The PlayStation Vita is home to a vast array of indie game ports from PC and other consoles. Published by A Crowd of Monsters, UnEpic is the newest digital-only indie to grace Sony’s portable powerhouse.
The PS Vita version of UnEpic is a port of a 2011 PC game that has made it’s way to many other platforms before arriving on the PlayStation family of consoles. Developed by lone developer Francisco Téllez de Meneses, it is a RPG/Platformer in the Metroidvania style. Many indie game developers love to cut their teeth making games in this genre, and sprinkling RPG elements into the popular platformer formula has proven extremely successful for many games.
The PSN storefront on the Vita has a wide variety of similar or easily comparable games already available and most of them are extremely high quality. With so many other comparable titles already established on the system, does UnEpic have what it takes to run with the likes of incredible indies such as Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, or La-Mulana EX? Well, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news…
The story of UnEpic revolves around Daniel (I renamed him Artie, I regretted it by the end). He’s your stereotypical, smart-ass “Joe Gamer” type, who while playing D&D with his friends makes a fateful trip to the bathroom. In a bizzare twist, he finds himself transported to the ominous Castle Harkanon. Believing his circumstances to be the result of drinking too much with his buddies, he shrugs it all off as a hallucination. Daniel plays along with his delusion thinking it will eventually wear off and ventures into the depths of the castle.
Armed in the beginning with only a Zippo-style pocket lighter and an unearned chip on his shoulder, he is almost immediately possessed by a nameless spirit who dwells in the castle. Daniel, having “no faith” in his surroundings, is unaffected by the spectre’s dominion, trapping the shadowy figure inside his body until he perishes. Naturally, that mystery ghost wants him dead now. The trials are just beginning. On Daniel’s journey he will face many foes, trip countless traps, and try to avoid being tricked into his death by the malicious entity possessing him who just…won’t…SHUT…UP!
UnEpic has a strong focus on being a narrative-driven experience. That it does indeed have a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end makes it successful. That being said, the characters in this game are shallow, cringe-inducing caricatures of “average gamer nerds”…you know, us. A good portion of it’s intended audience. It’s a bizarre choice to seemingly be condescending to the primary audience of your product. It’s almost laughable, but this game made me feel a little ashamed of being so heavily involved with “nerd culture.”
Let me make a few things clear about these characterizations. That’s not my gaming group. That is not the gaming groups of people I know. Those characters are not accurate representations of the gaming community in 2016 and I’m sure they weren’t accurate representations of the gaming community in 2011 when the game was originally released.
After my initial irritation wore off, I was left with the impression that UnEpic has it’s tongue pressed firmly in it’s cheek, and should be played with that knowledge in mind. That being said, I never really learned to like the characters in my time with the game. The entire game’s script is voice-acted as well, though the character’s voices grated on me SO MUCH that I ended up turning them off in the settings menu (a welcome addition). Even though I disliked the voice-over work in the game, it was composed of high quality audio samples and the vocal deliveries of the actors matched the story tone the game was going for…I just wasn’t a fan of that particular tonality.
Now we come to the good news, which is that UnEpic looks amazing on the PS Vita. The colors displayed in the game are vibrant and character portraits are highly detailed. The in-game character models animate in a pleasing, almost puppet-like manner that is extremely charming. Swinging your sword, stabbing with a spear, crouching with your lighter in hand to illuminate lower areas. It’s obvious that much care was given to make UnEpic look visually splendid, even if five years old at this point.
No matter how visually striking the art design is however, the enemy design is fairly banal. Around every corner generic worms, bats, and goblins will accost you. None of their designs are particularly offensive, but neither are they unique in any way. Some enemies seem to disappear into the backgrounds due to them lacking any distinguishing characteristics to make them pop from the dreary dungeon backdrops. Especially the bats. Unlike the Castlevania games that obviously inspired it’s design, it lacks any unique animations when you slay a foe, simply opting to have them vanish in a purple puff of…I don’t know…smoke? Gas? This is nitpicking, as MANY games inspired by Castlevania also fail to take this particular page from it’s playbook. I guess what I’m saying is, other games need to step up their…game.
The world design from an art perspective is also fairly bog-standard, but more than does it’s job of making you feel like you are stuck in a labyrinthine castle with danger lurking around every corner and in every shadow. Speaking of shadows, UnEpic has impressive lighting in spades. One of the mechanics introduced at the beginning is using your lighter to ignite torches, candelabras, and oil lamps scattered around the map. Each one adds more light to the overall chamber you are in, until you light them all and are rewarded with a pleasant musical tone and a shiny, shiny particle effects shower. The triangle button also allows you to swap between two different viewpoints; zoomed out to see all interconnected rooms in a chamber, or zoomed in for a easy sense of the action in your particular room. This effect is instant, impressive, and insanely useful for navigation as well as combat.
The music that accompanies your journey is also pretty generic, but not unpleasant. I left the music on, but never found myself with a particular tune stuck in my head when I put the game down. It was pleasant, moody, and serviceable to the setting. Highlights of the sound design were the sudden flares of battle music when you were spotted by an enemy and that awesome “you lit all the torches” chime. I love that sound.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag. When you press the square button and hold, Daniel swings his weapon over and over, non-stop until you let off the button. This decision is odd as you fail to make that fundamental connection to the combat that you get when each attack is executed with individual button presses. The disconnect it makes is minor and it’s presence was noticed less as I played more. Adding to the odd, when Daniel attacks he is frozen in place with no way to dodge or block. He just hacks away. This lead to some trouble with a few bosses and even minor enemies (BATS!) knocking me around the battlefield like a crash-test dummy. Again, these issues were addressed by me with subtle compensations and adjustments to my playstyle over my time with the game.
It’s an RPG, and as such killing baddies gains you experience which causes you to level up which grants you skill points for Daniel. These are allocated manually by the player, allowing you to craft unique builds. Eventually you will begin to acquire weapon skills as well, which deplete a “Kill Point” bar to unleash special attacks specific to each weapon category.
Loot plays a large role in any exploration-based RPG, and UnEpic is no exception. While exploring Castle Harkanon you will find all manner of chests to raid, and all kinds of things will drop from your slain foes. These range from crafting materials to create various items, to coveted unique weapons with epic bonuses and ridiculous names like Vitahandis. That is a unique dagger with “Vita” right in the name and the Life Leech ability. If you’re a fan of inventory micro-management, UnEpic will sit next to Dragon Fin Soup on your Vita with pride.
Overall, there’s an impressive amount of content on display here and a campaign that runs in the fifteen hour region. There’s no new game plus, but there are five different difficulty settings for additional challenge. It’s hard not to recommend to anyone wanting a game that’s consise in scope, but with some serious meat on it.
UnEpic is equal parts charming and dull. Witty at times and blush-inducingly crass at others. It’s also middle of the road gaming at it’s finest so serious fans of Metroidvanias can afford to take a chance. UnEpic by A Crowd of Monsters is available in all regions, as a digital-only download for PS Vita and PS4.
It is not an accurate portrayal of the nerd community.