Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC
When it comes to retro-inspired turn-based RPGs, you often get games that emulate the look and feel of Final Fantasy on NES or Secret of Mana on SNES. Then there are those few titles that adopt the quirkier look and feel of EarthBound. A lot of the time, these more comedic RPGs star eccentric characters and have some genuinely funny writing. Orangeblood from Grayfax Software may take cues from Ness and company’s iconic 16-bit adventure, but it flips the script with its use of guns, foul language, and hip hop culture.
What you ultimately get with Orangeblood is a strange and pleasant little game that has plenty of attitude while still channeling its inner EarthBound.
The Good Ol’ (Alternate) ‘90s
Orangeblood is set in New Koza, an urban town located off the coast of Okinawa. The year is 199X, and there are flying cars and gangsters everywhere. Also, nightclubs. Oh, and a bunch of shady characters. Unfortunately, though the foundations are there for a dark anime-styled plot, the story isn’t very interesting. You control Vanilla, who’s been ordered by the CIA to take down mobsters so she can clear her own criminal record (and make a little money on the side).
Though there’s not much in the way of remotely intriguing story beats, the character dialogue is certainly curious. You’ll see Vanilla and her gang of ruffians calling each other names and using expletives, like, all the time. It’s a bit strange at first, but it gives the game a unique tone. These characters play the anti-hero role well, and their dialogue certainly gives them an edgier vibe.
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Magic Spells
While the story of Orangeblood may not be anything special, the gameplay is a great deal of fun. It doesn’t necessarily break new ground as far as turn-based RPGs are concerned, but it’s smooth and fast-paced nonetheless. What you get is a battle system that’s streamlined but challenging enough to feel rewarding.
Because Orangeblood doesn’t follow a traditional JRPG blueprint, you won’t be pulling off insane magic attacks to take down wizards, blobs, and mythical beasts. Instead, you’ll bust out rapid-fire assault rifles and high-powered shotguns and blast those fools. You’ll turn up your boombox to buff your characters’ attack and defense stats rather than cast spells. You’ll talk smack instead of saying long-winded incantations. The way Orangeblood moves away from fantasy RPG norms in favor of ‘90s urban themes makes for a cool tonal shift.
When you’re not battling enemies, you can explore the town of New Koza. Orangeblood utilizes ‘90s hip hop culture and themes to create a world that’s heavy on urban decay. It’s certainly not post-apocalyptic, but there’s still a slight dystopian vibe present in New Koza.
It’s worth it to go off the beaten path as you’ll discover chests with upgraded items like machine guns, bulletproof vests, and sneakers. These boost your stats accordingly, and it’s fun experimenting with different weapons in battles.
I’ve played both the PC and Switch versions of Orangeblood, and I noticed some slight stuttering in the inventory menu in the Switch edition. It’s certainly nothing that ruins the game, but it’s noticeable, and it can be a bit of a nuisance making selections and seeing the game lock up for a split second.
Paint the Town Orange
The pixel art style of Orangeblood is great. It combines neon signs, saturated filters, and washed-out colors to create a very specific vibe. Character models are cutesy and anime-like. Overworld locations are busy with crowded architecture and tight streets. Unfortunately, the game’s indoor dungeon locations are a bit barren and generic, at times giving off a strong RPG Maker look. Thankfully, when the game’s graphical style shines, it shines bright.
The game’s music consists of catchy hip-hop beats that all sound great. Whether you’re roaming around the different urban locations or engaging in gunfights with bad guys, you’re treated to some kickass music that has a very distinct ‘90s sound. The music loops a bit, but it’s so good that it probably won’t bother you.
The reason Orangeblood succeeds is because it’s able to take its inspiration from EarthBound and change things up considerably. Rather than being a clone or copycat, the game takes its EarthBound-ness and adds a heavy ‘90s urban flavor. You’ll explore and battle in the streets of New Koza for about 10 hours before you see the end credits roll. In that time, you’ll enjoy a worthwhile, badass trip back to 199X that’s filled with expletives, boomboxes, and heavy beats.