Something about leveling up my Steam account by linking it to Boyfriend’s has filled me with a fever, and the only cure is more Steam games. I was so ready to play The Stanley Parable, but Archimedes, my elderly laptop, can’t quite muster the resources to run it without it crashing into a spectacular cacophony of skipping audio juxtaposed with a blank screen. So…perhaps something that requires a little less CPU…
99 Spirits, developed by the excellently-named Fruitbat Factory, has been chilling out at the top of my Steam library for long enough that I can’t quite remember where or when I picked it up. It was probably in a bundle. I didn’t know much about the game when I booted it up, other than a vague memory that its battle system was somehow puzzle-related.
The premise of the game is that you are the daughter of a shrine maiden who was murdered by demons called Tsukumogami. You love to kick Tsukumogami ass all day long, but you’re bummed, because the buggers always run away before you can properly murder them. But one day, this mysterious fox shows up and hands you a sword and is like, “Hey, you can murder Tsukumogami much more effectively by using this magic demon-murdering sword!” And you’re like, “Hell yeah! Let’s murder demons!” And then you get down to the business of murdering demons.
There is an actual story here, populated by a collection of anime-inspired characters with fairly attractive artwork.
Some of the translation feels a little awkward, but it’s grammatically correct, perfectly adequate, and gets the story across effectively enough. I even rather enjoy some of the wackier turns of phrase.
Movement through the world involves an interesting grid-based map that is only vaguely representational of the environment. It reminds me a of a simplified version of the world map in the first Persona game. People and objects are portrayed by geometric shapes on a blank grid.
It’s a bit visually bland and certainly repetitive, but it does a serviceable job of getting the point across, I suppose. The same grid is used for exploration outside of the town, with little clouds of vapor representing enemy encounters.
The battle system is the attraction here, and it’s so wonderfully kooky and unique that I wanted so much to like this game, because I love the concept.
You face off against a Tsukumogami, who is obscured by a cloud of vapor. You can’t actually attack and kill the demon until you dispel the vapors, and you can’t dispel the vapor until you correctly guess the Tsukumogami’s identity. You do this by attacking and blocking until the gems in your sword acquire enough power to allow you to beat a clue about its name out of the demon. This sounds impossible until you realize that all of the Tsukumogami are apparently demonic, sentient, familiar items and objects. This is pretty cool, actually, because it’s based on an idea common in Japanese folklore that an object that has been around for at least 100 years becomes self-aware, though I don’t think they necessarily become evil demons when they do so. These Tsukumogami, though…super evil.
So, for instance, you might build up your gem power, activate the special attack, and the word “protection” flashes up. Great, now you know that the demon is an object that offers some kind of protection. You build up your power, activating the attack once more, and this time the letters RI appear. Okay, cool, it’s some sort of protective item with the letters R and I in its name. You hit it two more times, discovering that its name also contains the letters CO and that it has something to do with “weather.” Aha! It’s a “raincoat!” Then, you block a few times to build up the power of your second gem, whose power will bring up a keyboard, and you can type in your guess.
If you guess correctly, POOF! The vapors disappear, the Tsukumogami’s true nature is revealed, and you can murder the fuck out of it!
This is such a clever idea for a battle system. The concept is quite brilliant, and I can’t think of another game that does something similar. Maybe Bookworm Adventures, but that’s more of a word find than a neat guessing game. Here’s the problem though. Battles take far too long. It takes a few attacks to build up enough power in your gem to generate a clue, and since your attacks are mapped to a single key, this is a boring and repetitive process. The puzzles themselves are engaging enough, but you’ll need at least three or four clues to correctly suss out the Tsukumogami’s name, so this quickly becomes tedious. Then, once you’ve guessed it, you have to charge the other gem in order to bring up the keyboard to type in your guess. If you’re wrong, you have to repeat the process all over again.
Now, it’s possible that this process becomes quicker or more interesting as the game progresses. I am given to understand that you are eventually able to capture demons and turn them into allies, ala Pokemon. But man…I do not have the patience to get there. I barely had the patience to play the hour I did play. Which is sad, really. I didn’t know I wanted a word puzzle RPG until it existed. Sadly, this is not quite the word puzzle RPG I am looking for.