I have no mouth and I must meme.
I tend to not be a fan of the “look at all of these references” line of humor. A lot of lazy writing does it, usually to the effect of reminding me of a better thing that I would rather be experiencing than the one I’m stuck with. So when I was handed Antagonist and dug even just a couple minutes into it, I knew that I would be in for a bad time. Antagonist is lazy and confusing, existing to do very little else than to grasp desperately at dank memes.
Antagonist stars a character named D’vil, an actor whose line of work is staunchly in the playing of villains for blockbuster films. It’s quickly established that all of the characters at the studio where D’vil works are villains of one kind of another, from the (I think) Splatoon-inspired sidekick Teeth to knockoff versions of characters like Sepiroth from Final Fantasy VII, and Giovanni from Pokemon. The game starts out with some light RPG combat, which feels…well, like a turn-based RPG might. It’s an unremarkable distraction from the story, which is meant to be the main focus of what is ultimately a glorified visual novel. That isn’t a bad thing in itself, but the way those two halves of the experience interact not only malfunctions, but sullies the whole experience.
D’vil gets sent into a scene, pitted against a generic blond-haired “hero of light” type, only to be suddenly kicked out of the studio he thought he was in. At least, I think that’s what happens, because the game’s narrative has absolutely no idea how to handle the twist. It takes D’vil himself an eternity to figure it out or verbally acknowledge it in any way (an eternity within a 1.5 hour playtime, mind you). It’s eventually explained that your “studio” has doors to different places where scenes are recorded for films, or something along those drunken and rambling lines. This information is provided so late in the game, though, that anyone still playing isn’t the type to care. Up until that point, the game makes no provision for anyone looking for a story that makes any sort of sense. Ever.
D’vil and the hero, a character whose impression on me is so nonexistent that I have forgotten his name and don’t wish to boot up the game again to find out, team up to find answers. Sadly for us, they’re not answers the audience is asking. The audience is too busy trying to find their footing on the ground of the question, and, oh dear; that’s not solid ground, it’s a swamp. The visuals and character designs representing the bunch are mostly fine, but all have a certain “18 year old on DeviantArt” vibe about them.
Emerging out of that swamp like so many creatures from so many black lagoons, quite possibly the most unpleasant part of Antagonist‘s narrative is its dedication to references. Arrow in the knee jokes, lazy parodies of known video game icons (the worst being a flamboyantly gay version of Link, named Pink). This thing runs the whole gambit. The sole point of artistic inspiration in the writing of Antagonist seems to remind you that there are video games, and that those video games have characters you know. Parody can be funny, but Antagonist acts as though the setup to parody is, in itself, the funniest thing since a compilation of weird PornHub comments.
It’s not. Not even close. And then the thing goes back over to the “actual serious storyline” side of things, where allegedly intense reveals feel like nothing. Vapor. Gone.
Okay, so the story is bad. Visual novel plus bad story equals a pretty one-note kind of negative experience. But hark, what of that previously-mentioned RPG system? If you came in looking for something to adequately pace out the story with fun combat, all you’re going to find is a graveyard where such ideas lay buried deep beneath the earth. D’vil “remembers” skills, something narratively shoved to the side by a meaningless line about another character having taught him fighting techniques that he long since forgot.
There’s the skeleton of a competent system here, which is actually pretty insulting in its use. 90% of battles feel like nothing other than a complete waste of time; nothing is difficult, and nothing will kill you unless you spread your arms and ask for it. When Teeth joins your party, there’s the suggestion of some neat co-op mechanics between the two characters which, in a game where combat actually mattered, would be really clever and add a lot to the experience. Unfortunately, here it’s a fart in the wind, thought of without actually spending enough time to matter. Every battle prompts the player to save beforehand, and none feel worth the time to replay even if I do die. You have a few opportunities to buy health potions and revives, which you won’t be using until the last 20 minutes or so. Because, after all, Antagonist is more devoted to making you care about its confusing and dull story developments than anything else.
On the gameplay note, it’s worth noting that a quick visit to the otherwise useless RPG-ish menu will show you several options. You can save, change settings, and…wait. Hold on. There are tabs in here for “items,” “weapons,” “armor,” and “key items.”At no point in Antagonist‘s moments of combat or story alike do you collect anything besides the occasional potion or revive. Why do these menu tabs exist? Are they meant as jokes, like it’s supposed to be funny that there’s nothing there? Or is it a mistake, a forgotten feature intended for deletion? Either way, Antagonist‘s menu is as much an enigma as the rest of the game is.
I wish I could dock more points off Antagonist than I’m going to, but there are two reasons that I won’t. One is that, after a certain point, there are arbitrary numbers you can only really justify slapping on a game that’s actually broken; as little enjoyment as there is to be found in Antagonist, it’s not truly broken. The other reason is that, as vapid and ultimately pointless as its RPG mechanics are, they have occasional creative ideas that could have been used to effect. Even though they’re not, they deserve some credit for existing at all.
Unfortunately, other than that, Antagonist is a mess of a human who just really, really wants you to laugh at its jokes and care about the story it wants to tell. It has nothing else left. Its wife left, took the kids and the dog, and kicked it out of the house. Now it sleeps on couches and remembers when it made her laugh on their first dates, when things were easy. Easy like every writing choice this game makes.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Degica ; Developer: NIVLACART ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 17, 2017 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $2.99
This review is based on a Steam review copy of Antagonist given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.