Sometime after last week’s review, I was directed by my friend and all-around Internet strongman JPH to a freeware game called Iji. He went on to call it, and I quote, “probably the best freeware RPG you’ll play all year”.
Now, this put my in sort of a bind. On the one hand, those are fighting words if I ever heard them, and it made me want to play Iji to see how much of that praise was justified. On the other hand, a quick look around the website revealed some interesting descriptions and images, and these made me want to play Iji to see what kind of game it was.
…wait, why was this a problem again?
Downloading Iji immediately made clear this game is as freeware as they come. The entire game comes in a 28.1 MB .zip-file. The whole of it is encompassed in a grand total of 24 files. And one of these is the manual, which is a .txt-file.
Starting the game reveals a charming pixelated art-style, opening up with some impressive, almost hand-drawn-quality pixel-art backgrounds. This whole opening screen just breathes retro. I mean, look:
Oh, and those menus? They’re nested. Each menu can hold about six or seven items; if any sub-menu has more items, like (say) the Options menu, you have to scroll through different pages. I don’t know why that left such an impression on me, but… I guess I think it’s cute. Either it evolved from programming limitations or it was a deliberate choice, but either way, it’s cute.
Right, that’s enough gushing about nonsense. I start a new game, on Extreme difficulty, of course. An introduction movie sets the scene: people visiting a lab of some description. Then, the sky explodes.
Six Months Later.
Or so the continuing introduction tells me. In a combination of animated pixel-art and the more traditional text-over, the scene is set even moreso. I am the titular Iji, or ‘that girl on the cover’. I was visiting my dad at the lab he works, with my mom, sister and brother Dan (whose name I remember). And then, aliens invaded. Aliens calling themselves the Tasen, apparently, who use their superior Nanotechnology to kill almost everyone and take over the lab for whatever reason. Luckily, this being a lab, the resident scientists decided to FIGHT BACK. By stealing the Tasen’s Nanotechnology and incorporating it into, as cyborg-implants, into an unconscious volunteer.
Guess who unconsciously volunteered?
Gameplay-wise, Iji seems fairly uncomplicated. Walk left and right, jump, crouch. Push button to interact, push button to bullet. That’s about it, control-wise.
Iji, having been enhanced with Nano-cyborg technology, is a little more capable than regular humans. She can jump higher, kick down security doors, Crack electronic doors, and use Tasen Nanotechnology. She’s also bullet-immune to a certain degree: in a system that seems very reminiscent of Metroid-games, Iji has a large Armor gauge that decreases with hits, and a small number of Health blocks that deplete whenever the Armor gauge is empty, refilling the latter entirely. Health blocks empty? You explode. Game over.
Brother Dan, ostensibly the only other surviving member of my family, yells at me over an intercom system. I’m to find one of the leaders of the Tasen and persuade him to… pack up and leave, apparently. Genius plan. This bit also serves as a tutorial of sorts: it introduces me to things like walking, kicking down doors and murder. A lone Tasen scout stands, back turned towards me, guarding the entrance. Dan tells me to murder him; I sheepishly oblige. That’s for invading Earth, I guess.
Combat this far seems pretty easy; it’s a simple matter of ducking to avoid being shot at, then shooting back. Ducking behind one of the many oft-destructible crates stops damage entirely, whereas ducking in the open reduces it — but the Tasen guns have horrible spread, which works in their favour this time. Still, the Scouts and Soldiers I encounter thusfar are no match for my amazing knees, and Shotgun.
The levels are littered with powerups: green Armor, red Health, ammo for guns I have yet to encounter, and EXP. Yes, you may remember this game advertised as ‘freeware RPG‘, and it wastes no time introducing me to its implementation of the term. In this case, Iji can upgrade her cyborg Nanotechnology by collecting Nanobots; both from slain enemies and from exploration. Collect enough Nanostuff, and you gain an Upgrade Point, the upgrade currency du jour. Upgrade Points can be spent in Tasen Terminals to level up my various stats: Strength, Health, Assimilation, Cracking, Damage, Tasen Weapons and Komato Weapons, the last of which the game helpfully suggests I leave alone for now.
There’s also a few upgrades that I can’t buy myself. So far, I’ve ran into Jump Height and Damage Reduction, both of which are pretty self-explanatory. I need to find these, though.
I have to say, I don’t really know how I feel about having to scrounge for these upgrade terminals. While they are by no means rare, it can happen that you run around with a point or two unspent because you want to put them in something specific. Then again, the level design sometimes seems to hinge on me not being able to allocate points whenever I want, so we’ll call it a wash for now.
Iji follows a very basic level structure. Each level has a beginning and an end, and there’s usually a few, only marginally divergent paths from A to B. There’s some exploration, though, usually rewarding me with either new paths to take, or experience, new weapons or those weird ribbon things. That is, if I can even use these weapons, them requiring a certain Tasen or Komato stat to even pick up.
Oh, and those experience levels? They’re actually limited per in-game level. On the difficulty setting I picked, I can gain a maximum of three levels per level (insert Order of the Stick joke here). This makes for some hard choices in point allocation, which is either an interesting exercise in forced specialization or damned annoying. Usually the latter.
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