Alcarys Complex is a game I picked up as a bonus in a game bundle. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, mind you—it was only when I was randomly surfing through my account that I noticed it. Apparently I had forgotten to check back to see what kinds of bonuses were unlocked after my initial purchase. As for the game itself, it’s undeniably flawed in some pretty major ways, but you know what? I still enjoyed it a lot, and that’s more than I can say for many other games. This review will most likely sound overwhelmingly negative when taken as a whole because of all of the problems I encountered while playing, but keep in mind that I enjoyed the game despite its many, many, many issues.
A tale of two kinds of stories
At the heart of the game is the story of several characters and a world that, at its core, can’t be changed or saved. This is what makes Alcarys Complex so interesting as a game—you’re not playing as a bunch of characters who are out to save the world. Instead, the characters you take control of over the course of the game are made to endure it, and this is one of many refreshing elements that makes the game more consistently entertaining than your average RPG.
On the flip side are the characters and their dramas, which can get to be a bit much at times. While some are more prone to self-pity than others, most of them have their five minutes of wallowing, and these sections of the game are painful to have to sit through. Part of that has to do with the sprite-based nature of the game; older games that used sprites tended to avoid having too many characters constantly doubting themselves and acting troubled, and I have little doubt that this had something to do with the inability of sprites to adequately convey complex emotions. As a result, the emotion in these scenes tends to come across forced and artificial rather than sincere, and this ultimately distracts from the great overarching story. It’s basically what you’d get if you populated the world of Witcher 2 with a bunch of first-half-of-Final-Fantasy-6-Terras.
And the writing itself…
The writing also has a good and bad side. On the plus side, many characters are memorable and there are a few dialogue sequences (such as a rich individual’s rant about wealth and poor people) that blew me away. There aren’t any spelling errors I can recall, either, so that’s a major plus. On the other hand, dialogue between multiple characters tends to be a bit weak and suffer from same-tone-ness. That’s kind of hard to elaborate on, but it’s basically when you read two different things and get the impression that a single person wrote both. Yes, the characters have their own unique personalities and have a few speaking differences to differentiate themselves from other characters, but their overall tone too often seems identical when they talk to each other because of the game’s apparent need to have snappy dialogue every few minutes.
Snappy dialogue tries to be quick and witty, but using it too frequently and across too many characters leads to two problems: dialogue length and sameness. Length-wise, conversation is often too long and rambling to be conversational, coming across more as out of place rants or soliloquies than realistic dialogue. Additionally, having multiple characters use snappy comments takes away from their uniqueness somewhat, leading to the subtle impression that it was all written by a single person. If it didn’t cost an ungodly sum of money, I’d recommend a small rewrite from a fresh pair or eyes in order to alleviate this somewhat, because the unrealistic dialogue is one of my biggest problems with the game.
Crashes are a close number two
Alcarys Complex crashed a lot for me. Reading the tutorial while using a controller instead of the keyboard? That proved to be a quick way to crash the game. Fighting a certain enemy on the map? That also led to a crash every single time I tried it, eventually forcing me to ignore that enemy entirely. The number of unhandled exceptions I faced that randomly crashed the game was appalling.
And those pink/green squares!
There were also a number of buggy elements that ensured that even when the game wasn’t crashing, it was behaving strangely. The most prominent of these bugs were the colored squares that would randomly cover up huge sections of the screen (one of the pink ones is pictured in the screenshots below), and the only way to make them disappear was to enter and exit a building. This was made difficult by the fact that the entrances to said buildings were often covered up by the square, making the 4-5 times this occurred incredibly frustrating. There were also the rarer bugs, such as one optional boss fight where the enemy floated through a wall and off screen, trapping me in the room and forcing me to reload.
These bugs are more than a minor irritation, actually worsening many interesting stylistic touches by making you doubt that they’re purposeful. For example, there’s a section of the game where you’re taking a test without having any knowledge of the answers, and the text scrambles while you’re trying to figure out which option to choose. It’s a really interesting way of indicating anxiety, but the game has so many bugs that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was little more than a well-timed bug. I’m fairly confident that the scrambled text was purposeful, but the sliver of doubt that remains is a testament to the game’s generally buggy nature.
Other controller problems
Apart from the crashes that I faced when using the controller instead of a keyboard, the experience was mostly positive. However, the game refused to memorize my controller preference, forcing me to use the game’s weird keyboard controls (c for “confirm” just feels wrong) to change to the controller input every single time I opened the game. This may have something to do with the fact that the game doesn’t actually have an “exit” button. That’s right—if you want to quit the game, you have to alt-tab out and close the window. There’s no way of actually doing so in the game, which is incredibly strange.
Combat is interesting, but unenjoyable
Combat in Alcarys Complex, like many of its other facets, is very much a “good news, bad news” situation. Starting with the negative, the real-time combat feels floaty and awkward because of the weirdly fast character movement speed. On the other hand, this isn’t a game where you need to fight much. In fact, you don’t gain experience for combat at all, and there are only two mandatory boss fights, meaning you could go through the entire game engaging in combat only twice. Enemies on the map are docile until attacked, allowing you to walk right past them, and to reinforce the secondary nature of the combat, even death carries no consequence; if you’re killed in combat, you have the option of either loading an earlier save or waiting for the “come back to life timer” to resurrect you where you died, effectively rendering you immortal if you’re willing to wait.
You social butterfly, you!
Instead of combat, you level up through conversations. Talking to people you haven’t spoken to yet nets you sociability points (SP), and once these exceed a certain threshold, you can spend the amount you’ve accumulated over said threshold to “level up” your stats. Given the fact that combat plays virtually no role in the main story at all, this is something that can mostly be ignored, but there is something weirdly fulfilling about making your characters killing machines.
It’s like Secret of Mana’s combat
If you’re familiar with that kind of floaty action-RPG combat, you may enjoy combat a bit more than I did, and to be fair, the mechanics are actually surprisingly interesting. Instead of having MP, your magic skills work on a recharge timer and require a certain kind of potion in order to use. However, you have multiple slots for attacks and one of them is your “free slot” that allows you to use magic without a potion, so you can go through the entire game without using a single potion if you’re so inclined. Again, there’s virtually no combat unless you seek it out, so the whole system is mostly there for those who want to explore it.
Pixel hunts are never fun
The absurdly fast movement speed of characters makes one or two sections unnecessarily frustrating when you have to hunt for the exact location that triggers a prompt. The video above is a good example of this because the green area that I spend forever running around is where I had to be in order to progress. However, you’ll notice the lack of any prompts beyond the epoxy and “locked chest/door” ones; I had to be in exactly the right spot for the prompt to cut another wire after fixing the one with epoxy to appear, and figuring this out ended up being incredibly frustrating since it was less a puzzle than a pixel hunt. There’s also a section where you’re looking for little bluish patches of snow where finding the right spot to trigger the prompt is equally irritating, so while these pixel hunts are thankfully rare, they’re nonetheless maddening.
It can be a bit preachy
I don’t have anything against gay people, family drama, or rich-versus-poor themes, but the focus on these elements occasionally went so far that I couldn’t help but feel that the game was becoming preachy. Preachiness is definitely one of my pet peeves, and I’d have preferred a more subtle approach than Alcarys Complex’s all-out, drama-drama-drama exploration of these themes, especially when it came to the gay relationship.
Relationships in general are difficult to pull off in sprite-based games and require a certain talent for understanding the limits of the art style, which is why few older games dealt with actual relationships, instead preferring the Celes/Locke “friendship with the implication of romantic interest” approach. However, this game doesn’t pull any punches, and the problematic dialogue doesn’t do this relationship any favors. As a result, I ended up feeling like a superfluous character was written in to ham-fistedly add in a gay subplot. Because of that, it came across as manufactured and preachy instead of genuine and sweet.
Delivery stuff and aimless wandering
You can take sidequests, most of which seemed to center around delivering a package somewhere across the map. I didn’t do a single one of these because of how fetch-quest-y they sounded, so it’s possible that I missed out on something incredible, but you can at least rest assured that it’s not a necessary component of the game. However, you do have to wander across the map for the main story a few times, and it can be a little frustrating trying to figure out how to get to where you’re going, especially with all of the invisible walls that you have to deal with. On the bright side, the incredibly fast character movement makes getting from point A to point B a surprisingly fast process.
Some minor text-speak problems
This may just be me, but I hate the usage of “haha” to denote laughter. The way I see it, “haha” should be written as “ha ha” and only used sarcastically or nervously. Again, that may just be me, but I find it incredibly distracting and amateurish when it’s used to indicate non-sarcastic laughter.
Great sprites, but black bars
Alcarys Complex runs at a 15:9 resolution. That’s not a typo; running the game full-screen on a 16:9 monitor means having black bars on the sides of the screen. I don’t really know why the game is 15:9, but it’s something I’m willing to forgive, especially given the quality of the sprites. While the sprite animations may be a bit lacking at times (a few more frames might have helped a bit), the actual art is fantastic, conjuring up memories of Final Fantasy 6 and Earthbound in the best of ways. That said, the “green” and “brown” environments are a bit less wonderful, occasionally blending together and making it difficult to tell where things like stairs are, but the “desert” environment is pure quality.
The music is fantastic
There’s nothing negative I can say about the music. It’s consistently great across the board, and not only does it fit the game, but it’s memorable enough that I woke up with it stuck in my head on more than one occasion.
Here’s what you should do: