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There has been a long-running debate as to whether video games are art. Some games like Okami and ICO make a strong case in favor of that sentiment. Of course, there are also plenty of games that people will say make a case against that sentiment. In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that Rainblood: Town of Death is a game that is also a work of art.
This game took me by surprise and provided me with a brief, yet intense experience. The game can be completed in anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on whether you do all the sidequests, but the same could be said for Trace Memory, my absolute favorite DS game. It did not matter to me that Trace Memory was so short (also in the 3-7 hour ballpark), because the quality of the experience was totally worth it. I harbor similar feelings toward Rainblood: Town of Death, although I was definitely left wanting more and thus eagerly awaiting the sequel/conclusion, Rainblood 2: City of Flame.
We always find ourselves drawn to a pretty face.
These days, the commercial RPG Maker and Ren'py scene among indie developers is growing exponentially, to the point where most RPGM games start to look alike. Even those with custom flourishes still often look like RPGM games, but with added bling. Not Rainblood: Town of Death, though. It doesn't just push the envelope of what can be done with the RPGMaker software; it obliterates that envelope and has a truly timeless look.
Each background and portrait in the game has been meticulously drawn by hand and looks like something out of a Chinese drawing or a beloved storybook. The overall design follows the school of "less is more," and the unique look is great. The use of minimalist, soft colors only adds to the mystique and makes key cutscenes (such as those depicting violence) even more artfully striking with their glimpses of more vibrant colors. The sprites are also beautifully drawn, especially in battle, where they are huge. Every single animation is complex, fluid, and simply beautiful. This is a game that, aesthetically, will stand the test of time.
This year, there have been plenty of games that are graphical standouts. One cannot deny the visual marvel of games like Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, and Resonance of Fate to name but three. However, I think the subtle beauty of Town of Death is striking not just among its RPG Maker brethren, but among those contemporaries as well. Thus far, Town of Death is the most beautiful commercial RPG Maker game I have ever seen.
The only hint toward the game's RPG Maker roots lies in the menu system. It is simple, functional, and complements the game's aesthetics, which is the most anyone can ask of an interface. That being said, seeing John Wizard's effort in designing a unique interface for Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals makes me want to see some extra effort put into the interfaces so that they don't look stock. Of course, this is but one minor blemish on an otherwise beautiful face, and it's certainly not a dealbreaker on this "date."
Sure, she is a pretty face, but can she engage you in conversation?
Rainblood I: Town of Death introduces us to a dying warrior named Soul who has just 51 days to complete his unfinished business before he passes away due to a peculiar medical condition. His adventure, chronicling only one day, starts in the plague-cursed town of Yang, where he converses with a mysterious young lady who cannot shed a tear. It is unclear whether Soul knows this girl from his past, but he has some attachment to her, thus making what happens next rather difficult. Soul is witness to the girl's beheading by a legion of demons sent by The Organization, against whom Soul harbors a vendetta. The storyline starts out cryptically and with unanswered questions, but over the course of the game, the layers slowly peel back until the very end, when the plot thickens considerably. Players will witness some moments of familiarity, but not so many that they will get too comfortable or complacent. After all, if players felt too warm and fuzzy in games such as this or Heavy Rain, they would not be as compelling.
Town of Death is a Chinese-developed game and, as such, was originally written using the poetic style of classic Chinese literature. When it was first translated into English, much of that was lost due to the limitations of the English language, which was not designed to express Chinese sentiments. A new version of the game was released on May 24, 2010 with completely rewritten text. To say that the new text is stunning would be an understatement. The writer deftly manipulated the English language, truly giving the text the genuine feel of Chinese literature required for this game's atmosphere. Overflowing with expression in the most subtle ways, the prose is artfully done.
Unbelievable! This lovely and eloquent being can also dance?
The subtly tuned, gimmick-free gameplay features turn-based combat where success in battle requires patience, cunning, and tactical thinking. There aren't many battles in the game, so each one must be approached with the utmost respect, regardless of whether they are "grinding/item procurement" battles against randomly encountered garden-variety enemies or major battles against bosses. That each battle must be approached as if it is meaningful befits the sentiments of the Far East's philosophical warriors, adding serious immersion to the game. Patience, strategy, timing, defense, evasion and cunning are what will make the difference between life and death in this grim world. A warrior who does not approach a battle these traits will die very quickly, for opponents can be quite challenging. Oddly enough, one of the most difficult battles I faced was one of the earlier boss battles against the demons Sawer and Strengther.
She even makes a valiant effort to sing!
The game does not feature much music, but what is there complements the atmosphere of the game. The understated classical fare plays up the gloomy atmosphere beautifully, especially in places where it's raining. The battle themes, which take cues from Chinese classical music, are patient yet also intense, expressing the qualities needed to truly survive in battle. The music is not quite as memorable, impacting, or distinct as the music in Aldorlea's Millennium series, Amaranth's Aveyond series, or John Wizard's Dawn's Light (which have some of my favorite soundtracks among RPG Maker games), but it works in harmony with the game. The sound effects are stock RPG Maker sound effects and get the job done; nothing more and nothing less.
I have met many like her, but never one quite like her.
I have played some wonderful commercial RPG Maker games over the years and watched the field grow to what it is today. For better or worse, I became jaded when games started to look, feel, and sound very similar, and I hoped for a game that would shatter the scene's complacency. Rainblood: Town of Death does that. It is one of those benchmark-caliber games that could potentially change people's minds about the commercial RPG Maker scene and even go so far as to change people's perceptions about video games being art. Rainblood: Town of Death was certainly a novel experience for me, and though it was short and left me wanting more, I did not mind this time.
As I mentioned earlier, there is an upcoming sequel, entitled Rainblood II: City of Flame, which appears to utilize a completely different gameplay system and an equally distinctive yet complementary art style. After my experience with Rainblood: Town of Death, the sequel has a lot to live up to.