Getting kicked off of a cliff and turning into a horrific blob monster might not be the worst metaphor for how some people feel about the holiday season. This week’s Indie Fix title isn’t exactly the holly-jolliest game out there, but sometimes a little bit of black coffee pairs well with December’s cloying sweetness.
For those of you looking for some respite from the cheery deluge, Mothlight offers a deeply satisfying traditional RPG experience, if you’re willing to trade your white Christmas for some time in the Black Sea.
I generally try to give RPGmaker titles some critical leeway, but they really can be super hit or miss. Despite the typical limitations that come with the platform – namely a lack of innovative gameplay – Mothlight oozes so much style that it covers up those blemishes that make indie RPGs so often feel generic. Developer Samu clearly has an eye, ear, and some other kind of sixth sense for atmospheric design. A little Yume Nikki, Earthbound, and Dark Souls inspiration is evident, but Mothlight doesn’t parrot these influences in the same way lesser RPGs try to.
From the very first scene onward, the game world feels fully realized and artfully executed, especially considering it’s software limitations. It approaches the oldschool RPG style with many elements that other games simply don’t bring to the table. Compelling writing, an interactive world, and – most notably – fantastic sound design make Mothlight standout in it’s genre.
I am genuinely in love with every droning note and pitter-patter backbeat this game pumps out. The spooky, spectral pianos that fill the overworld and their shift into the gloomy noise-rock battle themes makes for some of the most original music I’ve ever heard in an indie title. If you need an example of music’s power on a game’s overall atmosphere, look no further. When the world isn’t lit up by these tunes, it’s darkened by natural sounds – dripping water, rolling waves – that only help make Mothlight‘s cartoonish gloom feel that much more palpable.
Everything is very dark from the get-go. If it weren’t for the fact that our main character Enzo is cutesy kitty cat creature, Mothlight could toe the line of too edgy – the save points are literally statues with slit wrists, after all. Weirdly enough, I want to say that darkness works, though. It isn’t completely void of irony or humor. With it’s charming, hand-drawn portraits and fittingly drab backgrounds, Mothlight reminds me of an Edward Gorey picture book… though, perhaps with more overt violence.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story, but it’s strongly written, and often strongly worded. It’s from a place of tasteful shadows, where gloom and humor work nicely together. That said, it’s themes are obviously not for everyone, but I get the sense the game knows what kind of audience it is going for, and that audience should find themselves pleased with their experience.
Riding on style alone might seem like a shaky strategy, but Mothlight really is compelling enough to get away with it. If you’re fine with your gameplay being as RPG-tastic as it gets, then you’re golden. There are a few puzzles mixed in that break up the wandering and talking, but they’re on par with anything you’d find in early Final Fantasy or Wild Arms.
The battles are, at their best, a vessel to show off interesting enemy design and more of Chez Monplaisir’s phenomenal music. Your party expands, you learn new skills, and you collect items/equipment, so it’s all pretty par for the course… but what’s not to love about a skill called Vicious Meowing? Sometimes, the little things matter enough to make even the most typical gameplay feel original.
I’ve been playing RPGs for over twenty years, and they can barely keep my attention anymore – which is maybe my fault. But Mothlight is so weird, so bleakly charming that I didn’t want to stop playing, which is a huge accomplishment on Samu’s part. This is really what I meant earlier by Mothlight using RPGmaker to the best of the developer’s abilities. For what it is, all of the elements cohere into a totally original experience.
Music, artwork, and gameplay all gel into what is probably my standout indie RPG this year. Considering it’s reasonable length (just about 4 hours) – and the fact that it’s free on both Steam and icth.io, Mothlight is fun, if you think it fits your tastes. Just don’t drink that water from the Black Sea.
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