Namco Bandai's Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom was a really interesting game to play. Not just because I enjoyed (eventually) the characters and the setting it sometimes struggled to portray but because it was the first time I'd played code well before its release. As well it being pretty damned nice to have several weeks before a deadline when I'm busy working in the day, it also meant I didn't have to tear my hair out at some of the puzzles in the game. I'm one of those gamers that will quite happily refer to a walkthrough to get past most of the gameplay elements so I can continue to experience the story or characters.
Majin doesn't give you much help with its puzzles and I shudder to think how foul my mood would've been if I'd had just a few days to play it. Anyway, what intrigued me most about Majin was how very reminiscent its tone and atmosphere was of ICO. It didn't achieve this by the same methods that Team ICO used - with subtle and almost near-silent narrative - instead it uses the developing partnership between Tepeu and Majin as the focus in gameplay and during moments of exposition.
By making each role essential to the other character you begin to rely on the Majin for all combat situations and he relies on you for guidance and instruction. There's not much in the way of groundbreaking mechanics here but I loved the way your role in the game wasn't to be the muscle-bound dude who cracked skulls and farted out one-liners like a crappy movie. This made Majin feel much more thoughtful and it's a slow and ponderous experience unlike most other games on the console.
My review is over on GamePeople right now along with another from Jon Seddon and I'll be reviewing it again for Strategy Informer in the next couple of days. Which comes with the added bonus of putting a score on it. Oh the controversy.
I had hoped to cover ArcaniA: Gothic 4 as well but I've no idea if they actually released the game on the Xbox 360 yet. It was meant to be out in October but the last I saw was that it won't be out until March 2011. In the meantime I've dived into Venetica - which was out last year in Germany and just released last week in the rest of Europe and the US. After about 11 hours it's a fairly typical European RPG with some awful frame-rate issues and subtitles that are nearly always mis-spelt or wrong. Even an achievement couldn't spell 'Complete' correctly which goes someway to showing how rushed this port to the console was or how inexperienced some developers are away from their platform of choice.
None of that impacts the actual game too much and I'm vaguely enjoying it - probably because my lack of a decent PC means I'm restricted to what European RPGs I can try. Playing as Death's daughter and hunting down some undead nasties has nice ring of irony to it and I'm looking forward to seeing if it goes down a cliched path towards the end or tries to veer off and do something different. I say that because it isn't shy of killing off characters from the beginning and even though it wraps the whole experience up in typical RPG fodder I'm finding myself strangely intrigued.
That could also describe the brief period of time I've spent with Winter Voices - an episodic RPG available on Steam for £3.49 for each chapter. I'm about an hour into the prologue and so far it's done a great job of presenting something completely different and unexpected.
Set in a frozen and snowy village the game opens with the unexpected death of your father and whilst in the house with his body, malevolent memories appear from the shadows and begin to attack. Sounds corny as hell but Winter Voices is presented in such a delicate and beautiful way that the threat posed by these Will'o the Wisp entities feels tangible and perilous.
Combat is a different too. The game is presented in an isometric view and a grid is overlaid for turn-based combat. But instead of using explosive magic to obliterate these enemies you have only evasion and suppressive skills to employ. It's a completely different way of dealing with the threats of old memories and evokes a very unique atmosphere.
It ain't perfect though and I've already come across two battles where my objective was to simply survive for 15 turns, with no real purpose or relation to the story. Ostensibly it's meant to portray memories creeping into your subconscious and threatened to engulf you - but it comes across in this instance as just damn annoying.
The best part to Winter Voices is the narration and writing in that first hour. It seriously sent chills down my back and if they can keep this up throughout all seven episodes then Winter Voices cold be a very special indie game indeed.
Oh, I almost forgot - I played Fable 3 as well. The very fact I almost forgot to put it in here says a lot about the latest title from a franchise I've always liked. Quite simply it's an unremarkable, unmemorable effort that feels half-mauled by the Kinect integration that appears to have been ripped out 6 months before launch. For all its accessible-focused design, Fable 3 lacks any soul whatsoever and portrays the same black/white morality system that made Infamous such a disappointment as well.