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"Comedy Games" Are A Crap Shoot, But Nostalgia Never Misses

"Comedy Games" Are A Crap Shoot, But Nostalgia Never Misses

This is my third and final review of a game submitted as part of the October 2014 Revive The Dead event, which I also participated in.

Chase For Divinity is a really interesting specimen and it was a total trip to play. A lot of facts surrounding its development are noteworthy and fascinating without getting into the game itself. It's by unity a developer whose work I feel like I should be familiar with for some reason (like, I had the vague impression she had been around the community forever, but her join date belies this, so I dunno; it seems like a lot of prolific posters know her and her work very well in any case), but who I in fact know next to nothing about. Part of me almost feels like I'm missing out on a channel of information by not judging it in the context of the rest of unity's work. In any case, it is unity's earliest published work by a factor of a decade or more, and here's where things get interesting.

Chase for Divinity started development way back in 2002, 12 years ago. While I'm not entirely sure, I get the impression that MOST of the game was actually developed back in that bygone era of ancient chapsets, and then the finishing touches were put on hastily, twelve years later, in one month for the Revive the Dead event. This means that technically speaking, Chase for Divinity is a piece of juvenillia. As someone who is best known for an ancient work of juvenilia, and as someone inspired to refurbish and reboot one of his own "Old Shame" projects for the same event, this fascinated me on just about every level.

Before I get into the review categories, I'd like to offer a caveat. I didn't actually finish this game. In fact, I only got about a fourth of the way through. But don't get me wrong: I spent more time playing this game than I have most games I've reviewed. This is a seriously huge game. Even the creator does not know exactly how big.

My opinion on the practice of reviewing unfinished games has waffled a lot over the decade and a half I've been around. In this case, I didn't "fail to finish" because the game frustrated me or pissed me off. It's just that this is a JRPG. And right now I'm trying to play through FFV for the first time and then beat FFVI for the first time while playing through Xenosaga for the first time...and that's a lot of JRPGs, and a lot of hours ahead of me. So in the end, Chase for Divinity just got hedged out of my video gaming rotation...by some very prestigious competition.


So, first off, I don't want this wall of text to be mistaken for a takedown of the game. I actually thought it was pretty funny. If I thought it had failed entirely to be funny, this section would actually be much shorter. Because the game DID make me laugh at times, it actually gets this longer analysis.

I would have to characterize Chase For Divinity as a comedy game. It is not that the story is brimming with ridiculous clowning or that the plot itself hinges on rubber-chicken bronx cheer absurdity. It's just that most of the words spent on this game, in the dialogue and in the fungible description of many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many on-map objects (more on that later), seemed intended to make the player chuckle, smile, or laugh.

Because the failure rate at getting me to smile or laugh was less than 100%, I would overall characterize the writing in this game as GOOD.

Full disclosure: I did my first play session of this game after ripping a good sized bowl of weed and every subsequent play session sober. I enjoyed the game's sense of humor substantially more during my first play session than any subsequent one. I am not sure what if anything this says about the game or about me, but it did seem worth mentioning.

Comedy games are really a crapshoot even moreso than a game that's meant to be taken perfectly seriously. This is because failed comedy is just worse--more uncomfortable, more painful, more unpleasant--than failed drama. If nothing else, failed comedy can't fall back on being unintentionally funny like failed drama can. In my long history as a player of RPG Maker games, I've identified and labeled several approaches to comedy games. Three of the most commonly seen are:

1) Absurdist. Humor comes from the absurd and surreal. Things do not make sense.
2) Fourth-Wall Breaking Satire. Humor comes from satire of genre conventions, tropes, and especially cliches.
3) Character-Based. Basically, every character acts perfectly in character, but their character traits are so extreme and so consistent that they are fully incompatible with each other as a party and/or with the setting they exist in, and hilarity ensues in short order. Also generally there is one, and exactly one, very exaggerated trait per character. To me, the classic example of this style is the webcomic 8-Bit Theatre, which I was a great fan of as a teenager. Fighter is an idiot, Black Mage is teh evulz, Thief is rapaciously greedy, Red Mage is a power gamer, hilarity ensues.

Rarely does a comedy game take a PURIST approach, using only one of these sources of humor and completely forsaking the others. But likewise, it is rare that you can't identify one approach as being the primary source of humor. In my experience, #3) Character Based Humor is the rarest approach taken in RPG Maker games and the one least likely to alienate the audience if it misfires.

So how often does the humor in Chase For Divinity misfire and how much might it alienate the audience when it does? Well, that is a complicated question. So let me deflect from answering it by instead summarizing the game's plot at the outset.

You begin play as Vittoria, a mercenary warrior who is paid to make strongly worded inquiries axe people in the face for money. She has been dispatched to clear out a nest of bandit knights. In so doing, she rescues Bram, a traveling swordsman with some vaguely knightly pretensions. He too seems in the business of swording people in the face for money, but does not "self-identify" as a mercenary, and seems to be the more morally upstanding (or less morally flexible) of the two. With the bandits dealt with, the pair travel to the manor of a local duke, who dispatches them on a mission to a far continent to locate a castle called Baramiurge which has allegedly resurfaced and which, according to the duke's unsubstantiated prophetic dreams, is somehow related to demons sealed away years ago which will imminently resurface in an endless cycle to conquer the world the plot of every JRPG ever wants to see you in his office.

Along the way to the castle--or the continent it's on--by pirate ship, the two recruit two more party members. A cleric named Sarah who generally seems like an upstanding and decent sort and who is willing to suspend her current mission in an attempt to prevent the resurgence of the demons, and an HI-lariously over-the-top mad wizard named Levron (a strange name for a power-mad sorcerer, for sure, but I wouldn't want to tease him about it, because the dude is CRAZY) whose goal seems to be to rule and/or destroy the world and anyone in his way, and who the party joins up with because they needed a source of direct damage, I guess?

Together the foursome makes its way on a long journey to Baramiurge castle, but upon arrival the plot thickens during their first encounter with a truly demonic foe and the group is thence scattered to the winds by a teleportation, and it is thence revealed that the game is going to be much, much longer than it originally appeared.

So...is Chase For Divinity trying to be funny? Almost certainly, but that is not necessarily the only thing it is going for.

And does Chase For Divinity actually succeed at being funny? Well, yes and no.

To state the obvious, the writing feels very young. That makes perfect sense. It was literally, actually written by someone who was very young at the time.

The text is absolutely riddled with spelling errors, typos, and odd punctuation choices. It feels extremely rough and unpolished and unfinished just like the graphics and the gameplay and pretty much every aspect of the game except the sound design. If you are looking for something that is very polished, this is not a game you are going to enjoy. If you are looking on the other hand for something SUBSTANTIAL, this is the game for you.

In general, the writing sails along at a breezy pace, with a breezy confidence that at least FEELS completely undeterred by any introspective self-doubt. Does this part make sense, is this funny, is this what this character would say or do? Of COURSE it is, MOVING RIGHT ALONG. Generally speaking, this is actually pretty charming. The sense of humor on display is not subtle or clever but that doesn't make it any less funny.

What does make it less funny is that this game doesn't actually draw all that heavily on any of the sources of humor I mentioned above. It seems clear that the creator is loath to break the fourth wall for cheap laughs, which means the game isn't making fun of itself or making fun of RPGs in general. And this is probably a good thing because fourth-wall-breaking-humor is a dime a dozen in RPG Maker comedy games and is usually really badly executed. The game doesn't seem fully willing to embrace absurdity, either. Some of the item descriptions are absurd and nonsensical, and one noteworthy shopkeeper/running gag bears special mention, and so is some of the dialogue but the absurdity doesn't really touch the characters or the plot of the game, and therefore nothing of substance is absurd. Finally, the characters. Initially I thought the game was going for 8-Bit Theater style character based humor. But what it arrives at, if anything, is a rather pale imitation of that. Let's look at the characters, at least the ones I was introduced to during my play time of several hours.

  • Vittoria is a surly mercenary and a basically decent person and I couldn't tell that much more about her. But the pirate captain lady really does seem like the character that this character wants to be when she grows up.
  • Bram is a decent guy and is good with a sword and a little bit morally inflexible and stuck up.
  • Sarah is a good cleric that wants to save the world from demons because demons are bad.

Did you catch which of these things is not like the others? See, all of these characters feel thin to me. But regardless of their one-dimensional nature, only in the case of Levron is the character's single dimension treated as an exaggerated caricature. If all of the characters were exaggerated caricatures, if they were all ridiculous (i.e. worthy of ridicule), then this would be a consistent foundation for character-based humor. But because only Levron is a ridiculous caricature...he just comes off as annoyingly badly written.

So without any of the main sources of humor I've identified being in gear, a lot of the game's humor comes from snark and sarcasm. But the witticisms feel flat because they lack an abundance of good targets, because the game doesn't actually fully embrace absurdity or let its cast be over-the-top caricatures.

Right now, Chase for Divinity feels caught in an awkward place between a relatively serious story with a light presentation and lots of comic relief, and fully embracing its nature as a comedy game. And hence, it is not as funny as it could have been.

SCORE: 60/100


Chase For Divinity was an RM2K game, son! Not even RM2k3, RM2K! No 3 on the end! You don't even KNOW man! Unity knows. I know. But you suckahs don't know. IT WAS A DIFFERENT TIME.

Playing this game, a heavily traditional RM2K game with the default battle system and random battles, was a major nostalgia trip for me. I had a fond smile on my face the entire time I was playing it, but during the first play session, the pretty green bud all in my blood turned this fond smile up to a HUGE GRIN.

Gameplay is rough but solid. The beginning of the game is really easy but that's a really good thing because you don't want the start of a game to be too hard: people will bounce off and they won't see the rest. There was JUST enough meaningful options in combat and just ENOUGH dificulty in battles to keep me from just spamming attack all the time in the early game. This is less challenge than I personally like, but it was enough challenge to keep me from quitting out of principal, which is what I tend to do in games where I can literally win every battle just by rolling my face on the keyboard or spamming space over and over again.

Later on in the game, there was a sharp spike in difficulty. The fact that the game lets you save anywhere is a great thing, and I'd strongly recommend players take advantage of it. Right around the time you first encounter Zolgann (sp?) is where the game actually starts getting tough and makes you start thinking about battles and your equipment setup and the like.

That said, battle balance in this game is kind of whack. The rate at which you receive access to more powerful equipment and the way that equipment and items are priced seems almost completely haphazard and random, as though very little thought was put into it. It is not uncommon to pay a large amount of money for a weapon that is barely not worse than the one you have, and then find a weapon that is much, much better for free. Just generally speaking the way new weapons and equipment and items become available seems highly scattered and arbitrary. Don't get me wrong, I actually don't like games where you receive new equipment in a rigid hierarchical structure, the +1 sword, then the +1 shield, then the +1 armor, then the +2 sword, etcetera, that can get boring fast. But this game took it too far in the opposite direction.

A word on prices. Generally speaking, healing items in this game were REALLY REALLY cheap while weapons and armor were REALLY REALLY expensive. You're better off spending your GP on healing items though as you'll get LOTS of superior weapons and armor for free and find relatively few healing items. Some of the pricing choices in general just seemed really strange and ill thought out. Like an item that was effectively the equivalent of a tent from Final Fantasy (full recovery, out of battle only) was priced at an INSANE 2700 GP for as far as I could tell no good reason.

Oh, also be aware that a shop in the first town (accidentally??) "sells" a really overpowered healing item for...0 GP.

Also, by the time you reach the fire dungeon (Bombos Volcano) you're going to have a LOT of accessories. A LOT. Way more accessories than you can equip at once, even with your whole party. And most of these accessories are going to be really powerful. You will want to be able to equip more than one accessory per character at one time. But you will not be allowed to. On the one hand, the over-abundance of cool, useful effects attached to accessories really bothered me. Why wouldn't the game drop more armor or helmets or shields with some of these awesome effects? On the other hand, most of the meaningful tactical choices you will make in the game are of what accessory to have on which character at which time, and this choice can easily make the difference between victory and defeat in battle, so think about your opponents and choose wisely.

Actual abilities were awarded quite a bit rarely for my liking. By reaching Level 10 a fourth of the way through the game, Vittoria had only gained one ability she did not have at the start of the game. While I played a while, most characters only earned one or two new abilities over the course of gaining about ten levels.

Of the characters you get, they have an interesting sort of not-quite-one-for-one correspondence to the tank/healer/striker/caster dynamic typical of JRPGs. Vittoria is probably your strongest overall party member with a weakish self heal, a weakish offensive ability, and strong physical combat stats and eventually a self strength buff.

Bram hits a bit harder than Vittoria but has no self-heal and his abilities are much less cost effective. You're going to want to give all of the MP Boost Orbs you collect to him to fuel his sword techniques.

Sarah is an INSANELY COST-EFFECTIVE dedicated party healer. Her basic single-target heal spell costs literally 1 MP and she starts with IIRC over a hundred MP. But her actual heals are much weaker than you'd like them to be. Later on when she gets an ability to boost her magic power, this will be mitigated somewhat.

Finally, Levron is your offensive wizard type with abilities that are moderately powerful but INSANELY COST EFFECTIVE. He can keep slinging magic till the cows come home. But you'll find yourself wishing he had offensive spells that cost more than 2 MP and did proportionally more damage. Soon after he joins the party, he learns a multi-target attack that will be your go-to for most battles. And whether it was intentional or not, SOME of his status effect spells work on bosses too, which is nice--although what status effects work on who seems to be a total crapshoot, so you'll have to guess and check while taking a beating.

And good luck keeping both Sarah and Levron alive--both are extremely fragile.

Besides the quirks and idiosyncrasies above, battles are very much what you would expect from the ancient, storied clan of "default RM2K DBS", for good or ill.

What about the out-of-battle gameplay? Well, I haven't talked about that much yet, because there really ISN'T much out of battle gameplay. What there is consists mainly of walking around dungeons--the dungeons don't contain many engaging puzzles, although there is occasionally stuff to do besides walk around, and the walking around itself is kind of interesting due to the level design--and fighting.

The other thing is to do in this game is to press enter on every single rock, tree, pillar, crate, barrel and bush in the game world. Because in the game's single most remarkable feature, EVERY SINGLE IN-GAME OBJECT has a description. I love this idea in theory. And finding hidden treasure in some of them was really neat. However, the little messages that appeared weren't terribly interesting to begin with and quickly became very, very repetitive. Between that and the fact that it was generally pretty easy to predict which items might contain useful items and which were just a waste of time, and the fact that standard chests were plentiful and contained all the best items, by the time I stopped playing around Bombos Volcano, I was no longer checking objects for their descriptions. I think with some different execution, this idea could have been really cool.

SCORE: 60/100


Guess what. The last two sections were really long. And THESE ONES will be WAY SHORTER.

So really all I have to say about this game's visuals is...damn, son. RM2K, son, RM2K. You have to listen to me dawg. IT WAS ANOTHER TIME. I don't think that anyone would be so gauche as to slam this game's visuals based on modern standards. But if you're thinking about doing so, you really must understand: it was a VERY, VERY DIFFERENT TIME in the world of amateur game dev. Graphical consistency, like the Earth being round during the Renaissance, was some shit we were still figuring out!

Chase For Divinity features a fair amount of custom art. If I'm not mistaken, this includes and is limited to all of the face portraits and all of the monsters. The inclusion of custom art is obviously laudable. That said, the creator characterizes this art as being extremely early and rough, and you know what, she's absolutely right: it is. I'd actually go so far to say that the art of just about all of the face portraits and most of the monsters is straight up PRETTY BAD. But as this was the work of a young artist in the midst of practicing and improving and getting better, while there's much to criticize here, there's absolutely nothing to condemn.

Every other graphical decision in this game reminds me of what I myself (and basically everyone goddamn else) was doing back in 2002 so much that it practically brings a tear to my eye. Graphical consistency? What the fuck is that? unity starts with mostly RTP but as she goes gleefully incorporates "new" charsets and chipsets into the game seemingly as she finds them on the internet and as she goes along, mixing more and more ingredients into the stew seemingly without a second thought as to how much they might clash. Like the writing, the mapping itself, perfectly functional, speeds along in a way that could be best described as joyously unselfconscious.

SCORE: 50/100


If the game's visuals are zealously inconsistent in a way that makes me achingly nostalgic for 2002, the game's audio design is aggressively consistent. 8-Bit Era NES tunes are the order of the day, and I hope you like 'em, because they're ALL that unity has on the menu for Chase For Divinity. This is quite purely a case of 'love it or hate it'. If you love these kinds of 8-bit tunes, you're gonna love the soundtrack on display here. If 8-bit era MIDIs grate on you, you'll probably wind up playing this game with the sound off or not at all. To me, the music used fit the cheery and cheeky tone and action of the game exceptionally well, so I'm giving close to full marks.

Sound design was fitting, and aided the humor, and played directly into what I thought was the game's funniest gag was something I honestly don't even know if it was meant as a joke or not. But I noticed that whenever a door was "sealed by magic", the message saying that was accompanied by a specific BOYOIYOIYOIYOING sound from the RTP. I thought to myself "oh, ok, so that's the sound of a door being sealed by magic" and I laughed every time I ran into one.

SCORE: 90/100

FINAL SCORE: 65/100 (Not An Average)

"Let's, for the moment, pretend games are food. This is a thick, unevenly cut steak pulled fresh from the grill. It has its char marks and gristle, but it's nothing if not hearty. "

This is a line from kumada's review of one of my old (but not THAT old) games that I've stolen for use here, because it's absolutely appropriate to describe how I feel about Chase For Divinity.

If you want something serious or something perfect, this is not the game for you. But if you're looking for either a game that's light in tone and mood but hefty in substance, or just a fun (and complete!) nostalgia trip back to the olden days of amateur game making, Chase For Divinity should prove quite the treat.

Final Note: I would consider finishing this some day, primarily to find out just what the deal was with the character of Paul The Mysterious (Mysterious Paul).


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You're magical to me.
Thanks very much for this review! ^_^ It was longer and more detailed than I expected, and was a very good read!

I think you've hit the nail on the head for just about all of your points here. This was one of my earliest game attempts, most of it done when I was a teen who didn't understand what made stories or RPGs good, just doing things by the seat of my pants and trying to make it fun.

While I'm a newcomer to this site, I have been making RPGs for a while, but not sharing them with anyone but friends and family. In fact, if not for the Revive the Dead contest, this wouldn't have seen the light of day (and I had to fight a lot of self-conscious moments where my brain was telling me it was too crap to put up XD ). But that's why I don't have a big selection of games to document my growth as a maker. I hope to rectify this by making a lot more games in the future!

Thanks again, Max, and I'm glad you enjoyed this little glimpse into my RPG-Making past ^_^
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Oh, I definitely did. I'm really glad that Revive The Dead happened and you decided to finish this off so that I could check out this fascinating glimpse behind the curtain and into the ~~~mysteries of the past~~~ XD
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