Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Out Casts Review: Unpolished, Unbalanced, and Nonsensical

 The following review was something I wrote during RMN's post-NaGaDeMo review drive back in July 2012, which I've already talked about here.  The game this review was attached to has since been taken down from the site, rendering the review unviewable to anybody except myself.  As such, I have decided to preserve the content of the review here on my own blog.  The text of the review itself is unchanged except for reformatting it for my blog; I'll discuss some of the out-of-date information at the end of the post.

The Out Casts: Unpolished, Unbalanced, and Nonsensical

The Out Casts is an RPGMaker VX game created by redwall10.  This appears to be redwall's first (and, as of this post, his only) game on this site; as such it could be expected that the game would not be a masterpiece.  Unfortunately, The Out Casts has many more issues than would be considered acceptable even for a first game, featuring unbalanced gameplay, a barely-sensical plot, and spelling errors galore.

At this time, the game page for summarizes The Out Casts as such: "The Outcast follows the journey of Chris and Ashley, two siblings who have become outcasts for practicing magic, as they fight against the forces of Zio and attempt to reclaim their place in society. Throughout their journey, Chris and Ashley will be aided by Sakura, a woman from Japan, and a powerful fighter known as Alex 'The Guard'. "

In actuality, The Out Casts follows Chris and Ashley, two siblings who became outcasts after Zio attacked their village out of a sense of racism.  After defeating Zio, they then go on to fight his master, the Earth King, who kidnapped their mother.

Story: It's an excuse plot, how could something so simple be made incomprehensible?
Sometimes in a game, we don't need betrayals and revelations left and right, and just want to beat up the dragon.  That's fine.  Excuse plots are perfectly acceptable in games that just want to attract you on the gameplay alone.

Temporarily putting aside the issue of whether or not The Out Casts has gameplay engaging enough to make such as design decision a successful one, The Out Casts somehow manages to take an excuse plot and make it nonsensical: After defeating Zio, the two siblings learn that Zio's master is holding their mother captive as revenge for them defeating his servant... except their mother went missing before they rebelled against Zio.

Presentation: Eye half know ID uh watt want rung, her.
Put simply, The Out Casts's performance in this area is simply atrocious.  Graphics are decent enough on their own (due to them being RTP), but maps are overly spacious and haphazardly arranged (with the exception of one interior map depicting a mine, which wasn't that bad).  Music is unremarkable.  Any time the player is presented with a dialogue box, they can expect to find more words that are spelled wrong than ones that are correct.  Even when you puzzle out what the characters are meant to be saying, it feels unnatural.

Gameplay: Not particularly interesting
The Out Casts is not the most unbalanced game I've played, but it still has a significant way to go.  Pretty much every random enemy encountered in the early game will be way too easy for your party to ever be a threat during the two rounds that the enemy will be alive.  The late game changes things up by including enemies that have enough health to last several more rounds, but are still incapable of becoming a threat to the party, mostly because somewhere in the 3-5 level range Ashley gains a full-party, full-health healing spell that she can cast for 8MP (out of ~90MP that she has).  Due to the fast paced leveling in the beginning of the game, level 3 will be reached after the second random battle.

Bosses are not much better: As long as your party members have enough health to survive one attack from the boss, Ashley can simply spam her healing spell every round, while your other party members chip away at the boss's hp.  When you don't need to heal, Ashley can instead use her costs-6MP-but-deals-600-damage Wind spell, which allows for enemies as late as the final boss to be brought down in 3-5 rounds of battle.

Final Verdict: No
The Out Casts could probably be made presentable with a nontrivial amount of work, but the low amount of salvageable content means it would be better to start over from scratch.  The game is playable, but players would be advised to look to other games for entertainment.

(Rating: 1.5/5 stars)

This was the third review that I posted to RMN, and the first that was about a game complete enough that I could feel justified in assigning it a numerical rating.  I was somewhat worried that the developer who created this game would take it too harshly, pull his games from the site, and leave game-making altogether.  At the same time, I didn't want to sugar-coat my descriptions of how I felt about this particular game-playing experience or assign a rating from an "eijii-modo" curve.  Reviews on RMN serve as both previews for potential gamers and valuable feedback for creators, and trying to go too soft interferes with both forms of utility that the review is supposed to provide.

Given that the game has since been pulled from RMN by the creator, It seems that I (or the other three people who reviewed this game) were too harsh.  (Or alternatively, that redwall10 was too thin-skinned, but I don't really have the proper perspective to objectively make that judgement).  I'm somewhat pleased to see that this pull seems to be more of an "Old Shame"-type pull rather than an "I'm going to quit game-making forever" thing, as redwall10 is currently in the process of producing a third game in the series.  (The second was in development shortly after my original review, but seems to have been pulled as well).  I can't really agree with trying to hide one's past failures by pretending that they never happened (After all, is it not better to admit the mistakes of one's youth?), but at least he's not giving up.

Unfortunately, from the spelling in the blog post it doesn't seem that much will be improved for this one.

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