Goldfish with a heart of tin.
As a guy who writes about video games, I always follow this rule: never write a review of a game you are not able to keep playing. I don’t think it’s fair to give a score to a game that I couldn’t manage to complete, as I would be lying about the experience I had as a whole. Some games get better when you reach their last half and I know this, yet there are some titles I just can’t find the strength to keep playing them on their first hours. I’m not talking about those games you buy, play for a while and then forget about them to keep playing the same things again, but rather those titles that no matter how hard you try to keep moving forward, you just can’t do it. That’s why I have to write this about an indie title that I’ve been following for quite a while now: Feudal Alloy.
Of Pets and Robots
Feudal Alloy is a game developed by Attu Games that saw the light on January 17th. With a Metroidvania style and a really unique look, I was quite interested in taking a look at this title. And the gameplay they uploaded via Twitter looked interesting too! Even if it had a stamina gauge (I really hate stamina bars on Metroidvanias that are not trying to be you know which game), I thought it has some really creative ideas and concepts. Robots powered by oil and small animals? That’s so cute! Tons of different types of armor and swords? You bet I’m going to like this!
And then, I started playing it. And I liked how the first hour felt like a Metroidvania, teaching you how everything workes (even SHOWING you something instead of making text appear in front of you as it should be on this genre), but then… I start to see the mistakes. The terrible, awful mistakes.
Stats of Decay
The first issue you’ll encounter in Feudal Alloy is the RPG system. You can find (or buy) parts of equipment for your robot: arms, legs, torso and head. All these parts can be mixed in order to make your rusty warrior as cool as you want. And the game offers a huge array of different sets to make you look as badass as you want. Now, tell me if you can find something weird about this. Exactly: I’m not talking about the stats that each set of armor gives you, and that’s because the stats are completely useless.
Not only they are vaguely written at times (if a part says “overheat temperature”, does that mean it lowers the gauge of the overheat temperature, it makes it bigger, or it makes me reach it faster?), but the weapons and the sets don’t offer anything in terms of noticeable defense or attack. There are no numbers, no stats, not a single thing telling the player “this one makes you hit harder” or “this one makes you slower”, and that’s a big flaw if you want to take the RPG approach. If you want to add something to your game, you have to ALWAYS think about why you are adding that. If the answer is “I think it’s cool”, chances are that it will be a nuisance to the people playing your game. And if you add a skill tree to your game, don’t make grinding a complete pain in the ass.
Killing enemies give you EXP and coins that you can expend in the shop (and why would you do that unless you just want to buy a set that looks cool, but anyway), and I’ll say this with no sugar coating: don’t even f*cking bother killing enemies in this game if it’s not completely necessary. The amount of experience you get from them is so small that I only managed to level up twice IN 3 HOURS. And this is your skill tree by the way:
I think in this case a picture is worth a thousand words, so I won’t add more things to this section. And speaking of things that are only for the looks, let’s talk about the next issue: the visuals.
Player Unknown’s Backgrounds
Regarding the style of the characters and enemies of Feudal Alloy, I think they look really good. As I said before, robots with small creatures like goldfish and hamsters are something I crave for any time. And when you are exploring the outside plains it looks beautiful too! But see, this is when another flaw knocks at your door only to hit you in your private parts the moment you open the door: the backgrounds are awfully bland.
If you think the backgrounds and the areas you visit are something important for your gaming experience, you are going to feel really disappointed, my dear friend. If you have to walk for more than 2 hours around the same areas with nothing remarkable that makes them stand out from the rest of the other locations you visit, you are going to feel really bored really quick. Not only Feudal Alloy makes you do this through caves (something that either you take the Super Metroid route and make them stand out for real or you are done for in terms of visual engagement), but it also has some of the dullest backgrounds for those caves I’ve ever seen so far. Maybe in a game from the NES era, this worked, but nowadays using black and putting a couple of repeated images on the backgrounds doesn’t help the experience at all. Just take a look at these screenshots and try to tell me if you can see anything that makes you tell the difference between them:
And if you think the map will help you keeping track of where you are, good luck with that mate:
Not only the map puts your icon in the middle of the square you are supposed to be, but it’s also worthless due to the lack of clear indication about what leads you to what. Take a look at that central square with two icons on it. You can take three different paths, yet the structure of the area is so chaotic you’ll never be able to understand if you are following the route you wanted to go or not. And again, you are going to see tons of caves following that same structure, and a Metroidvania title without remarkable locations is a Metroidvania not worth the name. And now, I have to address the biggest issue of Feudal Alloy: the lack of an engaging goal.
Death and Penalty
Think about your favourite game. No matter the genre, chances are that if you die in that game, you’ll have consequences. From dumb patriotic quotes in Call of Duty to being thrown at the title screen like in some Castlevania games, dying is something you want to avoid in order to see what the game will offer you next. This sense of “overcoming the odds” is the MOST ESSENTIAL ELEMENT of a video game. If you die and nothing happens, what’s the point about dying? Well, Feudal Alloy doesn’t understand this concept, and for that, I believe it fails. Why? Because dying in Feudal Alloy doesn’t mean anything.
You die in Super Mario? You lose a life. You die on Super Metroid? You are sent back to the last Save Station you saved in. You get killed by something in Salt & Sanctuary? You appear on the last sanctuary you saved, and the game tells you how much salt you lost in order to encourage you to go there and retrieve what you earned with your effort. What happens in Feudal Alloy when you die? You respawn in the last place you saved. That’s it.
You don’t lose experience, you don’t lose coins, you don’t have to retrieve anything. The only thing that happens when you die in this game is not an incentive to keep going, but instead, a way to tell the player “you died, but I don’t give a single crap if you want to try again, to be honest”. This may sound really stupid and dumb, but think about this: when you die in a game, your brain tells you to keep going forward in order to overcome that obstacle due to either a premise as simple as “go kill generic villain” or because you want to see what the game is going to show you next.
Now, think about a game that its only premise is so weak and so completely forgettable that you will forget about it in less than 3 hours. What’s the thing that keeps you going forward? The new areas you will encounter? But everything looks the same as you saw, you are not going to find anything amazing anytime soon. Is it because you want to find new sets and weapons? These don’t matter and you don’t see or feel yourself becoming stronger by using them, so that’s also a negative. Maybe you want to do what the plot tells you to do? The plot literally talks about how a gang of robots stole some oil and mementoes from old robots veterans in a robot residence. They don’t kill or harm the veteran robots, they just steal from them some oil. I don’t care about them, and neither Attu (the main protagonist), as he decides to LEAVE THE RESIDENCE in order to retrieve the stolen goods. Isn’t leaving old people completely alone and without help worse than just getting more oil? This plot, by the way, is a cinematic that appears EVERY SINGLE TIME you press “Continue”, and even if you can skip it, it makes you feel like the game is trying to tell you “we forgot about this as we know it’s a pretty weak excuse of a plot, so watch the first lines of the intro whenever you boot up the game OK?”
Definition of insanity
I only played three hours of Feudal Alloy, yet those three hours felt like the dullest experience I ever had playing a game. Heck, even The Eternal Castle is a drag to play, but even that game had a premise decent enough to make the player keep going forward. Feudal Alloy is a Metroidvania that not only fails as a Metroidvania but more importantly, as a game. I’m leaving some things out of this opinion (exploration is not really worth it, as the things you find are for the most part useless, ETERNAL enemy gauntlets that never end when they should and one of the worst enemy placement I’ve seen so far) because I think the most important flaws of this game should be addressed first.
I know some people will believe I shouldn’t give a score to a game I never managed to complete, but I’ve been reviewing games for quite a while to know if a title is going to give me something unique or not in its first hours. I always try to reach the end of all games I review (I EVEN finished Agony), but for the first time, I don’t have any single incentive to keep playing a game. And this part is for the developers of Feudal Alloy: I know you are indies, and I can tell how hard it is to create a game only to see an asshole say that your game is filled with issues. Trust me, if there’s something I love doing is talking and supporting indie titles no matter how big or small they are. But even if you feel I’m writing this with anger, what I’m actually feeling is disappointment.
When you make a game, you have to take a look at what you made and ask yourself “is this something I would enjoy playing?”, and if the answer is “no”, you have to change some things. The most important aspect of developing games is listening to feedback and understand what makes your game click, and the great thing about being an indie developer is that you can chat and ask for said feedback directly! Way of the Passive Fist is a fantastic game that I’ll play and remember always because Household Studios made changes and listened to the issues, so it’s not too late for Feudal Alloy to shine. But in order to shine, you need to polish things first.