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  1. Jonathan Higgins

    E3 2015 Hands-On: Heart Forth, Alicia

    As much as I dislike using the term "Metroidvania," I“ve become an obnoxious, snobby connoisseur of the genre. I“ve played bite-sized experiences like Xeodrifter and Cave Story, as well as much more in depth ones like Axiom Verge and Ori and the Blind Forest. If you“re familiar with my work on Game Podunk outside of Individual Values, you“re probably highly cognizant of the fact that I“ve analyzed what makes these kinds of games good and bad, and what I“m personally looking for versus what other people who approach the genre could find interesting. During my time at E3 2015, I came across Heart Forth, Alicia - A Metroidvania RPG when I was looking for something else in Sony“s booth, but I“m rather glad I found it when I did. The most important element of any game with “RPG” in the title is its story. E3 is definitely not the ideal place to judge a game“s script and truly take everything in, but I have a few things of note to address here. The way characters interact with each other reminded me of Golden Sun. Alicia and other important characters have beautifully designed faces accompanying their dialogue, while minor characters have none. And a character indicates a particular emotion with a tiny little speech balloon that emotes from them with a sigh, or fear, or something to that effect. As the story goes, Alicia is sent to undergo a trial, then a piece of the sky falls. There“s an air of mystery and intrigue in the demo that definitely has me hungry for more. Characters seem to mesh well together. Alicia doesn“t seem like a particularly demure female protagonist, and that“s nice too. In terms of presentation (outside of dialogue and more concerning the towns and environments themselves), I“m reminded a lot of Cave Story. Character designs are varied and have personality, but are tiny. I faced handfuls of enemy types instead of the game just sticking with one or two kinds in a dungeon. There were the common enemy types you see in games like this, such as slimes and bats, but every once in a while you“d get a snail-like enemy that switched sides on you so you couldn“t attack it constantly, or an enemy where the only way to kill them was to whack their own projectile back at them. Part of what makes a "Metroidvania" game interesting are the types of enemies it has, and Heart Forth, Alicia has a full buffet of enemy types. Before moving onto the fundamentals, the boss character I faced was... a duck-like creature that burrowed underground and eventually had a spikey shell that moved so fast, it was like Sonic the Hedgehog blasting up walls and across the ceiling. It almost did me in, but I survived. Score one for me, score zero for the... burrowing duck... spikey shelled... almost kinda cute... creature. And now for the most important part. How open does this open world game feel? Is there appropriate signposting, e.g. are you able to tell when you“re not meant to explore an area yet besides being obliterated by an enemy that“s obviously too strong for you? How do the attacks and other mechanics fair in an extremely overpopulated genre? Let“s address these one by one. The dungeon I explored had plenty of secrets. Solving a puzzle often veered me away from my main objective and required some extra sleuthing down a path that was completely hidden. There were plenty of switches to throw a bag you would otherwise cast aside as meaningless onto that led to cool extras that were easy to miss for most. Some more puzzles operated with box-pushing mechanics. I wouldn“t necessarily say any of the level design is ground-breaking or revolutionary, but it“s certainly competent and entertaining. I experienced three types of attacks in the demo — a soft and charged close-combat attack, as well as eventually using the Wind Spell to control a brief ball of wind that I mostly used to press switches I couldn“t normally reach. I only saw one puzzle that used the Wind Spell before the demo ended, so I can“t yet assess how clever weapons are used to actually solve puzzles in the game. All in all, though, Heart Forth, Alicia is yet another solid "Metroidvania" game I'm highly anticipating. You should definitely keep an eye out for if you“re looking to scratch that itch. It has its own identity in a genre that is certainly not without its staples. What will make this game unique is its world, characters and plot moreso than its gameplay, I think. But there“s nothing wrong with that, in my eyes. Alonso Martin is the only mind behind this game; he did everything. Does he have what it takes to outdo his contemporaries? The demo certainly has my interest piqued. Heart Forth, Alicia will release on PlayStation 4, Vita, PC and Wii U sometime in 2016. Check out the developer“s official website and Twitter for more!