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One of the absolute best games made on RPG Maker makes its way to this site at last!

Were I to select my all-time favorite games made in RPG Maker, this would definitely be in the top three, at the very least. This might be my second favorite, just under The Crooked Man, but since The Crooked Man was made in Wolf RPG Editor and not RPG Maker this may very well be my favorite.

At its core, it could be considered just another linear RPG with random, turn-based battles that doesn't expand much beyond the basic Final Fantasy-style ATB system, with puzzles of modest challenge you'll come across every so often. However it's both how these things and the things around it are executed that are what really make it such a special game.

Where do I even begin with this game? OK let's start with aesthetics. That's the first things everyone notices when they first see a game, so it's fair to comment on it first. The art design is brilliant, and character designs even more so. Characters and character portraits are all done with a simple pen and ink style but are both creatively done and show tons of personality. The game maps themselves are also simple, usually dominated by a single color per zone, but it all fits in with the kind of world the game creates here. Oceans that are entirely white that are actually entirely plastic, for instance, or the eventually canals of red, all being that of "meat." It need not do more with its palette since the descriptions, your imagination, and the way the graphics present them do the job just as well. And this isn't even mentioning the enemy designs here. You have a few fairly banal-looking enemies at the beginning, looking like typical ghosts made of sheets, but then you have many variations of them, including one that looks like it has tumors that look like smaller ghost faces sticking out of its head (and in fact if you don't kill it quick enough it will explode into weaker, but a greater number of smaller ghosts to deal with). And that's barely scratching the surface here. Things become increasingly weirder and freakier the further you go along, and just wait til you meet the Secretaries. Aieee...

Another important element of gaming aesthetics is music and sound, and it is equally brilliantly done here. The music was all composed specifically for this game, by an artist named Alias Conrad Coldwood, and has even offered the soundtrack up for free, which I highly suggest listening to (I recommend playing the game first, but if you have no inclination to do so, at least give that a listen). It's mostly kind of ambient/downtempo-ish tunes, many times vaguely like Boards of Canada's darker tunes, other times... well it's just an amazing wash of atmospheric, often beat-driven electronic music that fits each area perfectly. And now let's talk about the famous BATTLE THEME. He went all-out nuts here, like some industrial dixieland circus parade. If no other music stands out for you here (which would be a shame as it's all good) this one may very well. And when it gets dark, it gets dark. Near the end, starting around Zone 3, some intense purely industrial music theme starts taking over as the battle theme, starting to make things more unnerving, hinting to you at the more serious transition the game is starting to take from here on out.

And there is another theme, one that's not as loud, but is more of the kind that gets under your skin. Well firstly when you first enter the "Nothingness" overworld after a bit you begin to hear a bunch of eerie French whisperings blending in with one another. I don't know French so I don't know what they're saying but it can't be good. Well the theme I speak of, present in, well, let's just say the areas where the Secretaries can be found, is a variation of that. The same whisperings interspersed with an ominous low-key bell tone and various background noises. When you hear what sounds like a loud pounding reverberating in the background, like the echoing of some nightmare of a man frantically trying to get into your home, followed by a high-pitched jovial voice laughing and shouting "Bonjour!" Let me just say the areas in which you encounter this music are both hardly pleasant and also bring into question what you are doing the entire game should you encounter them early on. These areas are great for loot but at the same time you want to hurry on the fuck out as soon as possible.

But besides that, you are drawn in initially by a more pleasant aesthetic, on a small, warm-looking little island with what sounds like a little water fountain streaming and some loungier electronic music. Enter the Batter, a mysterious figure dressed in baseball uniform whose mission is that to eliminate spectres from this little universe and ultimately purify, cleanse these worlds of these evils. He is not someone who minces words, he speaks and answers succinctly and direct. One of the great things about the game is that every character has a personality as great as their character portraits. Which leads us to meet someone known only as the Judge, a tiny cat with a Cheshire-like grin who communicates almost the complete opposite of the Batter, like someone who's studied a Dictionary and Thesaurus very intensely in his isolation on Zone 0.

Ah, but there's another character I forget to mention! That in fact would be you, the player. Yes, that's right, you are implicated in the game, acting as a sort of "guide" for the Batter, considered a wholly separate entity. If the game didn't break enough of the fourth wall with that, then Zacharie, the game's shopkeeper you later meet who hides entirely behind an odd animal mask of some kind, will help demolish the rest of it away by constantly commenting on and mocking at the fact that you're in a video game. Some might find this a kind of obnoxious attempt to act cutely self-aware and "post-modern" but I just found it to be more an amusing bit of whimsy than anything (I like the part where he challenges you to a race, to get to an area before he does, where you'll win a free item if you beat him - he gets there first no matter what and tells you it was scripted so you had no chance - he gives you a free item anyway). He's also a funny, weird little character in general, especially his appearance in Zone 3.

I could go on about the characters, and I might talk a little more about them later when I get into the story (at least part of it - this is a game not meant to be spoiled), but let's keep to the beginning, where the Batter tells of his vague quest to "purify" the world while the Judge sits puzzled and fascinated, fascinated by your presence and your quest, whatever the motivation may be and ultimate outcome you seek, and puzzled that you were even able to enter his zone, since almost nothing but a powerful spectral being could penetrate it. He senses you (well, I suppose "you" in a literal sense as he directly addresses you, and the Batter both - it's gonna be hard writing this review trying to remember this) are of flesh and blood so he trusts you and leads you forward. This could be considered the "tutorial" area. You can choose to go into a mini-fight with the Judge so he can teach you the basics of combat if you want (you probably don't need to if you played enough games with default battle systems like these but the option's there), then you must solve certain block-based puzzles where you match the numbers written on a wall with blocks laid out in front of you and interact with them in the right order until a door or barrier opens. These puzzles aren't particularly hard once you know how they work but they're fun to do anyway.

Now the other zones. Obviously the objective in each zone is to "purify" them, of spectres and such, but things become a bit more complicated than that as you go on. For instance, each zone has a "guardian" of some kind, none of whom seem to be spectres of any kind (the first zone guardian certainly doesn't show a liking to spectres himself) but they all are certainly hostile toward the Batter & co., and many times even the zones' residents, so Batter's natural conclusion is that they must be spectres and must be destroyed. Oh, ah, yes, the residents. Here's where the game presents its strange, almost dystopian view of the order of things. Everyone in each zone looks exactly the same, first of all. Secondly, they are all meek as hell. Always nebbish and nervous, complacent with whatever's given to them as long as it gives them something to take their mind off of important matters, like spectres invading every place, and, well, anything else. They all greet you with the sound of a high-pitched, almost asthmatic inhalation of breath (actually, every character greets you with a sound of their own, I should have mentioned - The Judge always opens his dialogue with a weird, deep-sounding rumble of a purr, Zacharie with a dismissive laugh, the character Dedan you meet in the first zone with an angry shriek and so on - only the Batter speaks without a sound). There's something really adorable, funny, yet somehow sad about these little people living in these zones. Then you encounter... variations of them shall we say, and in Zone 3 there's a particularly strange change that happens to them. I won't say what it is, but I will say that it's impressive that the game was able to pack personality into even the simple townsfolk, all of which look and act the same way!

Despite how pathetic-seeming these homogeneous faces are you begin to pity them and the overworked nature of their existences. That they seem content with these lives makes you feel sorry for them even more somehow. With all the industrial imagery, talks of plastic seas, and the bizarre satirizing of this mass-production, working class type labor shows a critical eye towards a heavily capitalist system, obviously, combined with all the bureaucracy surrounding it and does so in a way that is so strange and funny (extracting metal... from cows?), and in many ways reminds me of the the kind of bizarre, hyperbolic portrayal of such a system in the movie Brazil. For instance, at the first zone at some point you're (or the Batter... eh, might as well "fuck it" and stick with "you" at this point where it's appropriate since essentially it is you guiding the game's actions even if it's via "another" character) asked to clear the post office, a floor in a large building, of spectres. Except nobody remembers which floor the post office is at. And when you find the building is somehow 9999 floors tall, you can see why. I love this kind of absurd, dark humor taking jabs at such institutions and this is one of the most absurd and dark there is. As you go on it becomes more and more absurd but also much, much darker, so all the better.

If that sounds a bit heavy-handed, I can assure it's handled quite deftly. Plus, it's not the only element to the game's story. There's also the whole "purification" angle going on here. Just who is The Batter anyway? The very character you control remains the most enigmatic of every character in this whole game. The nature of his mission, his origins, everything, is mysterious. All you know is he retains his stoic, extremely single-minded focus: on destroying spectres and cleansing the lands, paying little to no mind to his surroundings. He doesn't care much for any lengthy stories and speeches told to him unless it helps him get that much closer to more spectres to cleanse. What comes of all of this? Well, the further you go, the more you begin to question certain things, and things take a 180 in its last "zone," where many a twist is revealed, turning on its head any and all attempts to make any theories you would try to concoct to try and make sense of the game. And with a game like this, answers you get only lead to more questions. This is one head-turner of a game, but it never feels in a way that it's just trying to be weird for its own sake. It's far from a nonsensical game, but it's not one that'll ever open itself up to you either.

And you might be wondering why the game is called "OFF," besides the fact that everything in the game is very much "off." You'll notice some puzzles requiring pulling switches that'll indicate the switch is on and that it now has been set to "OFF." The word takes an even deeper, more existentially horrific meaning at the very end, depending on which ending you choose (you can pick from one of two endings, one "less unhappier" than the other - there's also a bonus after-credits ending you get if you've found the right items to get it, but it's just a silly "Silent Hill dog/UFO" kind of ending). By the time the credits roll to the playing of Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" you feel like you've taken a hit in the gut. It is incredible just how this game left me feeling after I finished it. It really helps that it's such a fulfilling experience too. This is definitely one of the longer games made in RPG Maker I've played. Maybe not to the length of a Final Fantasy VI or whatever, obviously, this will take you a while to get through more than most games made in this engine. It's a game very careful about letting its story and setting develop over a decent course of time.

But, but, but, you might be asking (or, I dunno, insert however many "buts" you would actually use), is it any fun to play? Of course, if the game was as broken as the now semi-legendary/infamous Famicom JRPG Hoshi wo Miru Hito, this would all barely matter to anyone (or maybe it would, there's a reason that game has attained some cult following, who knows, gamers are weird). And I have to say that yes as a game it is enjoyable to play but don't expect much divergence from the basic turn-based ATB formula. If you're cool with that then you're in good standing here. It pulls off these typical hallmarks of JRPGs, including exploring off beaten paths to find special items, really well, and even has an optional, "secret" boss you can fight who of course is the toughest boss in the game. One thing I do appreciate about this fight is that it just isn't a totally random enemy, this boss does relate to at least one of the characters in some way and gives just that little much more backing flesh to the story (there's even something strange the enemy utters that's something of a foreshadowing to one of the endings were you to choose it). Plus I'm a believer in aesthetics being a big part of a game's enjoyment, and the battles here, with their splotchy pastel backgrounds, crazy music, and the enemy designs themselves, are always fun to get into just to see what you'll encounter next. And though I wouldn't consider this a particularly hard game, it does actually does ask of you to use those items, weapons and magic (here called "competence") that you gain to win fights. This is hardly Space Funeral you'll be playing here (I like Space Funeral btw, I reviewed it in fact if you want to know more!).

This is just an immense experience. It leaves behind a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts, and the acclaim it has is more than well-deserved. Awesome translation here too. I noticed some typos, particularly the bigger words the Judge uses, but it's a minor issue. If you haven't already this is a game you really owe yourself to download and experience its weird, wild, hilarious and terrifying little universe.

Just don't vote for it in the Misao Awards. It's a 2008 game, it wouldn't exactly be fair to the games actually released in 2014, would it? Although it's awfully tempting...

Posts

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CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10438
Dam... you've successfully made me want to play this game really badly. I like trippy games like this, but your description of how much it really affected you makes me even more encouraged to play it. One thing I'd suggest about your reviews is that they're very well-written, but they might need a little bit of formatting in order to make them interesting to read, instead of one big wall of text. I don't know, maybe breaking up the monotony with a couple of screenshots would do the trick? The only reason why I say this is because even though I was significantly invested in this review, I still felt my eyes occasionally glazing over because of the monotony of the wall of words piercing my psyche.

Otherwise, a very well-written review that does its job of inspiring me to play this game even more than I originally had. Keep writing, zoviet! Your reviews are very helpful.
Ahhh. I'm so proud at you @zoviet_francis... I never thought that someone will write a serious review like this. I'm very impressed.
@CashmereCat, I didn't get bored with this game. I hope you won't too :D




Thank you very much, both of you. :)


About the walls of text, if you thought this was bad, try looking at some of the earlier reviews I wrote, ha ha. Someone said to break my paragraphs into smaller bits, advice which I took to heart. I can sort of understand, I think my paragraphs are small enough but it's a lot of words compressed together (I've fallen asleep myself when I go over my reviews to edit them or re-read them over!). Maybe double spacing after each paragraph would look better, assuming that can be done? I dunno.


As for screencaps, I've started experimenting with that as of late (look at my recent reviews of Quod and Roaches for that - and I guess technically I started with The Longing Ribbon and The Lantern Game where I provide maps for both, marking certain hotspots/tricky parts). I typically don't like to use them since for me it can disrupt the flow of my writing, since I have to consider in addition what pictures to screen capture and where to insert them into the review (a bunch of random pictures interspersed throughout a review without context isn't my style), plus I'm not one who is wont to screencap while playing a game. I get too invested in the game to do that! Sometimes I feel my own descriptions are enough, and the screenshots on the game's main page are too.


The reason for Quod and Roaches is because the former is a short game concentrated around a small area so screencaps were easy, and with the latter the screencaps were all from the beginning of the game to demonstrate a criticism of mine, but in both cases they were sort of meant to be humorous in some way. A lot of other games where the best screencaps could be had would require me to play through lengthy and/or tough sections of some games again to try to find an area to take a picture of them (Miserere is one that comes to mind - it's a game inspired by Yume Nikki so of course navigating that thing is an exercise in madness to begin with), so I just don't bother. As I continue playing games I'll still be on the lookout for Kodak moments when appropriate, but I can't promise this will be in every or even most of reviews of mine. But since I've started to relent and try it out to be in with the cool kids, it's now something I'll take into consideration with every game I play now.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10438
Even though it probably isn't your style, randomly interspersing images throughout your review is a good method for breaking up monotonous walls of text. They don't have to mean anything - if anything, they just provide points of reference so that you don't get lost and forget where you are.
author=CashmereCat
Even though it probably isn't your style, randomly interspersing images throughout your review is a good method for breaking up monotonous walls of text. They don't have to mean anything - if anything, they just provide points of reference so that you don't get lost and forget where you are.

Such wisdom. I can't write good reviews and I only can think that if someone wrote a looong review like his: "He must be very patient"
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