JRPG’s have never really been my bag, yet there was something about Orangeblood that caught my eye. The lovely looking pixel artwork and cracking soundtrack spurred me on to give this title a go. While there’s a good amount to enjoy, unfortunately even this good starting point isn’t enough to win me over.
We play as Vanille, a fairly tropey anime-style heroine who don’t take no shit from nobody. Enlisted by some shady people at the CIA (of course) she needs to infiltrate an enemy base on a man made island named New Koza. Of course, it’s not as simple as it seems. There are various tiers to work through and many characters to meet – and fight.
Orangeblood kicks things off well enough. That fantastic soundtrack backs some really rather wonderful visuals; the pixel sprites look great, while the level design is both packed with detail and complex while maintaining an element of clarity and life. AI characters bustle around, trams fly across the tracks and despite it’s mix of top down and isometric looks it’s pretty straight forward to navigate.
There’s a lot mature-skewed dialogue to get through, with plenty of swearing, drug references and violent chatter. I thought this added to the expereince for the most part but there were times where it also felt like a teenagers first script, so awkward and bluntly were these elements thrown in. We soon meet Machi Ko who joins our party (one of four companions found throughout) who seems just as loose with the attitude and it’s off to the fight.
Sadly, beyond the great visual and audio presentation (and all of the pottymouth) lies a game that seems a bit out dated in it’s mechanics. As I said, I’m not a great fan of JRPG’s in general, but even I know that a lot of this is obscure and hard to manage compared to the usual fare.
There are battles through out each stage, though the enemies are at least physically present in the level so you can see them coming. In theory it’s possible to avoid them but in practice, well, we ended up fighting 99% of the time due to the radius for engagment being as wide as the area they’re in.
It’s a turn-based affair, and even here it’s hard to really grasp what is going on. Machi Ko has a boom box that allows her to buff the party with either extra special meter or health at the start of each turn, but this is also affected by the song playing (apparently). Our characters fight with weapons such as shotguns, snipers etc, and these come with a multitude of status effects. Figuring out what each means – and which are the better options – is needlessly confusing. There’s very little help in the way of explaining what all of the stats are; some weapons only affect certain stats, others have fire or stun buffs while others trade extra power for a penalty to the holder. There is some sort of levelling system to the weapons but as far as I could tell this didn’t seem to really matter over the buffs.
The buffs themselves are confusingly written and squished together in a line at the top of the screen, while the stats effects show gains and losses but don’t really explain what that means for us overall. Armour and Kicks (extra defensive items) suffer the exact same problems. There’s no way to directly compare our equipped item or weapon with the inventory, and deciding what to sell or recycle is a game of guess who.
There is an auto-equip button which assigns the most powerful item to each character but even this is hard to decipher; my party members were given single shot rifles that also stunned them on a kill, yet I had no idea as I was unable to easily see the stats of the weapons assigned.
We also need to worry about reloading the guns before they run out, healing ourselves in the process, as well as special attacks. Full transparency – I didn’t finish the game, but in my 10 or so hours I found no new powers to change out the defaults. Granted it could be because those 10 hours were spent playing the first few tiers over and over due to some tedious difficulty.
You see, while there are plenty of fairly easy foes to kill along the way, all it takes is for the RNG to swing against us and we’re left helpless as a simple goon knocks our entire life bar off in one attack. Make it to the end of the level and a boss battle awaits. These are an exercise in tedium, to the point of frustration – more on that in a sec. Not only do they have several regular enemies with them to deal with as well, but they have huge life bars as well as the ability to attack three or four times in one turn. One failed run saw my entire tram wiped out in one swoop right as I’d gotten their life bar down from 20,000-odd to 1000, despite having full health myself.
There are checkpoints along the way which grant us the ability to get back to these fights fairly quickly (usually it’s only a room away, though all of the enemies respawn so be prepared for more encounters first). But. If we decide to come back to it later on and play something else we have no way of saving in these dungeons. This means either using an item to transport us back to the hub world and having to restart the whole dungeon, or as I found out to my dismay, losing a few hours progress. The suspend function of the Xbox doesn’t seem to work with Orangeblood so when I popped to the store to redeem a code and have a five minute break before another attempt at a battle I came back to find that the last two hours I’d spent working through a level – and everything that went along with it – was gone. This was my breaking point.
Orangeblood certainly has the style to draw players in but it sadly lacks the engagement of gameplay to keep us there. Fans of JRPG’s might be more willing to put up with it’s nonsense, but even then I suspect many will expect better these days. Mid level saving would have gone a long way to improving the experience, but confusing menus, boring and random-luck based combat and a story that fell straight out of a teenagers sketchbook all add up to an underwhelming finished product.