Ever since I picked up a copy of Final Fantasy Legend back in the early 90’s, I’ve been a JRPG fan. Needless to say, I’ve played more than my fair share of titles in the genre; my experiences ranging from cringe-worthy to fantastic, from epic to forgettable. Orangeblood is definitely on the lower end of the spectrum. At first, I thought it sounded like a novel idea: a 90’s hip-hop infused JRPG with a squad of badass anime girls who only care about guns and money. What it was, in actuality, was a mess of a game that could never quite find its footing. From the poor game design, the nonsensical story, horrible dialogue, and the terrible gameplay mechanics, I struggle to find one positive thing to say about the game aside from the soundtrack, which overstays its welcome after the first hour and a half. So grab your high-tops and a samurai sword and let’s see if we can sort this thing out.
The game world is an alternate version of 199X and is set on an artificial island off the coast of Okinawa called New Koza. It’s a mess of grimy metal girders, fluorescent signage, ramshackle buildings and dive bars rife with scum and criminal organizations such as the Triads and the Yakuza. The layout itself is convoluted and makes navigating it a pain in the ass as the city is a vertical mass of alleys and interconnected passageways and shops where the graphics often overlap one another. New Koza is considered the main map and the only place where you can save your game. There was mention of savepoints in the beginning but honestly, I never encountered one in my playthrough.
Plot-wise, there isn’t much going on. New Koza was built over the top of an old laboratory/factory by squatters after the company abandoned it. The American government cuts a deal with Vanilla (the main character) to get her out of jail and her record expunged if she can go undercover with one of the gangs currently inhabiting New Koza and break into the heavily secure locked-down areas of the factory and get them what they need. So she meets up with Machiko from some gang who is never talked about again, and she joins your party. By the end of the game, you’ll end up with four characters in your party, all of whom feel like low-grade anime throwaways. They’re so forgettable that it took me hours to even remember the main character’s name. The dialogue is just as bad. There aren’t many NPCs to interact with: people wander around the map and throw out big, unprompted speech bubbles of flavor text to block your view. Anytime your main characters talk it feels like a forced take on what a clueless person would think hardcore 90’s thugs would act and talk like. A lot of it is just swearing and bad shit-talking. The grammar and structure are awful as well. Sometimes I would lose track mid-conversation because the flow was so awkward. Plus Orangeblood has a bad habit of showing character portraits even when that character is not the one talking. It seems like the writer doesn’t even understand his own characters, either. In one exchange after defeating a gross monster, the party talks about Vanilla having a bad time cleaning her sword, which is odd because she never uses one. Most games can get by on skimpy story and subpar dialogue as long as the gameplay itself but...you probably have an idea where this is going.
Featuring fairly standard turn-based battles, Orangeblood also throws gunplay into the mix. Your guns have a certain amount of bullets, as noted by the AP bar in the menu. Reloading takes a turn but there are conditions. If you try to attack while your clip is empty, you’ll automatically reload but your character will suffer a dodge penalty. You can avoid this penalty by manually reloading, but you’ll still use up a turn. Some guns have additional bonuses that are activated when using reload but they expend SP. Using abilities also takes SP, which is gained by attacking, receiving damage, or via Machiko’s DJ ability. The combat is so unbalanced to the point where you could breeze through an area, killing everything along the way but then get smashed so hard by a boss that you need to grind for an hour. Vanilla and Yazawa have one attack ability each (that’s all. There aren’t any other attack abilities) which require 50 SP to use. This can take a few rounds to gain but if you land a pre-emptive attack on an enemy, you start the battle with 50 SP. I fell into a rhythm of surprising the enemy and hitting him with my two attack abilities right off the bat, hopefully wiping them out in a turn or two. This tactic is so efficient and easy to pull off that I had no reason to play any other way, aside from the special encounters where you can’t attack first. But of course, this makes for a boring time.
Boss encounters are a whole different beast for a number of reasons. You don’t start off with any SP so it will be a while before you can use your special attacks. Healing is fairly hard to come by, so you’re at a big disadvantage the longer the battle. You cannot use items to recover and there are no abilities I’ve seen that heal and the equipment pieces that grant a small passive regeneration aren’t very useful. Machiko has a special DJ ability that heals some health at the end of each turn but it isn’t that effective when most of the bosses hit multiple times and have high damage and crit ratings. One boss was able to hit my whole party multiple times, wiping out half my party. The game doesn’t really offer you the tactics to come back from something like that. The system is unbalanced.
Like the entire game, the equipment and shop system is out of wack as well. Orangeblood features randomly generated gun system much like the Borderlands series but not nearly as fine-tuned. Money is scarce for a good chunk of the game’s beginning and by the time you can afford it, the shops rarely have decent equipment. One of the most reliable ways to secure equipment is to beat enemies until they drop keys for the chests in the area. The chests drop random stuff and they replenish whenever you exit and re-enter the area. When I was grinding for a boss fight I could open 20 of these chests and still not find a decent piece, so you just have to hope you get lucky. This randomness just adds another layer of unneeded frustration.
On the technical side of things, the game isn’t exactly in tip-top shape, either. Aside from a smattering of text glitches and the occasional glitch that crashes my game, it can’t even be played in proper full screen. It opens up in windowed mode and the best you can hope for is enlarging it to full screen but with the borders and windows toolbar showing. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand staring at that when I’m trying to play a game. Another weird issue I had was with the tilt shift option being enabled by default. I played Orangeblood for hours with this weird graphical effect that serves no real purpose other than to obfuscate the upper part of your screen, an inch or two away from where your character stands idle. As soon as you start moving upwards you don’t know what you’re running in to. Why even have it in the first place? The game looks and functions much better with all the extra options off.
The soundtrack itself is not bad, but it feels limited, especially as it is implemented poorly. For example: when exploring an enemy area, the combat music comes on. The four minute or so song remains playing uninterrupted throughout the entire duration of the area, combat included. It has a decent beat, but nothing I would want to listen to on a repeat loop for up to an hour at a time. Some of the other beats are pretty cool but you don't get to hear them too often. The Shangril-La Club theme is one of my favorites.
There isn’t much else to say. The gameplay is unbalanced, the story and dialogue aren’t worth the effort, and the characters are extremely forgettable. There’s really no reason to check out Orangeblood, even if you’re a JRPG enthusiast.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 3/10
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