8-Bit Adventures: The Forgotten Journey

"The oversaturation of nostalgia gaming means that developers can't just get away with throwing in a few "I feel asleeps" and "I am errors" as a substitute for actual creativity."

Let's get something straight: I grew up playing classic JRPGs. I loved 'em, and in fact still enjoy many games in the genre. But as I've gotten older, I've found I have less and less tolerance for the kinds of derivative experiences that seem to be flooding the marketplace — especially in the admittedly wild and exciting indie world. 8-Bit Adventures: The Forgotten Journey is such a game: one hundred-percent mechanically sound, the game simply lacks any kind of ingenuity or special wrinkles to give it a flavor of its own.

The game looks and plays similarly to classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest — you take up the mantle of three plucky heroes (a fighter, a thief, and an en-reddened mage) on a quest to gather up Orbs that are necessary to save the world. This of course means plumbing the depths of several dungeons and engaging in lots of turn-based combat. There's a conceptually interesting meta-narrative at work here whose potential is mostly flubbed by the complete lack of creativity in the gameplay department. While the game does successfully capture the look and feel of very old-school RPGs, the rote formula of "clear a dungeon maze, fight a boss, gain a level, learn a new skill" becomes tiresome before you've done it more than a handful of times (precisely because you undoubtedly already have done it many times in countless other games). Clearing the game once unlocks a new game plus, which actually retools certain aspects — some different dialogue and graphics, for example — so if you're inclined to jump in for a second time (beyond an extra hour or two to check things out, I was not), there's at least a substantial amount of game here.

There's a color-based weakness system in play that means each of your characters and nearly all enemies are coded blue, red, or green. The rock-paper-scissors interplay between the colors does result in some battlefield strategizing, which prevents you from mashing the attack button over and over again. This ends up working to the detriment of the game, though, when you realize that the encounter rate will sometimes throw battles at you every step in excess of five or six steps. While this is something undoubtedly intentional as part of the game's attempt to embody every trope of classic turn-based gaming, it's a time sink that I simply don't have the patience for. If combat or character advancement were fun or rewarding in any way, this wouldn't be quite such a black mark on the game, but when you're facing the fourth straight round of four-plus foes in as many steps, one's nerves begin to grind down.

The graphics are nothing you haven't seen before: an overhead perspective on squat character sprites, a world map with snowy, forest-y, desert-y, lava-y regions, and nearly monochromatic dungeons that hold few surprises beyond potion-endowed treasure chests, time-wasting dead ends, and an infuriatingly erratic random encounter rate. The monster designs in battle are somewhat creative (especially late in the game, for reasons tied in to the plot) and I did get a few cheap laughs out of enemies like "Obligatory Bat." The game's music is mostly inoffensive, and the boss theme in particular is enjoyable. Unfortunately, much like the rest of the game, eventually it all blends together into a "been there, seen that, heard this" mélange of mediocrity.

8-Bit Adventures also falls prey to the same temptation that many others, both big-budget and independent alike, have in recent years: substituting engaging characterization and writing with a meta-narrative that nudges the player in the ribs (and one whose primary wrinkle is spoiled on the front page of the official site) and far too many shoehorned references to other games. As I've said before about numerous other games, simply co-opting quotes and industry in-jokes and stuffing them into a game's dialogue does not for compelling reading make.

The oversaturation of nostalgia gaming means that developers can't just get away with throwing in a few "I feel asleeps" and "I am errors" as a substitute for actual creativity to draw in a player. The classics this game tries to ape are considered classics because when they were first released, they represented the cutting edge of creativity and offered something new and interesting to players that had, for the most part, been jumping on platforms and beating up enemies on a 2D plane with little to no narrative impetus. Now, the formula just feels tired and uninspired, and it's hard for me to recommend 8-Bit Adventures: The Forgotten Journey to anyone but the most hardcore of nostalgia addicts.

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