Elliot Quest

Damn my book reading has fallen through the floor in December.  I have two books from last month I want to review, but I’ve been so busy that I’ve been unable to read much, and therefore unable to blog much either.

However, I am resolved to do at least one december post.  I’m going with a video game review because I’ve wanted to do one for Elliot’s Quest for a LONG time now, for months, but it took me until last week to actually find the time to beat the game.

Elliot’s Quest is a gem.  It’s an indie game available on Steam and Nintendo eShop, done in glorious pixel art and combines a lot of elements from esteemed franchises such as Zelda, Metroid, even Megaman (you take the powers of some of the bosses you defeat).  The biggest inspiration is Zelda 2, which is kind of a black sheep in the zelda franchise and usually “not liked” by a lot of zelda fans.  However, zelda 2 is one of my favourite games so already I’m biased towards liking Elliot Quest.  Nonetheless, I’ve played Zelda 2 enough times to figure out that Elliot’s Quest stands entirely apart from it, and is its own game.

So this game is about a guy named Elliot who lives on an island that’s very isolated from the mainland.  His wife, Cara, recently disappeared, and Elliot got it in his head that she had just walked out and left him.  Being utterly heartbroken by the idea, he jumped off a cliff to commit suicide.  The game begins with Elliot waking up by a blue stone in a forest, and within the first few minutes of the game, through a flashback, you learn all that backstory above (presented very minimally through some dialogue), and you learn that Elliot has been cursed by a demon – the Satar, an ancient demon passed down as myth by the residents of the Island – and that if he does not act fast, he will soon be possessed by the Satar as its new vessel.  Now he can’t die because of the curse, and he also knows if the Demon takes him over it can allow the Demon to do terrible things to the Island.  So Elliot begins his quest to find and take down the Satar.

The Island is filled to the brim with monsters, and also bosses.  Four of them – called Guardians – are purported to protect the island and its residents, but due to the minimal storytelling nature of the game, it’s never quite clear if the Guardians actually serve that purpose or the islanders have a misconception about them.  Nonetheless, Elliot travels to the Guardian’s temples and beseeches them to help him, but they attack him.

The thing about this game is that story is absolutely minimal and open to so much interpretation.  It’s possible that Elliot isn’t all that great of a guy and by killing the Guardians he is inadvertently doing the Satar’s bidding, but it’s also possible that the Guardians weren’t as good as thought to be.

The other thing about this game is that the story takes an absolute back seat to exploration and gameplay, where this game truly shines.  The story is pretty lackluster.  It serves the game well throughout until the end when the story just doesn’t leave any impact whatsoever.  But like I said, this game’s potential is not in the story.

No, the beauty of this game is in its gameplay.  You’re dropped into the middle of a forest to begin, with nothing but a bow, and enemies around you, and the game doesn’t even bother to tell you how to jump or shoot your bow.  Seriously, this game is like a classic SNES game, figuring out the controls takes a matter of 10 seconds of experimentation, the fact that it doesn’t bother to tell you anyways is a complete breath of fresh air from modern games and the leashes they put around players, teaching you every little bit of gameplay in excruciating detail.  Fuck mandatory tutorials, I wanna figure things out, it’s the only reason I still play videogames these days.

The lack of handholding continues on throughout the game.  Every time you get an item, it will appear in our inventory, but there will be no explanation as to what it does or how to use it, AND I LOVE THAT.  Again, it’s a simple 10 seconds of experimentation to figure it out for yourself and that just instills such a great feeling of discovery that I haven’t felt for such a long time in any videogame.

Back in the days of NES and SNES, games were made to be extremely difficult for a couple reasons: the limited space on the cartridges meant the games were short, so by having the difficulty really high and challenging the players, the game gets longer just by players dying and trying again; but also to build a community.  In games like the original Zelda, there were so many secrets hidden everywhere, and most of the secrets had absolutely no external indication that they were there, and the only way to happen upon them was by chance.  From here, people would come together to share the secrets they came across and build a communal resource of where to find things and how to progress.  Elliot Quest is a difficult game, but it’s not THAT difficult.  Once you get used to the controls and learn some of the tricks it’s actually pretty easy for the most part.  HOWEVER, that’s only if we’re talking about combat.  The difficulty in Elliots Quest mainly comes from the exploration, where it does such a great job of recreating that second point.  It is SO HARD to find every single secret in the game, and even harder to figure out what each secret does once you’ve found it.

This game is just LITTERED with things to find and places to explore.  And then you can come across an item with no explanation as to what it does, so you look online and find the community where people are compiling their findings, and maybe you’ll learn that nobody else has figured out that item either.  It’s beautiful.  It’s true gaming magic.

Beating the game is less than half of the game.  The real game isn’t going through the main story, but exploring every nook and cranny, getting new abilities that will help you explore further, and finding every single thing this game has to offer.  Screw the main story, it’s pointless.  This game isn’t about it.  It’s about exploring and trying to make sense of the island it takes place on.

However beautiful it is, it’s very niche for today’s gaming audience.  Not many people have the patience to explore a game world with no guidelines given whatsoever.

Anyways despite everything I love about Elliot’s Quest, just as it is littered with places to explore, it is equally littered with drawbacks and potential gamebreakers for some people.

I played it on the WiiU, so i have no idea how the steam version fares, but the WiiU version is a glitchy mess.  It’s suffers framerate issues, occasionally freezes, sometimes loses saved progress and jumps back to a couple saves ago, goes into hyper-slow mode where all enemies keep regular speed and Elliot struggles to move in any direction like he’s swimming through a pool of continuously hardening glue, some bosses have glitches where their attacks aren’t working properly, and beating them is dependent on using their attacks against them so you have to reset to your last savepoint and hope the glitch doesn’t activate again, and the list goes on.  From what I’ve read on the internet, the steam version suffers from nowhere near as many glitches so perhaps go for steam if you want to play it.  But it seems odd to me that Nintendo let this glitchy mess fly – they’re hardcore about quality control, and considering they advertised Elliot’s quest fairly prominently on the eshop page I would have imagined they would have been even extra strict about its quality.  Anyways, most of my ire against this game came from the glitches.  It really slowed down a lot of the game.

I think if this game had a larger team to polish it and optimize it for the wiiu hardware it could have been an almost perfect WiiU eshop game.  and as far as I know, Ansimuz is still working at fixing up the WiiU edition, while also getting a 3DS version ready.  So hopefully it will run more smoothly in the future, when I play through it again in New Game + mode.

The glitches are really the only negatives for me.  I’m biased towards liking it because it’s exactly the kind of game I love.  But I’m hoping I explained it’s premise well enough that you can decide for yourself if it’s something you’d enjoy or not.

Actually, one other negative: the level up system.  It purports to have an engaging level up system but I found that it falls into the usual leveling-up trap: there are more skills than total skill points available, creating the illusion that you can tailor your hero’s playstyle to your liking, buuuuuuuut I found that there’s still an “ultimate” build that kind of undermines the point of the other possible skills.

Other positives:
– music is great and fits the atmosphere
– pixel art is fantastic
– boss fights are challenging and fun (a few are poorly designed and boring because its an easy strategy you just keep repeating to chip away at the boss’s too much health, but the vast majority are challenging).

Ultimately I’d recommend this game to anyone wanting an oldstyle game who likes being thrown and stranded into a world and are left to make sense of everything on their own/with an online community of equally confused people.  Jut be warned – so far there is no walkthrough of Elliot’s Quest online that I could find, and that’s for the better since a walkthrough would defeat the purpose of playing it.