Our Humble Hero; credit to
the YouTube Trailer Thumbnail
Hey, it's the RPG Craftsman again! I haven't died of COVID-19; if I DID get it, it was probably the asymptomatic variant and I didn't even notice. That said, the past year was absolutely beyond miserable, and basically ruined my ability to write a goddamn thing.
And then, I found this curious little gem of a game by clicking on some random YouTube video talking about how the very term "violent video games" is an improper phrasing. I will link the video below this paragraph, as a shout-out to the creator.
I Can Sing Clearly Now, The Frog is Gone...Wait
When I first discovered the game Wandersong, it was on a video that was, as you can see (and as of this writing), a year and a half old, for a game that was released almost an entire year before that! So in vidya terms, this game is OLD.
So what exactly is Wandersong? A good question. I will begin by stating this: The cartoony aesthetic shouldn't be a turnoff if you like "dark but heroic" gameplay. You do not gain levels or cool weapons, even though you control a singular character. Your hero is very explicitly anti-violence on a visceral level, and I mean he is constantly using his music to communicate with jerk humans and even monsters that might want to kill him.
He is also quite directly opposed to the person most commonly referred to as "the Hero." She's...badass and powerful, but she is also the antagonist. Which is quite frankly the best place to put a Mary Sue character (even though our not-so-heroic Hero is not explicitly a Mary Sue).
But that doesn't tell you very much, does it? Well, let me try this: You are a bard, as in the D&D class. You overcome challenges and puzzles using music, a la my favorite LucasArts Point-And-Click Adventure Game, LOOM. Your main protagonist is unable and unwilling to use violent means, much like the best ending of your character in Undertale. And you have a lot of platforming in this game, almost to the levels of the early Mario games in their difficulty.
No, I am not kidding. There was one particular point in the game, the third "dungeon," that repeatedly kicked my ass. I will get to that momentarily, but first...
I will be honest, the plot is pretty good and full of decent twists – one of which I spoiled already, but whatever – and the gameplay mechanics are beautifully done. I loved LOOM and I'm a little surprised more games weren't made using that kind of mechanic. In fact, LOOM was meant to be the first in a trilogy, but that didn't end up panning out. Which is frustrating, but that's not what we're here for.
The platforming is also quite challenging, and the concept of a pacifist protagonist and a good ending earned by not killing everything in your path is done far, far better here than it ever was in Undertale. You see, the combat system in Undertale is, quite frankly, tedious, regardless of which route you're going for.
Also, when I first went up against Toriel in Undertale, I couldn't figure out how to "pacifist win" against her, and after exhausting the options I could think of, I used [Fight] in an attempt to see if I needed to whittle her down first. And then I crit her and won. And then the game rubbed it in my face. I...needed therapy after that one. (Depression sucks ass.)
Back to Wandersong. Wandersong is by far superior to both LOOM and Undertale, both in terms of core concepts and in terms of execution.
I hate to say this, but Wandersong is a very buggy game. I really, really think the creators need to go back and fix a few issues. Here are some examples I have come across:
1) In the island-sailing section of the game, you come across a lot of places where if you are still pressing in the direction you wanted to go, after you change screens, you will get a massive clipping issue and the game will go catty-wompus. It's pretty easy to fix, just drop to the next lower platform, but it is frustrating.
2) In the factory-based third dungeon, there are safe places in the spinning blades of death. They're always closest to the center. This isn't really an inconvenience so much as a just-plain-old-bug, but it feels very...unprofessional.
3) There was a point where I somehow got stuck singing. I actually could not get off of the highest note. I'd noticed a few times that movement buttons could get "stuck" in transitioning between screens, but those could all be fixed by pressing the button that was "stuck." This particular bug wouldn't shut off until I quit and reloaded the game. It was kinda annoying.
However, the bugs are by far the worst thing about it, and considering the vast majority of titles that are buggy have other, far worse flaws (I'm looking at you especially, Skyrim, and your retarded 5-minute opening where you can't understand a goddamn word being said unless you have subtitles on, which you have to do in the fucking game BECAUSE THERE'S NO FUCKING OPTIONS SCREEN IN THE TITLE SCREEN JESUS FUCKING CHRIST GUYS)
The point is that the bugs are annoying, but fixable and mostly tolerable. The only other problem I personally had was that it was too short (about 9 hours for me), but honestly, that might also be the point: to not overstay its welcome.
To be honest, Wanderlust doesn't blame you if you don't take this premise seriously. Quite frankly, the script pokes fun at itself a few times, as well as the tropes of certain characters. It doesn't expect you to take the story that seriously. There's also lots of comedic moments.
That said, the moments where it becomes serious are amazing. Whether they're:
1) A depressed and shy young man playing for his recently-deceased mother, on his accordion that she taught him how to play, after you make it possible for them to play together that very same afternoon
2) The out-of-left-field arrival of "the Hero" – and the very unheroic action she does before you even see her – before you play from her point of view, and you feel goddamn awful but also powerful the entire time
dis gurl a beach; credit to the
Wandersong Wiki on fandom.com
3) The cheerful bard being as miserable as the factory town he's stuck in, overcast with miserable smog clouds, which only annoy the local astronomer enough to actively get started on doing something about it
4) Actively avoiding stepping on bugs for an entire cave, only to have them help you out later on because you were such a boss
This game has it all. Joy, dread, shock, horror, awe, laughter, tears, rage, terror, hope, relief, everything. If you want to have your heart played like a fiddle, by a video game with an aesthetic that wouldn't be out of place in a Paper Mario game (and isn't, if The Origami King is anything to go by!), then I have but one recommendation for you:
Buy This Game, No
Matter WHO You Are!
The coding errors (since the literal bugs in this game are actually helpful)are annoying, yes. I do want the developers to come back and fix those few issues I have. And yeah, it's a little pricey at $20 USD for how short it is, comparatively. But if you can get it, on sale or not, get it. It's a really nice little game, and it's a beautiful story about hope in the face of the worst coming to pass.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that Wandersong is the pinnacle of "video games as an art form." The vast majority of good games, I can recommend to people who like videos games. This is one of a very, very small selection that I would recommend to anyone, from hardcore to casual to people who have never touched a controller in their lives, all the way to people who actively hate video games.
It may be an odd comparison, but it's sort of like the autobiography (and eventual movie) Black Klansman. In this true story, a black man manages to show several members of the Ku Klux Klan that there are good black people, and ends up de-radicalizing them.
Wandersong, to those who hate video games, might just be the same thing. And that is not an exaggeration. If you think it is, then you especially need to buy this game.
RPG Craftsman, signing off.