Demo Smorgasbord


I’ve had a bunch of demos backed up on various devices over the last few months so I figured I take this time in-between full games to check them out. People think demos are dead but that’s really only the case for western blockbuster games. Indie developers and Japanese developers still do them pretty regularly. I’m just gonna talk about a handful of the ones I did get out of the way. You could call it sort of a demo backlog.

Virginia by Variable State

You may have heard of this one recently getting a demo on Steam. It’s a first-person adventure game with a neat low-polygon art style. A detective story set in a small town during the 90’s, it was really only a matter of time before these types of games started counting True Detective among their inspirations (which this does openly alongside Twin Peaks).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into Virginia. The trailer didn’t really give me a good indication of what was gameplay and what wasn’t. After playing the brief demo… I still don’t know what to think.

Part of me wanted this game to be some kind of open-world thing where I could freely explore this town looking for clues. The demo has parts where you walk around inside rooms and buildings looking for important items in a missing persons case, but they seem to happen in-between parts where you just look around and click on things to make events happen. Maybe the demo is a jumbled-up assembly of events from throughout the main game.

Virginia is also more surrealist than I expected. The demo has lots of what I think are weird dream sequences. I guess True Detectiv’s flirtation with the surreal and possibly supernatural is a good fit for an adventure game. I just hope Variable State doesn’t overdo it if that is indeed what it’s going for.

Yiik by Ackk Studios LLC

Apparently people have been anticipating this game for about a year. I only just heard about it when the PAX demo went up on a few days ago and people are talking about it like it might be the next Undertale. It certainly wears its common inspiration — Earthbound, on its sleeve, as an RPG set in a surrealist 90’s our-world type of thing.

What most people will probably notice first about Yiik though is its attractive art style. Ackk has nailed a really good visual point between Super NES-era Japanese RPGs, low-polygon original PlayStation graphics, and some elements of modern cel-shading with good use of fixed camera perspectives. The aforementioned surrealist setting is accompanied by some wacky writing that could easily have come off as obnoxious pandering to retro-obsessed gamers, but doesn’t. That’s actually kind of hard to judge though for someone who hasn’t played Earthbound or Final Fantasy VII. In any case I got genuinely caught up in the fictional message board you can access on an in-game computer. It came off as both well-written and something that brings extra weight to the game’s world.

The combat in Yiik is pretty much pure Nintendo RPG — it’s turn based but every action comes with some kind of real-time mini game with meters or timers to determine the effectiveness of a hit or defense. Personally I don’t like those kinds of systems that much: if a game is going to be a turn-based RPG I think it should commit to being turn-based without mixing in action elements. That’s just me though, a ton of people probably disagree.

Oh, and the music for this game sounds fantastic. That along with the visuals is probably gonna be what draws people into Yiik.

Swords & Darkness by Arc System Works

Swords & Darkness was released and pretty much universally panned a while ago, but I’d forgotten what it was by the time I got around to playing the demo on my 3DS. I still think it’s a pretty sloppily put together side-scrolling dungeon crawler, but I still ended up having some interesting thoughts about it.

It’s about time some Japanese action RPGs started pulling from Dark Souls for inspiration. God knows every other indie action game of the last several years has been doing that. What I kind of appreciate about Swords & Darkness though is that it seems to have a somewhat more subtle understanding of why Dark Souls works and maybe why it became popular. The execution here obviously feels really shallow and under-budgeted, but I like the spirit of what it tried to do.

Swords & Darkness actually doesn’t have the difficulty, death system, or online gameplay that identify the Souls games for so many people. Indeed, I’m not even really sure it is inspired by Dark Souls. It just kind of feels like Dark Souls in a way a lot of games inspired by it don’t. It’s the simplicity with which it approaches its core combat and role-playing systems.

Dark Souls is obviously a deep game. One of the reasons people like it is because of its high skill ceiling, but another reason I feel get’s missed is because it’s actually very quick and easy to pick up compared to so many of today’s AAA games. The basic control scheme is really intuitive, the tutorial of each game manages to be straightforward without intimidating players or holding them back from proceeding at their own pace, and really the whole game doesn’t try to artificially stop or limit players. It just lets you play.

Swords & Darkess admittedly does this in an extremely simple way, being 2D, but in similar fashion I was able to hop right into its hack & slash gameplay without watching cut scenes or stopping to learn at the game’s pace instead of my own. The Swords & Darkness demo also let me play with the stats system when leveling up right away, giving me simple and clear descriptions of what each stat does.

All I’m saying is, that sense of immediacy in the beginning phase is what most modern action RPGs have lost.


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