempts to level grind or anything. And once you reach the level cap in a game like this, normal enemy encounters become rather pointless, so I started running from them all since it was faster than killing the monsters. I recommend that either the level cap be set higher or that the experience table be adjusted so that you would have to actually try to hit the level cap in order to do so, since character progression, for me at least, is the driving force behind playing the random battles you face throughout the game.
As stated in the previous paragraphs, most of the battles in this game are from random encounters. I'm not personally a big fan of random encounters, but I don't mind them if the encounter rate is low enough such that the battles don't become a nuisance to deal with. There are also some sections where battles can (or need to) be initiated through NPCs. These are fine on their own, but sometimes these NPCs will be present in a map that also has random encounters, and the maps where both random encounters and mandatory NPC triggered battles were present were the worst. Both systems work at the same time, so often you'll leave a random encounter only to walk a few steps to start a battle with a NPC, and then after that battle is over you'll walk a step or two and will trigger a random encounter. With both systems working at the same time, the battles become numerous and tiresome, so I really recommend that if there's going to be a map with NPC triggered battles that random encounters be turned off for the map.
I hope you like writing down numbers and passwords, since combination locks make a return in HOME. Most of the puzzles are easy enough to solve, as they don't approach the "walk-through-required" level of difficulty that some of the puzzles in OFF had. Sometimes you will have to write down numbers and short strings of words, but for the most part the required note taking is minimal. However around 3/4 of the way through the game, I did start to tire of the combination lock number-based puzzles, since the latter half of the game does rely quite a bit on them, and by that point it felt like the puzzles were just there for the sake of being something for the player to do. There are other box pushing puzzles and challenges where you have to avoid getting hit by certain moving objects, and these are a nice change of pace from the number based puzzles.
There was one puzzle in particular that I rather did not like, so I have further comments on it in the spoiler tags below. Since this is detailed and specific discussion, it could be considered spoilers.
In zone 4, in the hospital, there is what I would call the "bookcases and computers" puzzle. This puzzle is by far the puzzle that gave me the most difficulty through my play through, and I wasn't actually able to solve it on my own despite attempting to grapple with it for a good half hour. And this is because the puzzle is rather convoluted.
There is a book on the shelf which gives you a *very* cryptic hint as to how the logic of this puzzle is supposed to work, but this isn't the core problem of the puzzle. No the problem seems to lie in that there are 6 computers and 6 bookshelves, and you are to figure out how these bookshelves and computers relate to each other in such a way that you figure out the right order in which to interact with the bookshelves to open the door. To properly figure out which bookshelves go with which messages that the different computers display, the best strategy is actually to just write them all down so you can properly cross reference them at the same time. As I stated in the above section, I don't mind note taking if it's for something simple or short like a password or a number, but for this puzzle you would need to write down pretty much the whole message that each computer displays, which really turns this into a chore. That is, if you can even figure out what to do from the cryptic hint given to you.
A puzzle of this difficulty might be a fun *optional* challenge for the player to attempt, but as it is mandatory this puzzle sticks out like a sore thumb from the normal pattern of puzzles this game has to offer.
The writing is unfortunately my least favorite aspect of the game overall. A lot of the plot is a rehash of the original OFF, so if you're familiar with it (which I assume you are), you might find yourself bored for half of the game or so.
This is how I felt most of the time.
As I said at the very beginning of this review, HOME follows the Judge through his journey through the 3 zones in the world of OFF, much like what was done in the original OFF. In fact, it's too much like the original, since zones 1 through 3 are largely the same as they were before. The music's all new and there are new enemies to fight in the random encounters, but the maps are mostly unchanged from their original counterparts, with only small edits and some small new areas added for the Judge to explore. And the story in these zones remains the same as well, except that we observe it from the Judge's view (and that the Judge now has a less passive role in the events of the game). Some of the additions to the zones I was familiar with also felt rather unnecessary. Specifically, in zone 1 there is a part where the Elsen will prevent you from proceeding until you go and kill a boss in an expanded area of the zone, but the whole sidequest adds nothing meaningful to the plot and just feels like a way to stretch out the gameplay. We never see the boss again and the rest of the story would remain the same if the entire section was removed. So for the first 3 zones, I found myself rather unengaged with the plot at most times since it was nothing that I hadn't seen before.
However, you do eventually reach a brand new zone, the 4th zone, and here we are graced with new plot. It's an interesting addition to the world of HOME, although the new major characters introduced aren't all that memorable, sadly. But at the very least they bring something fresh to the table, so story-wise this was my favorite area in the game. The only other thing I'd note about zone 4 is that it felt twice as long as playing through the other zones, so it overstayed its welcome a bit.
One minor thing that I noted in my playthrough was that although you could name the player yourself, you're given no gender choice in the beginning of the game, and the game uses male pronouns when referring to the player themself. This was an odd feature to not carry over from the original OFF, I found.
There is certainly more dialogue exchanged in this game than in OFF, as the Judge and the friends he makes along the way are a talkative bunch. Most of this dialogue serves as character building for them, but I didn't really find myself intrigued by them (and one of them was just downright annoying in my opinion, the last cat that joins your party).
This bit of dialogue appears frequently in the game, which is sad since it has 3 spelling/grammatical errors.
(Should be pamphlet, not "pamplet". Should be has, not have (it is a singular pamphlet after all). And illegibility, not ineligibility.)
The quality of the writing is questionable at times. There are spelling and grammatical mistakes scattered throughout the game, although you might miss them unless you're paying close attention as they normally don't break the flow of the game too much. The main problem I have with the writing though is that things are often over-explained when relating to certain details of the plot. Like there is one section later on in the the game where the Judge asks Zacharie how he escaped a certain place, and Zacharie gives a full and lengthy explanation of what happened, purely in text. But the explanation feels unimportant to the plot, and at the very least it could have been perhaps illustrated via a cutscene or a flashback instead of Zacharie just dumping a wall of text on the player.
Also a more specific note on a later section of the game (spoilers ahead):
After you clear zone 4, you have to go through all the purified zones, and this time it's mandatory. This stretch of the game is time-consuming and boring, since the only thing that happens in them is that you fight the ghosts of the zone's guardians once more before moving onto the next zone. There are puzzles strewn about to provide some gameplay along the way, but it all feels very tired and repetitive by that point. I would recommend that this section of the game be shortened or outright dropped if at all possible.
I'm told that there are multiple endings in the game, but due to the game's linear nature and the quality of the writing, I didn't feel motivated to attempt to get another one after I finished the game.
So in the end HOME is a game with good sound and visuals, decent gameplay, but sub-par writing. I would recommend this game if you've played OFF and really wanted a continuation of the game, but don't go into it expecting writing of the same level as was in OFF.
With that spelling+grammar error, was that picture taken on the latest version? I know a lot of spelling errors were in the beta version.
With that spelling+grammar error, was that picture taken on the latest version? I know a lot of spelling errors were in the beta version.
It was taken in the latest version as of my playing, which was version 1.0.0, the first full/"finished" version released to the public. However it may have been fixed already, as I had shared the review with the game's creator before it was published (along with a list of all the other typos I found), and it took a couple of days for RMN to process and approve the review.