We’ve not covered many NIS America titles here over at The Elite Institute, mainly because their forté is predominantly RPGs of varying kinds – something I don’t usually care for. There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule I typically stray away from reviewing them as I don’t feel that it would be particularly fair to pass judgement on a genre I’m not fond of.
So, needless to say that I was a little torn when CRYMACHINA was announced. It was labelled as an RPG, but gameplay footage made is seem more like a rather exciting hack and slash game. Whilst my gut instincts were telling me to stay away, I just couldn’t shake that urge to play it.
And I am really glad that I did.
Many thanks to NIS America for the review code.
WAIFU IN THE MACHINE
In CRYMACHINA, you play the role of Leben – a human who recently found herself waking up in a mechanical body at some point in the future after the human race has become extinct. She has been brought back by a synthetic life form known as Enoa who, in addition to having an obsession with gold stars, is intent on reviving the human race.
Things are not quite as straightforward as they seem, as Enoa is but one of the synthetic ‘Dei Ex Machina’ and the others seem to have gone rogue following the disappearance of the first of their kind. In order for humanity to survive, Leben must work with her team-mates in order to fight against the other synthetics and obtain a resource known as ExP to help her to increase her both humanity and her power in order to fulfil her destiny as the chosen one. Things aren’t quite as straightforward as they first appear, however, as revelations come thick and fast as you work your way to becoming a real human.
It’s a surprisingly compelling plot with a heavy focus on lengthy anime cutscenes to flesh out both the story and the characters. It’s impressive to see just how much lore has been packed into the game, and it had me looking into whether the game was based on an animated series (which it isn’t) since the characters were so fleshed out that I couldn’t help to root for them and their plight for survival. Sure, it does fall into a lot of anime tropes – after all, it is about a group of young anime girls with exaggerated feature who all happen to be in love with each other – but that wasn’t enough to spoil the overall experience.
It’s a good job that the story is quite compelling, as watching cutscenes is where you’ll spend the vast majority of your time. Even though the game lasts dozens of hours (provided that you don’t skip the videos), only a very small fraction of that will be spent in control of your character. That’s not to say that this gameplay is half-hearted, but it’s very clear from the offset that it plays second fiddle to the narrative.
After having a nice little chinwag over a cup of tea with your new ‘family’, it’s time to head off into the Data Transport Terminal to take on a mission. Main missions will appear automatically once you’ve caught up with the others, but there’s also an option to search for some bonus missions by inputting the appropriate co-ordinates that you may have ascertained via found clues. It’s a nice little system that rewards those that dive into the game further, without ever requiring you to do so.
Missions will typically have a level recommendation, and it’s wise to pay attention to these. Going in at the required level will result in a reasonable challenge but going in an lower will no doubt brutal – perhaps even impossible if you are too low – due to you dealing far less damage and receiving a lot more in return. With three characters to manage (and you often don’t get a choice which one you select), it can seem rather stressful to manage your experience – but the game does have a limit as to how far you go at any one time, which prevents you from ever getting too far ahead. That being said, you will find yourself under-levelled quite frequently so you will need to either seek out the aforementioned side missions or replay older ones in order to get to the level that you need to be at.
Each of the mission play out in a relatively similar way: after traversing a short and linear path, usually with one or two interruptions as you’re stopped by some fodder enemies to take care of, you’ll be greeted with the boss of that stage. Occasionally there may be secrets off the beaten path that offer harder enemies to fight or some new equipment to gain, but don’t expect anything particularly complex. There is the occasional set-piece where you grind rails, run away from space whales, or navigate laser grids, but these aren’t very common and are usually over in mere moments.
However, all this extra stuff is really just peripheral to what the game really is all about: it’s a 1v1 hack and slash game that pits you up against a boss opponent as you seek to avoid their attacks and take them out. Thinking of the game more of a boss rush like Cuphead certainly makes the game hold up far better. There’s a decent amount of depth to the combat, with a series of defensive manoeuvres you can pull off in addition to slashing. With lots of obtainable and equippable items, you’ll be frequently sifting through menus to ensure you have the best possible gear. Notably your side attacks have special EX bonuses should you meet certain requirements, which also plays into your own personal playstyle. That being said, your playstyle will largely be defensive for the most part as bosses often pack one hell of a punch. Learning when to dodge and counter will be essential to your survival, and something you will need to master quickly. It can be tough at times as some characters can have poorly telegraphed attacks, but that’s mainly due to how much is visually going on with all the bright colours flashing across the screen as your attacks clash.
Which leads me on to the one thing that really surprised me about the game: the rather unforgiving difficulty. As someone who is quite well-versed with the genre, I was shocked at how often I got my arse handed to me – even when I was at the suggested level. There are things that can help with the game, such as a support system that Enoa offers that can help you in a variety of ways, but when some boss attacks can kill you in a single hit, this is only a limited help. There is a casual mode available for those finding things too tough, but honestly even that seems like it may still be a tad too challenging for more novice gamers who are only in it for the story. This obviously results in you having to grind a lot in order to make sure you either meet or exceed the level requirements, which can get a little tiring later on – even if levels only really last a couple of minutes. The last few hours in particular had me grinding over and over just to get to where I needed to be, and really took the sails out of the finale as I found myself praying for the game to end.
But honestly, despite these issues, the game is still a hell of a lot of fun. The story and its presentation may be the strongest element, but the bursts of gameplay you do in between are also pretty enjoyable too. It may disappoint those looking for a more comprehensive hack and slash experience, but if you know what you are going into then I think you’ll have a good time.
Going into the game, I was a tad disappointed at the game’s apparent disregard for the hack and slashing element of the game. With only tiny segments intersecting all the story cutscenes, it feels very much like a visual novel at times. However, the story is surprisingly compelling and the small amount of action that does exist is still a lot of fun. It may be a hard sell for the €60 price tag, but certainly one to keep an eye on if the trailer piques your interest.