Connect with us

Review

Vane Review — Beautiful But Empty Exploration

Published

 on

Vane logo

Too often, promising games disappear from the public eye, prompting questions as to where they have gone. Routine, announced in 2012, has not seen a substantial update in more than 18 months. Deal with the Devil, revealed in 2015, quietly ceased development in 2017 due to funding shortages. Vane appeared to fall into this category. Announced in 2014, silence befell the project until the release date was suddenly and unexpectedly revealed last month.

Vane is the creation of Friend & Foe, which is formed by developers who worked on The Last Guardian. As may be expected, Vane continues several thematic and artistic elements from that game, as well as its predecessors, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico.

Vane starts with a young boy being booted into a raging sandstorm in the middle of a metallic city. Lightning flashes from the sky, obliterating patches of the metal walkways the player is running across. After encountering several dead ends, the boy eventually finds a doorway, where a strange humanoid creature with a beak-like face makes an ominous sound, and everything goes black.

Vane

From that point, as the light returns, the player finds that they have been transformed into a bird, able to fly across a vast desert landscape. Vane eschews holding the player’s hand altogether, not even providing basic control instructions or objectives. The player is forced to figure out what to do entirely on their own, with only very rare button prompts appearing.

This omission brings to light Vane’s first problem. The total lack of knowledge about what to do or where to go is a source of frustration, as the player is seemingly forced to spend a lot of time flapping about the expansive—and admittedly beautiful—environment trying to figure out what to do.

Exploration can be great fun in games, especially when the game has a beautiful landscape to look at. However, the point of exploration is to find something, and Vane has vast areas that are just… empty.

Eventually, the player will stumble across puzzles; some of these require the protagonist to be in bird form and call for the assistance of their fellow birds. The vast majority of obstacles require the human form, as opposable thumbs are of great use in many situations. Early on, the game does little to inform the player if they are making any progress. Apart from some spare audio cues, correctly solving a puzzle may go unnoticed.

Graphically, Vane looks incredible. The game has a unique graphical style that combines incredible realism with various effects and touches to demonstrate that the world depicted is not the real one, but instead some realm far distant. Some areas and objects show deliberate polygonal and voxel patterning, giving the environment a slightly surreal edge.

Of particular note is the bird form of the protagonist, with its incredibly realistic movement, animation, and beautiful iridescent feathers. Considering the amount of time the player spends looking at this form, they may be satisfied to discover that it looks amazing.

The human form, by contrast, is less interesting. Most of the time, the player will only see the character from a distance, leaving the player unable to appreciate his appearance, movement, and body language. His rare vocalisations are in an unknown language, which does not help when trying to get a handle on his personality.

The game also has occasional glitches in the movement animations for the boy: times where he appears to be pushing against nothing or clipping into objects. Considering how top-notch the graphics and animation is otherwise, these glitches are jarring.

Vane

The soundtrack is surprisingly minimal. The score has occasional pulses of music, particularly during the opening sequence, which showcases a rather good electronica/EDM track. However, the majority of the time, the player will only hear environmental sound effects, such as the wind blowing, water dripping, wings flapping, the irritating screeching of other birds, and sometimes more ominous sounds. The result is certainly immersive, if not always easy on the ears.

Vane evidently takes many of its cues from Shadow of the Colossus, with its huge environment and almost total lack of text or voice work to tell the story. Where Vane differs is that Shadow of the Colossus had a clear objective from the outset and a clear (if sparse) narrative arc with a heartbreaking ending.

With Vane, telling what exactly the player character is trying to accomplish is difficult. The game provides little indication as to what the goal is and how they are meant to accomplish it. The  synopsis of the game says that the bird/child will transform the world—but the player is not given an indication as to why this transformation needs to take place. This lack of indication, and the apparent omission of personality for the main character, makes Vane quite difficult to actually become invested in.

vane

Another notable issue is the loading times. While not overly frequent, the initial loading and transition between environments takes a very long time. While the environments are beautiful and expansive, other games have managed these transitions without such huge loading times, suggesting poor optimisation on the developer’s part.

Vane is beautiful in its expression. Players will find themselves stunned by the world the game depicts, but, unfortunately, the title seems to be an expression of style over substance. Vane looks and often sounds amazing, but the developer has pursued making a work of art at the expense of something that is fun to play.

Overall, Vane could certainly be considered a work of art. Nevertheless, though it was clearly aiming to be the next Shadow of the Colossus, it hits wide of the mark, as Vane lacks the depth and impact of that classic title.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Review

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans

Published

 on

Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

Continue Reading