Indiewatch – Weird and Unfortunate Things are Happening asks “what if Cthulhu was your best friend?”
I’m a sucker for a good RPG Maker game. Yume Nikki revolutionized the way we looked at indie games, Lisa: the Painful made us make hard decisions that AAA games wouldn’t even think to, and I still contend that Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass was one of the best RPGs of all time. In fact, it’s Jimmy’s legacy that brings us here today to talk about Weird and Unfortunate Things are Happening, because Kasey Ozymy, the creator of Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass, was personally looking forward to this game’s release. That was enough to make me take notice, and I’m glad I did.
Weird and Unfortunate Things spends no time dropping you right into the middle of a crisis. The town of Daybreak has fallen off the map and has been erased from everyone’s memory. Everyone, that is, except for Alicia Copeland, who remembers that her niece lives in Daybreak, and is rather concerned that her hometown seems to have blinked out of existence. Luckily, she is able to make her way inside, and what awaits her are horrors.
Quite literally. The town has been infested with creatures from “the Expanse,” an abstract plane of reality outside our own. They have infested the town and eaten away at reality. Someone let them in and is using them for their own nefarious purposes. It’s up to Alicia to stop them. Well… Alicia and the cosmic horror that has taken up residence in her head.
These horrors, or Evocations as the game calls them, actually liked things the way they were. Humans stayed in reality, Evocations stayed in the vast ethereal nothingness of the Expanse, and everything was honky-dory. But now that the walls between realities are being shattered “Inner Evocations,” horrors that feast off the emotions and turmoil of humans, have moved in and screwed up the order of things. Thus, “Outer Evocations,” the more primal Lovecraftian horrors of the bunch, have decided to take human hosts and fight back.
And that’s you. You are Alicia and Elothu, a well-spoken manifestation of primordial terror, and you are going to find your niece and get out of this screwed up town.
Weird and Unfortunate Things wears its Earthbound influence on its sleeve. Alicia fights with a baseball bat and has psychic powers even before she enters the altered space of Daybreak. Miriam, your second party member, has an entire ammo based attack system, reminiscent of Jeff’s use of bottle rockets. Heck, when you start the game it throws an obvious wink and a nod at you through a sign that says “Itoi Storage” referencing Shigesato Itoi, creator of Earthbound.
And sure enough, the game has an Earthboundy feel to it, or rather, it feels as if Earthbound grew up. It’s less fun and quirky and more terrifying. People are dying and they don’t come back. There are plenty of dungeons which ask you to battle through the denizens of the town, taken over by some kind of cosmic being from outside space and time. When you get to the end and beat the big bad, you expect everyone to come back safe and sound… but they don’t. You had to murder living people who used to have friends and family to get this far. Now you have to live with it.
That being said, I wouldn’t say that the permanency of death or the tough decisions one makes in a crisis are actually the core themes here. They play into the plot, but the game is a bit more straight forward than that. It focuses a lot more on more literal Faustian power bargains, both by the protagonists and the antagonists. It all plays into the central theme of “how far will you go to save someone you love.”
RPG Maker talent
There are a lot of RPG Maker games with interesting and sometimes heavy themes out there, but Weird and Unfortunate Things stands out because it has a lot of good ideas. That’s actually why I love the RPG Maker community so much. They are willing to screw with mechanics in ways AAA games just won’t.
So what does Weird and Unfortunate Things do to mix-up the formula?
Well, enemies don’t drop cash. Cash needs to be scavenged through finding it or selling items you scrape up around the devastated city.
What do enemies drop? Obols. This is the currency of the Expanse, and it allows you to purchase skills. That means that skill progression and level progression are decoupled and you can, if you want, skyrocket your characters to late game skills really early if you prioritize one character.
Encounters aren’t random. In the Expanse, you can simply see monsters running around. Touch one and you’ll start a battle. In reality, monsters are hidden from view, so encounters are determined by an “ambush meter.” If it fills, you get into a fight. However, you can pick up wisps to restore your HP and push the meter down. Also, the more you fight, the slower it fills, as monsters become terrified of your battle prowess. You can also find special siren enemies that infinitely respawn. You’ll usually find these near healing spots, letting you grind if you like.
There’s a lot of other neat tweaks, from the difficulty that can be changed at any time, a very robust status effect system, unique systems for each character such as Lamar’s ability to get new skills based on his equipment, and much more.
But by far, the most interesting way this mixes up the formula is its setting. RPGs have a habit of condensing cities and towns down to a few screens that you can walk across in a matter of seconds. Weird and Unfortunate Things is entirely set in one city because cities are large! You’ll wander through clinics, schools, office buildings, and more on your search for your niece. It’s almost a bit like Silent Hill in that way. The city itself feels like the antagonist at points.
I’m not going to say that Weird and Unfortunate Things is the most innovative RPG Maker game out there. Its premise of cosmic horror is actually just a neat set dressing. I never felt terror the way I did when I was playing Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass. However, its plot, systems, and Junji Ito-esque enemy design have absolutely hooked me.
And what’s the cost of this game? $0! … kind of. The game is free to download on Itch.io, but the real cost is frustration. There’s no official way to use a controller, for example. Heck, there’s not even a way to resize the game window. This game is indie in the purest sense, and that means you are going to have to do a little bit of tinkering to get it to work.
But in my opinion, it’s worth it. Besides, who doesn’t want to beat up some eldritch horrors during Halloween season? This little production perfectly fits the spooky mood, and it’s definitely worth your time.