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Kickstarter Project Chromatose Offers a Stylish Vertical Slice in Two-Hour Demo




Indie visual novel Chromatose does not shy away from asking hard questions. Are you ready to die? Would you rather hurt others than be hurt yourself? Is one’s lot in life the result of a self-motivated destiny, or simply how things are fated to be? This deep contemplation forms the beginning of Chromatose‘s demo, a thoughtful two-hour look into dreams, friendships, and what being alive really means. Developer Akabaka is seeking funding on Kickstarter to bring the project into a full-length game, and the free demo shows an incredibly promising start.    

Leroy awakens in a hospital room, disoriented and confused. He knows he was in an accident he should not have survived, but the rest is a blur. Stumbling through a strange dream-like place, he discovers he is in a coma, along with all the other inhabitants of this world. The coma world is a test, with the individuals inside needing to confront their greatest flaw to escape. If one stays in the place for more than 12 hours, however, they will be stuck forever. Will Leroy help the others face their demons, or selfishly leave them to their fate? Only the player can decide, with each choice having long-reaching consequences.

The world of Chromatose is explored in three different gameplay styles: traditional visual novel, with lots of dialogue to read and the occasional choice to be made; adventure game, with Leroy walking around the environment finding objects and solving puzzles; and a card-based combat system for facing the many nightmare monsters.

The visual novel segments are well-written, explaining this complicated world with ease and not falling into the trap of drowning in exposition. Each of the characters encountered in the demo has a distinct voice, and just enough of the story is revealed to leave the player wanting more.

Walking around the environments in the adventure game mode is beautifully atmospheric. Each environment is tied to its resident’s mind, with the shy Quentin’s world a blue flooded school, and the fighter Primadonna’s place a red nightclub thrumming with energy. Character portraits are detailed and stylish, taking clear inspiration from the Persona games. A sharp, limited colour palette gives the game a distinct appearance that ties in to the game’s themes.     

Environmental colour coding also has an affect on the combat system, with the cards gained from spending time with one character having an advantage against the monsters in the opposing character’s world. Combat is fast and frenetic, with each of the arrow keys representing a card to play. Leroy starts out with a deck of simple black attack cards, gaining more colours as he forms friendships with the other characters. Different coloured cards possess different abilities, such as adding time on the clock or clearing the dud cards from a hand. Speed is the most important factor in battles, with almost a Dance Dance Revolution approach in madly hitting the right arrows at the right time. Battles are tough, with a finely tuned deck required to get through the boss fights, but are also immensely satisfying when the monster is finally defeated. If this aggressive combat is not to one’s taste, a ‘rebalanced’ difficulty option is available for those more interested in the story.       

The most impressive part of Chromatose‘s demo is how incredibly polished it is. The characters are well developed, art is slick and stylish, and a killer soundtrack adds to the emotive experience. Developer Akabaka originally developed Chromotose as a tabletop game with friends back in 2014, and the time spent reiterating on the idea over the years shows.

At the time of writing, Chromatose is about 50% funded, with a deadline of April 11 to reach the goal of USD$22,000. The final game is anticipated to be roughly 20 hours long, and, should the campaign be successful, will release in April 2021. A Steam key is USD$15, with higher tiers offering soundtracks, beta access, artwork, and other bits and pieces. With such an impressive demo backing up Akabaka’s ambitions, visual novel fans have a lot to look forward to.   

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls



Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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