Straight Outta New Koza.
Orangeblood is a game I was primarily drawn into by its visuals. I’m a fan of urban science fiction – cyberpunk is one of my favourite genres – and the game fits the bill, along with its own hip-hop twist. By the developer’s admission, the game’s aesthetic is inspired by 90’s hip-hop, in its music, characters, and setting, and it comes through strongly. That being said, that’s not something I’m particularly well-versed in, so it didn’t give me much to go on when I started.
Orangeblood puts you in control of Vanilla, a convict in prison until she’s released by a CIA agent codenamed “Iceman” to delve into the prohibited zone on a man-made island off the coast of Okinawa called New Koza. Along the way, she frees the club Shangri-La from a local gang and is joined by the DJ Machiko, violently resolves a war with the yakuza to be joined by the katana-wielding assassin Yazawa, and placates a triad to be joined by the martial arts master Jackie. These three girls accompany Vanilla throughout the loosely-told story, although I often found myself only having a vague idea of why I needed to go where I was going or do what I was doing. In general, it hit all the clichés one would expect a thriller involving the CIA to hit, all in a story that swears even more than I do while alternating between the main story missions with the CIA and the gang war story missions.
The gameplay is a standard turn-based RPG. What makes it unique is that it’s all firearm-based, with each character equipped with an assault rifle, SMG, shotgun, or sniper rifle, each of which behaves differently in combat. Assault rifles fire a burst at a single target, but the number of shots is randomized within a range, and any of the shots is able to either miss or score a critical hit, leading to a wild variation in damage from turn to turn. SMGs fire a burst at randomly-selected targets, making them generally unreliable, although their damage output per shot is usually relatively high. Shotguns simply fire a single shot that hits all enemies, and sniper rifles fire a single high-damage shot at one target, but usually with low speed. Combat is largely dictated by RNG since the most common weapons are assault rifles and SMGs, as well as Vanilla’s main ability Deadeye hitting random enemies. When I got Yazawa in my party, who brought with her a skill that reliably hit all enemies for high damage, I was easily able to break the combat system by min-maxing her damage output and speed at the expense of her defense and maximum HP. Because of how the game handles SP and pre-emptive strikes, I was able to end most random encounters immediately by having her act first with an absurdly high speed and consistently kill all enemies in a single action.
Party members have three meters to keep track of in combat: HP, skill points or SP which starts at 0 and fill as the character takes and deals damage, and ammo points or AP which drains as the character fires and eventually forces the character to reload. Enemies appear on the overworld, and you can shoot them to stun them in order to enter combat starting at 50 SP. 50 SP is enough to use either Vanilla or Yazawa’s primary attack skill, which is what made combat so easy once I decided to try and max out Yazawa’s damage output. That being said, shooting enemies isn’t always possible, especially when going through doors, since the hitbox for encountering enemies is larger than the hitbox for the door, meaning that you’ll enter combat before you get close enough to the door to open it and shoot the enemy.
The only challenge in combat comes from the boss fights, especially at the start of the game. Proper equipment is very important for being able to deal damage and survive attacks, seemingly even more than other RPGs I’ve played, and the first boss fights hammers that fact home very hard. Even though I was above the level curve for most of the game, it didn’t help if I hadn’t been constantly diligent about updating their equipment as I found it in the dungeons. The boss of the first area of the prohibited zone is a rude awakening, especially since at that point the only characters in your party are Vanilla and Machiko. The boss fights get somewhat easier as Yazawa and Jackie join your party, especially since by that point, you’ll have figured out how to approach them, but there’s still a massive difficulty gap between the random encounters and the boss fights, due to the poorly-balanced combat system.
Since the game makes such a big deal about its old-school hip-hop inspiration, lots of importance is placed on the soundtrack. That being said, if that hadn’t been made clear to me beforehand, I would likely not have taken much notice of the background music. It’s not bad, especially listening to it separately from playing the game, but in-game the music tends to blur together, and after a while, it all starts to sound the same. There’s also no combat music for regular fights apart from the area’s regular background music, and not all areas (especially in the prohibited zone) actually have background music, meaning that at times you’ll be doing combat to the sound of soft ambient noise. All that being said, it’s possible that the soundtrack not standing out that much to me is a product of me not really being into hip-hop, while it may appeal more to fans of it.
The game has colorful pixel-art visuals. However, the game runs natively at the fairly low resolution of 764 x 399, and while you can run the game in fullscreen mode or increase the size of the window, it makes the graphics blurrier due to an apparent lack of upscaling. The screen also darkens around the edges, which makes it hard to tell when enemies are above or below you on the screen even when they’re close. The graphics themselves are appealing with the bright colors and effects, but the low resolution and darkening around the edges hold it back visually.
Orangeblood is an interesting idea for a loot-based RPG, but it’s pulled down by a combat system that is balanced poorly and easily broken, a clichéd story that tries to jump back and forth between two mostly-separate plotlines, and a low native resolution regardless of the size of the game’s window. The soundtrack is decent, though, likely even better if you’re a fan of 90’s hip-hop, and the amount of swearing the characters do is subject to personal preference. Personally, I find it hard to recommend, but it’s not a bad idea for a game, and the developers are actively updating it and changing balance, so the gameplay at least may improve in the future for those still interested in giving it a try.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Steam (reviewed); Publisher: Playism; Developer: Grayfax Software; Players: 1; Released: January 13, 2020; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a Steam review copy of Orangeblood given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.