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Stray Cat Crossing by Jurlo
Length: ~1.5 hours
Somehow the things I would say when giving a blowjob found their way into this game.
I remember, years back, coming across a list on tumblr of upcoming rpg maker horror games. A lot of the games on that list sadly never got to see the light of day. Some did, and turned out to be excellent games, such as Aria's Story. Others also did, but let's just say there weren't all that great, like a very specific game about a tool that can reflect things that you carry in your pouch. Stray Cat Crossing was one of the games on that list that was also lucky enough to see a release. Upon its initial release, I was very disappointed. I watched a let's play of the game and found it to be a bland, generic game with nothing special about it. Oh boy were my tastes shitty back then, because it only took me a second viewing of the game from another youtuber (it was Libby, she streamed it) to come to realize that this game really wasn't as bad as I remembered it to be. And now, for the first time, I actually played it for myself, and I can happily say that not a shred of disappointment from that first viewing remained in my current playthrough.
Stray Cat Crossing features a woman who helps a little girl named Cat walk home one night after she finds her alone on the side of the road. Cat is cold, so the woman gives her the scarf that she's wearing. Upon arriving at the house, Cat goes in, but forgets to give the woman her scarf back. The woman chases after Cat because come to find out later, that scarf is very important to her. The first thing you might immediately notice this game has over almost every other rpg maker game is its visuals. Stray Cat Crossing isn't just a great looking game, it's one of the best looking rpg maker games I've ever played. I can't even list to you all the things that make this game's visuals so great. The tiles and sprites, obviously, are evidently beautiful. The character animations are too, and you even get to see a couple fully animated short movies early on into the game. They're not just quick shitty little animations either, you can really tell that whoever made them was an absolute professional who knew what they were doing. The quality is genuinely comparable, and maybe even better than some of the cartoon series on tv. The character designs are memorable and bursting with life. The maps are also just as well crafted, looking just about the perfect amount of compact. Even maps that don't follow the classic three tile rule still have so much detail in the terrain pixels that it's still an absolute pleasure to look at. There's a lot of other minor details I can appreciate here, from creatively using the sphinx's shadow for a creepy scene while the flowers outside her shrine blow with the wind to even just how the woman has a different running animation than her walking animation.
The only thing I might point out here is that some of the CG art has some pixel inconsistencies (you know it wouldn't be a frogge review of a pixel art game without me complaining about those), but I'm happy to pretend I didn't see it since the rest of the game looks so good.
The visuals are like Ghibli, except with an added touch of being able to pixel like a god.
Sound design is used very effectively too. The original soundtrack is really damn good, and while I'm not particularly obsessed with any of the songs, I can still appreciate how well they set the tone and atmosphere. The sound effects are mellow and easy on the ears, and the little beeps when the characters talk is a really nice touch as it usually is in most games that do that.
The visuals also really shine through in the cutscenes as everything is used creatively to create some amazing cinematography, which if you read my other reviews, you know I really value. Games aren't movies, but it's hard to be immersed in a game's cutscenes when sprites are constantly teleporting out of the screen and there's constant jarring cuts. None of that's an issue with Stray Cat Crossing as you'll see that the game makes use of some creative solutions to make everything look smooth. One really impressive scene in particular is where a fly headed sphinx comes out of the trees, talks to you and disappears into them afterwards. This is done in a seamless way by setting the trees to above the sprite so that she looks like she straight up walked out of them, rather than having the character teleport to the nearest spot to the impassable trees. It's hard to explain, but you'll probably see what I mean if you decide to play the game.
Oh no. Oh no no no. Run, lady, run as far away as you can and never look back.
But of course, visuals alone does not define a game. The previously mentioned two games that came from tumblr were both absolutely gorgeous games too, and only one of them actually turned out to be any good. There's other things here in the case of Stray Cat Crossing that make the game well worth your time.
Without beating around the bush, Stray Cat Crossing has a great story to tell. It's not the most mindblowing and original concept, but it's written in a great way. The emotions really burst through and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the average player finds themself crying at the ending. Literary devices like foreshadowing and symbolism are used perfectly. They're never too on the nose, and while these sorts of games (AHEM REFLECTION TOOL POUCH AHEM) try to tell their story through symbolism and ONLY symbolism, it's perfectly possible to understand what's going on in Stray Cat Crossing. Well, I say that, but the first time I watched a let's play of this game, I was really annoyed that the game was so cryptic and never fully explained anything, but I was just dumb, it definetly does explain everything to you pretty well. As I've grown, I've learned to appreciate how the game doesn't just spell things out for you, something other rpg maker horror games could benefit from by taking example from this game.
Oh fuck you and your clever ass foreshadowing.
I also appreciate that Stray Cat Crossing puts a bit more effort into its gameplay than the average rpg maker horror title. It avoids the many cliche puzzles the genre's become to be known for, instead having a lot more original ones. Most, if not all of them are actually very clever, but nothing too hard either. You're unlikely to get stuck, save for maybe one puzzle. The game also has a single chase scene, and I know people really don't like those very much, and I think the one in Stray Cat Crossing may be a bit difficult to those who generally struggle with them, but it's not too long or too hard. It does utilize a jumping mechanic, though, and that's my only minor complaint here. Not really the jumping itself, but moreso that you have to press A to jump instead of spacebar. However, the A button never comes up for the rest of the game at all, so I don't see it had to be used in that one scene when the developers could have just used space bar and the puzzle would have been pretty much the exact same. It's not a huge thing, but it's a bit annoying.
The Stray Cat Crossing is an extremely polished product, as evident by the quality of the art and cinematography of the cutscenes already, but it's also for the most part pretty much bug free. The only issue I had here was that sometimes the game crashed for me. This happened at complete random, and I have no idea what may have caused it because I did not get crash messages, the game straight up just froze for a few seconds before shutting itself down. The obvious answer would be that it's just rpg maker being dumb, but ace games almost never do this for me. Luckily, I saved pretty often, and the crashes weren't too frequent, so it didn't end up being a particularly big problem.
Stray Cat Crossing is a masterfully crafted example of an rpg maker horror game being done right. Just like most other games of the genre, it takes a lot of inspiration from the likes of Ib and The Witch's House, but handles it much better than some others. It still has a lot of creativity thrown into it to the point that you may not even be able to tell it was inspired by said games at all if you didn't know about it from, you know, the gamepage that just outright tells you. It's a game with great visuals, polish, gameplay and story, and I think it should set the standart for similar games of the genre to come. I give Stray Cat Crossing a perfect five weird baby dog things out five.
Well now you got me curious!