You know what the great thing about reviewing indie games is? You can review something that’s years old, and it’ll still be relevant and exciting (be excited) because nobody’s ever heard of the thing.
Today’s particular something is a game I’ve been wanting to write about for a while: a free, surrealistic, French RPG called OFF, which was just translated into English last year. The game gives you control of a man called “The Batter,” a warrior on a self-given quest to purify a bizarre industrial world from spectres – or so he says. You (as a distinct character – the game breaks the fourth wall a lot) guide the Batter through a series of zones, each filled with timid and indistinguishable workers who produce one of the game’s five elements (smoke, plastic, steel, meat, and sugar). The Batter must kill each zone’s guardian in order to “purify” it.
Mechanically, the game is a JRPG – it has random encounters, a time gauge-based battle system, and the leveling system typical of the genre – but in terms of narrative and atmosphere, it is about as far away from being a JRPG as you can get. The game’s world is, at times, incredibly disturbing. None of the characters are pretty, few of the prominent ones are people you would want to be friends with, and the game’s story is about as dark as it gets, especially as the Batter’s true intentions become clear. This might sound dreadful, but, as grim as the game is, it is equally captivating. Although the characters are not the friendliest people, you do still grow fond of some of them, and the writing and storytelling are really top-notch. By the end of the tale, there are a number of brilliantly executed twists that make the game’s ending sequence one of the best I’ve ever played through in an RPG.
The game’s bizarre atmosphere is mostly created by its soundtrack. Although the mood is mostly set by a bizarre, creepy, atmospheric soundscape, the game’s more melodic tracks are really freaking good, and they complement the rest of the game’s content. I can best describe most of the music as “hip electronic jazz thing.” It’s very French.
Unfortunately, the game’s combat is, for the most part, really dull. You end up having to fight through the same random encounter a half-dozen times in each level, and it might drive you crazy. If it weren’t for the fact that the rest of the game is so gosh-darned brilliant, the combat alone would have made me shut down the game and give up. That being said, I seem to have less stamina for repetitive game play than most people I talk to (I am wussy gamer!), so if I can slog through waves of spectres to get to the good stuff, you will probably have no problem. At times, the game’s combat even manages to redeem itself, as is the case with the last handful of boss fights, which are absolutely brilliant (I’m telling you, the ending sequence is really good).
It’s a fairly unsettling game, but that didn’t stop it from just about becoming one of my favorite RPGs ever. It’s dark, it’s deep, it’s even a little sobering, and, most importantly, it’s free. So go download OFF here.
All in all, it’s the sort of game you’d expect from the French.
P.S: The game was made in RPG Maker 2003, so you might need to download the RM 2003 Real Time Package to play it, but I’m not sure. Also, the actual executable file (RPG_RT.exe) in the install folder is a pain to find. Leave a comment if you’re having trouble actually playing the thing.
Alex writes more about games on his personal blog here.