Phoenotopia: Awakening Review – Adventuring Through A Big Retro World

    Title: Phoenotopia: Awakening
    Developer: Cape Cosmic
    Release Date: January 21, 2021
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Cape Cosmic, Flyhigh Works
    Genre: Action-Adventure

Phoenotopia: Awakening is a remake of a Flash game released in 2014. The game has clear inspiration from titles such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Metroid and tells the story of a young girl called Gail on an epic journey. If this sounds too familiar, I can assure you that there are more unique elements to it than I could fit into an intro.

Phoenotopia takes place on Earth after a great war led humans to move underground. A long time after that, they have made their way back to the surface. However, their past has become a mystery to them.

The story begins when Gail, a girl living on an orphanage in a small village, has to gather the kids for supper. This small task is but the start of a long adventure that will take her to all sorts of places. It’s no exaggeration to say that the fate of the world rests on her shoulders.

Inspired by classic games, Phoenotopia uses a retro pixel art style. Instead of being fueled purely on nostalgia, it becomes an endearing rendition thanks to the diversity of environments and its use of colors. There’s absolutely no doubt to this game’s quality, and the details found in the area’s multiple layers are impressive as they make the world feel expansive. The lighting also changes, contributing to the atmosphere of the entire experience.

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Gameplay-wise, Phoenotopia is an action-adventure with Metroidvania systems. There’s an overworld akin to Zelda II thanks to the constant spawning of enemies, which are then fought in a 2D platforming screen based on the tile you’re on.

The map features areas of interest, which are typically dungeons and towns. In dungeons, the player is thrown into side-scroller platforming segments, featuring puzzles and enemies to deal with. While the village segments feature the same viewpoint, they will be peaceful areas with NPCs to talk and get quests from.

In their home village, players will gain access to their first weapon, nothing too impressive, just a bat that can be upgraded later on. There are also important sub-items such as a slingshot, a flute, bombs, and a spear. Each is necessary to solve the puzzles and advance, but most offer some value for combat.

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When it comes to combat, mechanics can become an issue. The basic attacks are particularly unimpressive, and something happens that makes the character not change directions while moving. Being hit causes a substantial knockback, which is often annoying, even with a technique that allows the player to land properly and reduce its impact.

Another issue is how the game’s difficulty options are just small variables. There’s a setting marked “accessibility options,” which can be altered at any time and includes making invincibility frames come after two consecutive hits instead of three and spending no energy to use the basic weapon. But even in the easiest setting, this game can still be considerably challenging.

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One of the contributors to the game’s challenge is the positioning of checkpoints. They’re sparse, so being killed will often mean redoing entire dungeons from the beginning. Conversations, puzzles, and enemies are reset since your only option is to reload a save. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or not, but sometimes broken items were missing and once a boss conversation was completely skipped, but this rarely happened, so I can’t tell if it was intentional.

It’s possible to use food obtained from enemies or buy them at stores to restore some health in dungeons. There are also two mini-games related to food—the first being fishing and the other cooking, which changes a meal’s properties. In towns, it’s possible to rest at inns to regain health, but in the field, you’ll be limited to the items you have in stock.

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Inventory space is also very limited in the beginning. After some grinding, you’ll be able to have enough coins to purchase extra pockets. Exploration is rewarded during gameplay with extra hearts, energy gems, and many new items, along with ways to upgrade their already existing ones.

The amount of side-content is a significant part of the adventure, given that the main story only makes up about 1/5 of the content. This content comes in a few different forms, such as speaking with NPCs, initiating sidequests, using items to reach previously unreachable places, defeating extra enemies, and expanding your arsenal, all of which are an integral part of the experience.

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I should also mention the soundtrack composed by William Cho. Every music really contributes to the feeling of the adventure. Be it the tranquil waves of walking through towns or the epic grandeur of tense boss battles, it perfectly nails the atmosphere.

After completing the game, I felt like this is only the beginning of Gail’s story, but it doesn’t feel like it was forced to stop suddenly. In fact, this is a fully-fledged journey of Gail’s growth as she discovers more about the world she lives in. Even with room for a sequel, I don’t feel like anything is missing if this is only a standalone experience. Not only is there a large quantity of content, but Phoenotopia‘s big world filled with color, magical fantasy, and technology, with intriguing twists all around, is nothing less than impressive.

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Phoenotopia: Awakening is a grand adventure with a heart just as large. It wears its influences on the sleeve, but the team’s passion is consistently visible and unabashed. There are some gameplay hiccups, and balance for newcomers is more on the unfriendly side. Still, it’s no doubt a must-play adventure for any seeking a classic action-adventure game experience.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Ivanir Ignacchitti

Random Japanese games are my jam. Handhelds, RPGs, VNs and PC banzai.