Release Date: January 14, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Pixel art and retro-themed games are far from uncommon in the current indie scene. Some developers use the retro feel and mechanics to bring about something new and refreshing. In contrast, others rely heavily upon nostalgia while possibly neglecting to flesh out a full gaming experience.
Upon playing developer Grayfax’s Orangeblood, it did cross my mind that the game could end up as the latter. Not only does it use pixel art reminiscent of the 16-bit era, but the soundtrack is also heavily influenced by ’90s hip-hop. As a ’90s child who was really into JRPGs and music from the period, I was as skeptical as I was eager to jump into this world and see what it had to offer.
OrangeBlood takes place in an alternate 1990s on an urban island near Okinawa. Various gangs are scattered over the small area and are continually engaging in turf wars. You start as Vanilla, a slave caught in a gang war. In exchange for her freedom, she takes on secret missions that snowball into wacky scenarios. Through the journey, three other girls join your party, each with their reason for seeing the turf wars end but with seemingly mutually beneficial interests.
As you navigate the urban environment, you are accompanied by the excellent soundtrack, which is hands down my favorite part of the game. The beats fit right in with ’90s rap and hip and had me bobbing my head through my whole playthrough. The art design of the city and its colors have a cyberpunk inspired vibe. There are a lot of neat gritty details hidden as you explore the city, the downside of such an intricate landscape is it can frequently come across as too busy and hard to navigate.
Many times I wanted to interact with the world around me and thought I could because there was such care put into it, but most objects are there merely as background. With that said, it was still fun to walk around the city and see things that I had missed the first couple of times through.
There are various filter displays you can choose from that give off retro vibes, but most seemed to clutter things on the screen even more. However, it’s nice to have that option even though the default setting was my preferred way to play. Thankfully, you can use your flying car to fast travel to places not far from where you need to be.
As you progress through OrangeBlood, you will come across enemies which you can approach in a pretty unique way. If you shoot an enemy, it stuns them, giving you the option to run past or confront them. If you engage while they are stunned, your party starts off with more opportunities to use special attacks, making the battle a bit easier. On the other hand, if you fail to hit your mark, you begin with zero special attacks, and enemies can prove to be more of a challenge.
It’s an exciting way to present encounters. Shooting enemies before the battle screen always felt satisfying. Battles are of your standard turn-based fair, with each character having a gun as their primary weapon. AP is used as ammo, and if your character runs out, they will spend a part of their turn loading a new clip.
Additionally, you also have the option of using a turn to reload, which also boosts your defense or will help heal you. As you pick up different guns, some will have extremely high attributes, while lacking in most others. For example, a weapon could have a powerful attack, but this comes at the cost of ammunition, accuracy, or speed. There are some balanced weapons, but experimenting with those trade-offs seemed more useful and exciting for me. Along with your gun, each character has shoes and gear that, like your gun, can boost your character’s attributes.
The special attacks are what help differentiate each character. Vanilla’s special is “Deadshot,” which damages multiple enemies at random. Machiko is a DJ who works as the team’s healer and stat booster. Using her boom box, you have the option of continually healing your team through music or transitioning to another track to boost your SP.
Knowing which song to use is crucial during the more difficult battles. Machiko’s main special is “Ghetto Blaster,” which can either fully revive your team or lower the stats of your opponents depending on the track. Yazawa is a samurai who’s special is “Schwing!” dealing damage to each enemy with her sword. Jackie plays the part of a monk or fighter. Her special is “10-step kill,” which will dodge and counter any attack focused on her.
General combat is pretty fun, and it’s a good thing it is because you are required to grind a lot. There is always some expected grinding with RPGs, but Orangeblood, unfortunately, uses it as padding to make the game seem way longer than it actually is. Instead of forcing hours of grinding, Orangeblood would have benefited from just being a shorter adventure as the actual narrative is probably around 20 minutes. And that narrative is a wild one.
As simple as the plot may seem, it takes some hard turns later in the later parts that I think few would predict. But just because it’s unpredictable doesn’t mean that that the story is solid. Several times I wondered what was happening and why characters acted the way they did. As the game goes along things, get zanier and more random, and while it did break up some monotony, it didn’t make anything less confusing.
It all accumulates into a surprisingly anti-climatic finale and ending that came out of nowhere. Characters all swear profusely, and at first, it’s a sort of disarming contrast with the cute anime girl aesthetic. Still, it gets old very quickly and feels like more of a substitute for any real character development. The same goes for NPCs, who usually cuss or say they want to kill or hurt someone. This made interactions with them feel pointless. Dialogue boxes also appear on top of each other many times, preventing you from actually seeing what someone is saying and will disappear without warning.
Orangeblood has some really nice ideas, but the execution can feel lacking at times. However, the soundtrack and battle system is robust, which made getting through the game pretty entertaining at times. However, the confusing story and excessive padding keep Orangeblood from reaching its full potential. Thankfully the coolness of these characters might allow some players to look past that.
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