By Mento 1 Comments
May the Twenty-Fourth
The source: The Retro Groupee Bundle (and I also owe a thank you to user @starfoxa for the heads-up)
The pre-amble: Anodyne is a 16-bit action adventure game that very much takes its cues from the Legend of Zelda series and Link to the Past in particular. The goal is to explore an increasingly surreal series of worlds and conquer dungeons for key items. The protagonist Young's chief (and only) weapon is his trusty broom: not only does it defeat enemies like a sword, but it can also pick up and deposit piles of dust which have various effects on obstacles in the environment. With the exception of a major mid-game event that unlocks the second half of the game's content, Anodyne is almost entirely non-linear and strongly emphasizes exploration and puzzle-solving just like its inspiration.
The playthrough: Anodyne is fantastic. I played Neutopia a while back for another blog feature which was similarly a "Zelda clone" and I wondered what the point was of making a game just like Zelda and not only not trying to improve on the mold but not even giving the game a unique makeover to give it its own sense of character and personality. (Of course, it was just to give Turbografx-16 owners their own version of Zelda. Apparently making cross-platform clones of exclusives was often a lucrative market.) Anodyne avoids this situation by making a game as playable as its inspirational source and paints a veneer of bizarre surrealism over it.
The best analogy I can think of for what this game is about is Mitsuo's dungeon "Void Quest" in Persona 4, a reference I assume most people reading this will get given how popular the P4 Endurance Run was. While ostensibly a chance for the game to honor its famous forebear (that would be the original MDigital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, released in 1987) with a dungeon crawl crammed full of nostalgia-rich 8-bit pixel art texturing the 3D environments and a lot of dopey, deliberately badly translated messages. What it really represented was Mitsuo's fractured psyche and the revelation that he was basically empty inside: the dungeon trappings and RPG clichés were simply him trying to make sense of the world and the people in it through a filter of video games. In a similar fashion that's what Anodyne appears to be doing. Much of the game is open to interpretation (it is, ultimately, that kind of game) but that was my impression from the often cryptic messages left behind by its odder denizens about Young and his interpersonal relationships. Young (or maybe Ying?) is clearly not a straightforward heroic protagonist, and for that matter Anodyne is not simply a quest to find some great treasure and save the world.
But I've railed against psychobabble plots and deliberately obtuse narratives before now. It's something that can grate quite easily, especially if its not handled well or the actual game around it isn't all that compelling. Fortunately, Anodyne avoids both of these issues by putting forward a really well-crafted game filled with secrets and thoughtful puzzles in an intriguing and quite expansive universe. That I spent a significant portion of today playing it all the way through to its conclusion ought to speak volumes.
The verdict: I've completed it so that's all for me. I could easily recommend it though.