Justice Playthrough #98: Gataela

This is not ready.

Page 24, Game 18: Gataela by Atemly Games

In light of the fact that this is a pre-release demo, I’m going to try to limit the degree to which I go all jerkass critic on this one. But I want it on the record that going FULL metal jerkass was absolutely on the table here.

This is a top-down JRPG. You’re a shopkeeper’s assistant, in a land that had a devastating civil war ten years ago (but things seem pretty all right now). You’re trying to help out your friends and employer; times are tough, work and money are both scarce.

First, as much as I dislike this game, credit where it’s due: it LOOKS fantastic.

Fruitstand Lady is honestly a really nice boss

The world looks warm and appealing, the incidental bits have a nice sense of steampunk flair. It’s a completely credible looking game.

Playing the game, unfortunately, is where things start coming apart.

For all the opening text sets a Fate of Nations kinda tone, the story starts off very small. Your introductory “quest” is running down a kid who stole a loaf of bread while you were on your lunch break. I’d say that you get to choose whether to go all Javert on him or not, save that I don’t recall actually getting a choice; the merciful option appeared to be the only one available to me. Hell, even the clever option of trading him my lunch so I could return the loaf of bread wasn’t something I came up with, it was just assumed.

Which is fine, I guess. I tend to go the Good Guy route pretty hard when I have the choice. Just raised my eyebrows a bit when that was the ONLY option.

The great Loaf Caper is the tutorial quest, and you get into your first fight, where the game reveals that it’s going the Final Fantasy turn-based route. This is the first really severe problem: the combat is boring as hell.

Not sure these guys understand how “punching” works

You punch, they punch. Somebody’s gonna run out of hit points, and whoever runs out first loses. That’s it. Just stand there and trade shots.

You can choose to dodge or block, but … why? You can’t block them to death, you must punch. So, punch.

There’s also a “debate” mechanism, which the game treats as some sort of major innovation. Some characters want to “debate” you, which means “Have a conversation that isn’t inconsequential background chatter.” To the debate screen we go!

Much debate! Very conflict!

In order to “win” the debate, you must select the correct dialog options. Which ones are correct? Eh, guess. It’s not like you have any way of knowing.

Choose the wrong dialog option, lose the debate. But, don’t worry, you can just restart the debate at no penalty whatsoever, save for the real-life time you wasted.

This is deeply unsatisfying. But, given that this is how the plot advances, there needs to be SOME mechanism for letting you recover from whatever faux pas you just made.

The plot wasn’t grabbing me. I appreciate that it was trying to keep things small-scale and intimate before gradually expanding in scope, but the opening text put me in exactly the wrong frame of mind to care about helping my boss keep her fruit stand running.

Unfortunately, following that plot is where the game irrevocably lost me.

To figure out what was up with her supplier, I had to travel to a nearby town and ask WTF was going on. This is, naturally, dangerous, as one would expect from the conventions of the genre.

Yeah, that is not the exclamation point of Snek Friendship right there

However, fighting triggers the fight minigame, which, as I’ve established, I hate. So, I avoided it wherever possible.

I get to the town, I eventually have a chat with the supplier. I work out a deal where he’ll provide the fruit for a little more money. And then, IMMEDIATELY after the conversation concludes, three goons jump me and BEAT THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME. Game over.

The fight was not even remotely winnable. There were no other choices I could really make; just punch, punch, punch. The three of them ran me out of hit points WAY before I could return the favor.

The way the game is set up, it looked like I could have at least two other companions. You can also get gear. I had neither. So, I reloaded the game, and retreated all the way back to my home town to see if I missed any gear or allies.

Gear is outrageously expensive. I DID find a weapons shop, where a set of brass knuckles cost about twenty times the cash I had on me. I started talking to people in the hopes that some of them would turn out to want to join me, but go no hint that anybody might.

I wandered around a bit and found some random junk in the countryside, but nothing that would turn the tide of a curb-stomp battle. I did grind a bit, though, and managed to make third level.

Wondering if perhaps that was enough, I returned to the site of the massacre, redid the conversation, and retriggered the fight. I once again got the shit beaten out of me, but did a lot more damage on my way to the grave (without getting particularly close to winning). So, does that mean I need to be fourth level to have a reasonable chance of winning? Or maybe fifth?

Whatever. I believe one of two things happened here:

The first is that I was SUPPOSED to find some combination of companions and/or gear, but managed to completely overlook them. If this is the case, then the game is doing an abominable job of directing me towards them, because I was actively looking for them and came up empty.

The second is that the game wasn’t expecting me to simply beeline for the main storyline, and was indeed counting on me aimlessly faffing about in the countryside until I gained more levels. Given how boring I found the combat to be, that was simply not going to happen. Perhaps there were some side quests I could have tripped over?

Regardless. Either the game is so poorly designed that I cannot trust it to guide me to the resources I need to advance, or it has so little faith in its main storyline that it doesn’t think I’m likely to pursue it. Neither theory makes me interested in continuing.

As mentioned, this game is in an early state. And like I said, it looks fantastic. I did appreciate the feel that I really was a member of a community, that there was plenty of shit going on around me that had nothing to do with me. It really did feel like a living city. But neither of the game’s two big conflict resolution mechanisms were at all interesting to me: combat is rote and tedious, and “debate” is a simple matter of guessing the correct dialog path over and over until you get it right. Even if I wasn’t savagely murdered for caring about the plot, I really don’t know that I would have bothered following all the way through to the end of the demo. There’s just not much game in this game.

Hopefully this next one will be more fun to play:

Page 34, Game 28: Jet Buster by JackDarx

“90s Anthro Bullet Hell Action”

Fuck yeah.