Orangeblood is an interesting new take on an old concept. Taking some classic RPG elements and mixing them up with some fresh new ideas to create what is more or less a weird mash-up of borderlands, final fantasy, and yakuza.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let me just say that Orangeblood takes a LOT of risks. Whether it’s in the story, the gameplay, or the weapon system, there is a lot to find in Orangeblood that you won’t particularly see very often, if at all. So what is Orangeblood all about? Well, essentially a new island has been created off the coast of Okinawa called “New Koza”. This island has become a hotbed of crime and villainy, much like that island in Black Lagoon that I keep forgetting the name of. Either way, New Koza is contested by the Russian, Chinese, and Japanese mafias, as well as the “irregulars” group.
Your job is to help Vanilla, a peppy and trigger happy young(?) girl, who has recently been released from government captivity to perform a job for them. This job entails exploring the depths of New Koza, which is done with the ragtag group that Vanilla puts together. Fair warning, Orangeblood does deal with a lot of “mature” themes, such as violence, drugs, prostitution, and robots with chainsaws. There’s a lot of language and even more asshole cars, so maybe not the best choice for the faint of heart. Or your grandma.
Gameplay in Orangeblood is fluid at best and…frustrating at worst, I suppose. For the bulk of the game you will be getting in and out of combat, generally by either running into or shooting these little ghost icons on the map. Once in battle things take a traditional RPG battle system, where speedier characters go first on a turn line, which gets reset after all units have finished their actions. As a game, Orangeblood seems to pride itself on its gun-based combat. Essentially, your main weapons are different guns that any party member can equip, but consist of different types.
For instance, assault rifles are generally single target, low damage, multi-hit weapons, where shotguns are one shot that attacks all enemies. Of course this will vary depending on weapon and attached skills, but the basis is fairly standard. Guns have ammo, and so do you. Reloading when your clip is running low is heavily suggested, as a forced reload by attacking while not having enough bullets will give you a detriment while you’re waiting for your turn to come around again.
You also have various skills at you disposal, which can be learned through acquiring certain items that aren’t wholly uncommon. Skills are part of two categories: instant and action. Instant skills come into effect as soon as you use them, and count as a “free action”, allowing you to perform more moves, whereas action skills will take your turn. For instance, the unique skill for your fourth party member is an instant, whereas Vanilla’s unique skill is an “action”. Weapons can also have elements or statuses attached to them, such as burning or stunned (via shock).
In addition to plumbing the depths of New Koza, you are free to roam New Koza, performing various tasks for the locals. These are generally “collect X by killing Y” though, but may be repeated for a sizeable chunk of cash. You could use this newfound cash to create a rainyday fund, or you could snag some “hopefully” fancy new gear for your teammates. I say hopefully because gear acquisition in this game is… sort of abysmal. I say this because everything is left to chance, and I’m about as lucky as a slap in the teeth. I’m pretty sure I was using the same gear until I hit level 20 or so, when I finally had to try implementing some strategy instead of attempting to steamroll people with that one decent assault rifle I found in a unique chest back at level 6.
Gear is actually pretty interesting, as each piece tends to have different abilities attached to them. As an example, probably my favourite combo was a shotgun that did bonus damage if the target was frozen coupled with shoes that had the effect of giving you 3 times attack power on an attack skill if you had a full ammo clip, and shoes that “significantly increase damage against frozen targets”. Couple this with guns that did freeze with my other characters and suddenly I’ve got a murder frenzy. This didn’t change for about 20 levels. I’m not sure if I just found some really good equipment or my rolls were bad, but it’s certainly an entertaining concept to try and balance desired skills against raw stats and weapon types you would prefer to use.
As you beat up enemies they may drop key fragments that you may use to unlock chests floating around various areas to try your luck at the equipment raffle. Spoilers, I lost a bunch. Combat somewhat waffles between being interesting and being a chore, as longer fights tend to roll you over, spank you hard, and tell you to call them Daddy. Normal fights tend to end in one well used skill that attacks all enemies for more damage than the game was intending based on my build.
While the in-battle ammo and sp system where you gain sp upon taking actions, are an interesting addition to the standard RPG format, the game is riddled with poorly handled text boxes and transitions. Some textboxes extend over the edge of the screen, or past other textboxes of item names, and some aren’t even translated, or are translated poorly enough you question the function. As an example, your second party member has a skill that reduces party damage by half, or something similar. Well, it doesn’t actually do what it says. It reduces enemy defence by about half, although it took much to long to figure that out. Given some of the slangier terms, I couldn’t tell if the translator was particularly good at only “white girl gangsta” or if they weren’t certain what they were doing, as quality checking seems a little lax.
Let’s talk a bit about the music and art style here. The music is gangster-y, I suppose. Honestly, it isn’t really my preferred style, but what I can tell you is that it’s now stuck in my head, which is really rather impressive. Too often is a game’s soundtrack treated as something that simply exists, an often overlooked resource that I find can really make or break a game. As someone who grew up very musically inclined, getting me to love a soundtrack is actually pretty difficult. I know some people *cough* P.Y. *cough* will replace soundtracks or mute games and watch Netflix in the background or something (bunch of heathens), I find it really difficult to play a game without music, or good music, at the least. So the fact that I’ve been humming different parts of the Orangeblood tracklist for the past two hours *despite* the music genre they choose not being my favourite really just goes to show they did a wonderful job of it.
The art style as well is a bit of a pixelated throwback to the past. If the past had shotguns, assault rifles, and anime stylized characters that have varying degrees of non-standard hair colours. A couple of tips from this idiot here, first up fullscreen mode can be engaged by actually clicking on that “enlarge” box that I haven’t had to use in the past 5 years and may have forgotten about, and second is that the CRT mode is super frustrating, and you should spend some time fiddling with the graphic settings when you start up the game.
Overall Orangeblood really pushed the boundaries in some aspects, with an interesting and surprisingly in-depth battle system if you give it the time, some quirky and unique characters all with their own personalities and special moves, some nice retro style pixel graphics, and a catchy soundtrack, but ultimately falls flat in other areas, as combat begins to get repetitive, dialogue starts to go from quirky to “trying too hard”, and the textboxes appear and go away too fast, not to mention some of the poor translation quality and just general issues with how the game handles occasionally. I came away feeling like Orangeblood is a title that should be on a handheld and was a developer’s first attempt at a game.
The gear balancing is rather atrocious but is exploitable enough to get by, and half the combat scenarios towards the end of my playtime felt like I was only surviving by virtue of the enemies missing. Seriously, when you lose half your health per attack and the enemy gets three attacks, you basically just sit there and pray they miss. On the plus side, the battle system is rather unique and the whole game felt like it was really trying something new. Despite the lack of multiple unique skills per character, each felt like it had it’s place and belonged to a certain style expected from that character. It is also really nice to see that the devs are introducing patches and fixes, so hopefully Orangeblood will be a lot more polished in the future.
In conclusion, Orangeblood has given me a real tough time trying to score it. It is frustrating, fun, annoying, endearing, confusing, and entertaining all wrapped into one pixelated rap-tastic package that just sort of falls short of achieveing what I feel it really could. All the groundwork is there to make this a really unique and andearing experience, but a bunch of quality issues really do hold it back. Orangeblood is an unpolished gem, and while it’s still getting shined at the moment, it still has a ways to go to really meet what I would like to expect from it.