Attempts at audio

Soundcloud: Episode 1Episode 2

I guess I tried making a podcast type thing for Indie Hell Zone, since it’s important to branch out. I haven’t properly mentioned these attempts on the site yet so I’m posting it up now. This is something I want to try doing, but I want to know how to improve and I’m too embarrassed to properly approach my friend that runs a podcast about it. Anyway, if you listen to this, please tell me what you think and how I could make this better in the future!

Momodora I & II

First off, I’d like to thank my friend Trick for getting me Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight last Christmas. Secondly, I’d also like to apologize to Trick for only having played it for like an hour as we drift closer and closer to another Christmas. You know, backlogs and shit.

I’ve thought about maybe going back to that, since I need some non-RPG Maker content for this month. But then I thought, “hm, don’t I also have Momodora III?” And I do! And then I got to thinking, “how were the first two games like, actually?” And so, I continue putting off the new Momodora to look at where the series started.

The Momodora games are by Bombservice, led by rdein. The first two games are available for pay-what-you-want rdein’s itch.io, so they’re easily accessible.

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RPG Maker – The Unorthodox Horror Game Engine

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A player walks around a dimly lit room, ambient noises accompanying their footsteps as they check everything over. They find some absurd puzzle lying around, barring their way forward. As they mull over the solution, they hear something enter the room as the ambiance amps up into scare chords. A monster appears to harass the player, forcing them to run, as there’s no way to take the monster on.

This is a basic scenario for a horror game. You may picture some mainstream horror game like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Point is, you’re probably thinking about some big 3D horror game with a decent budget. However, the kind of game that I’m thinking about isn’t made in a high-end engine by a formal game studio.

So, RPG Maker. RPG Maker is an accessible tool for complete rookies to make their own games, intended to be used for making  RPGs. However, some people decide to ignore the RPG aspect of the whole thing and make adventure or narrative games out of it, such as To the Moon.  There’s a certain genre, however, that’s popular in the RPG Maker engine, to the point that it overshadows the engine’s intended use in some communities: horror games.

Continue reading “RPG Maker – The Unorthodox Horror Game Engine”

The Witch’s House

I’ve been writing this thing about horror games made in RPG Maker for my journalism class, and it’s been coming along pretty nicely. One of the things I’m doing for it is putting a list of recommendations for newcomers to play and I got a bunch of suggestions on what to put. A popular suggestion was The Witch’s House, which I have not played beforehand, so I decided to get on that and make a write-up while I was at it.

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The Witch’s House is a game made with RPG Maker VX by Fummy, translated by vgperson.  You are Viola, a girl who, according to the letter in her inventory, went to visit her friend. Alas, it appears that she got lost in a forest and a thick bush of roses is blocking her way out. With nowhere else to go, she’s forced to enter the eponymous house. Tailed by a friendly talking cat, Viola wanders around the haunted house filled with absurd traps, under the constant threat of the witch, Ellen.

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Dungeon Down

So I follow this Driftwood Gaming guy on YouTube, who’s a guy that mostly deals with RPG Maker MV stuff and games made with it. Recently, he’s also been looking at IGMC 2017 stuff (and I recommend checking it out if you prefer more visual stuff). I haven’t watched any of his coverage so that it wouldn’t affect my own judgement, but I’ve caught glimpses. Now, when I glimpsed into my feed yesterday, I saw that he made a 3 hour video on one of these games. Why the huge time sink? I got curious, so I decided to check out the subject of that video, Dungeon Down.

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Dungeon Down is by luizcubas, a game advertised to be a “fast paced dungeon crawler.” Players might balk at the title screen, since it’s one of the engine’s default asset title screens, but I think this is a case where you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

You begin in a safehouse as an unnamed adventurer, a simple letter detailing the game’s instructions that you can check at any time. You are told to go down and explore the dungeon, with a goddess bringing you back to the entrance when you die or reload a save. That’s pretty much the plot right there.

You head toward the stairs, from which you can choose a checkpoint floor (1, 11, 21, 31, etc). Each floor gives a small randomized dungeon where you can pick up treasure to equip, ending in a sequence of fights. Picking up treasure kinda reminds me of loot heavy games like Destiny or whatever, with stats being somewhat random and equipment having a whole lot of tiers. Every tenth floor lacks the dungeon segment, but offers a trove of treasure upon beating the sole boss class enemy.

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And so, we finally look at the game’s special active-time battle system. The system’s real simple, with no menus to screw around in to waste your time. Skills of different elements are mapped to your WASD keys and you can use an HP or MP potion with the 1 and 2 keys respectively. You use a move and wait for it to cooldown, which takes less longer if you take the time to upgrade it. A basic elemental system is in place, with fire skills screwing up ice-typed enemies while being ineffective against other fire-types and water-types. You’re told what elements the enemies of a floor have in advance, so you can equip needed skills and upgrade them beforehand. Most of the battles are nice and quick, a lot lasting for less than half a minute, especially if you’re taking advantage of elemental weaknesses.

I think this battle system is real great. Complex battle systems are nice because they offer variety and encourage tactical thinking, but simplified battle systems are great in their own right. The simple battle system can be more inviting to casual players and fits the quick pace the game’s trying to for; I also think that simple systems fit active-time battle systems better, because you don’t have to worry too much about strategy or setting up buffs or whatever while enemies use the time to beat you up.

When you’re killed, you’re sent back to the entrance of the dungeon. You keep your levels, gold and skills, but you lose all your equipment – unless you’ve used an Eternum Stone on them before death. Worry not, because you can use that gold to buy equipment and items from the shops and you can upgrade them further to buy better equipment. This point is important starting from the 80th floor.

After reaching the 80th floor, each floor onward has a boss on the level of the “tens floors” bosses, each one representing one of the game’s elements and progressively getting harder. With chests never spawning except as a rare reward and no normal encounters to fight, the game essentially becomes a boss rush at this point. From here, you can easily buy needed equipment and items at the entrance and the bosses give enough money to buy them back on retries, so the game’s priorities switch from gathering equipment to focusing on improving skills so that you can kill the bosses faster than they can kill you.

People may argue that the game is repetitive. And it kinda is, especially with the game’s switch in priorities starting at the 80th floor. But as I played it, I fell into the same trap I fell into with clicker games. It’s a simple enough game that it’s easy to get sucked into, but with just enough depth to keep me invested. The randomized loot called to me, asking me to gather a whole lot of them and look through for anything worthwhile to equip. Then there’s that desire to see those numbers you can push out increase, so I kept at upgrading my skills. Dungeon Down exhibits a lot of simple but addictive systems in video games. All it needs are loot boxes and it’s pretty much your modern day video game.

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As engaging as the game is though, there’s some problems that need to be addressed. The most obvious one is that there’s no story. In fact, there is no narrative to speak of. Your character doesn’t even have a name, for crying out loud. The gameplay is Dungeon Down‘s main hook and while I think that it’s a good hook, there’s nothing else to encourage players to press on in the game, which might be a problem if they’re not already hooked.

There’s also the randomized dungeon bits before you fight a floor’s encounters. I like the idea of them, but also, they really don’t serve any purpose besides acting as a medium to get treasure and to run around in for HP and MP regeneration to work their magic. As all encounters are set at the end of the floor and their make-up is told in advance, there is no sense of danger. The fire themed set of floors offered damage tiles, but the damage they did was negligible, especially with HP regen in mind. Sure, maybe story isn’t important for a game like this, but I think that the dungeon segments can stand to be more meaningful, if the creator ever plans on working more on this.

Is Dungeon Down a perfect game? No. But Dungeon Down is a game that grabbed me and might be one of the most engaging entries in IGMC, at least in terms of gameplay. I kinda picture this game to be something that you can find on iPhone or whatever and I honestly think the creator could go for publishing it on those stores with some improvement.

The Golden Pearl

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The Golden Pearl is by The Mighty Palm, a game that’s very much in the vein of Link’s Awakening and the Zelda Oracle games. Your character, a blue-haired caped fellow by the default name of Arty, decides to go look for the powerful wish-granting Golden Pearl. For some reason. To gain access to it, however, Arty must clear through the temples of fire, water and earth and get their rings. And so, he sets out to look for them.

…That’s pretty much the general plot, actually. The story’s mainly an excuse plot, at least until near the end. How’s the setting? Is this place a mythical dream land? Honestly, it probably doesn’t matter, let’s go exploring.

The general gameplay is a sort of distilled version of the Game Boy Zelda games, with a larger emphasis on exploration and puzzles. A good chunk of the map’s open to you and the items required to access the rest are easy enough to get. There are plenty of small quests from the game’s quirky NPCs, a lot of them offering Power Pommes (the game’s Heart Container equivalent), so there’s a good amount of stuff to do. You can gun straight for the dungeons, but you’ll be missing out on a bunch of content that easily puts the game over the contest’s one hour limit.

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There are enemies in the game’s overworld, but for the most part, you can’t properly fight them. Thus, confrontations typically have you, the guy decked with unlimited bombs and arrows, running away from a boar. That said, there are boss battles that you can properly fight, which were kinda hit-or-miss for me. Watching the boss of the earth temple repeatedly get stuck certainly showed me that having proper combat throughout the game would feel kinda off. A later boss also throws out a whole bunch of projectiles during the fight, which ended up slowing my game down, which I feel also could have been a concern if combat was prevalent through the game. Other bosses do try to work within the engine’s limitations. My favorite’s definitely the one for the water temple, mainly because it does something I didn’t expect and gives a creative use for one of your tools.

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As for the game’s puzzles, they’re pretty easy to get, especially if you’re a veteran of these Zelda-type games. If you’re looking for some real challenging puzzles, forget about it. But if you just want to have a good time, they’re welcoming and won’t be a frustration.

The game is buggy, which you can expect from a jam game, especially one that defies the engine’s limitations. Now, focusing on the game’s main goals, you aren’t likely to run into bugs, at least, ones that would obstruct you. A lot of the concerning bugs that I did run into were relegated to the game’s side areas, the most frustrating of which being a transfer bug taking me out of a cave immediately after I entered it and pretty much rendering it inaccessible.

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As for the presentation of the game, it’s real solid, its art staying true to the Game Boy games it’s inspired by. The music is also pretty nice and I love the contrast of between the adventurous overworld music and the oppressive, slower dungeon stuff. The track for the final dungeon’s probably my favorite, carrying a nice sense of finality and hyping you up for the end.

Also, the opening animations with the title screen and a nice pixel version of IGMC’s mascot are real good and a nice thing to open the game with.

The Golden Pearl is a nice game and it does try its best to follow the spirits of the Game Boy Zelda games. Exploration and puzzles were great, while the fighting that wasn’t non-existent’s hit-or-miss. Some bugs might make going for 100% completion frustrating (and impossible), but I generally had a good time with The Golden Pearl and I think it’s a nice contender for IGMC.

PALETTA

And so, I continue looking through IGMC stuff. You know, when I first started this blog, I promised myself that this wouldn’t just become an RPG Maker appreciation blog, but as that meme says, life comes at you fast. So anyway.
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PALETTA is brought to us by Cosmic Latte/Team Cola. Now, this game showed up in my feed when it first released because I’d been following the development team beforehand. The development team had previously made the demo of XV, an entry from the Dream Diary Jam and it managed to be one of my standouts. This is the first game the team had finished, so I was excited to hop into it.

A quick opening eases you in. A king ruled over the land, wearing a crown blessed with magical powers. However, a thief  tried to steal it and ended up breaking the crown into shards that scattered across the land, causing the death of the king, the disappearance of his daughter and creating unrest. A girl named Paletta, born of the moon, is told to head down to the world and look for the scattered shards to reunite the land and make things right.

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The story has Paletta heading through the formerly colorful towns, seeking out the denizens who were fortunate (or cursed) to get one of the shards. You get a shard, the shard gives Paletta a nice new power to use, and you head out to the next place – simple structure. Paletta’s adventure initially starts pretty friendly, but soon devolves into something more hostile. Get a shard by gifting a town with a golden goose egg? How whimsical! Some shard holders offering you their shards in exchange for getting a cure that involves the blood of a shapeshifter? How ominous. For the most part, the story’s cutesy, but it knows when to be dark without being overly dark.

From a gameplay standpoint, PALETTA‘s an easy adventure game, which is perfectly okay. The puzzles aren’t very challenging and it’s easy to figure out what powers you need, but I’m not really complaining. PALETTA had a relaxed pace that feels matching of the game’s mood and aesthetics and I feel that any harder puzzle would throw that pace out of wack.

The art’s got a nice cute style, using limited palettes to represent the areas. While Paletta herself is monochrome, so are the different towns, the latter of which explained in-story as being the result of the crown being destroyed. Upon clearing the area’s problems, the area lights up with the colors that corresponded to the crystal you just got.

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While the music isn’t original, the music selection for the game is pretty good. Generally for the areas before you get their shard, the music kinda has this depressive vibe, to reflect the whole state of the world. Then that music becomes something more joyful as you get a shard, accompanying the world filling with color, creating a hopeful mood as you head on. The music selection definitely does a good job with establishing how the game should feel.

The music also sort of carries this fairy tale like-vibe, if that makes sense. Think of some fantasy cartoon that’s made for kids. I think this vibe is most felt with the game’s opening and closing cutscenes. And you know what? Looking back, PALETTA kinda felt like a fairy tale to me. I can picture the stuff in the game, especially the visuals for the cutscenes, in some book.

So, PALETTA. It’s a cute game with a simple story wrapped in a nice, feel-good presentation. I honestly don’t have any complaints with it, except maybe wishing there was more. I enjoyed this and I think that it’s a strong contender for winning something from IGMC.

Highwind

I’m planning on looking at more IGMC games, but first, let’s take a look at a game type I haven’t wrote about yet: a mobile game. Besides, when I started taking blogging more seriously, I promised myself that this blog wouldn’t just become an RPG Maker enthusiast site and with like a month of that ahead, I need something to prevent my dark future from happening.

We’re looking at Highwind, a dollar game on the App Store that’s made by Selva Interactive, who you may remember as the people behind Nanuleu. For disclosure, the studio and one of its developers followed me on Twitter, which is how I learned about it. However, I got and chose to review this game out of my own volition, because it looked like something my speed.

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Highwind is a sort of different take on a shooter, the dodging and shooting aspects of the genre divided up into two separate sections. In the first section of a level, you are stationary but capable of shooting, which is then followed up by a section where you dodge stuff, but otherwise helpless; unless you’re playing with a certain playstyle, in which case, you only get a longer version of the first section.

As you’re stationary in the shooting sections, downing enemies is more of a matter of timing than anything. Tapping the right side of the screen fires, with a bar dictating how much you can shoot at a given time, emphasizing timing your shots over firing like crazy. Meanwhile, as you can’t dodge enemies, you get a shield that you can control with the left side of the screen, with similar management to shooting. Timing when to shield is initially easy, but in later levels where enemy shots are more relentless, timing becomes more about management so that you don’t run out and get hit.

Then come the dodging segments, which come in three quick to play varieties. You tap the left and right parts of the screen to shift around, dodging obstacles. If you get hit, you don’t lose health – rather, you lose some of the coins that you got from shooting enemies from the previous segment.

The brief dodging segment then goes into a shopping menu. You use your coins to buy health, shot and shield upgrades for your plane. I  recommend focusing on maxing out your shield as soon as possible, because I really can’t imagine doing the end game stuff without maxed out shields. Also, at the end of a world, you’re given a short level where the goal is to break some orb, which gives you perk list to choose from that includes things such as having shields absorb bullets to increase your ammo or making your projectiles capable of hitting two enemies in one shot.

Also in the shop menu, you can use your coins to heal. Why is there no between level healing? It’s because Highwind is an endurance test. Rather than being a game where you take stages on individually, it’s a game where you have to go through as many of the stages as possible in one go. Lose all of your health? Gotta start over from the beginning, no upgrades or anything.

After a run, your score gets added up to a meter and upon passing a threshold, you unlock different things to play around with. One type of unlock lets you start out with a different ship that gives different starting stats while the second unlock type gives you different modes, or, play styles. I personally prefer the laser play style, which replaces your normal shots with an instant but ammo-inefficient laser beam; it’s real fun to use combined with that perk that lets you hit two enemies.

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So, the presentation of the shooting sections of the game is a nice take on the genre, stressing resource management and timing. The game plays around with the timing aspect by placing all sorts of objects on screen, such as a rotating arrow that redirects your shots to wherever its pointing to a sort of energy field that slows/speeds up the shots of your ship’s and the enemies depending on which way it’s pointing, which throws off your ordinary timing of shooting and shielding. Later worlds go on to screw with you with more enemy types, like planes that randomly warp ahead in their path, ramping up the challenge and keeping things fresh.

(Those manta ray-like ships with their own deflecting shields can fuck off, though.)

I just kinda wished that the dodging segments that happen after them were just as unique or got harder as you progressed. There’s the variant where you control two planes at once, but there aren’t any curveballs thrown at you after that in the terms of more mechanics or more difficult patterns. If these segments got any harder later in the game, I honestly didn’t notice.

The stylings definitely reminds me of Nanuleu with its bright minimalist visuals and calm instruments on top of increasingly frantic gameplay. It’s a contrast that I really enjoy and I guess is something that I can expect from Selva Interactive. Its aesthetics also sort of feels fitting for the platform, its design reflecting the sleek and clean style that Apple tries to position itself with.

Highwind is a pretty neat iPhone game and while I wish that there was more to the dodging segments, the overall experience is still pretty enjoyable and it’s hard to argue against its reasonable $0.99 price. A version of the game’s coming out soon for Android too, so if you have that instead of an iPhone, maybe keep your eye out for that.

Colossal Conquest

And so, after a month of some IGMC 2015 games, let’s have a month of looking at 2017 ones! Hopefully, now that To Crime Nirvana done (nudge nudge), Indie Hell Zone updates will be a lot more frequent.

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Colossal Conquest is by Swift Illusion (also known as Midnight Tinkering) and is made in RPG Maker MV. It’s a boss game, where gameplay is focused on the boss battles. Currently, not counting the tutorial, there’s only one conquest to play.

So, I really recommend to play the tutorial first if you’re going to play this game, because there’s a whole bunch of mechanics to pay attention to. First off, there’s the stance system that your characters and your enemies can inflict on themselves that acts as a rock-paper-scissors system; though, instead of the usual “attacks of this type are stronger against this type” kind of gameplay, it’s the critical hit rates that are affected, and critical hits are surprisingly common to inflict, so the stance system is important to pay attention to. Your enemies also buff themselves alongside inflicting stances on themselves, so you have to pay attention to their statuses to consider which ones are the most important to take down. Your move list is surprisingly verbose, the advanced ones offering special effects that work in certain conditions.

Bosses also run on a “boss mindset” system that you can pay attention to. This determines when the boss attacks or summons enemies. You can’t strike at the boss while its flunkies are out and about, though killing enemies is the only way to generate spirit meter (the meter that uses those blue orbs in the screenshot below), so it’s not all that bad. Now, the game suggests that you pay attention to the boss’ mindset and then act accordingly, but honestly? I kinda didn’t understand it and how it changes, so I just kinda ignored it; honestly, I feel that if I had been paying attention to it, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in my playthrough.

An aspect that I really like about the gameplay is the risk and reward elements. The only way to heal in the game is by spending some of the spirit meter; however, you also need that spirit meter to learn new, more useful attacks in the middle of battle, so maybe you’d risk not healing to get them. Even after learning those moves, there’s still the temptation to keep your health low, as some of the moves have an additional effect that only kicks in when the percentage of your health is lower than your enemy’s.

Then again, by healing a character, you can also put a buff or restore EP of another, which is tempting in itself. I really got to hand it to the creator, I’m surprised by the complexity of the battle system and the choices it offers.

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The overall art style of the game is sort of clashes, though I recognize that the creator was more focused on the game’s battle system and making the game work. As other RPG Maker hobbyists may recognize, the bright animated enemies are the works of Ækashics. As for the characters, they’re made by an artist called Woestijn. While their art style clashes with Ækashic’s, I really dig the character art. I love how distinct the characters are from each other, it makes them feel unique and gives the feeling of them being some ragtag gang going out to fight monsters. My only complaint with the character art? The “Swordsman” wields an axe and the wrong naming bothers me on an emotional level.

The overall gameplay of Colossal Conquest is pretty neat once you figure everything out, though, I do feel that more should be done with the boss mindset or the boss’ moves to make players more likely to pay attention to it. Heck, maybe add skills that’d affect boss mindset; like skills to calm it down when it gets pissed and starts summoning stronger flunkies, that’d be neat. Still though, the system that’s there is interesting and more engaging than a lot of standard RPG Maker battle systems and I’d like to see more of it.

ZIZ

IGMC 2017 has ended, which means that this site will go back to its normal schedule. Grasshoppermask and I released our game, To Crime Nirvana, and while I doubt that we’ll win anything, we had a fun time making this. If you’re interested, check that out!

But enough about me! To start off November, we’ll look at one last game from IGMC 2015 before I maybe start looking at IGMC 2017 stuff? That might be conflict of interest, I dunno, but anyway:

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ZIZ is a sci-fi adventure game made by nerdvsgame. It’s made in RPG Maker VX Ace and it was the winner of the adventure genre.

A woman named Motoko awakens on the research ship Ziz, an unknown disaster calling her to the ship’s bridge. To assist her, she turns on a maintenance android, who dubs himself Seven as he quickly develops sentience. It’s very much one of those, “can robots be people?” stories, told rather quickly within the constraints of the game jam.

The game’s theme is actually expressed in a neat way toward the end. At one point, you’re controlling Seven and you’re presented with dialogue options. However, you don’t actually get to choose what he says. Symbolizing his growing sentience and independence, he automatically chooses what he wants with no input from you. It’s also him that decides which of the two endings you’ll get, which depends on how you treated him during your playthrough. It’s a simple but neat way to express the idea of robot sentience.

Gameplay has you controlling Motoko and Seven, with the ability to split them up and switch between them. The most basic use for them is to split them up so that they can simultaneously turn on separate panels to proceed. Seven gets a later mechanic, capable of moving through electrical fields that Motoko can’t pass through.

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The game’s puzzles? They’re just okay. Some puzzles felt arbitrary but they weren’t annoying, either. My favorite is probably the one in the screenshot above, where you’re switching around electric fields so that Motoko can get around safely, which makes the most use out of the character switching mechanic. For the most part though, the puzzles didn’t wow me nor did they have a sense of personality to them. I feel that without the sci-fi aesthetics, this stuff could easily be pushed into a different setting and context. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t stand out, either.

On the game’s aesthetics, it’s pretty nice, clean, sci-fi stuff. ZIZ has a nice look to it and I appreciate the ambient “spacey” music that follows for most of the game. The strongest, most unique part of the game’s aesthetics shows up when the ship’s AI speaks. Instead of just being a text box, a computerized voice speaks out its lines. While this isn’t the case for its extended conversation toward the end of the game, hearing the AI voice out actions while you’re doing things kinda gave an immersive feel to the game.

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Overall, ZIZ was pretty okay, if pretty standard for adventure games made in RPG Maker. I kinda feel that it’s one of those things that could have better set itself apart and have more to if if it wasn’t a game jam. While lacking, the game still managed to tell the story it wanted to tell and its aesthetics were pretty on point, so that’s something to appreciate.