Iji is one of the most ambitious games of this size that I've seen, especially for coming out back in 2008. Made almost entirely by one person, this is basically an action platformer/immersive sim, which is a combination I don't know that I've seen before. There are different approaches to combat and exploration depending on how you spec out your character's stats, from handling different types of weaponry, to strength based melee builds, hacking (which is actually a pretty cool stealth-ish playstyle where you can hack enemy weapons), or just becoming a tank so you can run through everything. I did a mostly strength focused build (though I got enough levels to try out a bit of everything by the end) and went full lethal, although pacifist runs seem to have been considered as at least a mostly viable option, and there are parts in the story that seem to reflect that choice.
All of that stuff is cool and very ambitious, and it more or less works, but it does come with some downsides. The controls are very stiff, particularly only being able to attack while standing. You often want to crouch behind cover or jump over attacks and are helpless while doing that. The enemy attack patterns, although not that interesting overall, are at least decent about this though so once you get used to it it's not so bad. It just all feels very weird and like a modern game or a remake of this would do things differently. It's also not a great looking game. You're going to be looking at some low res programmer art characters against very basic and repetitive backgrounds for nearly the entire game, and some people aren't going to be into it because of that.
The balancing is also strange. Playing on the normal difficulty early on I was expecting it to get kind of tedious (though it hadn't yet) with the awkward controls and sprawling levels, but it never really did. I think part of this is because you get really, really overpowered by the end if you're collecting the maximum amount of XP per level. You're limited to leveling up 5 times in each zone, and while I get the reason for the cap with you already being able to become overpowered even with that, it feels like it should have just been balanced better without an artificial cap in place. That being said, being overpowered was pretty fun and the awkwardness of the game might have gotten more in the way if it was more difficult. I haven't tried the other difficulties so I can't really speak to those, but they seem like pretty straightforward numerical changes.
The writing is equally ambitious as the gameplay design, but less successful at achieving its goals. There's an absolute ton of lore and background info in text logs you find throughout the game, but there's also some pretty important info in these, which led to me skimming a whole lot. It could definitely use some editing down. The dialogue and narrative feel amateur at a lot of points but at least they're trying for something interesting and make an effort to tie into your choices throughout the game.
It's a weird game with a lot of drawbacks, and I wouldn't blame someone for not being able to get into it, but it's also just so ambitious and cool for what it is, and I haven't seen anything else quite like it.

Reviewed on Mar 02, 2023


2 months ago

Side note that didn't end up in the review: the boss fights in this were really fun and one of the more impressive parts about it. They do sort of force you into specific playstyles, always a problem with imsim bosses, but they were neat at least and surprisingly fun given how janky the normal combat can be.

2 months ago

It almost sounds like a 2D immersive sim. Maybe it would've become a cult hit if it had released on Xbox Live instead of PC.