Following closely on the heels of the first widely-known anarchist video game Zomia Offline Games has done it again. Brian Sovryn of Sovryn Tech fame (or infamy), having set a challenging standard for what “anarchist game” means, has managed to meet this standard while releasing a more mainstream product.
Ninja Trek is a more mainstream-style RPG than Hypercronius. What I mean by that is that it is a little longer, has more combat, and less dialogue. It also has a slightly smaller price tag (It’s hard to get smaller than that of Hypercronius), at a mere .012 BTC. I’m going to try and review Ninja Trek by it’s own merits, rather than comparing it to Hypercronius, but we’ll see how successful I am in that regard.
Gameplay/Story: The gameplay and story are pretty direct and intuitive. If anyone has played Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest/Warrior, or any other classic J-RPG, you’ll know how to play Ninja Trek. Even as a short game, there are exciting story elements, fun puzzles, and a decent variety of baddies to clobber. Most notable of the story elements are the handful of connections made to Hypercronius, implying that this game takes place thousands or hundreds of thousands of years after the events in Hypercronius; I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that. There’s one main puzzle in the game which is simple but fun enough (I, in my sleep-deprived and mensa-puzzle mindset overlooked the solution and spent hours trying to figure it out). but general gameplay presents it’s own puzzle-like atmosphere; grinding would undoubtedly make the game easier than avoiding combat at every possible chance, but how will that pay off in the long run? I’ve only played as a straight-up magic user thus far, but may play through again using the fighter class and see how that changes gameplay for combat. It is possible to beat the game without grinding if one is smart about equipment, items, and party composition, but I’m sure it would be easier to just grind along the way, killing everything in sight. But that isn’t the gameplay that I was looking for, given the subtext of the game’s relationship to Hypercronius.
There are, like in Hypercronius, a lot of obvious and not-so-obvious references to esoteric ideologies, which add to the richness and apparent depth of the environments in the game. One can’t miss the use of the Ankh and the Garden of E.DIN, for example.
The Message: Where Hypercronius is very, very story-heavy, Ninja Trek is a little more gameplay-driven. As such the message is mostly contained in they payout at the end of the game (“Kami do not kill!“). The protagonist/player is faced with what could be called a moral dilemma which has profound implications in the world laid out by the game’s plot. If one is inclined to meditate on the story and the ending, they can easily tease out different implications concerning the nature of power, domination structures, and even the NAP.
A little bit of meta-game message is bundled in as well: the game’s EULA is actually the BipCot license. It is pretty much the only EULA that I recommend anyone read, as it’s the first ever license that I know of which is valid under the rubric of the NAP.
The Rub: If one is expecting the level of text, story, character development, and drama experienced in Hypercronius, they will likely be disappointed. In addition to being less dialogue-driven, there was a noticeable absence of voice acting and sexy sprite-humping. However, the game stands very well on it’s own as a classic RPG-style hack-and-slash. I encountered one bug towards the end of the game that led to the game crashing, but I was unable to recreate the bug (it’s just as likely my antivirus breaking things as it is a flaw in the actual game). Fortunately, the age-old “RPG best practices” of saving constantly meant that I only lost about 5 minutes of gameplay to the crash.
The Verdict: For just a few dollars, it’s hard to go wrong. Again, Zomia Offline Games successfully delivers on the stated goals of their project. Ninja Trek is an excellent companion piece to Hypercronius in that they compliment each other’s absences. Where Hypercronius lacks the more traditional hack-and-slash RPG elements, Ninja Trek has it in spades; where Ninja Trek lacks full-motion video, voice acting, and visual-novel levels of dialogue, Hypercronius has more than enough. Seeing as how one could get both for under $10, one can get the full anarchist 16-bit experience for the cost of a cheeseburger.
In it’s own right, though, Ninja Trek is well worth the couple dollars for a couple hours of nostalgic adventure true to the medium which simply doesn’t exist in the modern gaming landscape. The anarchy just makes it that much more fun.
Oh, and you can buy it with Bitcoin in addition to the usual PayPal et al.
TL;DR: 4 out of 5 stars, fun game, good combat engine, fun environments, yay anarchy. I’m certainly looking forward to Hypercronius II as I’ve come to expect great things from Zomia Offline Games.