PEGBRJE: Forgiveness : Escape Room and Zenodyne R

Atmosphere AND BULLETS

69. heh. Nice.

Forgiveness: Escape Room is a creepy narrative puzzle game made by Chaos Minds, a relatively new indie studio. Players are themselves, awaking in an old medical room to the voice of God; or at least, one who claims to be. In reality, this divine entity is Dr. Benjamin Smith, a deranged individual who believes that he must pass judgement on the poor souls of this world that are sinners. So how does he plan to do this? Well, through oddly specific escape rooms based around the sin that we have committed. That is, of course, if we can even escape the prologue room. See, before the game starts players will be given a personality test to determine which sin is their great vice, that which ‘God’ has determined is our reason for being trapped in this situation. Upon completing the test, players will awaken in that strange medical room regardless of the test results to be a ‘warm up’ room to escape before the true challenge begins of overcoming that sin.

For those unfamiliar with Escape Rooms, they are enclosed areas that the player has been trapped in where the solution allows them to escape. How one escapes from the room varies greatly depending on the theme and difficulty, but generally requires players to explore and discover smaller puzzles within. These smaller puzzles can be in hundreds of forms, utilizing logic, visuals, audio, positioning, numbers and even destruction. The key is that they are all interconnected to chain together a lengthy solution centred around the theme of the room — think ‘Saw’ but hopefully less deadly. Well, in this game, perhaps just as deadly.

As narrative and atmosphere are imperative to a healthy escape room, it’s hard to talk about the specifics of the puzzles in Forgiveness without covering how the rooms themselves tie together. For context, I finished 4 rooms total; Sloth (my personality room, rude), Lust, Greed and Envy. Without spoilers of the room solutions, Sloth is a room mostly in the dark, covered in food and beverages thrown on the floor in complete apathy. There’s no feeling of anything urgent within the room, with a TV and couch as the focal point as if to say ‘if you could sit down, you would’. Lust is just as one would expect, a dungeon of deviance complete with everything one would expect in a BDSM lair. Greed is set in a broken casino, involving material wealth and their discovery throughout the room while attempting to avoid being blown up by a bomb resting on the main table. Envy was the last one I attempted, set in a bachelor pad unravelling riddles and word puzzles surrounding the previous owner’s relationships and their understandings.

Now, these rooms all have differing difficulties as well, indicated in the ‘Pick Your Own Sin’ option — this is done to avoid completing the prologue multiple times. Since I completed a room from each difficulty, I can confirm that I was more stumped during Envy (one of the two hardest) than the rest, but that may have to do with the focus on word puzzles in Envy. There’s also the slight issue that difficulty is completely subjective, as some may find Envy to have been their easiest thanks to their proficiency in words and riddles. The hardest puzzle for me, hilariously enough, was the first: Sloth. The dartboard plays a pivotal role in the final puzzle, and I spent a solid 10 minutes trying to figure out just how the puzzle made any sense until I realized that I had the black/white codes inverted in my head. This is usually the culprit for getting stumped on puzzles, at least on my end.

Forgiveness does have a forgiving mechanic in its normal difficulty, as the hints can help spell out what exactly players should be looking into at the next part. This does, however, lead to a small issue with escape rooms in a video game scenario; the lack of the ‘uncertain interactivity’. As someone who’s done a few escape rooms before, the biggest difficulty found is not in how hard the puzzles are, but in the absolute directionless feeling. The complete uncertainty that the puzzle solved has been done in the right order, or that the item grabbed has anything to do with what the puzzle is. I actually found the prologue was able to capture this feeling perfectly as there were dozens of items that could be grabbed and rotated that had absolutely nothing to do with the puzzle itself. The ‘Extreme’ difficulty does assist with this, as it doesn’t ping during found items or give hints, but the non-interactable items becomes window dressing rather than possible solutions. Now, this sounds pretty damning, but in reality there’s nothing that can be done about this — adding massive amounts of unnecessary interactions can lead to serious confusion for the player as we are wired to assume anything interactable is useful. Not to mention, that escape rooms are usually done with others, so the need for hints is apparent since I’m stuck with only my own way of thinking, which makes it even more challenging.

Overall, Forgiveness: Escape Rooms does a solid job of translating the Saw-like experience of deadly escape rooms into a video game. The visuals are fantastic, especially the lighting done in every room as the different light sources gave a fantastic atmosphere to match the sound track. While I felt that some of the rooms felt a bit lacking in the thematic department(Sloth and Envy specifically) the overall experience was delightfully fun for the 10-20 minutes it would take to solve each room. If you’ve been begging to go do an escape room but can’t thanks to some gnarly virus, this would be a good substitute.

Ok do you know how hard it is to get a good screenshot of bullet hell titles in action? I DIED HERE FOR THIS.

Zenodyne R is a space bullet hell arcade title made by Team Grybanser Fox, an indie studio focused on creating 90s styled titles, and uploaded to itch.io by its cofounder Jack Darx. Players are thrust into the seats of pilots caught in Operation Zenodyne-R, a space mission to destroy all opposition. Choose a pilot, choose a difficulty, and get ready for some serious bullet nonsense.

As with many of these shmup bullet hells, Zenodyne R follows a relatively straight forward path: don’t get shot, and shoot EVERYTHING. Most ships only have 2 buttons needed to do so, with one being to FIRE and the other to release a limited resource bomb that clears the screen of bullets and damaging enemies. Some ships, like the mysterious twins, have a ‘FOCUS’ button that alters something — such as altering the ship colour and giving another type of fire. The simplicity is necessary, because all of the focus should be on avoiding the myriad of bullets that are flying frantically around while destroying as many ships as possible. After some waves of units, a mini-boss will arrive to destroy the player, and it’s destruction is needed to move on to the next section of the level. This happens twice or so until the true boss arrives, and it’s destruction clears the level out, granting large amounts of points as it does. These points need to be collected from destroyed ships, as they float downwards afterwards — same with the bombs to replenish the stocks.

It’s the other elements that I found somewhat intriguing, such as the Continue system. Just like old arcades, dying enough times to remove lives will end the game, prompting a ‘Continue?’ message. Continuing allows players to start exactly from where they died as if they dropped another quarter in, but it completely removes all points. The continue menu does say this, but it can also look like players are still gaining points. For me, not much of an issue as I just wanted to go as far as possible, but some may be worried.

The other is the replayability in these ‘tech points’ — these are gained by playing for as long as possible, dropped during each stage and are used as a progression system to unlock lore, more ships, pilot bios and more. I didn’t notice them at first, but repeated runs did see me catching on to their usefulness and striving to acquire as many as possible. Granted, I mostly played on Normal as I’m not very good at this entire genre of games, so my tech points were already being limited. There are branching paths to be taken if one ventures to higher difficulties, which can open up how players see and view bosses and the pilots themselves.

This is usually the part of the program where I just state ‘I don’t have the nostalgia for this time period, but from my weak understanding it feels pretty fun’ but in all honesty, I actually enjoyed my time. The music is fantastic, the visuals are crisp to not get confused with each other and the bosses look weirdly cool, especially after I’m blowing them up. The power ups confused me, but hey sometimes you just want to shoot things harder. The tech points add some replayability, but they also add some grind so if you aren’t looking for that and just want to have fun, ignore those and shoot for the stars. And then blow those stars up.