Orangeblood - Review, a confusing JRPG in pixel art

After arriving on Steam last January 14, Orangeblood, the indie JRPG developed by Grayfax Software, finally debuts also on Nintendo Switch. The first incarnation PC of the title had certainly not left an indelible trace in the hearts of the players and critics, with the latter having highlighted more problems than positives for this Japanese RPG in pixel art sauce. However, the possibility of playing the adventure on Switch, the console that most valued the Indie titles of this generation, in portability, had made us believe that the game could still have something to say in the JRPG landscape. Unfortunately, however, the renewal expectations have not been maintained, and, albeit with some improvements and tweaks here and there, the gaming experience remained virtually unchanged. So we just have to tell, once again, what was missing and what went wrong with the Grayfax Software title.

A JRPG full of confusion

Confused. This is the state of mind that we find ourselves feeling for almost the entire duration of Orangeblood. Starting from the plot of the game, up to the key aspects of the gameplay, the title of the small Japanese software house continually scrambles the player, including skimpy menus that are not explained, turn-based combat introduced without a proper tutorial (except for four lines of text explaining how to attack and how special abilities are used), and a game world that is only hinted at, and which places objectives that for much of the campaign will not be exactly clear.

The land of the Rising Sun has always been the birthplace of role-playing games. From Dragon Quest a final Fantasy, the peculiar Japanese imprint in this videogame genre has always been a distinctive trait, so much so that it has diversified itself under the JRPG label. Orangeblood takes this way of being to extremes, extrapolating it from its purely role-playing side and spreading it in every key aspect of the title. But, although the idea behind Orangeblood might also be good, the final result leads the product to be born and die in the context in which it is developed. With a setting that winks at one Akihabara futuristic immersed in chaos, with characters that could rightfully be the protagonists of an anime, up to a game structure that is inspired (or rather, tries to be inspired) by the most classic JRPG, the Grayfax title would in fact have all the cards in good standing to be enrolled in the register of the genre, albeit addressing an oriental audience. But yet, the mix that the team had imagined remains a confusing idea which, transposed onto the screen, does nothing but confuse the player, whether Western or Eastern ... but let's go in order.

Orangeblood is set in an alternative and futuristic version of the Japanese 90s. Flying machines, quadrupedal cyborgs and steampunk weapons are the masters off the coast of Okinawa, to be precise. New Koza, an artificial island made up of infamous outlying suburbs. Here we will meet our protagonist, the irascible and scurrilous Vanilla, all pepper girl who will be framed, because of her past, by CIA, an organization that will force her to track down and eliminate a local crime boss. By the way we will get acquainted with Machiko, a girl with more gentle, sweet and dreamy ways: definitely the opposite of Vanilla. Young local DJ, Machiko will be able to infiltrate the club run by the boss, helping us to eliminate him. Thus will begin the grungy adventures of our punk heroines, in a B-movie plot unfortunately confusing and not very lucid, with continuous changes of location and dialogues with incomprehensible jokes, enriched by a forced slang (which will test your English, given the absence of the Spanish localization) that will weigh down the plot of the game. Rebuilding the leitmotif of the events will in fact be a real undertaking, and all too often we will lose the narrative orientation in a succession of events without rhyme or reason capable of leading only to a painful headache.

The 16 bits, as they shouldn't be

Orangeblood is an old school classic JRPG, which winks at the 16 Bit 2D titles of past generations, albeit with a cleaner graphics. The heart of its gameplay is made up of turn-based gunfights, during which we will face the shady characters of the Japanese underworld, one boss at a time. In addition toattack and flight, during the clashes we will be able manage consumables from our inventory and use some special skills. Our firearms, then, will be discharged after a certain number of shots and so we will have to "spend" a turn to reload them, during which we will be exposed to enemy attacks. After a series of hits, yes will fill a special attack bar, determined by the level of our character and the party, or the weapon we have equipped. Essentially, the characters on our team will move around the game map along the dodgy alleys of New Koza. Here in some areas of the city built as if they were small dungeons, we will run into local cyber gangs who, once they spot us, will launch in pursuit of us. Once the fight has started, we will automatically switch to the battle screen, in the most classic RPG style.

The main problem of the game mechanics is that, basically, everything ends in these few lines. The enemies that we will face during the adventure will be very often mere slaughter meat, useful only to fill the road that leads to the boss at the end of the dungeon. In turn, bosses are nothing exceptional, but they will keep us slightly more busy given their level, which is higher than that of our protagonists. Only rarely will we have to implement a real strategy, which makes Orangeblood a tedious and repetitive grinding game. Some gameplay choices are really incomprehensible. The mechanics of escape, for example, have been decidedly poorly implemented. If you decide to escape from a fight (which often lasts no more than four or five turns), you will return to the game map. The problem is that after the escape, the enemy from whom we have just escaped will be there again next to us, will see us, and the fight will start all over again, thus making the gaming experience truly annoying.

From a graphic point of view, Orangeblood gives us the bad day since the morning: the title screen is grainy and poorly optimized, as it will also be for the game menus, sparse and not very immediate. Not only that, browsing them very often we can come across some freezes. Overall, the title comes in an isometric pixel art style. If the shots of the interiors, and more generally the snapshots of the game world, can give a pleasant glance, the situation changes when we are on the move: the maps are confusing, and we will really struggle to understand where we are and where we need to go, also with the help of the minimap at the top left of the screen.

Inside some indoor locations, then, the situation even gets worse, with several dark and difficult dungeons to complete. The filters applicable from the menu, among other things, only make the game screen even less stable. With the exception of the character sprites during the dialogues, this JRPG is sparse and poorly optimized. Finally, the audio sector is perhaps the most successful aspect of the title, although he leaves us no truly unforgettable songs. Despite the 90's ambiance and style they might suggest a wide range of tracks to draw from, the soundtrack is often repetitive and negligible.

An unfinished idea

Orangeblood fails in almost all of its aspects. This 16-bit JRPG experiment tries to take inspiration from the classics of the genre, fitting into a futuristic Japan of the 90s. However, although this could be an interesting idea on paper, it all ends up in translate into a truly dull and gray reality. The fights are not very intriguing and never deepened from the point of view of the gameplay, the plot is intricate and difficult to follow, at times truly without rhyme or reason, and the game world and the settings leave the player bewildered, with decidedly dark dungeons and uninspired.

The indie title developed by Grayfax Software has definitely not learned from its mistakes and compared to its previous version for PC it has not been able to polish any detail that could allow it to get to the sufficiency. Nintendo Switch has become famous for giving great visibility to independent titles, highlighting their characteristics, but in the case of Orangeblood this was impossible, as the title fails in both fixed and portable mode. Even if you are a lover of JRPGs, and can't live without having played them all, let us advise you and move on. There are far more interesting titles out there than this confusing Orangeblood.

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