I normally try to play as much of a game as possible to get a good idea on what it’s about before writing a review. This is one of those rare cases where I flat-out decided to refund the game. However, I still choose to talk about it today. As an RPG Maker developer that also has their things read by other RPG Maker developers, I think it’s valuable to look at these bigger RPG Maker games to look at what they did right and what they did wrong.
Orangeblood is an RPG Maker game made by Grayfax Software, published under PLAYISM. I bought the game during PLAYISM’s anniversary sale because I thought it looked good. You play as a woman named Vanilla, who’s working on behalf of the CIA to investigate things in the crime-filled city of New Kova.
While there’s a lot of things I disliked from my brief time with this game, I will say that Orangeblood sincerely looks good and may be its best aspect. Orangeblood has very strong pixel art, mixing bright colorful characters with grimy looking environments. It perfectly fits the specific vibe of “cute anime girl shooting real guns” type art. Animations in battles are also surprisingly fluid, bringing an action shooter flair to turn-based battles.
I particularly love the main city of New Kova. It has a really detailed, busy look to it that sells the idea that it’s supposed to be a dense city. While other RPG Maker games I’ve played with busy environments tend to run into readability problems, Orangeblood has a handy minimap so that you know where to go and what stuff can actually be interacted with, so practicality isn’t compromised by style here.
Lying atop the visual style is a layer of hip-hop beats, which I think adds to the setting. I… don’t think it works well with the game’s writing, though the writing is a whole different can of worms. The only annoyance I have with the music in Orangeblood is that the same music persists through exploration and battle, which may make it draining to listen to.
So, the battle system! Your characters wield guns that are managed by an ammo count with different functions. Submachine guns hit randomly and carry and shoot a lot of ammo, assault rifles fire in bursts at a single target, shotguns carry limited ammo whose use either hits all enemies or delivers a painful slug to a single enemy, etc. I’m a bit biased since I use a similar gun system in my games, but I think Orangeblood‘s equip system is pretty good. In fact, I’m kinda jealous because Orangeblood honestly puts a lot of thought into gun-based combat within the context of a turn-based RPG.
What kinda guns do your characters wield? Well, there’s a lot of options. As soon as you start rooting through the junk heap, it becomes clear that Orangeblood is a cross between looter shooter and turn-based RPG. There are lockers all over the place that you can open up with the fragmented keys enemies drop which gifts you randomized guns. It’s… interesting. Personally, I’m not into looter shooter type stuff, especially if I wind up having to do a bunch of inventory management, but it’s interesting.
However, even though I haven’t played that much of the game, I can easily see the problem with the randomized guns: it’s incredibly easy for the game to get unbalanced. Instead of naturally growing and learning new skills or grinding for money to buy equipment, your progression is tied to your equipment and your chances of getting good equipment. Like sure, you can buy new weapons directly, but that’s inconvenient compared to simply getting one in the game’s dungeon that’s likely to be stronger. In fact, in looking at the user reviews on Steam, even a lot of positive ones are in agreement that the guns leaves the game’s balancing a lot to be desired. Like, Orangeblood‘s usage of guns in its battle system works well, but actually getting those guns throws a wrench into things.
You may call me a hypocrite considering that I like The Binding of Isaac: Repentance, since that game is dependent on the items you get and I myself still complained about the huge item bloat in that game. The fundamental difference between Orangeblood and Isaac though is that while Isaac has those roguelike elements, it’s still a twin-stick shooter. As long as you’re good at dodging, victory is still possible, if more prolonged; on the flip side, you can get all the best items but it’s still possible to choke if you’re bad at the dodging aspect.
Orangeblood is an RPG where stats rule all, so you will be stuck until you inevitably draw some newer, better gear – and if you’re lucky, you could get something that could just break everything in half instead, which instead could flip things to being boring.
Battles can also be somewhat cheesed. If you shoot an enemy on the overworld and go into battle, you’ll have half the skill bar charged up. This immediately enables you to use Vanilla’s Dead Eye (which is straight up just McCree’s thing from Overwatch, which also adds to the game’s bizarre tone) which shreds through enemies, along with guaranteeing Yazawa to use her group damage skill immediately. It’s just too good of an advantage that you’re incentivized to escape all non-plot battles to make sure you get that upperhand – especially since your skill bar is empty if you start a battle normally. Personally, if I was doing this system, I would make it so your skill bar persists across battles so that it’s something you build up through actual combat, while making the overworld advantage something like a stun or a huge speed debuff on the enemies so that you start out advantaged but not overpowered.
Also for the love of god, do you really have to have Machiko’s DJ animation play every single turn? That’s just annoying.
So, I mentioned Orangeblood‘s tone and that leads me into my biggest problem with the game: the writing.
The writing for the game feels incredibly bizarre. There’s inklings of a serious cyberpunk-type story going on in the background, but that’s at odds with… everything else. Vanilla is a punk lady, but the writing tries so hard to portray her as a hardcore gangbanger that it’s genuinely cringy. Machiko is a DJ that sometimes feels like a white girl into black culture despite being a Japanese character written by a Japanese person. Yazawa, in the brief time that I knew her, is the Joker, but again, they try so hard that it’s not very entertaining. The game throws around terminology brazenly without regards to whether it actually works, as if the writer watched a movie and decided to throw in lines and bits of vocabulary that they liked.
Like hey, have you ever watched Black Lagoon? Orangeblood feels like a bad version of Black Lagoon that lacks a unified tone. Black Lagoon had its share of standard anime hijinks and goofs from what I remember, but it wasn’t to the point that it felt like it compromised on the grimy world and the overall story of a vanilla anime guy slowly becoming a Joker in his own right.
Alternative comparison: this game is for people that mod anime girls into Grand Theft Auto.
I was mentally clocked out when the game casually uses “Holocaust” as a term for killing a bunch of yakuza because Why Would You Do That. Me facing a boss that’s way more harder than anything else up to that point that can also stunlock you to death was just icing on my decision to refund the game.
I’m not an expert about localization, and in fact, I usually avoid discussions on localization because most of the time they’re by nerds that lose their goddamn mind over tiny changed details. However, is Orangeblood‘s writing bad, or is this the result of a bad translation? Like, there is a Japanese hip hop scene that presumably reflects into the game with the general vibes and the music, so I’m wondering if some of the bad writing was a localization attempt to recontextualize the writing into something English speakers would understand that fell flat.
Regardless, I really don’t like it, and as somebody that usually puts writing first in assessing an RPG, Orangeblood is honestly unbearable.
Orangeblood is one of those games with all style but little substance. The writing – at least within the context of the English translation – is terrible. The combat looks cool and is theoretically cool, but the method of improving in combat is entirely luck-based. I definitely think there are good ideas in here, but I personally just see the game as obnoxious.