January 14, 2020
Orangeblood throws you into an alternative history timeline where you control a party of girls taking on the dirty and corrupt underworld of a Japanese municipality. It’s a game that merges cultures and aesthetics in a uniquely interesting way, but also struggles to find its footing at the same time.
Created by Japanese developer Grayfax Studio, Orangeblood is immediately visually striking and manages to stand out from the crowd in many ways. It’s a turn-based RPG in the style of classic Final Fantasy titles but the dialogue, narrative, music and tone is uniquely its own.
The game is set within a dense and bustling Japanese city called ‘New Koza’, a fictional and man-made island off the coast of Okinawa. This will be the playground for protagonist ‘Vanilla’ as she is sent on missions that often involve infiltrating gangs, thwarting plans and killing underworld figures. New Koza is a cosy and vertically stacked city that can be a bit of a pain to traverse. From its cramped corridors to its frustrating staircases that makes you go through a menu every time you want to go up one of the many flights of stairs; New Koza can be equal parts beautiful and tedious.
Vanilla will pick up team members as the game progresses in a pretty standard JRPG fashion. Soon you’ll have a full squad of four women taking to the mean streets, getting business done and defeating anybody that dares stand in their way.
The game takes place in the late 90’s on an alternative history timeline. The visuals are washed out yet vibrant. It’s a gorgeous game that pairs its striking aesthetic with a pretty solid, late 90’s inspired hip-hop soundtrack. The dialogue and characters also feel straight out of the 90’s, at least at times, with attitudes and language reflecting the stereotype of 90’s American street culture. Combine that with futuristic technologies such as flying cars and some Japanese eccentricities and you’re starting to get a good idea of what Orangeblood has to offer.
It’s a unique game, I’ll give it that. But amongst all of the daring aesthetic choices, Orangeblood manages to feel a bit convoluted. It’s a game that wanted to imbue itself with the lifeblood of different subcultures but it doesn’t succeed every time. When you first walk your anime girls into a club full of gang members, all of which are black and wearing durags / gold chains, you begin to feel a little uncomfortable. It’s almost as if the game formed its identity on the media of the 90’s rather than the time period itself. Because while some aspects of the game’s representation are nostalgic and effective, others feel like they should have been left in the past.
As an RPG, Orangeblood manages to be mostly successful. The turn-based combat will feel instantly familiar to anybody who has ever played a classic JRPG and the game keeps things exciting with its equipment system. Your party of characters will all come with their own skills and you’ll have to keep an eye on your health, action points and even ammunition during battles to stay on top of your game. Skills aren’t anything crazy and they don’t evolve over the period of the game, outside of acquiring new party members, so it’s the equipment system where the strategy really starts coming into play.
I didn’t realise it at first, but Orangeblood offers a seemingly huge and diverse range of gear from weaponry to armour, all of which will have randomly generated stats. You’ll acquire it mostly through locked chests scattered around the game’s combat areas that are unlockable through keys acquired via battle. Different types of weapons will attack in different patterns and, naturally, equipment will level up as you do so that you’re constantly finding better and better stuff. It’s the randomly generated stats on the gear though that brings the most enjoyment. Equipment can have its own positives and negatives that considerably change up how your combat will unfold. I’ve found guns that do a huge amount of damage on the 5th or so round of combat. I’ve found guns that force your character to act like an NPC, behaving on their own free will. I’ve also found guns that stun the player when getting a kill, and everything else in between. Whenever I found a boss fight that was just a bit too challenging, I’d go into my endless rucksack of loot and fiddle around with my equipment to get the most synergy I possibly can. And boy did it make a huge difference.
While the strategy gleamed from the game’s equipment system was great, it was a saving grace for the fairly repetitive and sometimes laborious combat. Bigger fans of JRPGs than myself may not find any issue here, but for me things could get stale very quickly after fighting the same enemies over and over.
“Main protagonist Vanilla would drop slang at an insufferable pace. Their bad ass attitude was presented with the subtlety of a bulldozer”
Narratively the game was hard to follow. Some blame can certainly be placed on the Japanese to English translation, which wasn’t perfect at times. Although the narrative was just a bit messy and didn’t captivate me. It felt like the game was trying too hard to be edgy and cool. The protagonists, especially main protagonist Vanilla, would drop slang like ‘lit’, ‘hella’ and ‘dope’ at an insufferable pace. Their bad ass attitude was presented with the subtlety of a bulldozer and the game swore so much I struggled to find screenshots of the dialogue appropriate for all ages.
Perhaps more excruciating than the game’s dialogue was some very odd design choices that just made Orangeblood feel a little too amateurish. Whilst you could turn it off in the settings, by default, the game had an always-on run speed that was completely unwieldy in the cramped streets of New Koza. There was also an option, also on by default, that blurred the edges of the screen and turned a visually stunning game into something considerably less appealing. During combat the game would also zoom in on any action taking place so sharply and suddenly it was somewhat nauseating. Overall there was just a lot of peculiarities that had me wishing this game took more time to clean around the edges.
- Visually striking
- Diverse pool of weaponry creates surprising strategic depth
- The characters and dialogue are far too "edgy"
- Misses the mark with some representations of 90's culture
- Odd design choices that hinder enjoyment
For all of Orangeblood’s chaotic portrayal of life and culture, the game is actually at its best when things slow down and just exist. Times where your character’s idol animation kicks in, or you’re on the roof hitting golf balls, or sitting in your apartment with your friends and dog. It’s these moments where the beauty of the game actually gets to shine and you remember what a visually pleasing and interesting world you’re inhabiting. But then you’re yanked back into reality when protagonist Vanilla proudly declares that “sharing a single bed with some random thot is some straight-up bullshit”.