Although it has a unique and fun battle system, the game underdelivers with its story. Characters aren’t developed well, and the plot is perplexing.
Genres: Adventure, Rhythm
Developer: Chris Nordgren, Jordi Roca
Publisher: Foreign Gnomes, Surefire.Games
Release Date: 4 March, 2020
Undertale is an indie game that left a huge impact on the internet, and I was initially hesitant to assume Everhood (E) was some kind of fan rendition or knockoff. However, from looking at the trailer, preview pictures, and beating the game, it’s clear this borrowed from Undertale. For instance, the font used for dialogue, the trailer opening with a deep yes or no question regarding human nature, and replacing traditional combat with something unconventional. Plus, there’s a character that’s obviously WD Gaster in E. Either way, it looked so interesting I wanted to find out what it was like, but I had no idea what I was in for.
The game is described as an RPG, but I don’t think that’s really the case. It’s true that you’ll wander around the environment, speaking with NPCs, doing a fetch quest here and there, and battling occasional foes. However, there’s no equipment or items to manage, nor is there XP or gold to earn, so you’ll never gain levels or more HP. I consider it more like an adventure game that emphasizes its story, with a unique combat mechanic.
When fighting an enemy, the battlefield takes on a UI similar to Guitar Hero with the grid of 5 columns. Instead of notes needing to be played though, you stand on this field and have to dodge the sound waves by both darting left and right and hopping over them. Since you don’t have to play all the notes yourself, the music isn’t inherently useful for dodging, as you’ll ignore a majority of them. I wouldn’t say that you’ll want to ignore the music per se, because sometimes the beat seemed to coincide with my moves, but focusing on the visuals is key to E instead of syncing up with the beat as you might expect.
There’s the option to either play the game with a controller or keyboard, and I opted for a controller myself. Throughout the game, it’ll show prompts for different moves, some of which aren’t always available, such as reflecting attacks away. There are a few different ways to use some of the moves though. For instance, dodging left and right can be done with either the ‘D-pad,’ ‘L joystick,’ or even the ‘R joystick.’ While in the overworld, you can run by double-tapping the direction you want to go. Jumping over notes can be done by either tapping up on the ‘D-pad’ or by hitting ‘A,’ while attacks can be reflected back by tapping down on the ‘D-pad’ or hitting ‘X.’ You may find it useful to experiment and find the set-up that suits you best.
Having played through the whole game, I frankly don’t know what is going on with the story. Theoretically I could present an interpretation, but I’d have to spoil all of the strange turns it takes. Plus, I know I missed finding some secrets, so with the potential for more plot points to be revealed, I’d hate to interpret it prematurely. However, though I found elements of it interesting and at times startling, most of it doesn’t have the impact I think the developers were striving for. For instance, NPCs kept saying how tremendously difficult the task would be and that none should have to bear such a burden. It’s true I got a bit mopey about it, yet it certainly wasn’t this heartbreaking conundrum I barely got through.
Most of this stems from the characters, none of whom developed as much as I expected them to. With how often the same NPCs kept showing up in different areas this is especially surprising. However, the first impression you get of any character is more or less all there is to them. Looking at the manic, unstable Green Mage, he seems a bit crazy. Later on, you learn more about the reason for that, but the depth of his character didn’t change. It simply went from, “He’s crazy, I wonder why,” to, “He’s crazy, I get why now.” Potentially, playing New Game+ might shed more light on the NPCs, offering another choice on what the protagonist does, but the game’s design doesn’t clearly enough suggest to me that my efforts would be rewarded.
The game includes a warning for those who would have problems with flashing lights, and it does so for good reason. There are many battles that make heavy use of distorted visual effects and bright, flashing lights against a black background. I don’t have a particular medical issue with these effects, but I think they could have used some restraint. When in battles, your eyes will be cast towards the lower-half of the screen to dodge notes, so it’s easy to ignore or miss what the enemy is doing, and in some cases saying. If you can multitask though, you’ll read their banter with you, and see how they move with the music they’re putting out. I think the more enjoyable ones are when they seem fitting, such as the Frog’s guitar strumming.
Despite not being a traditional rhythm or music game, the soundtrack is still a central element to the game, and is something E delivers strongly on. There’s a decent variety of genres and styles to establish different tones, which tended to fit the NPCs well. One I recall liking a lot was the trash can with its Spanish like song. Most songs have a faster tempo, which is necessary for the song to present a meaningful obstacle to players, but I’d have liked seeing a creative take with a slower song or genre as well.
- I quite liked the battle mechanics in E, though I was disappointed the few times I wasn’t able to retry a section after failing it. However, it gets even better in the second half, when every NPCs’ song displays another layer of meaning to it due to a new mechanic that opens up. It’s rather clever, honestly.
- If you’re struggling against an enemy, it’s possible to adjust the difficulty during the menu that pops up after losing. There’s a wide range of difficulty options as well, so it should support most skill levels.
- I hate how the pathways are set up. Oftentimes, where you can walk goes beyond the visible trail shown to you, so it seems foolhardy to trust or rely on them. Plus, many of them meander on for needlessly long duration. The absolute worst offender was Green Mage’s ‘endless’ corridor, which alludes to an ending with a potential secret. I ran through 74 rooms for a few minutes before giving up because I have no idea if it’s an infinitely repeating loop with no purpose, or what excessively high # they decided persistent players could suffer through. 100? 150?
- There’s a flashback scene for the main character that seems really instrumental to the story, in part because the setting is unlike anything else in the game. However, it reveals so little because it ends before anything happens, which is so frustrating. In my playthrough nothing else of relevance like this was shown, so I don’t have any important background information on the protagonist.
- Every so often, the game has unnecessary pauses that drag on an awkwardly long time.
- Both dodging left and right and jumping over notes will be important. However, dodging is emphasized more in this game, as many notes are too high to be jumped over anyways.
- Certain patterns can corner you, so if possible, you’ll want to stay towards the most open areas. Later on in the game though, at times you’ll need to steer into attacks.
One of my main issues with the game’s presentation is the sense that it did bizarre things at intermittent times, not for any meaningful reason, but simply because it could. The incident with the incinerator is mindboggingly over the top that I have no basis to comprehend what it was trying to convey, and things like that kept happening. I feel like I have an unsolved jigsaw puzzle, but I’m still missing so many pieces that I can’t yet tell what it is I’m working towards, and don’t have faith that the box contains the full 500 pieces.
Tinkering with the meta aspects of a video game can be enticing for gamers, yet there needs to be enough of a concrete basis for them to stay entrenched in. I can’t dive into the world of E because its foundation isn’t well established, and I’m not one to enjoy trippiness just for the sake of it. Part of me thinks a group of people tried replicating Undertale’s success on a surface level understanding of it, missed the point somewhere amongst all their bizarre ideas, and just went with it. If this game takes off and I wind up being the prophetic Debbie Downer that missed the brilliance of it, so be it. However, I lean more against recommending E, even though I mostly enjoyed the battles.