By Marisa Alexander / November 5th, 2018
In terms of RPGs, I am typically interested in the broader world the game in question has to offer. Today’s game, Noahmund, offers a world with a South American post-Spanish colonial flair. Developed by Estudio Ábrego, it also features an unique battle system called “Motion Battle Chess”, combining real-time movement and a tactical grid. Taking the role of Galina Angstroud, you must find the truth and salvation while also stopping the plans of the country of Salaber.
Upon starting a new game, it plays a cinematic that presumably outlines the setting and world of the game. I say presumably because the narration is entirely in Spanish with no subtitles. Needless to say, I was at a loss as to what the game was initially about. What exactly is Synchrony, the power Galina uses? Why was Salaber at war with Shinn, which Galina is an agent of? Most of these became more and more clear as time went on. However, it would’ve been preferable if such details were more apparent by translating the initial narration.
As for the world, it is rather strange considering my initial expectations. While Shinn has this spiritual side due to the existence of Synchrony, a power that allows one to channel their inner power to affect others, the dungeon itself in which the game solely takes place is oddly mechanical. No sooner than the second floor is the player introduced to machines and futuristic pipelines. Due to Galina and her companions not questioning it, I can only wonder if this isn’t actually out of the ordinary in this universe. As such, it just brings more questions on top of what was already a world I found difficult to understand.
The story is also very odd in how it is portrayed. While much of the plot takes place in the one dungeon, a significant portion of the story is told via flashbacks. Many of these detail the background behind the war and Galina’s life so they serve an important purpose. However, I can’t help but feel it really gives the game an odd sense of pacing. It gets particularly baffling when the time to shop for items and equipment is during these flashbacks. That being said, for the most part, the characters themselves are fairly distinct in their roles and many of them drive the plot. As such, the story doesn’t feel particularly dry, as it is still interesting what happens next to Galina and her companions.
Gameplay-wise, this is in fact perhaps the game’s weakest overall point. Despite the allusion to chess, it hardly behaves anything like it. All characters move one space at a time, where they can do normal attacks in all four cardinal directions. Character special attacks meanwhile can target a specific enemy, go across a line, or sweep over an area. Movement however feels exceptionally stiff and unnatural, where nothing flows into anything. Fighting is such an awkward hassle that for the most part, letting your allies do the close-range attacking for you is in fact the better option. It doesn’t help that even though for normal attacks you can attack up, down, left, and right, for special attacks you can only target right and left. This severely hampers the advertised tactical element of the gameplay, since there were countless times where I technically had the perfect opportunity to use a special attack on a line or group of enemies if it weren’t for this limitation.
Another issue is how the game handles level-ups. Unlike most RPGs, you don’t level up by gaining experience, gaining some form of skill points or anything like that. Instead, the game has milestones where at specific points characters level up. These milestones include solving puzzles, completing a floor, or defeating a boss. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the game also handles these level ups completely automatically. You have no say in how and when you progress, making progression rather unfulfilling.
Then there is the technical side of the game. For the most part, the game handles itself just fine. However, there are very specific points where, during a cutscene, the game is unsure on what to do to proceed. The first issue came about when I had to turn a valve that allows access to the exit of an area. However, after the camera panned to the corresponding area, it wouldn’t come back to the character until I brought up the menu wheel. The second hiccup actually led to me being not sure on how to complete the game. This time it was in a sequence of dialogue scenes you have no option of skipping. The first oddity was that dialogue boxes were completely missing, yet could still proceed to the next box, which could be invisible as well. After some time, the game effectively softlocked. I am not sure if it is somehow related to my computer instead of an actual technical issue of the game, but the fact it happened is rather concerning.
That said, overall Noahmund has some issues, mainly regarding the gameplay, but if these were fine-tuned and the story and world given some more polish, I do believe the game could’ve been outstanding. It certainly has some interesting concepts and ideas worth expanding upon. For example, the idea of bartering materials in order to trade for items and equipment is fairly interesting. There is also just the game’s overall aesthetic that, by giving more weight to the natural life and ruins, can certainly be a method to tell a world’s history. After all, one of the best methods of storytelling is showing the passage of time. If they also made the battles feel more natural and allowed special attacks to be aimed more precisely, the game would’ve been more of a joy to play. In the end, I give the best of luck to Estudio Ábrego on any future ventures.