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Maybe the Best Game on this Site

I realize that the title of this review is bold. But, I'm dead serious. I had more fun with Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening than I've had with a game in some time. As a community, we tend to be obsessed with a lot of the games that came out during the 2k and 2k3 days, and a lot of the community off this site tends to love horror and abstract games like Yume Nikki, Off, and Space Funeral. I feel that Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening is going to be emblematic of this era of RPGs, and ten years from now we better be talking about it like it's a classic that we'll never live up to.

Let's hit the basics first: Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening is a 25-hour RPG about the town of Daybreak, which has mysteriously disappeared from the world and from the memories of everyone who has ever seen it--other than Alicia Copeland. Alicia drives to Daybreak to visit her niece, Dottie, and, finding Daybreak gone, she breaks through the barrier surrounding it and finds the city has been hidden by beings from another dimension. Alicia braves the hazards of this new and different Daybreak as she tries to save Dottie. Along the way, she'll be helped by a colorful cast of characters and enter a symbiotic relationship with the Outer Evocations, a series of what are essentially interdimensional elder gods who grant Alicia and her friends psychic powers.

Gameplay
The most successful aspect of Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening is the exploration, which perfectly marries Yume Nikki-style exploration with RPG Mechanics. Exploring Daybreak and the realms beyond it feels really, really good. The locations are varied and consistently interesting, and Unity has absolutely packed the world with goodies.

I want to take a moment to talk about a personal game philosophy I've had recently: I really enjoy making special moments for the player. As designers, we get a little too focused on big-picture stuff and we don't focus on the little moments that, collectively, make a game feel special and memorable.

Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening gives the player memorable moments.

You'll find so many of them as you explore. I don't want to spoil them, but one mechanic I'll mention is the Fools, a series of hermit-crabbish creatures who are invisible until you get close to them. When you find one, it will send you to a small pocket dimension. These vary so much in atmosphere, and you're rewarded both from the joy of exploration and from finding seriously good loot. That's just one example, but I seriously can't underscore enough how well this game handles exploration.

Character stats and progression is another area where this game shines. Each character is given a skill grid, and they purchase skills via obols, a currency both dropped by monsters and littered everywhere throughout the world. This makes the exploration, combat, and stat progression fundamentally linked together, so you'll be getting those sweet dopamine hits constantly as you play. Obols are also a shared currency, so you have a lot of options available as to who to build and how to build them, though the game does push you to go for active skills prior to passives (and, you should--the active skills are consistently useful throughout the game).

Combat is pretty stellar, too. I would have liked to see more gimmicks behind the battles, as the battles tend to rely too heavily on the core mechanics. That said, the core mechanics are great. There's a decently complex web of enemy types, so you'll be utilizing your full toolkit on the regular, though your general strategies will likely be about the same. Battles are a nice hybrid of on-map encounters for some areas and random encounters for others. Neither felt too intrusive beyond the post-game dungeon, but, if you're playing a post-game dungeon, you kind of want to fight a lot and crank out your characters, anyway. I also feel like I should acknowledge the encounter bar that fills up when random encounters are available. This can be mitigated by collecting "wisps," which reduce the encounter bar, and when you've reached a high enough level, the bar will fill up more slowly and, eventually, be removed, meaning no random encounters if you're overleveled.

Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening's gameplay is absolutely fantastic. If you're an RPG enthusiast that really loves exploration, this game is SO for you. All of the mechanics work together to highlight the exploration, and, frankly, there aren't many games out there, RPG Maker or otherwise, that handle exploration and deftly as this one.

Story
Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening has a mixed bag when it comes to writing. The characters all felt real and varied, and the game goes out of its way sometimes to characterize even minor antagonists. That said, I would have liked to see the dialogue refined more; a lot of it is a bit lengthy and focused on superficial plot elements, like determining where to go next or riffing on what's currently happening. Fans of banter will probably enjoy this, so depending on your preferences, this could be a good thing, but I personally think that punchier dialogue that explains a little less would have made the writing stronger. I also would have liked the characters to act a bit more rather than talk so much; a lot of scenes just involve back-and-forth dialogue instead of actions. That's not to say that that's ALL they do, but I think the scenes would have been stronger with a bit less talking and a bit more doing.

The characters themselves were pretty successful, but with a bit more care and attention, they could have transcended the page. Lamar in particular didn't seem to really exist as an important piece of the game's plot, and while he does get rounded out near the end of the game, that scene could have been built up to throughout the game to make it way more impactful and give him more depth. All of the characters were rounded out, though, and they felt human, but I would have just liked a bit more care and attention focused on giving them more depth.

Where the writing shines is in the little moments. NPC dialogue, especially from the weird creatures you'll find out there, is often interesting. Even small details like the skill names and monster names reveal a real love of language. An astronaut-themed enemy, for instance, uses an ability called "Terrible Secret of Space," which is just a great phrase in this context. I always enjoyed whenever something like that hit me.

The writing also shines with the deeper lore. Unity has set up a Lovecraftian-adjacent universe here that has a lot of depth and intrigue. Without spoiling too much, you'll learn about something called the Expanse, a dimension outside of our own, and its denizens, which consist of a series of elder gods. Learning tidbits about them and the world they came from felt like uncovering a vast and important mystery and was the true highlight of the writing to me.

While I did critique the writing some, I want to underscore something: it's still good. Like, I critique the writing in just about every game I play because I feel like games as a medium need to get way, way better at writing. Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening still has very decent writing, which is much, much better than the vast majority of games out there.

Art/Music
The art and music for Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening have come from a variety of artists, so, understandably, there's a little bit of what I like to call "RPG Maker jank." There's a vast tradition of using resources from a lot of different areas in this community, and Unity does this, though she does avoid using rips, so everything feels fresh. There's just a clear difference between art from Roden, for instance, and Unity's personal art. Neither is bad, but you can tell who worked on what.

Some of the tilesets look amazing, especially areas outside of Daybreak, such as Vedim Space, a usually red dimension filled with eye trees, hands coming from the ground, big mouth doors--that kind of thing. Likewise, some of the battle animations look really slick. There's a huge variety of animation styles with the battle animations, so it's hard to paint a picture of all of them at once, but they're consistently interesting to look at, and the sound design (which is generally great in this game) helps to sell them.

The music is particularly good in the more atmospheric areas. At times, Unity leans a bit too heavily into techno elsewhere, which is sometimes distracting. For instance, there was one moment in particular where you witness an interdimensional being devouring a corpse, and then, after killing it, there's some videogamey Russian-inspired techno that sounds a bit like if you were to make a dance track out of the Tetris theme playing. This wasn't a major trend or anything--most of the tracks were well-chosen, the battle themes all rock, etc.--but there were just a few moments like this where the mood of the scene could have benefited from a better-selected track.

The battle graphics are in Unity's style, so they're all pretty consistent. Some of her designs can be a little rough, but the enemy designs are consistently imaginative. Some are hilarious, some are cool, and some are legitimately disturbing.

The art and music might have had a bit of jank to them at times, but this game has some seriously atmospheric moments that I don't want to ruin, and overall I find that the art and music work. Sometimes, even, the jank works in its favor.

Overall Thoughts
I love this game. I love this game a lot. While I pointed out a few criticisms, I should add some perspective for those of you not in this community (and maybe some of you that are, too). There are a lot of aspects to gamemaking, meaning that, in order to develop a game, you need a lot of different skills: art, music, design, coding. Unity made a twenty-five hour game that is consistently fun and interesting. That's fucking hard to do. Entire teams of developers routinely fail at that. This game is five years of hard work, and it shows in every beautiful detail.

You should play this game if you enjoy a good RPG. You should play this game because it's fun. You should play this game because it will legitimately intrigue you at times. You should play this game because, deep in your heart, there's still a child that wants to be enraptured by all of the possibilities of imagination. To explore.

Posts

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pianotm
The TM is for Totally Magical.
28444
No, I agree. This is the best RPG Maker game I've ever played, and possibly the best game, period. It was a privilege to playtest it.
author=Housekeeping
when you've reached a high enough level, the bar will fill up more slowly and, eventually, be removed, meaning no random encounters if you're overleveled.

Beta-tester here. Well, that's news to me... More reason for me to replay!

...

Nice, long, informative review! +1
Cap_H
DIGITAL IDENTITY CRISIS
6615
Great review, I agree with every sentence. I would add one thing, unity put so much love and care in this game, it's a love letter to gammak and that's one of things, which make the game so enjoyable for me.
unity
You're magical to me.
12275
Thank you SO MUCH Housekeeping! This is certainly high praise, and a very good review! :DDD

I agree with your criticisms, and I hope to improve my writing and get a more unified style (where I try to do all the graphics myself, or at least do a better job of blending them) with future games.

I'm super proud with how this game came out, warts and all, and I'm so happy you hold it in such high esteem! I was really trying to make exploration interesting and I'm so glad it worked so well!

Thanks again and I'm still really looking forward to your next game :DDDD

EDIT:
author=Cap_H
Great review, I agree with every sentence. I would add one thing, unity put so much love and care in this game, it's a love letter to gammak and that's one of things, which make the game so enjoyable for me.

Thank you so much, Cap H!!! It was a long five years, but I'm so glad I stuck with it, and I'm so glad you enjoy it! :DDDDDDD

author=pianotm
No, I agree. This is the best RPG Maker game I've ever played, and possibly the best game, period. It was a privilege to playtest it.

You've said this before, or something similar, and it makes me all teary with joy ;_; Thank you piano!!!
Yeah, the exploration was super fun, especially in the final few levels. I just never knew what to expect, and the addition of finding loot made it consistently rewarding. This game really deserves all the praise it's getting.

Oh, and my next game is going to be fucking sick. Going to be a million years before it's out, but I'm excited about it!
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