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official [Oc Review] - Shadows of Odessia

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Title: Shadows of Odessia

Author: Corey Zamora

Version: Demo

 


 

This was a review I promised a long time ago; at last I've had some free time to explore this game. The game initially caught my attention with its snazzy screen shots, but perhaps it's more (in)famous for the creator's bold defiance of this site's self-congratulatory echo chamber; I expected great things from a man with such cojones.

 


 

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It's hard to be unimpressed with Shadows' mapping, which populates the world with ample decoration and intriguing layouts. There's quite a few maps and every area feels fleshed out and fully realized across a wide variety of terrain. While versatility and aesthetic sense is showcased, the design comes across as desultory. Like Final Fantasy, the game seems to eschew traditional setting genres like fantasy or sci-fi and go for a progressive mix of the two. One moment, you're in a cyberpunk metropolis; the next, you're in a medieval-looking shop talking to a guy in knight garb. Though this isn't necessarily a negative, it doesn't impress as much as a game that keeps a consistent theme and focus. The haphazardness also comes at the expense of logic; you'll be left wondering how the climate changes from cold and snowy to fair weather within walking distance to a village. The question that it boils down to is whether the maps looks good - and the answer is yes. There are a few hiccups; some maps look messy and there's the occasional pathing bug, but overall this is some of the most impressive mapping on the site.

 

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The author put a lot of time and detail into the maps, which makes it a shame that he chooses to obfuscate many of them with unnecessary lighting. For a short period of time, I thought the title was a horror game with its deadpan introduction and two files of visibility, putting Silent Hill's fog to shame. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to see the environment in an RPG. The irony is that this is one of the few games that has both random encounters and sensibly designed maps, but the game quickly negates its stride and takes two steps back by forcing you to navigate with no vision. This problem does seem to go away as the game progresses, which is a case of the game's inconsistent settings working out for it.

 

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While the maps and environments are excellent, the game features the abominations known as facegen characters. Supposedly these are getting replaced at some point, but we're not in the business of judging games based on promises. And only the major characters have faces anyway, which begs the question of why it's so hard to provide decent faces for them. There's also a lack of sprite animation, which is somewhat alleviated by the author's skillful use of sprite movement to create a kinetic sense of action. However, there are multiple points throughout the game where sprite animation would have done wonders for the game's immersion and narrative. There are custom graphics here and there, including one hilarious scene involving dress up, but they are few and far. The author already uses freely available resources to great effect; I'd love to see what he can do with some more original art.

 

The game boasts a unique soundtrack; it feels like an experiment that doesn't always pan out. A lot of the music is stuff that you wouldn't typically hear in games, which feels fresh but doesn't always fit with the game's tone and setting. Sometimes the music can be downright grating. If you've never heard Ratatat before, prepare to become intimately familiar with them as one of their songs is used as the battle theme. By the time you're finished with the demo, it will feel like it just played twenty times in a row on the radio and never want to hear it again. At the end of the day, I can't say that I dislike the soundtrack, but it was never used in a way that conjured any strong emotions or feelings. And I can see a lot of players being put off by the odd choice in music.

 

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The sound effects, on the other hand, do stand out and are smartly employed. In lieu of sprite animation, sound is used to convey action. What the game does really well is ambient sound, which gives the game a lot of atmosphere without being too intrusive. A diner feels alive with the chatter of patrons and scraping of silverware. It's a shame that the game lacks animation to go with the excellent sound direction, as it would truly blow away.

 


 

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If I could describe Shadows' gameplay in one word, it would be laid back. Battles are easy and at times trivial, which is probably why I found myself tolerating the random encounters. The game's skill design leans on the better side, with abilities that feel satisfying and adequately powerful without totally negating the attack option. On the other hand, you usually don't feel like there's much of a choice in battles; most are won by building up TP and using Shadow Art attacks. There is some choice with Multi-attack not generating tension, but it's never a contending choice unless there are three or more enemies anyway. The Spectrum system compensates slightly by offering the player a fair amount of choice outside of battle by allowing him or her to equip different attributes. They feel adequately impactful if somewhat bland.

 

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In terms of exploration, the game manages to offer a fair amount of it and reward the player with lots of loot for doing so. In fact, at times it felt like there was too much to explore; I never felt tempted to explore all of it thanks to the NPCs not having anything substantial to say or do, and the game being so generous with money that you have no idea what to do with all of it. The game needs to have less diluted content and trade some of it for richer experiences. The dojo in Vulcan city was a nice distraction of a side quest; I'd rather see more events like that instead of visiting ten different dwellings with no real point.

 

Which leads me to my main criticism of the game - a lot of the content feels like filler. You're sent on a lot of different quests; while some of them are quite interesting, you never get the feeling that they serve a purpose. The game also seems to drag out its length here and there. For example, after completing one dungeon early on, the game doesn't teleport you out and has you walk out. To make things worse, this is one of the dungeons that has you stumbling around the dark like you're trying to avoid stepping on your cat when going to the bathroom at midnight. And oftentimes, you'll find yourself given an objective but no real direction as to where to go, forcing you to navigate blindly until you happen upon your target. In fact, this lack of direction eventually compelled me to stop playing entirely when I couldn't figure out how to progress.

 

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The game is certainly fun at times, but it doesn't manage to grip you for the entire journey. The battles have a lot of potential to be the main d raw of the game; one creative fight toward the end is a lot of fun. They could stand to be slightly more challenging and the player should be given more choice when it comes to tactics and strategy.

 


 

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The game's introduction does this game no favors, as it kind of throws you into the game. The main character is like Squall Lionheart in that he doesn't seem to care about anything. In fact, the game never really presents any motivation for the main character as he treads through life doing random things like bounty hunting. It's unfortunate because this game features some genuinely awesome writing as you get into and meet some characters with actual personality. My favorite one was a talking cat who does a fantastic job of fulfilling his role as comedic relief. The interaction between the three main characters is one of the biggest draws of the game; it's a shame that it's buried beneath a drab plot.

 

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The world is interesting, but as mentioned when discussing the presentation, it's inconsistent and seems to be whatever it wants to be at the time. The most flesh-out area appears to be Vulcan, a city that is run by an evil corporation. Well, the game hints that they're evil through NPC dialogue, but never really shows this. I mean, the NPCs seem to be living pretty decent lives to me, so whatever Orwellian oppression they endure must not be too big a burden to bear. Once I finished playing, I realized that I really couldn't give you an interesting synopsis of the story. A man is a bounty hunter... just because. He has no past, motivation, aspirations or likeable personality traits.

 

The narrative still manages to be a good read with dialogue that manages to be genuinely funny and at times charming. This game would be amazing if it was just the three main characters on their bounty hunting missions sans the pointless rubbish between dungeons. The author definitely has a grasp on humor, but falls short when it comes to infusing the cast with any degree of depth. Some of the random and unsolicited conversations don't help matters when the attempt at characterization becomes a bit heavy handed.

 

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The writing is solid but oddly paced at times. This could be overlooked with a more engrossing story, but as it stands it's rather undercooked. The plot serves its purposes, but you never get sucked in like a good RPG that keeps you enraptured to find out what happens next.

 


 

Odessia is a respectable game that hinges on remarkable, but there are some core flaws that keep it from greatness. Ultimately, it's a fun ride and worth your time.

 

Grade: B

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