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I am gravely disappointed.

  • argh
  • 02/20/2015 02:10 PM
  • 7207 views
Fair warning: This review will go into detail on discussing endgame plot details. If you don't want to be spoiled, here's the summary: HOME is a fangame of OFF. According to the description, it's a fix fic where you play as the Judge and prevent the Batter from destroying the zones. It also claims to improve the gameplay, which was an infamously weak area of OFF. It fails utterly on both fronts; the gameplay does not fix any of the issues from OFF, and the story is a filler-filled train wreck that completely ignores and invalidates everything OFF was trying to say, then tops it with misogyny and excusing genocide. If you really, really love OFF to the point you want to replay a slightly reskinned version of it then go ahead, but otherwise don't waste your time.

To begin with, the game is riddled with grammar errors and typos. A few seem to have been fixed since the demo I played a while back, but it's still pretty egregious. This is bizarre, because there's a ton of unique art and music that shows there was clearly a lot of effort put into this, yet apparently the writer couldn't be bothered to proofread or look up a few syntax rules. There seems to be a vendetta against direct addresses and sentences are often structured weirdly, resulting in a lot of fragments and run-ons. This was incredibly distracting and highly unprofessional. If you're going to be riding another work's coattails, you should at least provide the same level of basic quality as the original.

The story itself is mostly filler. The Judge just runs around the three zones doing the exact same things the Batter did before the plot actually starts. There are a few differences but you hit mostly the same beats, right down to fighting the guardians for incredibly contrived reasons and getting flashes of a Hugo expy after every one. I really don't understand this at all. What made OFF effective was suspense and confusion; showing me the same things when I already know how it works just doesn't make for effective storytelling. Dramatic irony isn't strong enough to compensate, especially since I was told I would be actually fixing things and not watching characters make the same mistakes. There are two major differences: certain areas will turn into purified zones for a few seconds as a jump scare, and after each guardian you're given a choice that can prevent the zone from being purified, only they're incredibly bizarre. The correct response is always to evict them from their zone (because otherwise the Batter kills them), which is not clear at all. I assumed that since killing them destroys the zone them leaving would have the same effect, but apparently not? There are also a lot of really basic mistakes with the Elsens' changed dialogue – I mean really, how can you spend a year making a loving fanwork for an obscure niche game and not remember that the pools aren't supposed to be water?

And the areas that are new are...suspect. In the first zone, for instance, you investigate the meatworks (an area that was locked off in OFF), and see...this.



I am not impressed.

OFF was way more subtle about its horror. It took the psychological route, creating a confusing and subtly unsettling atmosphere that kept you off-balance while slowly building to the overt horror in the endgame. Stuff like the burnt rambling about strange things and calling for help made me uncertain and uncomfortable, creating the niggling sense that I wasn't doing the right thing, and of course I wasn't. This, by contrast, is easy to deal with. It's just bog-standard horror cliche, and as a result it's instantly recognizable and I know how to deal with it. What makes this sort of thing scary is shock value and danger, but an RPG Maker game doesn't have the graphical capability for the former and setting this in a power fantasy video game negates the latter. (Indeed, I killed him effortlessly by just leaving the game on auto.) I know how to cope with this; it doesn't surprise me or stick with me. Possibly the writer was thinking that he should pick up where OFF left off, but that's not really possible since the entire effectiveness of OFF was in the slow build. You can't really put that genie back in the bottle. And, honestly, it's actually pretty tame; after the cannibalism and piles of industrial-produced corpses in zone 3 a random murderer just doesn't have the same impact.

(And that's not even talking about the art. The butcher doesn't look or act anything like the burnt in OFF – they seemed to act mostly normal until they explode, and the only ones to retain anything resembling a head were horribly distorted. They weren't just crosshatched crazy Elsen.)

And because it opens with this, there isn't really anywhere else to go. It's laid its best cards on the table up-front, so now it can't surprise me. You have to build this kind of thing, you can't just plateau in the first half-hour. All this does is convince me the writer doesn't understand how horror works or, more importantly, what made OFF interesting.



So, after three levels of replaying OFF (and can I just say it's almost comical how the zone 3 Elsen delivers the exact same horrific sugar speech and the Judge is just like "yes I know can we move on with the plot now") there's finally a new zone. It's actually pretty good, and the game should have started here. As you walk around the first area you see someone jump off a building in front of you. In the homes are corpses the Judge says were suicides. There are a few living Elsen, saying they're horribly sick and are addicted to pills in the hopes they might help. You quickly learn that the guardian abandoned this zone, and everything started to fall apart with no overseer. The people are flailing around desperately searching for a solution, and either suiciding or going absolutely nuts and killing everyone else. Though it's a lot more overt and dystopia-y than anything in OFF, it's effective horror and actually fits with the theme of the zones reflecting parenting styles – this one is abandonment/neglect. The horror doesn't really build, exactly, but it's much closer to OFF's brand of horror so it works. I'd even say that it's what picking up where OFF left off might look like.

But after that things go straight back to terrible. The zones all get purified no matter what you do, making the rehash even more of a waste of time, and you have to trudge through them all again before continuing with the plot. I disliked the purified zones here; they seemed big on unlocking new areas instead of revisiting old ones, which really dilutes the impact and seems to go against the idea that the purification is destroying stuff. There's also random junk lying around to railroad you instead of the pathways just being gone, which is a lot less impressive.

Then the resolution is just...bizarre. I'm told that purifying the zones and murdering the guardians was actually the right thing to do because it's cleansing them of their sins or something. Then the Queen is evil in a way that utterly conflicts with OFF; apparently she was so overcome with grief at Hugo running away that she sent spectres to menace the zones because women, so crazy, you know? even though in OFF we're simply told that the spectres are dead spirits and she seems to have no connection to them. The Judge has an utterly baffling conversation with her where he rants about how no she is the true evil because she already destroyed the zones with her spectres!!!! even though he was the one who murdered his way through everything and got the zones purified due to his incompetence. When she points this out, he honest-to-god says that his purifying the world was a good thing because the world was just so broken that the only way to fix it was to wipe the slate clean and start anew. But somehow she's the villain here, because this must be a rehash of OFF to the last so we need an excuse to fight her. And in battle, well, uh...





Yes, the woman in power is SECRETLY AN UGLY EVIL MONSTER!!!! Can't you see what a clever and edgy story this is??? Her verbal attacks are also just there so we can feel good about how she's so myopic and wrong, a strong contrast with her speaking truth to power in OFF.

The whole thing is also wrapped up in this bizarre legal imagery that has only a tangential connection to the events at best. The chapters of the final area are split into "The Judge", "The Jury", "The Witness", "The Trial", "The Verdict", and "The Execution", but only "The Witness" and "The Execution" have anything to do with those terms. "The Judge" doesn't tell us anything about why the Judge is a judge or why he's fit to oversee the world's trial, "The Jury" just follows your cardboard cutout party members while giving them no development and making no attempt to show why or how they're a jury, "The Trial" is just a single cutscene where you do absolutely nothing, and "The Verdict" is where you kill the Queen over something totally unrelated. It's nothing but empty pretension, sounding very impressive but ultimately being meaningless, and makes no attempt to integrate the theme cohesively.

Then the ending of OFF just plays out as normal – the Batter kills Hugo and the Judge kills him before he can throw the switch, only now there's a deus ex machina that comes out of nowhere where the Hugo expy resurrects Hugo, who then restores the world with the Judge's help, and then everything is perfect and wonderful forever. Just... what? The writer seems to have totally missed the part where OFF said in no uncertain terms that standard videogame/RPG behavior is evil and that the zones weren't supposed to be purified in the first place. Yet it plays out exactly the same way, down to the Judge's indictment of the Batter, only now it's just an episode of pot meets kettle. It also shows me that this "trial" is a sham because the judge is guilty of the exact same crimes he's condemning. See, we just had to purify the zones the right way, and now we can recreate it however we like yay!!! I wonder, do the Elsen who died get resurrected too, or are you just making new goldfish to populate your precious canvas?

Character-wise, this is also problematic. I get that the Judge is a hard character to write, but the way he's written is still jarring. It's okay most of the time, but sometimes he'll break character and sound really informal (I think the most notable example is after sparring with the Batter: "Ho ho there Batter... You're gonna need a better batting arm than that"). The Judge was stilted in the original, but his unflinching consistency in being so made it easier to tolerate; slip up and it just becomes awkward. I also suspect some of his five-dollar words were simply made up, and the grammar errors make it even more jarring. You later get other party members who have actual personalities instead of the silent add-ons, but they all have the personality of pieces of wood, and I honestly think they do nothing but distract and dilute from the main story. OFF was never about character development – it doesn't really have room for it, so this never really goes anywhere.

Gameplay-wise? Still awful. The gamepage says the developer wanted to make the game more "challenging", but all this has amounted to is making it so you can't always win battles on auto. Random encounters are still in and battles still have the same level of depth as your standard jRPG, only they now properly integrate the radical and groundbreaking feature of elemental weaknesses, which always make everything better with no exceptions, definitely.

The music is also...less than spectacular. I absolutely loved OFF's soundtrack and the atmosphere wouldn't have been complete without it, but here it's just low-res bips and boops, nothing really memorable. I wasn't surprised to see that there were like five different contributing musicians in the credits, because the presence of clashing, disparate styles really shows. The atmospheric clanging and distorted strings of the horror soundtracks did work, but that was it. Area music was totally forgettable and battle music was all over the place, rarely having a consistent tone or feel to it. Given how much was rehashed, I'm honestly a bit baffled why they didn't just reuse the soundtrack and hire Coldwood for the new bits (especially given that he seems to have contributed some tracks anyway?). However, I will give the caveat that I wrote this before the release of version 1.20, which promises updated music, so perhaps the game will improve in this area in the future.

I will throw one bone and say that the art was pretty good – the monsters were freaky and bizarre just like in OFF, and I think the artists mimicked Mortis' style fairly well. There were a few that felt out of place, though – Sugar, the militant-burnt, and the redrawn guardians looked like they were done in a completely different style, and often had way too much detail or shading. Still, could have been a lot worse.

But overall, the whole thing is an insipid mess. The developer just seemed to ride OFF's coattails without understanding what actually made OFF (or horror in general) effective, then topped it with an awful message cherry. It's also a failure as a fix fic; I can't speak for everyone, but when I think of a fix fic, I don't want to see the characters do exactly the same things the villain did but get praised for it because of author fiat. I want to see them put forth actual effort, to see another way the story could have gone, instead of just rehashing the exact same things with some tongue-in-cheek hints that something might happen eventually. I want to earn it.

So, I'm giving this one star. If the game was just Zone 4 alone, I would have easily given it three stars, maybe even four. The game lost one for the filler, and it lost another and all my goodwill when it decided to glorify genocide.

Posts

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Eh. To each their own.
A lot of stuff mentioned here. (Music, Typos, The Queen fight)
has already been fixed in the version I have yet to upload.

I never really glorified genocide so I find that trait laughable but I shall leave
it at that.

To each their own.
author=TheJudge
I never really glorified genocide so I find that trait laughable but I shall leave
it at that.

What on Earth were you trying to say with the Judge's speech to the Queen, then? Because I honestly don't see how else to interpret him and the other cat ranting about how the zones really were impure and destroying them was actually a good thing. (And even if you had presented a good argument for that, it just leads to the massive plot hole of why the Judge has to stop the Batter when the Batter is doing exactly what the Judge wants.)

The entire message of OFF was that standard RPG behavior -- killing everything in your path and blindly obeying a railroad plot -- is bad. Instead of changing the plot and the characters' actions such that they no longer exhibit that bad behavior, you changed the rules of the world such that the exact same actions arbitrarily produced a different result by bailing the destroyer out of their immoral actions. That's cheating. It's telling a story in bad faith, and it gives the impression you disagree with the original work's message.
author=argh
author=TheJudge
I never really glorified genocide so I find that trait laughable but I shall leave
it at that.
What on Earth were you trying to say with the Judge's speech to the Queen, then? Because I honestly don't see how else to interpret him and the other cat ranting about how the zones really were impure and destroying them was actually a good thing. (And even if you had presented a good argument for that, it just leads to the massive plot hole of why the Judge has to stop the Batter when the Batter is doing exactly what the Judge wants.)

The entire message of OFF was that standard RPG behavior -- killing everything in your path and blindly obeying a railroad plot -- is bad. Instead of changing the plot and the characters' actions such that they no longer exhibit that bad behavior, you changed the rules of the world such that the exact same actions arbitrarily produced a different result by bailing the destroyer out of their immoral actions. That's cheating. It's telling a story in bad faith, and it gives the impression you disagree with the original work's message.


Or we simply have different headcanons on which we believe OFF is supposed to be about? Have you actually talked with Mortis Ghost? Honestly his message for OFF is a death to the author approach. Where what you take from the game is what you desire to see. I'm sorry that HOME doesn't properly line up with what you think OFF is about, but it has with other people.

Just because your headcanons don't match up with mine don't inherently make a game bad. Regardless, The Batter and The Queen aren't human, and Hugo made them. In my envision the world would be better without them. That is simply my envision and its not one I share alone. You don't actually destroy the zones. I mean, in the good end of the game all the guardians are still alive, and everything is moving on smoothly. If you make two choices that result in a guardian being killed, then you get a bad end. If you make 1 or 0, you'll get a good ending. I should just make it 0, but that would make it even more frustrating to get the good end for first time players.

Still.
"The entire message of OFF was that standard RPG behavior -- killing everything in your path and blindly obeying a railroad plot -- is bad. "
That is your headcanon. That is not something that every other fan of OFF has to cohere by. Some people think OFF is a coma theory game, some people think OFF is about someone being on life support. ONE theory doesn't overwrite or erase the other. The plight of your thought process is that you think your theory about what OFF is about is the one true canon and that everyone else is wrong. That alone is insulting to all the other fangames out there, and just about all the fanfics, the web comics, well everything the OFF fandom has stood for.
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