You likely have no idea what this game is based on the title screen alone. However, I do feel that it’s reflective of the strange stuff in the game. This game is Tantibus, a short game made in RPG Maker VX Ace by Beanallean and it’s another one of those Earthbound inspired games out there.
You play as a fellow named Oskar, awakening in their town of Cobble’s Key. The game’s aesthetic is quickly apparent, simple drawings of neon light making up everyone and everything. It’s kinda reminiscent of ZX Spectrum games, I suppose. As a neon light drawing, your save points are lightbulbs scattered around the place; your healing items are also light-themed, presumably rejuvenating your light.
So, what is Oskar’s quest? What is he up to?
Those questions leads me into my biggest problem with Tantibus: the story, or, the lack thereof. There isn’t any apparent goal or a main overarching story. You’re pretty much drifting from place to place with no real motivation. The towns in the game are suffering from separate problems, but these problems genuinely don’t seem to be connected in any way. The game is pretty much about Oskar wandering around and fixing things that happens to be in their way. You meet up with some party members, but their reasoning for joining is really flimsy; Oskar is also pretty much quiet for much of the game, so there isn’t any real attempt at characterization either.
At the very least, NPC dialogue is fun. A lot of NPCs have the weird, jokey dialogue that you’d come to expect from Earthbound-likes. Some NPCs babble lore that’s relevant to what you’re supposed to do in the area to keep on going through your quest of aimless wandering, which I suppose is the closest thing to a story arc you’ll get. Some of them like to talk about how weird the game is and like, buddy, I get it, whatever.
I remember seeing some tweet a while ago about Earthbound-likes that’s among the lines of complaining that a lot of them only remember Earthbound for its wackiness and not the themes and narrative connected to it and that’s something that I agree with. I will say that Tantibus is very much one of those games. Its writing succeeds in the weirdness and wackiness department but forgets the sense of adventure and anything meaningful. The lack of an actual long-term goal also robs the game of a sense of accomplishment, which isn’t helped by the game’s actual conclusion.
The battle system is pretty much the standard RPG Maker battle system. Oskar is an average attacker, Isis can heal, Quart has skills that can hit multiple times. Zen in the meantime has a strange assortment of skills that involves charging the attack of them and their opponents, a skill that puts their health at 1 but makes them immortal for a few turns and one where they strike everyone in the party but gives them health and energy regeneration. Their skills are bizarre and makes them unique, but it makes everyone else look boring in comparison. As for the fighting, well, the game’s pretty easy. At no point was I ever pressured to buy anything that wasn’t equipment. Even with Zen’s strange skill set, fighting is just kinda bland; though, in fairness, I played this after Soma Spirits and Grist of Flies, which had pretty unique systems, so I’m somewhat biased.
You only get money (which in this game is Salt, for some fucking reason) and items from fights. Level ups are instead done by picking up “___ Knowledge” items which levels up the corresponding character. The Knowledges are things that you have to find lying around the game’s world, which encourages exploration, which is neat, I guess. Level ups give new skills but not any stat gains, which you get from buying equipment. It’s an odd system of progression, but it’s not bad.
Tantibus‘ soundtrack is from a bunch of sources, mainly snoballandthmonyshot (which is misspelled in the credits, by the way), who’s a musician on… Newgrounds. Never expected to go back there, much less for the site’s audio section, while writing this. Anyway, the music used in the game’s nice electric stuff with a lot of jazz mixed in that gave the game a pretty chill vibe. I can honestly say that the music selection is the game’s strongest suit, as it has no complaints from me.
Tantibus is a free game and it only took me about an hour to complete, but it’s one of those rare games on this blog that I have to give a pass on. I dig the soundtrack and some of the dialogue’s fun, but it’s just not very satisfying, especially as a proclaimed Earthbound-like. Please, people that are making Earthbound-likes, please remember to have an actual story and that Earthbound was way more than a funny joke game.