Restless Soul Review
Indie games have had a pretty great summer. From the critically acclaimed Stray to the surprise hit Cult of the Lamb, it’s clear that indies have been doing well for themselves on basically every platform. I, for one, absolutely welcome this new wave of fascinating, well-designed games that break from the AAA mold.
However, for every revolutionary, overwhelmingly lauded indie game, there are ten indie games that are just kind of…okay. Unfortunately, Fuz Games’ Restless Soul falls into the latter category.
Restless Soul envisions the afterlife as a monochrome, 16-bit dystopia – which you, as the titular restless soul, have made it your mission to escape. You’re constantly watched by the megalomaniac Dr. Krull and his hundreds of identical minions, many of which you have to battle in order to proceed. Said battles are played out in a three-dimensional variation of bullet-hell games like Touhou and Undertale; winning battles allows you to advance in the story and explore more of the afterlife.
The combat aspect of the game is fun, once you’ve got the hang of it – it’s fast--paced and easy to fail at, so you never quite lose the feeling that you’re dancing at the razor’s edge of death. (Or, well, double-death.) I’ve never seen bullet-hell combat successfully rendered in 3D before, and that’s an enjoyable change of pace. Battles are satisfyingly challenging, if you haven’t tweaked any settings; however, you can check your Options menu and manually increase the damage you do by two or three times. You can also enter god mode – no cheats required! – just from selecting it in the menu. It’s refreshing to see developers taking players’ requests for more malleable difficulty settings to heart. The game still presents a challenge if you want it to, but if you don’t want tough combat (or if there’s JUST ONE boss you JUST CAN’T beat, like me), it’s nice to be able to change the difficulty. The combat increases in complexity as you progress through the game; new systems are implemented, different camera angles are played with, and you’re introduced to a host of new mechanics. The result is a combat style that keeps you constantly on your toes, and that feels great to finally master.
But, unfortunately, combat is one of the only exciting things that Restless Soul has going for it. The core loop is simple, but in a way that feels underwhelming rather than sleek. Unless there’s some grand secret locked away in the game’s code that I’m missing, it doesn’t have a whole lot of depth. Which, again, would be fine; not every game needs to have endearing characters, a sweeping narrative, and a memorable ending. The issue here is that Restless Soul seems to want all of those things, and achieves none of them.
Take the character interactions, for example. Between bullet-hell battles, you traverse various areas of the afterlife, most of which look pretty much the same but are given different titles like “Waterfall Town” and “Dark Town”, to name a few. To make it through the areas, you’re often tasked with talking to different NPCs, going on simple fetch quests, and solving the occasional puzzle. The dialogue and interactions with various characters and aspects of the world are supposedly meant to be funny, and they are, in a simplistic sort of way. But after you’ve been hearing the same bad puns and immature jokes nonstop for two hours, they start to feel a little…lame. There’s unfortunately no better word for it.
What’s more, Restless Soul plays with the fourth wall frequently; that is to say, there’s virtually no fourth wall at all. Both the game’s narrator and the player character talk almost constantly to you, the player, and it’s made clear throughout that every character is completely aware that they’re in a video game. This narrative framing is charming and intriguing at first, especially in how it satirises other games that play with the idea of the fourth wall and the player/player character split. But it quickly becomes overemphasized in a way that’s frankly a bit obnoxious. Yes, I understand, we’re playing a very self-referential game without a fourth wall to be found. There is really no need to repeat that in every single scene. There’s a point where it stops being cute and starts being masturbatory.
The biggest problem is that Restless Soul does have its humorous moments. There are a few jokes that are actually solidly amusing, like the bit where “home office” actually means that your boss moves in with you. The game is just trying way, way too hard to be charming and funny, which makes it come across as more juvenile than anything. A ten-year-old would probably find this game hilarious the entire way through. Not so much when you’re eleven and above. The term “mildly amusing” is probably the best way to describe it, but it certainly wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny or particularly intriguing.
It’s clear that Restless Soul is desperately trying to emulate the nostalgic, twee sensibility of retro-style indie games like the aforementioned Undertale, but overall, it just isn’t charming enough to pull it off. The combat is fun, but limited enough that it doesn’t feel like the central focus of the game. And despite some cute moments, the story isn’t particularly funny or memorable, in the end. Getting out of the underworld and back to life is a clear goal, sure. But we’re given no real reason to want to achieve it, other than the satisfaction of completing the game and knocking another title out of our backlog. Which, in all honesty, isn’t exactly how you want your players to be feeling. Restless Soul doesn’t have much of a sense of originality. Outside the unique, enjoyable twist on bullet-hell combat and the occasional spark of actual humour, it’s unfortunately just as simple and flat as its two-dimensional characters – cute enough, but nothing special.
And now that that’s done with, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play Undertale again.
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