"The laconic storytelling featuring one-dimensional characters with less personality than cardboard boxes made the tale incredibly trite."
The Greater Good is one of those games that presents me with a dilemma. It was pretty much developed by one person and it's clear that a lot of love and hard work were put into this effort. While that understanding allowed me to forgive some flaws and unrefined elements, there are other aspects that irked me, no matter how much I justified them. One of those latter flaws is that every time I double-clicked the game to play it, it took a full minute or more to initialize. Now I know one minute doesn't seem like much, but when you put a cup of tea in the microwave for a minute and sit there waiting for it, that minute feels like an eternity. Games that are far more graphically intensive boot up faster than this. When I double click on a game, I expect to start playing almost immediately and not spend a minute twiddling my thumbs waiting. I would love to say that the game is so good that it's worth the wait every time, but sadly it is not.
The Greater Good's hero is a soldier named Flint who can use a small amount of rare elemental magic. Unfortunately, he lives in a time where magic is feared, so he keeps his abilities a secret while serving in the army of the megalomaniacal King Kro. During a mission to squash an uprising, King Kro drags the troops into a temple to summon an ancient demon. The demon calls Flint out as an elemental, prompting King Kro to strike the soldier down and kick him off a ravine. Miraculously, Flint survives the fall and floats along a river, where he's found by a village elder and involuntarily recruited into the anti-Kro Resistance by the elder's grandson. From that point on, it's a bare-bones JRPG story we've seen time and time again. The laconic storytelling featuring one-dimensional characters with less personality than cardboard boxes makes the tale incredibly trite. A few NPCs encountered on the journey were somewhat amusing, but that was it. One 8-9 hour playthrough was enough.
I say "one playthrough" because the game has a New Game+ feature. Sadly, I think it was a waste for two reasons. For starters, the plot progresses in a very linear fashion and the few dialogue choices presented throughout don't affect anything much. What's the point of New Game+ if there are no branching pathways in the plot? Secondly, the New Game+ mode only carries over your items and equipment. Your characters' levels and skills are reset back to 1. I wish that levels and skills did carry over, because I wanted to be able to go back through the game superpowered and eventually curbstomp the optional superbosses that trounced me in my first playthrough.
Exploration in The Greater Good involves traversing 2D side-scrolling environments with light platforming elements, similar to games like Valkyrie Profile or Child of Light. The platforming isn't bad, and though jumping is a little floaty, it's not difficult to get used to. Battles are classic turn-based affairs and enemies are visible beforehand. The difficulty curve is pretty smooth and I made it through the main portion of the game without any excess grinding. My only issue was that the battles were paced a little too slowly for my tastes, and I would have liked the ability to turn off animations to speed things along. Yes, the animations are nifty at first, but after the umpteenth time seeing an enemy die a melodramatic death, I wanted to speed through battles and not wait for animations to play out every single time.
The slick vector graphics animate fluidly yet possess a retro look thanks to the limited color palette. Many of the natural locations from later in the game have vivid style, but some early locations have color palettes that are too dark even with the game's brightness turned up. The black foregrounds on the black backgrounds of these early locations blind some of the game's style and impede navigation when it is necessary to jump to a higher platform to progress which is not easily visible because of that "black on black" color choice.
Menus somewhat resemble Windows 95 menus — to really make you feel like you're playing something 1990s inspired. The use of pixelated fonts adds to the retro feel, but they are sometimes blurry to read, especially when they're set on backgrounds that don't contrast strongly enough to make the letters legibly pop. For example, white letters on a light grey background is not a good choice for readability.
The chiptune-inspired music compositions are influenced by modern electronica. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the soundtrack, which I felt was mostly forgettable. Some of the retro-inspired instrumentation made the higher pitched notes sound harshly peaky. I also felt that some pieces of music didn't quite fit their intended sequences. For example, the standard battle theme was too relaxed and did not feel like stirring battle music at all. Outside of the music, some of the battle sound effects were unpleasantly dissonant, like the staticky "white noise" sound when characters are charging up for special attacks.
EnrightBeats certainly has the skill to create a competent game but played it too safe with The Greater Good. Given how supersaturated and cutthroat competitive the field of retro-inspired JRPGs is, EnrightBeats needs to step it up and take some risks for their next effort to even be worth a look. The Greater Good's balanced gameplay was lovely, but that's not enough to cut the mustard. An edgier plot with dynamic storytelling featuring boldly designed and engagingly deep characters would have elevated this merely serviceable game into something worth recommending.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.