Celestial Tear: Demon’s Revenge Review

Score 75Celestial Tear: Demon’s Revenge is a fantastic JRPG that’s marred down by technical problems.  Built on the RPG Maker engine, the game has so many limitations, hardly any customization, and crashes too often to ignore.  If you’re willing to wade through it though, and you should, the game offers an engaging and yet familiar storyline, a nice blend of battle systems and some stellar ideas.  I felt like I had discovered a lost gem from the fourth generation, and I enjoyed all of the moments that worked.  It’s clear that there’s some real passion behind this project, but the technical know-how may not be as strong as their creative drive.  Hopefully they’ll get this all ironed out, and possibly consider a more modern engine and a VO director for their next outing.

WHAT WE LIKED
º The world has been thoroughly imagined and provides a rich story to take in.
º Playing from both sides of a war provides appetizing conflict and drama.
º The battle system is well thought out, and provides high-risk challenges.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The engine causes constant stuttering in almost every aspect of the game.
º Voice acting is childish and comes across as an afternoon read with little direction.
º There’s no way to grind, and the boss battles are formulated to be very tough.

There’s a lot of mystery and unanswered questions that the first game sets up.

Whenever you start a JRPG, you should be ready to invest a lot of time into them.  Battles are much longer than most action games; the story is usually long winded, and games from the PSX-era were a rip-off if it were anywhere below the 40-hour mark.  That’s not to say that as time went by, the inherent flaws in this kind of game really started to take a toll on my day to day life, especially as a husband/father/vigilante.  After years of fading sales, the industry sort of gave up on them, just as I had moved to faster, less rewarding experiences.  Thankfully, especially after the success of Bravely Default, the genre is coming back, and with a vengeance.

Celestial Tear: Demon’s Revenge is an earnest undertaking with some great and innovative ideas, marred by the limitations of the RPG Maker engine.  All of the work that’s been put in, from the graphic novel inspired animations to the imaginative story, and it’s running on the back of an engine that can barely function.  As I tell you all the wonderful things about this game, know that with any other engine, this game could’ve been so much more.  Sadly, these limitations will constantly sully my review in what I’m sure they’re building into the successful Celestial Tear series.

The story is very ambitious for such a small studio.  Taking place in a war-torn world inhabited by humans and ‘Demons’, you play two different stories from the conflict. Clearly taking inspiration from games like Suikoden, you start the game by choosing from an assortment of characters- which sadly in this installment is only two.  There are two other inaccessible characters in the menu, and you will not see them in this ‘episode.’  While I’m not a huge fan of episodic gaming, the prospect of playing new characters might help drive me to pick up the future installments.

The two characters you can play are Jagen and Sen, two warriors from both sides of the conflict.  Jagen starts his story as an advocate for the fair and ethical treatment of the monstrous ‘demons,’ even arguing in the street with a prejudice friend who wants them dead.  That same night, his wife is killed in front of him by a demon, leading to his decision to spend the rest of his life hunting them down.  As a ‘Ridder’, which is admittedly a pretty generic name, your mission is to clear out the forest of it’s dangers, and any demons you may find.  The other character that you can play as is Sen, a fiery young demon who’s lost everything to the Humans.  She spends most of her time discussing the humans with her brother while fighting off their constant attacks.  Being on both sides of the combat, it’s interesting when they finally meet each other in the midst of battle.

Navigating in the dark can actually be pretty unnerving; a great use of the day-to-night feature.

While the story is a standard affair, it’s delivered in a way that does make it feel new and unique.  The world that they’ve created drew me in, especially with the questions posed about both species’ origins.  The world benefits from the attention to detail, and the huge backstory the two creators have put into this entry.  I love going through the descriptions, and reading about wars that characters mention in passing, and the creators have put a lot of effort into building their backstory.

Cutscenes are presented with nicely drawn illustrations, but it’s hard to judge them.  Why?  Because at least in my copy, the video stutters every two seconds.  I first read from the developers that it was because of the engine and that it uses the ram instead of the video card for its video.  Annoying, sure, because I only had 4GBs on my board, so- I did what any reviewer would do- I bought more ram.  Up to 12, and it’s still unwatchable.  This problem seems to affect random rigs, and even the developers can’t nail down the problem.  They even got the voiceover guy from Honest Trailers, so I was really interested in checking out his performance.

Speaking of voice acting, the game has a large selection of dialogue performed.  Again, the studio behind this game is very ambitious with its game- however, the performances just really aren’t up to snuff.  Sen reads every line as if she’s about to start stripping, and Jagen sounds like an angry man choking on tears.  It’s nice to have, but some direction to help the lines seem more authentic would’ve been nice.  Even more bizarre, there are segments where one character will have an acted performance, but the character opposite will only have text.  Overall, it’s a nice addition, but such a key component needs more ironing, otherwise leave it out and let me imagine the characters’ voices.

Jagen has some powerful combos, but the game will only randomly let you use them.

But outside of the voice acting, some of these complaints are purely software limitations.  Outside of these hiccups, there’s a game with a lot of passion poured into it.  The world they’ve created in a dark and bleak one, where even a beautiful forest is covered in a fog that won’t allow sunlight to pour through.  Your characters run around the maze-like maps, and surprisingly even has environmental actions like jumping, swimming and carefully sidestepping across a cliff’s edge.  Standard treasure chests provide additional resources, but the game also has random ingredients and plants that you can find naturally.  Sadly, I never quite figured out how I was supposed to use these ingredients in my playthrough.

The battle system is a great send-up to classic JRPGs and takes the best of those legends and blends them up for something truly unique.  When you attack, you have an upgradable stamina meter, where you can allot out a series of heavy, medium and light attacks.  The higher the attack, the more stamina and the less likely it’s to connect.  Every time you rush up to the enemy, it becomes a gamble on if you go for high damage and maybe end the conflict now, or if you spam the smaller attacks and take them down next round.  There’s also a combo system, which if you attack with a certain order of buttons, you may provide a massive elemental attack.  Again, this is a maybe, and sometimes it’ll pay out, and sometimes you’ll miss the opportunity to go for the heavy hit.  Each character also has elemental magic attacks, and for some reason, they are based on three different magic ‘levels’, each with their own bar.  I wish I could go into more detail, but the game doesn’t get very far down the line with its magic, so I can’t say too much.  I should also mention, even with my additional ram, battles stuttered for me as well, which can really throw off your combos.

Magic is only slightly useful, and I found myself relying on combos more than anything.

While I enjoyed this system, I didn’t quite care for the boss battles.  The reason is that the game is very limiting when it comes to how much you can grind.  The enemies are Earthbound style, where you can see them before you have to battle.  For me, that’s another plus, as I have grown to dislike random battles.  However, once they are dead, they don’t come back.  So, if you’re like me, and like to grind a couple unnecessary battles to make the boss fights a little easier than tough luck- and believe me, they will defeat you.  Because the game has a set amount of XP you can grab, even at full strength and with every treasure, it might take everything you have to get past them.  While this did provide rewarding defeats when I did get lucky, it was at the expense of my freedom to grind if I didn’t properly allocate my resources earlier in the game.

The menu system is pretty standard, and sometimes difficult to navigate.  It has your standard Items screen, a place to equip your weapons and armor, and an Abilities tab with a large assortment of upgrades.  Again, you won’t be able to use most of these upgrades yet, as the game only gives you a certain amount of XP.  Equipment is pretty plentiful, and making sure you change it out to get the extra point here or there is crucial when it comes to the boss fights.  I did, however, lose the indistinguishable cursor quite a bit, especially in the equipment menu, as it only highlights icons that are already light in color.

The best part of the game is the little details.  The game has an in-game clock, with real-time day and night mechanics.  During the night, the screen becomes mostly obscure, and you can only see in your surrounding area- leading to some tense moments stomping through the woods.  This can make it difficult to navigate, but as the game provides a simple map, it doesn’t break the experience.  I liked how there were small creatures and natural elements around as well, really making these environments feel alive.  Despite the game running in what I can only assume is a 480 resolution, the world is amazingly vivid, and would’ve been lauded back in the days of the SNES.  If I had one complaint, it that’s the character models are very small compared to the world.  Thankfully, when characters break into a conversation, the developers pushed in on the pixelated scene- which for me made these moments feel more intimate.

Don’t be fooled- you can only play as two characters in this entry, which is kind of a bummer.

The music is also very impressive.  Tribal music that fills the woods are nicely implemented and the battle track sounds like it could’ve found a nice home in a AAA title.  I’d occasionally stop and notice how well placed their musical arrangements were.  Sound effects work for what they are, sounding like they might’ve even come from the engine’s library, but they work, and I wasn’t distracted by any of it.  Overall, despite the repetition you get from games where you enter and leave combat constantly, the game does a good job of having an impactful score without becoming a distraction.

Not to hark on it, but I do feel the barebones engine is what’s holding this game back.  I had several crashes in my playthrough, and a couple of them were right before I hit the safe spots.  There was a section early on where I couldn’t proceed and spent a half an hour running around trying to fix it.  It took me turning the game off and reloading for it to allow me to activate the event.  The game is also poorly laid out for keyboard, with the arrow keys being used for movement, with the left hand for your actions.  You won’t want to play this without a controller.

I guess at the end of the day, I can honestly say I enjoyed my experience, even if it did give me some heinous headaches.  The world is inventive and interesting enough that I would recommend any fan of old-school turn-based RPGs to give it a shot.  However, be warned, this game may not work well on your system, and like the game’s attacking system, it’s a gamble.  Those of you who don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you’ll find a rewarding experience, and a series I hope we see grow over the coming years.

·      Publisher – Degica
·      Developer – White Guardian Studios, LLC
·      Genre – Indie, RPG
·      Release Date – November 19th, 2015
·      Version Reviewed – PC
·      PEGI Rating – N/A
·      Multiplayer – No
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