You read that title correctly, folks. This is a review of BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm and the title indeed refers to that Boxxy — the uniquely ebullient teenage vlogger whom the online world either adored or abhorred when her videos unwittingly went viral back in 2008-2009. Although she was a novelty back then, I think it’s safe to say that Boxxy’s rise as an Internet sensation paved the way for the current wave of Instagram and YouTube “it-girls.” Given the time capsule nature of the Internet, it may be difficult to believe that Catie Wayne (Boxxy’s true identity) survived every dung-storm Internet infamy threw at her, matured into a successful adult, and now we all feel old because this former teen meme queen is 28 now. Anyway, what’s super cool is that Ms. Wayne lent her voice, likeness, and creative input (including some plot direction) to Spherian Games’ delightful RPG, and the end product is much better for it.
Before I get into why I found this game delightful, let’s get the less favorable stuff out of the way first. To get the most out of this game, you need some familiarity with Boxxy. If the soundtrack of your adolescence included bands like Bring Me The Horizon or Black Veil Brides (to name a couple), then you likely came of age during Boxxy’s heyday and stand to gain the most enjoyment out of a game starring her likeness. That’s not to say people outside of the target demographic won’t enjoy this otherwise solidly crafted game, but my enjoyment of BoxxyQuest would have been deeper if I was part of the demographic that could exclaim, “Heyyyy! I remember that from middle/high school! That was my jam back then!” while playing.
The other aspect of BoxxyQuest that may turn off some gamers is that it’s an RPGMaker game. Although this attractive and colorful game uses its fair share of stock assets, it complements those with several pieces of original music and artwork, a variety of sprites (the main character’s sprite is adorably stylish), and well-designed environments (including some nifty SNES Mode-7 style locales). If I had to use one word to describe BoxxyQuest‘s style, it would be eclectic. What would be a chaotic mish-mash of disparate art styles anywhere else makes absolutely perfect sense in BoxxyQuest‘s world, and I definitely dig it. The only real nitpick I have with the visuals is that I wish the font in the battle menus was a higher contrast color, because its current shade of white sometimes bleeds into the character portraits, making their HP and other stats difficult to read.
Equally varied is the music. Several different genres of music are used and the soundtrack is a mix of RPGM stock pieces, pieces pulled from available RPGM-exclusive music add-ons, and original compositions from several artists (which include some funky remixes of semi-familiar tunes). Each piece of music pairs nicely with whatever location, event, or character it’s associated with. That being said, though the music is fine, nothing about the soundtrack particularly stood out to me. It also didn’t help that some pieces did not smoothly loop back to the beginning, and that was noticeable enough to feel a little jarring.
In BoxxyQuest, The Internet is a colorful JRPG fantasy world whose locations are themed based on online gathering places like Reddit or DeviantArt. Your avatar is Catie (as in current-day adult Catie Wayne), the reigning queen of a quaint little domain referred to as The Sphere. Several years ago, Catie and her companions saved the world from catastrophe, and since then she’s overseen the rebuilding of The Sphere from a once-dilapidated area into one of the more desirable places to be. One fine day, Catie is called to a mysterious royal summit where all The Internet bigwigs are asked to gather. Such a mass gathering is unprecedented, because nobody on The Internet gets along well enough to even be in the same room for 3 seconds without it turning into a bloodbath. Regardless, Catie most certainly cannot reject a royal summons, so she sets out for the summit. This setup is but the tip of the iceberg for a lengthy JRPG-style yarn with some unexpected twists and turns. Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head several times and Catie finds herself on an even grander, wilder, crazier adventure with more insidious foes and far higher stakes than any she’s faced before.
What amused me the most was how some of Catie’s companions from her previous adventure were NPCs expressing the sentiment of, “Nah, we don’t want to go adventuring again. We already saved the world once. We’re done. We’re gonna go lay on the beach now.” I first saw this notion of “apocalypse fatigue/weariness” in the fifth and final season of the TV show The Magicians (one of my favorite shows, by the way), and I’m glad to see that theme of “how many times do we need to save the world before we can call it a day?” becoming more prevalent in fantasy fiction. And don’t worry about feeling out of the loop regarding Catie’s previous “save the world and become queen” adventure. There comes a point in the game where you can buy several books summarizing those crazy exploits.
I had fun following Catie’s journey due to the writing. While the lion’s share of the writing utilized proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation, dialogue for several playable and non-playable characters consisted of varying degrees of netspeak. While the use of netspeak and pop culture references would normally be a knock against the average JRPG’s narrative, those elements work within the context of BoxxyQuest to inject personality and flavor. Do note, however, that there is a fair amount of cursing and some lewd humor throughout the game, but it’s nothing the game’s target demographic can’t handle.
The gameplay is solid turn-based JRPG gameplay occasionally peppered with some slick action sequences to keep things fresh. Be warned, though, that this game plays unabashedly old-school. For example, you can only save at save points (which don’t heal you), battles occur randomly (some locations have higher encounter rates than others), some standard enemies can decimate the careless, select status effects stay active after battle, grinding is sometimes needed to gain levels and currency (stuff is expensive), levelling up doesn’t heal you, there’s no in-menu quest log/game journal, some dungeons are quite lengthy, and you can only carry 10 of each item. Luckily, characters not in the active party receive a portion of the earned EXP, so everyone’s levels remain in the same ballpark.
Folks who grew up during bygone eras of gaming will be perfectly fine with all those elements and perhaps even welcome them. Others who are used to certain quality-of-life features endemic in today’s JRPGs may object. The way I see it, this is simply one of the multiple levels through which BoxxyQuest captures the feel of the “good ol’ days.” My only real objection with the gameplay was that while the default control scheme for keyboards was fine, the default control scheme for gamepads could have been more intuitive.
I consider myself an RPG veteran and I saw the Game Over screen more than my fair share of times because I grossly underestimated this game. BoxxyQuest has minimal hand-holding (Catie has to explore and figure a lot out on her own) and no easy/casual mode options. I needed to get serious and call upon every JRPG skill in my toolbelt to complete this game. I needed to intelligently strategize during battles (the first boss took me a few tries to defeat.) Like a Shin Megami Tensei game, I needed to get friendly with buffs, debuffs, status effect skills, defense, and equipping the right accessories at the right times. In addition, I needed my wits to solve mind-bending puzzles and navigate stealth sequences without getting caught. I even needed to dust off my twitch and platforming skills as well for all the various arcade-style parts. Finally, I needed a little bit of luck as the cherry on top.
I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that a game about a late-2000s/early-2010’s era meme queen was actually pretty epic. What I thought would be a quick little, gag filled jaunt turned out to be a substantial endeavor that I spent over 33 hours with. The main quest is robust; the optional content is both engaging and worth doing (especially if you want the best ending); there’s plenty of cool Easter eggs throughout the game followed by a healthy amount of post-game content; and the overworld is one of the most uniquely implemented overworlds I’ve seen in a JRPG style game. I’d say more about the overworld, but cannot without revealing a massive spoiler. BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm has a novelty factor that can get people in the door, but they will stick around for the long haul because this is a genuinely good game.