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Venetica

"...the choice of a female protagonist sends a mixed message when fulfilling her destiny culminates in donning a slutty dress."

I make a concerted effort to enjoy every game I review. Thus, any faults I find are more likely to be the result of the game's shortcomings rather than any biases I might harbor. And, if I end up truly hating a game, I can't say I didn't try to love it. Venetica, an action RPG released in the States two years after its German development in 2009, aroused no hatred in me. Try as I might, however, I found no affection for the game either, and the only thing warding off my hatred is my theory that the developers actually cared about this clumsy, primitive, waste-of-time RPG.

A cabal of undead megalomaniacs has descended on a naive 16th century Venice. Having no power over those who cheated their way to immortality, Death elects his daughter, Scarlett, for the task of eliminating the undead before they conquer Italy or some such villainy. After an attack on Scarlett's village leaves her lover in daddy Death's hands, she sets out to stop those responsible in the name of love, peace, or revenge.

Venetica lacks all manner of subtlety, and the result is an unintentionally goofy game. Even without its poor localization and inept direction, however, the story will still go unremembered. The narrative potential of being Death's daughter is lost on the developers, and elements are tossed in and out of the story on mysterious whims. Scarlett's (half?) brother is perhaps the finest example, criminally underdeveloped and never explained. What could have been a meditation on mortality is instead a dull and confused vehicle for repetitive combat and errand running. The touted historical setting has no presence either, and I wonder why not one Italian accent can be found in all of Venice.

Aside from a script that includes various abominations of the English language, wooden voice acting prevents any emotional involvement that might have been. Despite some unintentionally amusing cutscenes, most are silly, poorly translated, and at times just baffling. While Scarlett's amazingly lifeless shouts are worth hearing, I turned on subtitles and began skipping dialogue early. The one-dimensional characters turn out nothing but hackneyed drivel, and most NPCs echo one another with just one fatuous response: "Oh! Hello!" Even protagonist Scarlett lacks charisma. Unnecessarily aggressive, she has one of the worst voice actors in the game, and I found myself hating the perpetual look of bitter idiocy in her eyes. Furthermore, the choice of a female protagonist sends a mixed message when fulfilling her destiny culminates in donning a slutty dress.

In one of Venetica's several displays of failed, yet appreciated ambition, it features a primitive morality system and multiple endings. The game invisibly records and tabulates Scarlett's actions and dialogue responses, placing her on one of three paths. Although their exact nature escapes me, they seem to revolve around love, peace, and revenge, but the first two are oddly inexclusive; what's wrong with a little peace and love? I appreciate the deviation from the typical good/evil system, but the choices are comically conspicuous and the endings only minimally different.

Venetica is possibly the ugliest game I have ever played. I felt silly hating something as impersonal as a video game's graphics, but there it is: I hate them. Even considering the game's 2009 development, this is an offensively hideous game even on the highest settings. Inspired art design can save any game's graphics, but that fares no better. Environments bear repugnant textures and spare detail. Enemies sport generic designs. Character models resemble elementary school clay project misfits, and horrendous animation botches even the simplest cutscene. Venetica's facial animation makes people look less human, not more so. Bad framerate, glitches, and oppressive lighting effects characterize the city of Venice, in which half of the game takes place. The city is the worst offender in quality and design, translating none of the city's beauty to the screen.

Poor audio compounds the game's unpleasant atmosphere. Music plays infrequently, which makes sense for some games, but produces a hollow in Venetica. What music there is sounds like stock fantasy tunes, a perfunctory inclusion because video games are supposed to have music, right? Sound effects are primitive and abrasive as well, and not since Grandia II have footsteps been so obnoxious. Venetica also suffers from poor sound quality, with some of the worst sound mixing I've ever heard. Sound levels change mid-conversation, and I constantly fiddled with the volume controls to ensure an NPC's mindless "Oh! Hello!" wouldn't deafen me.

As Scarlett explores Venice and its surroundings, she encounters NPCs, quests, and enemies at the pace and frequency one has come to expect from action RPGs. The third-person real-time combat plays out with timed mouse clicks, dodging, and various special attacks with one of four weapon types. Each weapon has its own uses and special abilities, and Scarlett can switch between them with the press of a button. Some (really annoying) enemies resist all weapons but the hammer, for example, while the spear comes equipped with a shield. Meanwhile, Scarlett levels up to obtain better stats and abilities while visiting shops to upgrade equipment in her quest to slay the undead.

Being Death's daughter, Scarlett is privy to a few unique abilities. Her relationship with the mystical Moonblade allows her to gather souls, but only from those slain with the curved sword. With enough souls, she can resurrect herself immediately upon dying. As the game progresses, she gains the ability to store more souls, eventually being able to resurrect up to six times, making combat overly riskless. She can also enter her father's realm at will, find secret doors, and speak with corpses to extract information and items. These abilities provide the only unique concepts to be found in Venetica, but most are either obtained too late in the game or have too few applications. Again we glimpse at an ambitious idea that died on the concept floor, unbeknownst to the developers, who implemented it regardless.

Despite four different weapon types, Venetica's combat proves sloppy and repetitive, if occasionally amusing. When able to use the weapon of my choice on a single enemy, mindlessly hacking away at absurdly dressed assassins brought me a little joy. In most other circumstances, however, I was frustrated at the tedium involved. Groups of enemies or those immune to certain weapons suddenly and utterly break the combat in favor of the foes. An informal, automated targeting system and shoddy controls make certain battles undeniably deadly. As Scarlett gains power, however, she breaks the combat, this time in favor of the player. Like the regular battles, the few bosses illustrate just how little the developers know about game design.

The remainder of the gameplay progresses conventionally and without inspiration. Aside from a few satisfying kills, leveling up proves to be the only mildly compelling aspect of Venetica. The quests involve far too much errand running, and even story quests are often chains of mundane tasks. Each important NPC assigns Scarlett more busywork before offering the services needed to progress the plot. Much of the main story comes down to little more than filler. Special mention must be made of the considerable volume of optional content. Although I beat the game in less than fifteen hours, completionists might easily double that number through side quests. A few include choices with minor consequences, but most fall under the typical varieties, and clunky level design and an unhelpful map make navigating Venice tedious.

While Venetica is completely playable, I never would have beaten it without a review assignment. Gamers deserve a little more incentive than the bare pleasure of leveling up and hoarding loot to no real end. Even if that's your only ambition, there are much more attractive and fun venues for it. The developers seem to have infused Venetica with at least a portion of their hearts, and I hate to see passion so wasted. Then again, I could be wrong, and Venetica is the dreary result of pure industry.


© 2012 DTP, Deck 13. All rights reserved.




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