FIRST IMPRESSIONS: A wondrous, cute, love letter to RPGs of old. Challengingly fun and so rewarding.
I am halfway through the game (I think... maybe) and I am having the greatest experience. It really feels like an adventure with so many people to meet, places to explore and a rich world full of history.
You can tell the developers have poured their hearts into Phoenotopia Awakening.
Everyone should get their family abducted by aliens, just so they could go on a journey as legendary as this one.
Phoenotopia Awakening has been provided free by the publisher for the purpose of this review. This has in no way impacted my opinion and ratings.
They Took Everyone!
Aliens have abducted all the adults in your village. You saw all this from a cliff, while you were out in the nearby woods hunting for a 'shooting star' (how dare they!). I haven't learnt the Why yet, but I will once I'm done fishing for food and hunting for Moonstones. Then, and only then, will I get back to my adventure of getting all the adults back to the village.
I adore the story, its simple and filled with so much charm. The world you explore builds on this, bringing further depth and richness with each character you meet. I've already come across a few recurring characters like Fran and The Travelling Melodies who made my day. With Fran in particular, there was a scene that had me laughing in stitches, you'll know which one when you see it.
One of the biggest strengths of Phoenotopia is the lore and world you explore.
Keyword there is 'explore', as they have done a brilliant job making you want to search every nook and cranny. You will find lore within journal entries, environment design and villagers you speak to. The dialogue is so natural and fits into the world, talking about recent events and other people you will meet, also town legends and stories. I can't get enough of it (and that's reason #1, that it's taking me so long to finish the game).
Oooo What's That Over There?
So, what makes a good Metroidvania game? Or a Zelda-like game, as this takes large inspiration from the franchise. Exploration is the key. Give the player a reason to return to an area of the map. In Phoenotopias case, multiple areas can only be accessed when using the required items.
Phoenotopia does this brilliantly, and it is my main drive for exploration.
Very early on, I noticed cracked rock blocking paths or bodies of water that continued off-screen. I was eager to discover what was beyond, it's a natural human instinct to be curious. For me, that is the true meaning of adventure. The feeling of accomplishment when reaching somewhere you've never been.
Too many games rely on collectables to encourage players to explore, and that is a hollow achievement. So it makes me so happy that, although Phoenotopia has collectables too, they don't rely on them as a crutch.
Stop! And Have A Listen
The soundtrack is outstanding. A huge 60
Track album of original music, which you can buy or listen to on Spotify. It is worth every penny. Remember when I said exploring the world is one of many reasons I'm taking so long to finish the game? The soundtrack is one of these. You can comfortably stop and just relax, I even have it playing now while writing this review.
With a tracklist as large as this, I am glad for the variety of instruments and mood. Music is extremely important within a gaming experience, and every track is used effectively depending on the area and situation.
This Is Not An Easy Game (But It Can Be)
Now I haven't stopped singing praise since the article started, so let me lay out some of my frustrations, although minor. Honestly, a lot of the frustrations are my fault. On many occasions, I died, loaded up the game again, and soon realised it had been a long time since I last saved. This is a feature from games of old when autosaves were not common.
It both sends me huffing and puffing, as well as loving it, in equal measures.
There's no grander feeling than overcoming an especially long segment and finally finding a save point. Like a man in a desert finding water, all you can do is lap it up.
I would also comment on how tough the combat is, but again it's not a criticism, as I feel like a mighty warrior when I outsmart the enemy and beat them. This is due to the stamina bar depleting when dashing or attacking so that you have to plan your fights. Another aspect is the time it takes to eat food to regain health, leaving you vulnerable. Combat is challenging, there is no question about it, but it's so rewarding.
As difficult as all this may seem, the developers have listened to feedback since it's release in August for SWITCH, and there are multiple options for accessibility. It is incredible and deserves a lot of praise, something I don't see talked about often in reviews. You can switch on and off certain features that may be impacting your fun. This is a beautiful world to explore, and everyone needs to see it!
Final Thoughts (So Far)
When Phoenotopia first came into this world, it was a legendary flash game on Newgrounds (remember those?). It then redesigned itself into a beautiful game with double the content and released on SWITCH, where it met with mixed reviews. I think now, with the Steam release, it has taken all that feedback and made a truly delightful experience that everyone can enjoy. I am 16hrs into the game, considering that the story is 25hrs long and a completionist playthrough is upwards of 50+, I've still got a bit of a journey to go. So I'll be jumping back.