There weren’t really a lot of good games out there ten to fifteen years ago. Every so often you’d get a Baldur’s Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment, but most of the time games were just lazily-shoveled garbage that you were tricked into paying for. Things are only slightly different now in that even the poor games manage to generally do at least one thing right, be that graphics or the control scheme or whatever. In a sense, standards have gone up over time, at least in terms of modern bad games being more bearable than older bad games. It’s because of this that Anachronox is a horrible game: It was probably good once upon a time, but given how high the bar is these days, it’ll fall short in every way possible. If you know nothing about Anachronox, don’t bother.
Given how overwhelmingly negative the rest of this is going to be, I figured it would be only polite to start with some of the good things. There are only two that I can think of, and they’re only true on rare occasions throughout the game: Music and humor. The music is very hit-and-miss, with good tracks appearing only rarely and the rest being repetitive, trite “cyberpunk” synth-pad garbage. As far as the humor is concerned, it has its moments. Very few of those moments come toward the beginning of the game, though, and most of the time the humor comes across as forced. In many scenes you can tell the game wants you to laugh or find something quirky and amusing, but it falls completely flat and makes the whole thing embarrassing. However, there are some more subtle bits of humor (including a Die Hard reference, which was my favorite) that actually work. Sadly, the rest of the humor pretty much revolves around the quirkiness of the characters.
This is a problem, because the characters suck. They really, really do. The main character Boots is boring and thoroughly unlikable, Grumpos is the same, PAL gets old within minutes, and everyone else is similarly awful. There are some exceptions, such as an entire planet that joins you and that manages to be likable, but even their charm is completely overtaken by the “bleh” of the other characters. They’re all so overwhelmingly sigh-inducing and devoid of any meaningful depth (though the game tries, only to fail spectacularly) that having them be the main characters is just about enough to kill the game outright. I stuck it out anyway, hoping that things would get better. They didn’t.
Okay, let’s talk about the fighting mechanics. They’re kind of like older jRPGs, which I have no problem with. Seriously, I love the old Final Fantasies and Chrono games. Grandia and Lufia 2 are my jam. All that being said, the fighting system in Anachronox is a joke, so pathetically designed that it’s a wonder anyone ever bothered with it. For one, it’s about half as fast as it should be, like a normal jRPG being played through molasses. Everything takes forever, so fights with multiple enemies are painfully tedious, especially when those fights with multiple enemies are in areas with multiple fights like that. It’s padding the length of the game, and it doesn’t need to be that way. The actual fighting is good enough as far as mechanics go, though there aren’t any “oooh, awesome” features. It’s functional enough, but boring.
That’s not the only fluff that’s padding the game, sadly. The speed of everything in the game is quite slow, and something that becomes painfully obvious within thirty minutes or less of playing the game is that the style completely overwhelms the substance; walking around Anachronox (the area) is an exercise in frustration, because each small section is connected by elevators that take forever to use. The camera sways wildly (if you get motion sick, the camera might cause problems for you because it’s often swaying around wildly in cutscenes for no reason) as you lose control of your character and watch him ride up the elevator or down the elevator. It takes forever, but this could be forgiven if there wasn’t a lot of backtracking. Guess what? There’s a ton of backtracking. More than Metroid, I’d say. It seems that every time you want to progress, it involves running all the way across the map to another person who then sends you running back in the other direction. Meanwhile, you’re having to watch elevator animations over and over between all of this because there are always at least two elevators between you and where you’re going. Whoever designed those elevators deserves to get stuck in an elevator and starve to death. Even once you get off of Anachronox and away from its annoying elevators, the maps are always oversized (comprised almost entirely of empty space and things that can’t be interacted with) and always require backtracking in order to continue. No thanks.
The game is also incredibly buggy. I messed with a panel on Anachronox and managed to blow up a nearby wall. I messed with it again and caused another explosion, this time an explosion that fixed the wall. Stuff like this is ridiculous, and there always seems to be something weird like that going on. When it’s not something like that, your characters are somehow getting stuck on the terrain. This manifests itself as your character “hopping” rapidly rather than walking. How this game ever got past bug-testers (if they were even involved) is beyond me.
Anachronox isn’t always focused on combat. You’d think this would be a good thing, but it considers itself an adventure game when you’re not fighting. You have to walk around, talk to people, discover things, and move on. I have no problem with this in principle, but everything you do is just busy work designed to pad the length of the game. At one point you discover yourself on a planet where everyone votes on everything. In order to progress, you have to wander around an oversized area and talk to everyone over and over again until you figure out the “right” way to vote on a number of issues. This is required to move on, and it’s randomized so that you can’t just look up the right answers on the internet. Every single aspect of this game seems to be designed to be as frustrating as possible.
Speaking of frustration: Minigames. They’re everywhere in this game, and so stupid that they make Oblivion’s lock picking minigame seem masterful by comparison. Every character has their own unique skill (they’re rarely used and only work in certain situations, though) that plays out through a minigame. A different minigame for each one, too, so there’s bound to be one that drives you crazy. Who the hell looked at the garbage heap that was Anachronox without minigames and thought, “Hey, we need more mindless tedium!” Seriously. It’s just more boredom to inflate the needlessly bland story. Oh yeah, and speaking of the story, the game’s not finished. It ends on a cliffhanger, a final middle finger to the gamer.
Here’s what you should do: