Fruitbat Factory has localized something interesting with 99 Spirits. It is the first game release from developer TORaIKI, so the fact that it was localized at all is surprising. More importantly, they’ve put a lot of work behind getting this brought over. It is the winner of Eclectic’s fan voted Indie Dev Grant, which showed enough promise that allowed them to run a successful Indiegogo campaign. This support again helped it through the Steam Greenlight process where it is now offered in a dual language release.
It is interesting because 99 Spirits is somewhat of a complex localization. It utilizes a text entry system, which poses some outside of the normal realm localization techniques since the number of characters in English and Japanese are so different. Fruitbat Factory has really stuck with bringing 99 Spirits out so I was more than happy to check out what it was that was so special here.
What we have with 99 Spirits is a modified visual novel engine with RPG mechanics. I stress this first, because the whole core of the game has to work around this constraint. As somebody that has dabbled with visual novel engines, I can tell you that there really is some impressive outside of the box creativity going on in the game. Building a unique battle system with dungeon crawling and inventory is no small feat for a developer’s first retail title.
The issue comes up with fluidity. Visual novels are about the most basic form of developer tools there are essentially using just text and pictures with coding behind them to create different variables. That’s exactly what you are seeing flashing on screen with 99 Spirits. Battles are simply clicking image buttons or context keys. This is fine for a lot of first time indies and the work put up here is again, impressive. The question is, how long will it take for the system to drain on you
Mechanically, 99 Spirits‘ RPG system is a puzzle based affair. You will enter a battle screen much like the one above and spend your time unraveling the nature of your assailant who is clouded by ghastly energy. Using the special gems embedded into your blade, you will have to play a guessing game to try and figure out what sort of cursed object you are attacking. Your attack jewel is used to beat the clues out of the hidden foe while your defense gem builds up so you can type out your clues and solve the mystery. It’s a fairly unique system that I’ve only seen used similarly in a game called Treasure of the Rudras for the Super Famicom.
It basically comes down to getting either hints or parts of the words to solve the puzzle, which you then manually type out once you have it figured. Most people will be able to figure out some of the easy ones like spoon or pants, but I’m not sure how many of you know what a sieve is. Some clues are easily intuitive while others aren’t and you’ll likely need to purchase a check list just to figure out what a Torii is.
Here is where this game starts to shine. Whenever it starts to get a bit boring, it begins to change direction and turn into something more engaging. You’ll quickly learn to rely solely on that check list (unless you are particularly enamored with guessing games) so the puzzles lose that intrigue. That’s when, all of a sudden, the game then turns itself into a Pokemon-esque monster hunter.
For each stage of the game, 99 Spirits begins to reinvent itself and it is this game’s savior.
That I guess is 99 Spirits description in a nutshell. It is just enough. It has a fantastic painted art style. The soundtrack likewise is quite good. TORaIKI really went above and beyond to try and hit each limitation and change it into something else. As a word based puzzler, as a monster catcher, and as a JRPG or even a dungeon crawler, it really doesn’t stand out though.
Instead of pushing through to try and force the player to engage and get interested in a limited set of mechanics, TORaIKI changes the entire idea of what you were just doing with each new chapter. Unfortunately, the game’s battle system just doesn’t ever get engaging enough to really set it apart. Most of the time it is just running into new opponents and pressing combinations of Z (Attack) and X (Defend). You do get to mix it up at the capture stage, but that is still just a combination of Z and X. It begins to get a bit tiresome. Enemies do get harder, but if you are getting hit, it’s either because you messed up or the game’s mechanic forced it.
I also need to add that I did experience one line error that essentially froze my progress in the game mid-battle forcing me to reset the game. This is likely an issue with the localization and Nyu Media has had a couple of little updates to the game already that I’ve seen. It might get patched out, or it might stay.
All in all, 99 Spirits should pique your curiosity. It is good to look at, great to listen to and has enough twists to engage you in short bursts. The question is how long will it take to eventually grind on you. For the limitations placed on it, 99 Spirits does some great work and it certainly makes the attempt to be a solid RPG. Unfortunately, I can’t say it ever truly captivated me outside of that initial intrigue.
[+Comes With the Original Japanese Release] [+Unique Concept] [+Beautiful Art] [+Evolving Mechanics] [-Simple Battle System] [-Repetitive]