"[Götterdämmerung] is one of those 30+ hour RPGs that could have been streamlined into a taut 12-15 hour experience and been twice as satisfying as a result."
Götterdämmerung (GD) is the RPG Maker debut from German developer Default Games. Although it looks a lot like most RPG Maker games on the surface, GD distinguishes itself by setting JRPG tropes within a campy post-apocalyptic setting (think Mad Max). It also features a guitar driven soundtrack, tons of arcade style mini-games, and some offbeat humor. In short, GD has some very cool ideas in writing, but do they measure up in execution?
I was drawn in by the title screen's lovely character art, metallic design, and industrial metal music. You need to be tough and steely to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the title screen conveys that. The in-game graphics are a mixture of RPGMaker stock graphics and a few custom sprites, such as those for the main characters and vehicles. The custom sprites are all right, but the vehicle sprites are quite nice. A lot of custom work is also present in the various arcade-style mini games, some of which look pretty nifty, as well as the interface menus, which have that industrial look as well.
The game uses RPGM resources well to capture a post-apocalyptic vibe, but it certainly won't win any awards for visual style the way a game like Rainblood: Town of Death would. Although a "tricked out" PC is not required to play RPG Maker games, a reasonably up to date PC will make GD a smoother experience. Those with older computers will experience quite a bit of slowdown in places, particularly during some of the more visually intensive mini-games.
The game doesn't feature as much music as other games of its ilk, so while the music presented isn't off-putting, it gets repetitive. The most unique pieces are those with chugging guitar riffs that evoke a "tough guy" feel very different from classic JRPG style music. Although I like the originality of the soundtrack, the compositions themselves are not memorable at all. My biggest issue is the lack of battle themes. I would have liked different battle themes for on-foot battles, vehicle battles, and boss battles. At least the final boss should have had his own unique battle theme.
As with graphics and sound, GD's story also has its ups and downs. It stars a farm boy named Marduk who dreams of a more exciting and fulfilling life outside the sticks. His best friend is a girl named Sheena who lives on the wrong side of the tracks and leads a dangerous life as a smuggler of scavenged parts. Marduk's father cannot fathom why a simple, straightforward life is not good enough for his son and greatly disapproves of his friendship with Sheena. Despite the tension between father and son, Marduk truly loves his old man and wants to bridge the gap between them. Unfortunately, Marduk's father is suddenly killed and, with him, any chance of reconciliation. All that's left for Marduk now is Sheena and the mysterious amulet that fell from the sky into his father's cabbage patch. Thus, a farm boy's proverbial RPG quest to avenge his father's death and figure out the mystery behind his amulet begins.
The story is a conventional JRPG one, but with a campy post-apocalyptic coat of paint. One of my favorite post-apocalyptic sequences was driving a machine-gun-equipped car through the desert, a' la Mad Max, near the beginning of the game. I also found it amusing that beer was a healing potion, so I wonder if my characters were drunk the whole game. The amusements tend to be short lived, however. Although the story snippets presented throughout the game are engaging, if underdeveloped, the treks between each story segment are a slog. This reminded me negatively of Final Fantasy XII. Also impeding progression was hoofing it back to the entrance of a dungeon following a boss battle. I already dislike that inconvenience, but it's made worse due to freshly spawned enemy encounters.
Another issue plaguing plot progression is the bane of my RPG existence: chained fetch quests. The entire game is pretty much one fetch quest after another. For those who don't know what a chained fetch quest is, it's something like this: The guards won't let you into town so you find a nearby mine to sneak in. However, the miners won't let you down there unless you fetch them some yak milk. You go to the general store, but they're out of yak milk so you need to climb the snowy mountains to get milk from the yak farm, but a yeti has stolen all the farmer's yaks... you get the idea. One of these is bad enough, but GD is comprised of several.
Add a whole mess of backtracking to the equation, and you have a recipe for uneven progression that makes the game's duration feel artificially padded. This greatly impeded my enjoyment of the game and made me not want to play it at all. To be honest, progressing through the game felt like a chore. This is one of those 30+ hour RPGs that could have been streamlined into a taut 12-15 hour experience and been twice as satisfying as a result.
To try to offset that feeling of drudgery, GD offers plenty of arcade-style mini-games to break up the usual "town-dungeon-boss, lather-rinse-repeat" JRPG progression. It would take a long time to describe all of them, but all you really need to know is that they're fun. A few examples include a Pong-like game, one like Whack-A-Mole, car chases, and 8-bit stealth games. It's quite ambitious to program all these mini-games into RPG Maker and although most work well, a few suffer from stiff controls and mild slowdown due to the limitations of the RPG Maker software. The latest patch gives GD a "skip mini-game" option, which is a nice convenience, especially for those RPG players with rusty twitch reflexes.
Also keeping things fresh is the variety of vehicles you can pilot along the way, including a boat, a car, a tank, and an airship. The coolest part about the airship is that it can pluck your car from the ground, fly around, and then set the car down at another location. GD might just be the first JRPG I played wherein I didn't abandon a ground vehicle somewhere on the overworld just because I got an airship.
GD also puts forth an effort to include vehicular combat. I always thought it was strange when in Final Fantasy VII the party drove the buggy and random battles would have them on foot. In GD, when you're driving the car and encounter enemy cars, battles take place from the car using its weaponry. Sure, the battle engine is the same as for on-foot combat, but I appreciate the inclusion of vehicular combat. My only issue with the battle engine is that it lacks an escape option. A lot of RPG Maker games have a similar exclusion, and whether it's the fault of the software or the programmer, it's still an egregious oversight.
Götterdämmerung is one of those RPGM games that, despite a few interesting parts, falls completely flat. Its chained fetch quests and artificially padded play time cheapen and underdevelop an otherwise decent story. I didn't even find the ending satisfying at all. The mini-games are solid, airlifting ground vehicles with the airship is a nifty idea, and the campy post-apocalyptic vibe has originality, but the basic foundation of the game is limp. I am sad to say that as much as I wanted to like this game, I simply did not.