1 Reviews liked by curewaffle
Cell of Empireo
This review contains spoilers
decided since im on some kind of rpgmaker review binge to take this one on as well. spoilers ahead because i find this impossible to properly review without it. the game is not officially translated into english, and likely never will be, so the extent of this review is limited to fan translations (my own included). this will also cover the dlc. it's gonna be long because i do care a lot about this game.
if there is anything this game is focused on, it is lore. from the writing itself, to exploration, even the mechanics, it is all focused on its story. now a game doesn't have to use its engine as part of a game's lore (aside from dialogue). nothing is repetitive, and everything has its time and place.
the game's mechanics practically stretch the limits of rpgmaker 2003. while this game was made in 2018, fukao took on the challenge of using rpgm2003 instead of newer version of rpgm, simply because it was what he knew best. yes, it has typical aspects such as exploration and puzzle-solving. the game is extended to a separate "game" (dlc) and makes use of altering save files, connecting both the main game and dlc together, and changing extremely minor details on different playthroughs. this has allowed for his storytelling to go beyond what is inside the game; the player has effectively become a "character" that plays a part in this because of the way it is presented. for a free game that takes about 20+ hours in its base game (not to mention multiple endings for replayability) this is an incredibly passionate work.
now for the core of all of this: the story. initially, the first few chapters are slow, but this is padded by exploration and puzzle-solving, both aspects that english speakers do not have the luxury to do naturally because of the lack of official translation. while the laboratory sections are slow, they hold an intense amount of worldbuilding, found in bookshelves, notes of the dying, diaries of those who spent their lives there, etc. a lot of this information will not make much sense until much later; while i do find it hard to expect a player to remember every detail, they are nice to come back to later in future playthroughs to refresh details (again, replayability). after the laboratory sequence, the story picks up significantly from there. it is told mostly linearly with flashbacks sprinkled in between, both from haruki and hajime's perspectives. on a surface level, it is about escaping from a cult's research facility; the story does a fantastic job of reminding the player that the people running this facility are people, too. in fact, i feel it does a little too well of a job. one of my only actual criticisms of this game is the fact that it does a poor job of characterizing the other survivors trying to escape the research institute (the group haruki is attempting to save). their characters feel flat in comparison to haruki, shinano, reiji, and the cult members, which is made even more so in the dlc. i would not have commented much on this if not for the game trying to make you care about these characters; the end goal for the S+ ending is for all of them to make it out alive, after all. im letting this slide because the characters they want you to focus on are written so in-depth, and human.
this part will focus on the dlc.
the dlc is incredibly story-heavy, and could have very well been a visual novel. however, the exploration aspect adds a significant amount of worldbuilding to the story. there are books that you can inspect that contribute heavily to the lore, people you talk to that can give you information not included in the base game, hints in general all around about what kind of lives the characters you’re playing as live based on how a table is set for dinner or how chairs are positioned. they are so genuinely well fleshed out in giving these characters lives because of the exploration aspect. as someone who loves inspecting every object for secrets it was nice to be able to find some kind of humanity in these characters through exploration.
it is also fantastic at never showing too much. in hajime's chapter, after being gutted by seodore, utsugi goes on a rampage which prompts seodore to say something; this is unintelligible to hajime at the time due to his delirious state. it is later revealed in utsugi's chapter that seodore had mistaken his aura for rangiri's, utsugi's grandfather and seodore's old friend. there are many instances in which this occurs, where one character's limited perspective prevents the player from learning too much until another character is played.
its religious themes are utilized incredibly well, highlighting the fact that despite the cult members may share the same religion, they all have different definitions of "god" and never worship the same one.
this is getting long so i will end it on these notes. cell of empireo is an exploration of grief, philosophy of religion, and most importantly love. fukao does a beautiful job of expressing the range of love, both the beautiful and the ugly. it is a wonderful experience and definitely worth the playthrough.
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