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Pretty but petty

  • Kylaila
  • 07/18/2014 09:22 AM
Painted Heart is a short sidescrolling adventure made for the IGMC 2014 in which Cor, a so-called pictomaster, needs to restore a painting to bring an end to cultureless pestilence. It's a little bit longer than an hour.
His journey brings him into the depths of a single, huge colourless painting which he then has to bring back to color and life. He is accompanied by his self-drawn sketch-helpers. The pictures you will restore will also tell the tale of a little, stoney hero.

It is beautifully drawn, has wonderful and often vocal-based music, a complex battle system, but it fails at putting together a consistent atmosphere, a real story and suffers from many small flaws.
I realize many have thoroughly enjoyed this game, so your impression may very well differ from mine.
This will be long, so beware.

Story Introduction

You start off in a grey building, the cathedral (which would be very hard to guess if not for the priest there). Not from the side, but from the usual RPG maker perspective. Both buildings and characters are grey, it is barren, if not for a white painting with a blot of color on an edge.
You "enjoy" a rather long dialogue about how you are not ready for whatever is about to come and how you would like to just escape it all. It drags on.
Then you are half-forced to do something with the painting - what exactly the point of all this is, is neither known to you nor to Cor himself.
Magic ensures, and we change place, perspective, color-themes and character-image suddenly over early credits introducing us to the eye-candy we are about to behold.
While the credit-roll is certainly beautiful in itself, it is too sudden. While I commend the contrast, we are shown no transition at all from one place to the next. It would help to start off with barren, or darker paintings and then continue to delve deeper and deeper into something beautiful. Or have some more description of what is happening to Cor.

I, personally, found the entire introduction too long. I wouldn't mind either of them, but both parts together make for a long wait until you end up in the actual game. I also find that repeating one point over and over is not the best way to characterize our protagonist. As there are some background revalations later on, it would very well help to hint at it early on. It would also give more depth to him, too.

like saying "everyone thinks I am not good enough for this anyway" or "I knew they were right about me not being up for it .." Being scared because your peers, too, have no faith in you is definitely stronger than everyone encouraging you (like the teacher) while you yourself have none nevertheless. The other people in the cathedral do not help to hint at that, either, as they apparantly do not know him. And the assumption that a child cannot be a master is rather logical.

Instead, we have a dialogue between Cor and his father repeating over and over again how frightened, scared and weak he finds himself. I may add I have a great dislike for these too onesided and specifically weak heroes, as they appear far too often.

Now then, we are now in the middle of another world. Beautiful, yes, and we soon discover our sketches coming alive to aid us. These too, are rather one-sided characters. It makes sense, since you draw with charactaristics in mind.
It gives them some nice personal addition, but it does not make them rather interesting as characters.
Agiel, the demon, is very intelligent and teasing.
Zophie, the angel, is strong and short-tempered. Destruction being her favorite term.

And as soon as we notice our new characters, we also get the overly complex battle tutorial before we really get used to the environments and the new additions.

The Battles

The battles depend strongly on exploiting weaknesses. Rather, you will fail if you don't. The first page is vital because of that, but it is impossible to remember all of what gets thrown at you. I was able to remember this chart right away, but that was it. I figured everything else out by myself just fine. So I would keep the rest for later fights, tutorials or just banter.

Got it.
Wait... there come 2 more pages?!

Cor can use items and .. well .. he is there. And can be killed by area spells.
Your two guardians always attack together. One attacks, one casts a spell in the back. As a result, you can choose spells just fine, but it will always be a combination of two different elements.
Using an element causes you to be of the one, so you might make one character strong and the other weak to the next incoming attack with your choice.
As the selection is rather simple, there being 3 attacks and the ability to swap characters make for 6 different selections in total. Enough to view for yourself.
Swapping is intuitive enough.

After you attack, you can defend while the enemy attacks in return. They, too, can freely swap between the enemies' party members. You can either guard or use a defensive spell costing AP. Attack, defend, attack, defend.

Attacks of any kind and defensive spells use AP (art points), which can be regenerated by Cor passively (10 each turn), with items which use up a turn or with using a turn to "focus".
If you use the cheapest attacks, you will not need to focus or use items.

Got all of that? Good. If you still remembered the element-chart by now, I commend you.
There are three problems with this system and its introduction

First: Too much information all at once. You get a completely new world, new characters, new objective, new complex battle system. I'd say two of them would be enough at a time.
Many games fall into the trap of mounting up details and pieces of information at the beginning and the ending of their game - and then ignoring the rest. While you certainly require more during these passages, what came inbetween offered little to no additions to the question "Why are you doing this?"
"What is the pestilence?", it did add the tale of the little hero, however.

Second: It is far too complex for its genre. You don't need to have a complex battle system when the joy of this game lies clearly elsewhere. It's about discovering more beauty in this painting, it's about enjoying the atmosphere this world creates and it's about learning and growing about and with your characters.
Having to concentrate on remembering the mere elements during the first steps in this world misplaces the focus. You are not focusing as much on the beauty as you should. As a result, the impact falls shorter than it could have been. In fact, I felt no impact at all.

And lastly: It is slow. Menus and most traveling, too. (waiting on moving platforms was skipped in later parts, why not right away)
While the entire game is slow, the battle system uses too long animations (especially for items) and takes little breaks inbetween. It makes fighting more of a chore and renders any possible enjoyment of this complex system futile.

What has to be mentioned positvely, though, is that there is an appropriate difficulty. I played on normal and was forced to use items in emergencies, which usually is not the case. Items are also very limited, so it adds to the worth of them.
Luckily, you only encountered enemies near your next objective. No random encounters, or respawning enemies of any kind. You don't gain any exp, but you gain a little bit more max life after each battle. You are healed up as well.

The World

That is the actual core of this game. The beautifully drawn world to discover.
The music follows a general, a little bit abstract line. It remains throughout the game painfully obvious that you are not in a world of its own, but are instead looking at a painting. The stale characters in the background, the somewhat lifeless (albeit beautiful) music, the background colorations, the white frame, the somewhat stale animation all add to the feeling.
I do not know whether this was the intended feeling, but I would've liked more immersion into it.

Your real world sucks, and while this world is beautiful, it is not real.

This takes a huge catch out of art coming to life. Oh, how I loved Okami's miracles! But this makes restoring less of a magical wonder. It would also have been a great touch to have some transition from white (or just lines) to fully coloured. The light effects accompanying the process would certainly have made it possible and would have put more energy into the art of painting itself.

While the world is beautifully drawn, areas stay rather natural with towns and forests and, lastly, a fortress. The switch-passage inbetween was the only exception and disrupted the feeling the previous passages gave off. These passages also kept too simply for my taste to have joy for their abstract form.
It was, personally, also a little bit disappointing that while the world gives off the image of not being real, the content does not.
I believe it would've gained something from either sticking to a natural tone whilst creating more immersion, or using surrealism and abstract forms to support the "art on its own" feeling rather than immersion.

There were a few sidequests to do, which usually involved running back above all. Not that much fun to add, I'm afraid. But you get more passive spells, yay! Puzzles were rather simple and clustered. There were really only 3 major puzzle areas - two (right after another) relying on switches to build moving platforms together, one with a very easy statue puzzle after that.

You expect to have some more thinking to do, but no, it really is much easier than you think!

I don't mind easy puzzles, but to have to solve 5 switch-puzzles or so right after another does not amount to fun. If all puzzles come right after another as well. It would be better to have them inbetween, otherwise they can only amount to filler.
The rest of the time you proceed by collecting items while discovering the world and encountering monsters at your next objective. Which usually is recovering the colour of painting.

The world is deeply woven with the tale of a little hero, as the environment/background depicts single scenes of his adventure. It explains why a more natural environment has been chosen, of course.

While a tale is very sweet, this one is not put together well. It was never told in completion. And single incidents without a clear storyline are not interesting for my taste. It would've been a really sweet addition to retell the complete tale during the ending roll, or after returning or anywhere else. As Cor adores both the painting and the tale, he could've talked about much much more.
All he gave us was a summary of the event we already see right before us. And that he likes it, every now and then. No why, or how or major interpretations.

You can choose to modify the tale a little bit, but I have not yet discovered how much of a difference it makes.

Character Growth

While it becomes clear that he created his guardians to make up for something he lacks, his character growth is non-existent before the end. Which then is orchestrated as a huge turn-around (special abilities and such), but is not emminent in his speech. It is more realistic to not change 100%, very true, but it doesn't justify the huge orchestration if it is only a small one. Even if those are indeed the most difficult and important ones that enable you to climb up further.
This reduced the impact greatly .. there was a visual upgrade, but that was it.

His background came out of nowhere as well and did not add much value to the character.

Being a descendant of demon lords when you never even mentioned demon in context to the real world does not make sense.

Much more details and lines of dialogue could have been added throughout the journey. Explaining clear events and objectives is not very interesting, nor informative when it is blatantly obvious. What character-specific dialogue there was, it was the same throughout the game.
Demon being smart, angel being aggressive, Cor being scared.

While the general themes and our hero being scared have not been that light-hearted, a dose of humour tried to make up for it. But it, too, followed the exact same formula throughout the game:
Angel being aggressive, Cor being scared because of it, demon teasing Cor because of that.
I did not find it very funny nor did it work for me to lighten things up.
The characters were supposed to be one-dimensional from the start, so it was very difficult to deliver more depths. But it would've been required for them to grow, too, as Cor is supposed to grow. We are modifying and creating art here, so it should be possible for stale pieces of art to develop a little life of their own while being in a world of art.

On a sidenote, the credits really would've been a nice finish, if the actual end was clear.

Did he merely collapse, did he die? Did what he worked for not influence more than the painting? If he is supposed to make the world more beautiful, why is it the same crappy grey crap? What IS he supposed to do? Don't tell me just painting some pretty pictures .. that wouldn't fit whole orchestration at all when his sketches could be made normally.
And that is what it left for me to ponder about with no possible answer except he probably didn't die.

In short

While "Painted Heart" is as beutiful as it can get, and while the music is beautiful on its own, it did not form a coherent, immersive experience. It lacked character depth, growth, a real underlying plot and a clear ending.

It was not enjoyable for me despite its shiny frame, but others probably will and already have enjoyed it.


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Yellow Magic
Could I BE any more Chandler Bing from Friends (TM)?
While I can agree with a few of these points, I'm curious about the part reading "It is far too complex for its genre". End of the day, is Painted Heart not an RPG?

Personally, I commend accha & co for not resting on their laurels and trying their best to make a well-rounded game. Not many gamedevs would do that when they have such brilliant art at their disposal.
It is indeed, but I find it focuses on the exploration part far more than battles. There are very few battles inbetween. Perhaps 10 in total.

And designing a complex battle system with a hard difficulty (should you choose so) for 10 battles seems too complex for its use. At least to me. The effort and time put into this could better be used elsewhere.
Yellow Magic
Could I BE any more Chandler Bing from Friends (TM)?
Hmm...actually, you've got me thinking about the battles: Namely, wouldn't they be better off as (at least mostly) touch encounters rather than all forced ones?

That way, the player could either choose to battle if they were more fight-oriented or just enjoy the world around them instead, as they pleased.
That thought didn't really cross my mind, but it would be a possiblity.
But for a fighter-scentric system, there is too little choice to your battle tactic (despite the complex system), and the battles themselves are rather slow. And slow battles become a hassle by nature.

It would require a few adjustments to be worthwhile, but it's not a bad idea.
It's a little bit harder to be able to avoid touch encounters with a 2d sidescroller and the inability to jump, though.
I liked the review, and I actually said the same to the dev (though through comment only, because I can't write reviews yet).
I think the game is seriously restricted by the contest, though...
And a minor point to add .. the last credit-music length really should've been taken into account. The music stops in the middle of a vocal part. I did not pause or anything that might have caused it to go on longer than intended, either.

@soulkeeper: Glad you liked the thing. Many skip the longer ones entirely.
And really, if you ever want me to work on a review with you together, just send it to me. I don't mind looking over it at all.

@soulkeeper: Glad you liked the thing. Many skip the longer ones entirely.
And really, if you ever want me to work on a review with you together, just send it to me. I don't mind looking over it at all.

Thanks Kyla!
I actually have been playing games and reading any review attached to them, then seeing how it was done (The game and the review).
Though about your offer, I don't want to be a burden to you. And I still feel that I owe you. I'll repay you someday (somehow). :D
Thank you for your review, Kylaila! As I've said before, I agree with the points you make on how the game is lacking XD

RPGs seem to be tougher challenges when it comes to game-making, so I will be sure to keep this, as well as other critical feedback, in mind for our next attempt.

Thanks again!
Yellow Magic
Could I BE any more Chandler Bing from Friends (TM)?
It's a little bit harder to be able to avoid touch encounters with a 2d sidescroller and the inability to jump, though.

Ahahaha, welp, true...
Great review, and reflects my own personal thoughts. It's a visually appealing game that could have been a great experience were it not marred down between awkward dialogue and complicated battle mechanics.

In fact, I think this game could have worked better had it left out the battles entirely and added more puzzles.

But it's still an intriguing game with a very unique feel to it.
Honestly, I don't believe a game should get below a 3 if there are no technical problems. If the game is passable but story isn't your thing, start at a 3. If the story is also good, give it a 4. 2 and below, is if you have feature creep or very heavy glitches. Not for game pacing problems. If you have a game that has pacing and story issues, that's still a three for a very shiny polished game.

The one being petty, I believe, is you. I have seen uglier and more flawed games get 5 stars. Hell, I have seen a ton of unambitious generic games get 5 stars.

Oh, but there were technical issues. Unless you don't count very, very bad balance a technical issue in which case, um?

Beauty is only skin deep, especially when it come to games. Gameplay, pacing, writing, presentation... all are much more important that aesthetics when it comes down to it.

Presentation wise, there were issues. Gameplay wise, there were issues. 2.5 is exactly in the middle of scoring. It's basically a 5/9 - exactly in the middle. It's neither great or horrible, just decent, and that's decent enough for the game in question.

Woah, the site just sucked up my post.. let's go again.

Honestly, I don't believe a game should get below a 3 if there are no technical problems. If the game is passable but story isn't your thing, start at a 3. If the story is also good, give it a 4. 2 and below, is if you have feature creep or very heavy glitches. Not for game pacing problems. If you have a game that has pacing and story issues, that's still a three for a very shiny polished game.

The one being petty, I believe, is you. I have seen uglier and more flawed games get 5 stars. Hell, I have seen a ton of unambitious generic games get 5 stars.

I kindly disagree so I will stand by my rating as-is.
It being fully functional as in no bugs, crashes, blocks in-game does not make a game automatically well-designed or enjoyable. It does have fewer hiccups tho, but whether or not it is a problem from a gamer-perspective depends more on how they impact the experience. From a programming's perspective that could be a bigger thing. I am coming more from a gamer's perspective.
A fully functional smooth game also does not make for an automatically well-designed or enjoable game in the slightest. Starting at 3 stars for that seems very limiting as there are many many games that are fully or almost fully smoothed out but personally not worth playing. 3 Stars is a game worth playing, usually (depending on where those stars get off form. If it's super polished but otherwise no fun, that's a tricky line). And even following your guideline I didn't find the story intriguing so it would be stuck at a standard-bottom-line 3 which seems weird to have.

Thanks for the input tho. There are games that get generous ratings I don't find fully justified (I have reviewed a few of those as well), but that fact has little impact on this game or how I rate things.
Some people are more generous with it, or focus on different aspects (like you), and I like using the range of the scale. That's all there is to it. I find 2.5 is a decent rating by itself. If a generic game should get 4-5 stars, what should the amazing ones get? I find it silly to take that over.
I can only use my own judgement to give ratings, noone else's. I also have done a number of reviews so it is possible to see where I go with this, and what those mean on average. I am naturally biased.

Beta testers!? No, this game needs a goddamn exorcist!
I have seen uglier and more flawed games get 5 stars. Hell, I have seen a ton of unambitious generic games get 5 stars.

That's down to the reviewer, not the game. I guffaw at the ratings some games get when the usual argument in their favour often boils down to "This LPer with millions of subs played it on his channel so 5/5!". To pick on instantly recognisable things, remember that FF13, Justin Beiber albums and Twilight movies are all extremely popular. Should they be? I say hell no. But even some RM games have shown me that some people are just super easily influenced by hype and numbers.
Just saw the new posts on this one...
Which explains a lot of things about the other one...
But, anyway!

@Bulma, Kylaila's reviews are always a joy to read and amazingly helpful :) They make good points on everything, and there's absolutely no reason to suggest that the 2.5 rating is unfairly low. This game was rushed and unpolished - Trass, Chaude, and I made it in a month, and I wasted a lot of time on graphics that could have gone into story and game design, which is why it visually looks so great but falls short as a game. :) I appreciate being told about the things that didn't work out more than the praise for doing something ok, so that I know how to make a better game for the next time.

Also, it's good to keep in mind that each person has different standards, and that just because someone with low standards gives a bad game 5 stars doesn't mean that every other game 'better' than that one also deserves 5 stars. Otherwise, everything would get 5 stars. :P

The TM is for Totally Magical.
Oh, my goddess, I wouldn't call those graphics wasted time. This game is heart-breakingly beautiful. I have been playing the game and am getting ready to write a review (I'm waiting until Secret Santa is done; and I'm making a game for my sister for Christmas. I doubt I'll be finished by then, but I've got other things for her). Once I'm finished with the game, I'll have a good idea of what kind of advice to give.

It's funny. I just went back because I could have sworn I gave Dreaming Mary a review, but I didn't. I think I played it at a time when Kenton and Liberty were complaining about too many games not getting reviews, and at the time, DM had something like 7 reviews on it (10 now), so I skipped it and went on to some games that didn't have reviews. I'd have given it a 4.5, easy, if I hadn't. Now, it's been too long since I played it so I'm not sure how concise a review I can give.

Yeah, it's important to give time to mechanics and function, and I can tell you didn't, but don't think for a second that those graphics were a waste of time.
Hahaha thanks piano! XD Yeah, I mean, I don't regret the art direction, just that I didn't give the worldbuilding or storytelling the love it deserves :D The best thing about playing an RPG is exploring the world and discovering new things, and as Cash mentioned also, this game didn't get to that. It's just a matter of hindsight and time management choices XD But, I am super happy that the art came out well and people can enjoy the aesthetic! Whenever you get to your review, I look forward to reading your advice and critiques too :)

Also, it's super awesome that you're making a game for your sister as a Christmas present! Yeah, it's a short time frame to the 24th, but I'm sure she'll love it whenever you can send it to her. It really means so much that you're investing this time to craft something to make someone happy. :D
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