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Into each life

  • nhubi
  • 02/19/2015 05:29 PM
In the interest of laying one's cards on the table, I have to admit to a certain childhood penchant for Egyptology, for tales of godlike Pharaohs, enigmatic sphinxes and ancient cyclic civilisations blossoming amidst scorching deserts sands so removed from the lush and verdant environment of my youth. This fascination has not left me in the years that have passed since so when I saw the graphics for Born under the Rain, I was immediately interested. In addition I've played games by three of the four developers in this McBacon Jam inspired quartet and whilst they aren't flawless I've always enjoyed my time in their worlds, which meant I was expecting good things, and I'm delighted to say I wasn't disappointed.

The game starts somewhat predictably enough, with someone doing something stupid. That's a pretty standard premise for most RPG game, small child wanders into a monster's den and must be rescued, plucky young adventurer type gets taken by ruffians and must fight their way free, young lovers stumble upon ancient ruins and reawaken an ancient evil, that sort of thing. Predictable, for those of you who are erroneously hearing an unconscious sneer in my tone, is not a bad thing, it's just an easy opening gambit. In this game that's Masud breaking into the final resting place of an ancient Pharaoh which leads to him donning the mask of Odion and ending up in a Freaky Friday situation involving body swapping with the ancient mummy whose tomb he came to pilfer, and this is where it stops being predicable. It seems Odion wasn't forced into Masud's previous body when Masud took up residence in his mummified corpse, and his disembodied skull (yes Indrah I saw what you did there) is coming along for the ride to find an artefact which will enable them to rescue Masud's original form, which is currently residing, and it appears rotting, inside Odion's tomb. Given the developers in this game it should come as no surprise that Odion is a wisecracking smart-arse. It's well known that humour is subjective, but snark and sarcasm are my go-to's and Odion has them in spades.

Second sentence out of his mouth, err skull. We're on to a winner here.

His wisecracking is a good thing, as Masud has lost the ability to speak in his current form so all the conversation is carried by Odion at the earlier stages of the game. Joining Masud and Odion on this artefact hunting quest are two others, Rashida and Masika, a sort of mother-daughter or sister's in peril duo who have their own reasons for rifling through ancient tombs. They have a slightly bigger picture use for the artefact known as Anuket's Tear than our main protagonist, and there is an underlying tension in their conflicting agendas though one half of this quarter are unaware of it.

The game offers a few interesting bells and whistles, difficulty can be chosen at the opening of the game, easy/normal/hard and can be changed at anytime during gameplay from the menu. Save is always on which is a personal favourite of mine, places of interest on the map are highlighted with sparkles so you don't have to spend the game bashing into walls or checking every broken pot, daunting canopic jar and dusty stele to find useful items. Speaking of items, there are a couple of non-health related ones, the snake rope, a kind of Gordian knot which also doubles as a teleport back to town, and jade scarabs which have no value other than as a trading item to an oddly upbeat young man in the town, but they are very valuable in that role. Enemies are also visible; which is again something I prefer, which of course turns the mind to combat.

It's the classic turn-based system, with a slight difference, there is no attack command. All offensive moves are magic based. So balancing your skills and meditate options are vital if you wish to win, especially on hard mode. Luckily you can commit all you have in each battle as you are fully replenished in regard to HP/MP at the end of each combat, not so with your healing items which are few and far between so choose your moment to use them with care.

I really don't like this park bench.

To add another twist to the combat, every character starts with four distinctive skills, but every other skill you have available is dependent on the relics you have found and equipped. Some are character locked, but quite a few are available for anyone to use. You only have four equipment slots and one of those is dedicated to your character specific relics, so in reality you have three slots with which to customise your characters. I had a lot of fun swapping around the various skill-granting relics until I found a combination that worked for me, and I really appreciated that fact that this type of skill distribution means I can modify strategy dependent on who I am fighting...though that damn Sphinx needed a couple of tries to take it down.

In addition some of those relics, like Bastet's Eye for example, open up new areas within the maps, so finding them is a definite plus. It's a good idea to make a note of those strange and somewhat out of place items and features you see in the earlier parts of the game as those will be the portal points to previously hidden areas. You'll have to do quite a bit of backtracking to find them as each new relic enables them, so having an idea where you saw that strange verdant growth in the midst of an arid tomb, or that corridor that ends in a reflective dead end is handy. The game-page indicates there are 33 relics to find, and I must admit being a completionist I wasn't happy until I had found them all. I appreciate that the game gives you two ways to view them, either in your items screen under relics, or displayed graphically in Fadil's relic gallery in town. Though if I did have a complaint in that area it's that you never get to see Fadil's gallery entire (remember, completionist here) because the last two relics are in the last dungeon just before the final fight and then it goes straight to the ending cut scene.

The combats are all fixed and don't respawn if you leave and enter, so grinding isn't an option within the confines of the dungeons, however the developers have reasoned that some players like to boost their stats through repetition and have included a handy little monster fighting arena via the magic library, where the enamoured Tabia will summon any monster you have battled before so you may do so again, and that includes the bosses. Personally I just fought the dungeon monsters in the dungeons and let the level growth follow the curve the developers had chartered, and almost without exception they got the balance right, the exception being the final fight against Anuket, it dragged on much too long.

Poor Akhenaten, as if having Homocystinuria wasn't enough he's got an inferiority complex.

The graphics in this game are lovely, the maps are a mix of custom and RTP and put together with finesse and care, there were no glitches or none that I could find in my play through at any rate. They really carried the feeling of ancient tombs and arid towns, so much so that I felt my mouth drying up a little as I played. There was one room in one of the later dungeons, the room of the nine red eyes, which progressively became more and more laggy as the events in the room were triggered, which was a trifle annoying but far from game-breaking. Most of the face-sets and character sprites are custom and work exceptionally well, I can see a lot of work has gone into them and it seriously helps with immersion. The music is a little more hit and miss for me, some parts worked exceptionally well, others did not, but overall I can't fault it too much, musical choices are quite distinctive and the fact that mine didn't mesh with the developers isn't something drastic, especially when it is obvious that they put care into their choices and creations.

So the quest for Anuket's Tear continues for two very different reasons and our frankly odd quartet must face some challenges along the way, mostly of their own making, which kept me very interested in the game. The characters are engaging on a multitude of levels and each has a backstory that is well plotted and fed to the player in easily digestible chunks and which over time build up a complex character dynamic and interaction. There were a couple of small missteps in regard to exposition, or at least they felt a little forced to me, but they were very small issues and I found myself looking forward to how the major character conflict within the game would be resolved.

The puzzles and riddles that make up a fair proportion of the game are interesting and innovative, and whilst a few of them employ the tried and true 'push stuff around' method, the answer to just what you need to push and where things can and should go can at times have you scratching your head, or in my case reaching for a pen and paper

Orange is such a versatile colour.

In fact the long running sphinx puzzle couldn't have been completed without some major backtracking if I didn't write down my answers as I went. It might be an idea to include a reminder or some form of journal for those clues closer to the riddle's source, as most players probably don't take notes along the way.

Given this game is part of a themed jam, there is another criteria by which it should be judged rather than just my enjoyment, and that is did it fit the theme, in this case deprivation and/or abundance? I'd have to say yes. Deprivation in its most basic form in the fact that the villagers are experiencing a persistent and destructive drought, and also in a game mechanic sense in the resource management you have to employ in regard to use of your curtailed items and MP heavy skills, but it is also abundance in that fact that if you survive each battle you are restored to full health and vigour, and can horde those precious healing drafts and revival items.

Not to mention an abundance of snarky sarcastic quips from Odion and company, but that's just money for jam.

In the end Born under the Rain was a lot of fun, and given the less than a month time frame in which it was conceived, designed and created it's a wonderful piece of work. There were some parts that didn't work for me as well as others and I found the ending to be a little rushed, but those are small quibbles when compared to the enjoyment I gleaned from my 4 hours in this well constructed and interesting world.

Go and play this.


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Two positive reviews in one day? This was pretty cool to wake up to. Thanks for writing this, nhubi!
THE SKULL WASN'T ME I PROMISE! XD I didn't even suggest it, it was all Housekeeping.
And I didn't even do any of the writing so don't look at me :x
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
I totally claim credit for first suggesting "the fourth party member can just be a flaming skull that levitates around or something." That one sentence was perhaps my entire contribution to the story, though. I didn't give him his tragic backstory or romantic personality. Cha-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka!
Yep, Locke first suggested a flaming skull as a character. My original idea was to have a much smaller cast consisting of just Masud and Masika and relegate Odion's role to a more sinister voice that came from the mask from time to time. Rashida's role would have been relegated to an npc (and, really, the town in general). I had vague ideas of using more simplified roguelike-esque combat with a major focus on limited resources, but that seemed like it would be a waste of Locke's talents, so I didn't even bother pitching that idea. I think things ended up working out for the better, though.
Guardian Gorgon of the Description Thread
I refuse to believe that the idea of Odion's skull being a character was not inspired from Morte, or Planescape - Torment in general.
I do like Planescape: Torment, so when Locke mentioned a floating skull, that was the first place my brain went. I tried to make Odion distinct from Morte, though.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
I'm glad you guys enjoyed it, and LockeZ, the flaming skull was a masterstroke :). I'm going to assume some form of osmosis or convergent evolution was at work because my first thought on seeing Odion was it's Morten from DMN with racing stripes. Housekeeping, I'm very glad the extended cast made it to the final cut including the town, that "I see all" mystic was wonderfully slapworthy.

I had a lot of fun and challenges in your creation, so thank you for making it.

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