The cyber samurai’s campaign to defend Japan from the onslaught of the fearsome Yokai stumbles more often than expected.
Blind Fate: Edo no Yami it was certainly an expected product. It is about an ambitious project, born from a concept that could easily be the envy of decidedly more experienced teams and known compared to Troglobytes Games, an Italian collective based in Spain. Edo no Yami has been talked about a little around the world and has been especially attention during the last edition of Gamescom. Troglobytes comes from an excellent debut with the successful Hyperparasite, and has proven to have a long eye even once it entered the publishing world with Ravenous Devils (here the Ravenous Devils review). Unfortunately, net of these encouraging assumptions, Blind Fate: Edo no Yami failed to hit the mark and now we explain why.
The legacy of Kan Shimozawa and Takeshi Kitano
The production tells the story of Yami, a masterless samurai who fell victim to the yokai and miraculously survived an attack that deprived him of sight. A story told in this way will surely make us think of feudal Japan already covered by countless video games in the past. But there is a peculiarity in feudal Japan where Yami lives. In fact, it is not that of the Bakumatsu era but is instead a version of it transplanted into a post-apocalyptic future.
Yami is not just a reference to the classic figure of the zatoichi, the blind samurai born from the pen of Kan Shimozawa and popularized by his cinematic interpretation by Takeshi Kitano, but it is a cybernetic re-presentation. The same goes for the yokai, who are not mischievous sprites here, but real robotic killing machines that have decimated the Japanese population. Deprived of sight, Yami perceives the world using his katana as a guiding stick for the blindand in addition to this it is equipped with a body equipped with various sensors that allow it to perceive the environment around it.
Yami can launch into battle thanks to the support of Tengu, an AI that allows him to visualize images of the world generated from the data available on the net in his mind. There is a problem though: that information is hundreds of years old and does not reflect at all the real conditions of the world crossed by the zatoichi. Suspended roads and platforms may have collapsed, ceilings collapsed, as well as new invisible obstacles may have appeared. If Yami can fight it is only thanks to the sensors implanted in his new cybernetic bodywhich allow him to “visualize” sounds, heat and smells, in such a way as to identify the enemies that surround him.
The concept of Blind Fate: Edo no Yami is crazy, useless to go around it. It is a reinterpretation in an ultramodern key of a historical period that has always been mythologized by so much popular culture and of an often underestimated figure like the zatoichi, crossed with the suggestions of the more corporal and material science fiction. IS a fresh idea, which, while not inventing anything, re-elaborates concepts from other eras to generate a fascinating dystopia and in its own way frightening, which denotes a remarkable creativity. What doesn’t work, however, is (almost) everything else.
Myopia of game design
Edo no Yami is a horizontal scrolling action, and as such it needs a combat system that is as satisfying as possible and that allows you not to focus on the lack of the third dimension. We wanted to focus, in total coherence with the role of the protagonist, on a staid and never too hectic combat systemtherefore able to reveal a marked tactical aspect from every battle with the white weapon.
Yami is a samurai, and as such he attacks where he finds chinks; it only takes a few intersections to open up to a lethal slash capable of piercing the enemy defenses, and this is exactly how the gameplay is configured. Assaulting enemies allows first of all to make them visible to Yami’s sensors, which register their presence only following one or more hits, but also serves to open their defenses in order to perform a sort of finisher based on the detection of the relative weaknesses, identifiable by one of the three sensors available to the protagonist. Added to this is the possibility of firing bullets from a distance from one’s mechanical arm and the need to always keep the stamina bar under control, which once exhausted leaves the fighter in a situation of considerable disadvantage. Conceptually, therefore, Blind Fate: Edo no Yami seems to have all the credentials to work. The problem is that this is not the case, because the controls are cumbersome, slow and not very responsive, thus marrying very badly with the supposed superhuman agility of the warrior, and are also crippled by an annoyingly perceptible input lag most of the time. All this becomes a problem that is difficult to ignore when the game inserts bossfights on Yami’s path based on precision and, above all, on the resolution of small platform “puzzles”.
Among other things, Blind Fate: Edo no Yami expects too much of the player without ever putting him in a position to fully understand how it works. To be clear, it happens very often to find oneself in front of paintings that seem absolutely impossible to solve with the accumulated knowledge. Specifically, the second phase of the first bossfight can only be completed after a long trial and error session which, in the end, leads the player to discover that by going in the opposite direction to the most logical one, it is possible to interact with the walls of the arena.
Which, mind you, would not be a problem, were it not that until then the game had never even hinted at such a possibility, and that the exact point where you can interact with the appropriate command prompt is initially hidden from the camera, without the modeling of the environment giving any clue as to its actual presence.
Edo no Yami does not explain himself, almost as if he were in a hurry to progress, and demands from the user a perfect understanding of mechanics unknown to him. Then there is the clumsy management of checkpoints and the enormous HP reserve of each single enemy. The first generates significant imbalances between the various areas of the same level, which often forces the player to repeat entire sections of the adventure.
This criticality is combined with the off-scale life bar of each enemy, hence the need to have to take a long time to progress and return to the point of the previous defeat. With too weak opponents the tactical component of the clashes would have disappeared, we know, but unfortunately in this case we have gone from one excess to another. In short, the duration of the individual fights is more than extended and the departures, even accidental ones, turn into a source of frustration.
Crane, tengu and yokai
There is one thing that Blind Fate: Edo no Yami succeeds, and that is its art direction. Troglobytes has managed to imagine a Japan that is both traditional and futuristic, thanks to the mixture of folklore and pushed science fiction. The yokai become ferocious machines ready to kill anyone who comes in front of them, the animals told by classical art become cybernetic and the feudal Japan of the ronin and shogun is transformed into industrial complexes that recall both the almost mythological past of the Japanese Middle Ages and its modern counterpart.
Environments don’t always work as well as they would like, but the atmospheres are often the right ones, especially when examining the illustrated narrative sections and the splendid soundtrack, which in turn reflects the aesthetic duality of the game. There are also some notable goodies such as the inclusion of a physically present skill-tree in front of the dojo that acts as the central hub for the game, where each unlocked skill is displayed as a lantern hanging from the branches of the tree.
It’s a shame, because Blind Fate: Edo no Yami would have all the credentials to work great but it gets bogged down in precisely those areas where it should have shine. It quickly turns into a more frustrating than spectacular title, more “aesthetic” than truly functional. It is nice to see that a team culturally so far from Japan has gone to rework themes and figures such as that of the zatoichi, also doing it in a thematically and aesthetically convincing way.
What is disappointing is the whole functioning of the game, which suffers from constant inattention, technical stumbles, rhythm problems. (the fault of a too massive recourse to Quick Time Events) and above all of the lack of most of the explanations to the player. It happens too often to find yourself stuck because of an action that you did not know could be done or, worse, of requests that for the game seem obvious but in reality most of the time they are incomprehensible.