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Time to knock this game down a few notches. . . just kidding.

(Intro)

Okay, so let me preface this by saying, and I'm not gonna lie - I went into this playthrough looking to put a dent in that score because seriously, seven five star reviews? Nah, you've gotta be pulling my leg. Let me be the judge of that-

. . . oh, it's eight five star reviews now. Whoops.

Unflattering screens, 30 pages of comments, flawless reviews - sounded like a perfect combination to take a crack at, pompous skeptic that I am - and boy did it turn my expectations on its head. Anyway, on with the actual review. . .

(Story & Writing) 4.5 / 5

There are multiple facets to address here, so I'll take them one at a time. First, is the plot: On the surface, it sounds pretty flat. You play as a villain with a tragic backstory, she wants to get vengeance on humanity by collecting a bunch of divine shards to revive the dark lord to make everyone suffer, yadda yadda yadda. . . aside from the initial role reversal, the game does little to explore unique storylines or to subvert genre cliches - and it totally owns it.

This is what people mean when they say that good execution is the most important factor of your project. It took a simple, even endlessly used setting, and through sheer storytelling craft, made it as fresh as the day it was conceived. There was scarcely a dull moment in the game, and given how long it is, that is seriously impressive. The pacing is some of the best I've seen, scenes rarely overstayed their welcome - rather, sometimes I wished they were longer! There's a certain magic to this style of writing that makes everything so compelling, that makes you want to keep pushing forward to see where the story will take you. In retrospect, I feel that it can mostly be contributed to the dev's ability to create set pieces - their timing and presentation are always impeccable, it's kind of amazing how spot on everything is, and how it's able to tie the rest of the storytelling together in a way that leaves so little room for error. In short, I would say that this is absolutely the strongest point of the game, and it's better for it.

Also, the reactions to certain events based on which characters are in your party are a very nice touch and helps keep things feeling that much more alive. Speaking of the characters, I actually found them to be more of a mixed bag. To start off, I enjoyed the fact that most npcs had something interesting or relevant to say - it's not an easy thing to pull off, but suffice to say they were all handled with a level of care most poor nameless townsfolk don't get to see. The other major characters throughout the story all had a distinct personality to them - they may have followed their tropes through to the end, but man did they follow them through well.

As for the main cast, this is where we start getting bumpy. While the characters are quite well defined and likable for most the part, their personalities really start to drag on the longer you play.

Ragnarok gets pissy about wasting time, Gryger wants to smash stuff, Damien makes sarcastic jokes, Azrielle makes idle threats, Lanith talks about eating guys, Pandora makes condescending remarks - it was all fun at first, but hearing them repeat the same lines with slightly different flavor over and over again hours into the game starts to get stale. I understand that there is more to these characters, but outside of big, plot relevant cutscenes, we hardly see anything of it and it's honestly a damn shame. Maybe this is the price of holding true to the genre, but I think it would've seriously benefited from more explorative characterization outside of those designated set pieces. In any case, it is what it is and I think they still served their purpose nicely either way. Grammar errors pepper the dialogue here and there, but there weren't enough to be a real problem.

(Gameplay) 3.5 / 5

Another mixed bag. Yipee.

One thing I will note right away is that the combat is balanced incredibly well - the difficulty is very consistent throughout, rarely feeling too easy or too hard, nor does it feel like it demands any kind of grinding. The animations are lively and active enough to keep you from getting bored, and the interactions with some of the monsters are downright clever! My biggest gripe is the random encounter rate (yikes!), though thankfully you can make a clean escape from most battles.

Gameplay-wise, I found battles to be rather lacking. While you have the freedom to change up your party composition and synergy by switching them around, there’s very little strategy to the actual combat itself. The characters all get a handful of skills, but half of them aren’t particularly useful, and another quarter only see use circumstantially - there are a lot of abilities, but not a lot of choices, as it were. You’ll probably be spamming the same couple of moves against a majority of enemies (including bosses), though the lack of potent healing items is an interesting choice that forces you to put some more thought into how you manage your characters during fights. The battle system is not great by any means, but I suppose it isn’t bad either.

Outside of all that, the puzzles and traps are handled nicely, especially tying in well with whatever area they happen to be in. They are at the right level of difficulty that requires you to pay attention, but never enough make it frustrating (however, a certain music puzzle took me more than a few tries. . .).

(Art & Music) 2 / 5

Okay. . . we all knew this was coming.

This is a mess. Not that it detracted much from the experience personally, but the ridiculously clashing visuals and the fact that I recognized some of the tracks and sound effects from games I’ve played definitely served to make this game feel very, uh, stitched together. They were all used to decent effect, but it is a glaring red issue nonetheless - still, the music choices were fitting and the SFX didn’t feel too out of place in the game - the faces and inconsistent battler styles are what stick out the most, although if you enjoy it enough you probably won’t care.

The layout of the mapping is serviceable in some areas and nicer in others, but the overall detailing (or lack thereof) leaves a lot to be desired. Even so, with proper use of tinting and a few effects here and there, I find they to lend to the atmosphere just fine.

(Personal Enjoyment) 5 / 5

Oh, would you look at that. Where'd this score come from?

Despite my previous criticisms, Umbral Soul manages to be some of the most fun I've had playing an RPG Maker game. Though it may have a basket full of problems, in the long runs those problems do little to impede the real main attraction, which is to say the game's excellent storytelling. WheelmanZero put together a bunch of disparate scraps and created a truly memorable experience, really driving home the fact that a game can be so much more than individual parts. It's easy to see that a lot of care and effort went into making a satisfying package, covering its bases enough to let its greatest strengths shine through without distraction.

Perhaps some will take its flaws at face value, which is understandable, though to undermine the game by judging it only as the sum of its parts would be doing it a great disservice, hence the possibly confusing 5 star conclusion to what maybe sounded like a good or decent game at best from the earlier points posted. I give this game a wholehearted recommendation to anyone curious about checking it out, chances are it'll be well worth your time!

Posts

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*inhales*

Alright Atlas, who put you up to this? You aren't fooling me for a second, this is obviously some kind of conspiracy meant to give me a heart attack. "Let's get rid of Wheelman" you said, "that way we won't have to put up with his horrible wisecracks and obnoxiously cheery demeanor." Who are you working with? It's kentona isn't it? I knew there was something shady about that guy.

Alright, so assuming this review isn't a diabolical ploy designed to force me into cardiac arrest, I'd like to thank you for sharing your thoughts on the game. Actually, "thank" isn't really a strong enough word to encapsulate the sheer magnitude of the gratitude I'm feeling right now, so I'm going to invent a new one; "thankpreciatitude". I'd like to show you my whole-hearted thankpreciatitude for your review.

I agree with the negatives you mentioned, as it's certainly possible to beat the game using only one summon, and I wish I was skilled enough to make my own art, but sadly I have to make do with the skills I do have. When it comes to mapping, I'd consider myself an amateur, but you know what they say; practice makes perfect. You should've seen my maps when I first started. Sweet mother of mercy were they terrible! Oh, and after running through the game a few more times I agree that the encounter rate is a bit high in some places, so I've made the proper adjustments for the next version. I had always used the most direct path to the next area during testing, which is most likely why I thought the encounter rate for those areas was reasonable at the time. Welp, more feedback means more improvements, so thanks!

I'm thrilled you enjoyed the game in spite of its flaws though. I posted this game on my friends recommendation in the hopes that a few people would get a couple hours of enjoyment out of it, and it has already fulfilled its purpose and then some. Seriously, I could not want anything more. My heart is beating twice as fast as usual as I type this, so I should probably find a paper bag and/or defibrillator before I pass out. Thanks again Atlas, and best of luck to you in all your rpgmaker-based endeavors!

Oh, and in case this ends up being the review that finally kills me, I'd like to make a few closing remarks. A makeshift will, if you would.

Atlas, don't feel bad about being the cause of my untimely demise. I promise my family won't sue you.

Lianderson, after I'm gone,I want you to have my PS3. It overheats within 5 minutes of being turned on, but you can sell it for at least 30 cents at Gamestop.

Knightowl, make sure Boundless Tides gets finished or I will haunt you for the next 10 to 20 years.


And that's all, I'm done for real now.

*exhales*
As much as I love diabolical ploys, this review was unfortunately not in the heart of the game, if you know what I mean ;j

Jokes aside, I've been in a very reflective state regarding my own works for the longest time since I'm naturally drawn to making games that are much more slow paced - while I am comfortable with that style, I've always been envious of people who could make a fun, thrilling ride from start to finish and I think that seeing your work has helped me to understand how to better achieve that goal!

Seriously, if you're free I'd love to chat with you sometime! Heheh.
(Though to do that you would have to be alive, EMT is already on its way so try to cling to consciousness for like 10 more minutes, give or take)
Don't worry, the ambulance made it in time so you're stuck with me for a little while longer. I've got a lot on my plate at the moment but I can always make time for a good chat, especially if it ends up helping you. Feel free to shoot me a message, I'm here pretty frequently, or if discord works I have an account there as well.
StevieRayBones
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
265
The word that came to my mind when reading your first paragraph was "execution." I'm not against some RPG cliches as long as the characters are round and original and the story telling is interesting. This game has 8 5 star reviews and over 3800 downloads?! This developer should be proud but stays humble. Good stuff!
StevieRayBones
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
265
The word that came to my mind when reading your first paragraph was "execution." I'm not against some RPG cliches as long as the characters are round and original and the story telling is interesting. This game has 8 5 star reviews and over 3800 downloads?! This developer should be proud but stays humble. Good stuff!
StevieRayBones
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
265
The word that came to my mind when reading your first paragraph was "execution." I'm not against some RPG cliches as long as the characters are round and original and the story telling is interesting. This game has 8 5 star reviews and over 3800 downloads?! This developer should be proud but stays humble. Good stuff!
StevieRayBones
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
265
The word that came to my mind when reading your first paragraph was "execution." I'm not against some RPG cliches as long as the characters are round and original and the story telling is interesting. This game has 8 5 star reviews and over 3800 downloads?! This developer should be proud but stays humble. Good stuff!
StevieRayBones
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
265
Woah :(. Sorry that post went through 9 times for some Reason and I don't see any options to delete the extra posts :(. Sorry.
StevieRayBones
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
265
Woah, that post went through 9 times and I don't see any option to delete the extra posts. Sorry :/
Mirak
Stand back. Artist at work. I paint with enthusiasm if not with talent.
9363
Holy shit.
Frogge
I wanna marry ALL the boys!! And Donna is a meanc
18309
This perfect multipost nightmare became even more amazing thanks to that page breal
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
20058
author=StevieRayBones
Woah, that post went through 9 times and I don't see any option to delete the extra posts. Sorry :/

Deleting posts is something mods/staff can do...

*Edit:
...though, at the moment, a certain staff/mod is getting a "system is down" error (more system hiccups, one must suppose), and will make another attempt at it later.
Double Posting at it's finest.... this is madness! This is... SPAAARTAAAA...
Alright enough of that unfunny stuff....seriously is this the multi posting threat now? XD
author=Marrend
author=StevieRayBones
Woah, that post went through 9 times and I don't see any option to delete the extra posts. Sorry :/
Deleting posts is something mods/staff can do...

*Edit:
...though, at the moment, a certain staff/mod is getting a "system is down" error (more system hiccups, one must suppose), and will make another attempt at it later.


I've removed most of the duplicated posts, though left some as evidence.
Congrats on another 5 star review Wheel! Great job!

*cracks whip* Now get back to work on that sequel!
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
20058
Thanks for the assist, eplipswich!

author=lianderson
*cracks whip* Now get back to work on that sequel!





Well that song's only going to be stuck in my head for the next 3-5 years. Thanks for that Marrend...
Another five star review!? Wow…this game continues to still break ground even after months after it’s done. Very nice.

Although…judging by the scoring system given here, I’m a little bit confused why it ultimately ended up getting a 5 out of 5, considering the gameplay section got a 3.5 and the art and music sections got a 2 out of 5. Wouldn’t that lower the overall score down just a wee bit because of that???

Anyways…good review, AtlasAtrium. You’ve done good here.
For the record, I still haven't given up on the possibility of a conspiracy.
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