I'll admit that I know just about nothing about Independent Games (Indie Games). I know they're popping up more and more, games made by a few people outside of any "normal" game company, but that's about all I know about them. I don't know whether they're successful, how they're distributed in general, their general quality, or anything else. I'm an RPG guy, and I know precious little about current trends in any other genre of gaming.* And frankly, there really aren't any indie RPGs out there, save for MMORPGs, which is a division of RPGs that I've been mentally steeling myself to take on for years now, and am still a ways away from being ready for. So as there's precious little to play for an RPG fanatic in the field of RPGs (so far as I'm aware, at least), I don't have much contact with indie games.
My good man Angahith, however, alerted me a month or so ago to a relatively new RPG being released via download, produced independently and sold cheaply: Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch. After seeing this preview for it, I was naturally intrigued: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkaTiBHPiw8&feature=player_embedded
I've played the game now from start to finish, and found it quite enjoyable. Normally I don't make a whole rant for every game I like, but I figure this one could use a little publicity.**
So, as you can probably tell from that preview video, MLRotB is very...different. Basically, imagine that the internet as a whole decided to make a parody of your standard JRPG, and you have this game. You'll alternate between jokes about silly RPG conventions and jokes about the internet, with a liberal sprinkling of real-world events and people being parodied.
It works very well in entertaining the player. The jokes about RPG mechanics are clever and amusing, such as protagonist Mark refusing after a battle to accept blame for hitting his companion in battle because it was a counterattack, which is automatic and beyond his control. The internet jokes are fun as well, such as reading a Christian-esque religion's Adam and Eve story told with online terms and chatspeak, or Mark interrupting his king's speech with a bit of trolling. And I quite enjoy many of the jokes with real-world people and events as their subjects, such as a battle in Greenspan's bank where, after throwing all your money at an opaque bubble that you know nothing about, it bursts, and reveals a robot named Goldman Sex, which, having taken all their money, violates your investors' dignity by attacking them with his pelvis. There's also a fair bit of things that are just downright goofy, like Siren enemies (which actually look more like Harpies, but that's a quibbling detail) that have actual police sirens implanted in their heads whose strongest attack summons a police car that drives through your party.
Beyond the parody aspects, though, there's also a fairly basic comical nature to the game in its own right. Taking away all the satire from the game, you've got a story of a lazy, annoyed protagonist who doesn't actually want to be doing any of this questing having to babysit a party of characters who are genuine in their desire to save the world. This "disrespectful, wise-cracking douchebag gets caught up in grand adventure entirely against his will" has been done before, of course, both very poorly (Final Fantasy 8) and very well (Grandia 2), but this is probably the first RPG I've seen where that idea is used for the purposes of comedy instead of just a serious story, and it certainly works. Just seeing the interactions between the apathetic Mark and the obliviously well-meaning Ines and Elsie can be funny in its own right. In fact, come to think of it, it now seems odd that the other RPGs I've seen with this dynamic of the uncaring jerk hero surrounded with people who want to save the world have all been serious. I mean, wouldn't you think that kind of set up would more naturally lend itself to comedy?
The cut scenes are quite neat in this game, too. Rather than your typical FMV sequences that Square made an RPG standard with Final Fantasy 7, or clips of anime like you'll see in Tales of the Abyss or a remake of Chrono Trigger, MLRotB uses live action video, with actors playing out the scenes dressed as the characters. It's amateur, but that makes it no less fun--in fact, it fits the feel of the game far better than any of the more "professional" types of cut scenes would. Hell, I don't think any FMV or anime or whatever could possibly have been as great during the first scene that we see a loltroll in the game.
The cut scenes also have their style of comedy beyond the game's core satire, I should point out--some of the jokes, physical humor, speech, and timing remind me lighthearted scenes from 80s and 90s dubbed Chinese films, like one of Jackie Chan's comical kung fu movies.
I suppose I should mention the non-writing-related good qualities, too, if I'm going to be thorough about this. The game looks nice enough, the sound effects are decent, and while the acting and voice acting wouldn't win awards, they're fairly good, and you can tell that several of the live actors are enthusiastic about their role, which is good. The battle system is set up well enough, with characters having distinct roles in battle due to their stats and specializations, but also providing some options for the player to customize certain details of each character's battle presence. There are some decent checks and balances in there to keep the most powerful moves from being used all the time and the least powerful abilities still useful even by the game's end, and several of the most handy passive abilities are ones that influence your strategy more than just make a character do more damage. Mr. Leung has also stated in the past that he's fairly proud of his creation of the Combat Skater class, and it IS a rather interesting physical attack support class, one which fills out an RPG party very nicely by having less usefulness against bosses than an outright Fighter class, but much more effective application against regular enemy encounters than a regular Fighter does.
Now of course, the game's not perfect, and I do have some grievances. The first and worst is that sometimes it just plain goes too far in its joking. Maybe I'm being oversensitive, and yes, the game is SUPPOSED to poke fun at one's sensibilities, as that's what the internet does in general, but I feel that there's a limit and that it goes over it at times. The item used in the game to defeat the loltrolls is kind of in bad taste, for example, and I really can't approve of the joke regarding enemy mages (black mages are actually black, while white mages are...dressed up like the KKK) at all. I'm willing to forgive a lot of stuff that makes me slightly uncomfortable--most of the normal enemies in the game are cute animals we traditionally think of as harmless, and it bothers me a bit to be destroying them all, but I get the joke there (that this is basically what EVERY RPG hero does: go around killing innocent wildlife that usually poses no actual threat to him/her), and it's a funny jab at RPG convention, so I laugh and keep going. But the game DOES go too far with its jokes on occasion, and that does sour it for me a bit.
Also, the joke quest early in the game regarding organic food...well, it's not offensive, really, but it DOES make me wonder if Mr. Leung actually knows anything at all about organic produce.
The actual gameplay does have some problems. First of all, the game is pretty buggy. But it's not nearly as buggy as a lot of published PC RPGs out there by big-name companies--Fallout 3 had to be 5 times as full of programming errors as MLRotB, to say nothing of Fallout: New Vegas--so I don't know how much you can really hold it against the game. It works overall, and that's what matters. Fallout: New Vegas certainly couldn't claim that for a while.
I'm not a fan of some of the mechanics of the game--first of all, the options for key mapping are strange, and until you get used to them from playing for a bit, seem uncomfortable. I don't really see why players couldn't set the keys themselves. Also, the actual process of encountering an enemy...well, it's not BAD, but besides some boss encounters, every battle is going to begin with either you or the enemy getting a preemptive strike. It works like so:
On the field, you hit an enemy: Battle starts with you getting first strike.
On the field, enemy touches you: Battle starts with enemy getting first strike.
It would have worked much better like this:
You hit an enemy: You get first strike.
Enemy touches you from the back: Enemy gets first strike.
Enemy touches you from the front: Neither side gets first strike; battle begins according to regular determination of turn order based on stats.
Lastly, the music is pretty bland overall. It gets the job done, but only barely, and there's nothing memorable in there.
These criticisms aside, however, this game is very fun, very clever, and will appeal to just about anyone who isn't a total stick in the mud, particularly fans of RPGs, and fans of 4chan. From vegetable-based Scientology parodies to a fast-food themed boss attack so epic and devastating that it shames FF7's Sephiroth's spell that destroys the whole solar system, this game's a barrel of laughs, and well worth looking into. It's also a pretty good deal--about 20 hours of gameplay for $13. As near as I can figure, your standard RPG has a ratio of $1 per hour spent on it, with some games having ratios that are a bit better (Fallout 3) and some having ratios that are way, way worse (Dragon Age: Awakening expansion). But in general, the dollar per hour ratio seems to hold true for the RPGs I play. So for the time you'll spend on this title, the price is quite reasonable.
You can purchase the game here. If you're looking for a good couple laughs, try Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch out. If you're interested in supporting indie games, particularly of the rare RPG persuasion, try MLRotB out. And if you're annoyed with any of the following and would like a chance to beat the tar out of them, try this game out: loltrolls, McDonald's, Jack Thompson, bees, Scientology. It ain't perfect, but it's a solid humor RPG, and it doesn't outright insult your intelligence, so it's at least more deserving of your cash than most of SquareEnix's titles, and cheaper to boot. I'm hoping this title turns out to be a decent success, because it's funny enough and had enough effort put into it that it deserves to--and because I totally want to see a continuation.
* Hell, I'm not exactly up to date on most RPG news items, either.
** Of course, so few people read this blog that even calling this rant a "little" publicity is probably exaggerating it.