Grayfax Software’s indie title, Orangeblood, is a back-to-basics turn-based RPG that avoids breaking any new ground. Rather, it does something familiar with a very specific style and flair. The game is published by Playism for their like-titled distribution platform. It’s also available on Steam as of January 14, 2020, and there’s a release scheduled for consoles sometime in Q2 2020. Orangeblood works hard to carve out its own identity, but sometimes it feels like it’s trying too hard.
Developer: Grayfax Software
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Initial Release: January 14, 2020 (Windows PC), Q2 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
MSRP: $19.99 (Windows PC)
Set at the end of the 20th century in a world parallel to our own, Orangeblood takes place in the fictional New Koza, an artificial island built off the coast of Okinawa. The city that inhabits this island is urban and industrial, but slightly futuristic.
The game is rife with anachronisms and the neon-purple color mapping evokes an air of vaporwave. Its retro-futuristic setting is far enough into the “future” to have flying cars but not enough to clean the stink of human suffering off the dirty streets.
With all the vibes of early 1990s cyberpunk claustrophobia, the game sets you up to rise through New Koza’s criminal underworld, one dead goon at a time.
Orangeblood is heavily laced with a self-described “90s hip-hop influence”. This “influence” ranges from the style of music, to the dialect of the characters, and to the setting and narrative themselves. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it leads the game astray.
The game features an engrossing and periodic East Coast hip-hop meets East Asian hip-hop soundtrack that sets the perfect backdrop for your rise through the criminal underworld. The smooth, jazzy hip-hop tracks, with some dashes of West Coast funk, unique instrumentals, and sample flips, make for the kind of playlist you could easily put on replay and call it a day.
(It also highlights how much influence East Asia has had on Western hip-hop, but that’s a story for another time.)
The world is laced with a tone-setting soundboard that brings it all home. Be it the light hum of conversations throughout the city or the rattling of the metro rails, New Koza feels like a city.
I don’t want to mince words here: The dialogue is insufferable.
It’s the kind of vaguely coherent jabble that mimics what a middle-age, bible-belt conservative might think poor inner city people talk like. It’s a gross superimposition of linguistic f@#kery over what is an otherwise interesting story and a beautiful world.
If only Grayfax would have spared themselves the need to assure us they know what a “thot” is and otherwise be as edgy as humanly possible, they could have avoided making a mockery of their own characters. Instead, the game is polluted with an immediate seizure of every possible opportunity to say the words “b@#ch” or “f#@k”.
The gameplay in Orangeblood isn’t winning any awards, but it’s a concise and acceptable realization of the turn-based RPG combat style that we’re all already familiar with.
It’s fun without being too deep, giving us options for equipment and skill progression that suffice to power up our characters and kick some ass. Your primary attack utilizes a firearm or melee weapon of some sort, depending on the character, with different types of firearms offering different advantages.
Some weapons, like assault rifles, hit one target many times. Others spread the damage around, making the enemy team fight a battle of attrition. You won’t track actual ammunition, but you will need to “reload” to replenish your AP which decreases with each attack.
Random encounters appear on screen as you explore New Koza, and like with many other RPGs, you can gain a combat advantage by pressing the action button to attack them before they touch you.
The game doesn’t require a whole lot of grinding, but as an RPG player that is accustomed to it, I found myself routinely killing everything I could for each and every last scrap of EXP.
Battles typically aren’t extremely challenging, only occasionally requiring a specific strategy to overcome. Still, should you die in combat, you’ll be returned to the last “checkpoint” you came across or to your previous save, whichever came last.
Grayfax comes through with solid sprite work and replete level design that brings Orangeblood‘s world to life. While the sprites aren’t the most complex, they are true-to-form for 90s era turn-based RPGs (being the descendent of an RPG Maker project).
They are sufficient for depicting character’s current mood/dialogue, establishing the combat scenario, or bringing a kind of aesthetic that can make a nerd fall in love. Seriously, who could’ve known a gun-toting criminal empress could be so damned kawaii.
The maps themselves occasionally border on cluttered, and early on, it can be easy to get lost navigating New Koza city. However, this is less of a fault than it is a consequence of the game’s meticulous placement of assets which populate the city with a gritty, industrial, and urban feel.
The in-game map is more of an “area you can walk in” marker than a bonafide map with a legend, which would have been a better call. Still, the world is just so cool, we didn’t mind exploring it a little extra as we found our way around. Also, did we mention how damned cute it all is? uwu
By default the game has “tilt shift” and cinema color turned on in the options menu which muddies the game’s colors and could potentially ruin the visuals. The “tilt shift” creates a blur so strong it can be hard to see anything that isn’t immediately next to your character.
Luckily, “tilt shift” can be disabled and the game offers a variety of color mappings to cycle through. While the cinematic mapping is the default, we preferred the vivid option, which made the game’s colors really pop.
This latter part is, of course, a matter of preference, but we think nothing screams “retrofuturism” like a neon apocalypse. Regardless, Orangeblood is among the single most visually engaging RPG Maker games we have ever played.
In all, Orangeblood is a fun game. It’s music is something worth listening to even outside of the game, and we generally consider that the definitive metric for a damned good game soundtrack. The story is entertaining, even if the dialogue that carries it is insufferable, and the combat is enough to give any RPG junkie their fix.
It’s not the kind of game that is likely to win a ton of awards, but it is the kind of game you’ll remember playing. With it’s gritty urban world and a “retro-modern” setting rare to the genre, Orangeblood holds its own and manages to stand out from a crowd. To us, that makes it an indie success.