Cursed Lands is an RPG/Visual Novel hybrid game by veteran developer Winter Wolves. Boasting both character customization and multiple romance options, the game also comes with a significant ($25 USD) price tag that is probably its biggest obstacle in gaining a wider audience. I want to be clear; a high price doesn’t make a game bad, even an “indie” game. The cost of making a game is often not-insignificant, even for a small team. But once you pass that $20 threshold, particularly as a visual novel, you’re held to a higher standard by the vast majority of gamers. That standard goes up even higher when your game is over four years old and still being sold at full price, when I can literally go onto the Playstation store and buy a big-budget AAA game that released two years ago and pay even less.
The art is..well, not great. It’s not terrible, but it’s very generic. Sure, it’s better than what I can draw, but I’d expect that; they’re charging $25 for this game. The music is…well, once again, not great. It’s not terrible, but it’s very generic. It’s exactly what you picture when you think “Ye Olde Background Musick”. It’s honestly on-par with something that I could whip up in AcidPro or another music maker software program in about a day at most. The writing is..well, not great. It’s not terrible, but it’s got an odd cadence to the way it reads. It’s almost too wordy, like every character wants to go on a monologue about things, like a game reviewer trying to pad his word count after playing through a game that looked great on paper, but isn’t living up to its price point. Also, the lack of voice acting is definitely an issue, given that far cheaper games offer voice acting. At the price point they’re asking, its absence is noticeable. There’s selectable difficulty, from Visual Novel (no combat) all the way up to hard combat. The combat is passable, but like most aspects of the game, it’s generic. It’s a shame, because if you go the no combat route, the narrative gets a little wonky due to skipping the battles.
The bulk of the game has you going from location to location, and this is when the pacing issues start. You’ll find that the game initially throws a lot of stuff at you, and then suddenly it dries up. I honestly wondered if I’d encountered a glitch because I had three weeks to go before a major plot beat (you literally play through each day manually) and there was NOTHING going on, besides three optional battles in the arena to grind. The game actually popped a tooltip up and said this was normal, and that if I “rushed” the plot content, I could just do arena battles or keep ending the day until something popped. This leads to a level of tedium where you’re basically waiting for “the good part” of the game. (Trust me, the combat is not what anyone would call “the good part”.) And so, what we’re left with is a game that’s complete, but glaringly mediocre. The plot grinds to a halt almost arbitrarily, and you don’t know when it’s going to resume. It’s a baffling design choice that I don’t understand. The game’s not terrible, just aggressively mediocre. Every time you find a plot thread that maybe hooks you, the game slams on the brakes. You’ll eventually see it through, but on the game’s schedule, not your own.
It’s also worth pointing out the “romantic” options in the game. There’s several for you to choose from, and one of the selling points of the game is that you don’t get locked into a single person, and can basically be “Ye Olde Gigolo”. You can often figure out which characters are romance-eligible very easily; the game telegraphs them pretty transparently. The thing is, it feels very hollow, like you’re just ticking off objectives on a list, because you have almost no control over how the romance develops. Part of this is because there’s so many options that none have been given that extra level of detail. Part of it’s because the writing is so average. And part of it is because the game almost seems to WANT you to feel this way, so you get to have more intimate moments. In a VN that wants to have a romantic plot, I would rather have three well-written choices that have weight, as opposed to ten that have none.
I feel like it’s a cop out for me to tell you to play the demo first, but how much you can tolerate their narrative style and artistic direction is going to determine whether this one’s for you. However, I definitely feel that while this game gets a thumbs-up for being complete and a bit of a time sink, you need to wait for it to go on sale to truly make it worth the purchase. The content is simply a case of quantity over quality.
CLICK HERE to purchase Cursed Lands on Steam.
The Chuck is a lifelong gamer who was born in Ohio, but now lives in much closer proximity to Mickey Mouse.
The Chuck has found his life to be a series of improbable and almost unbelievable events, starting when he was twenty and caught the bubonic plague from a prairie dog. He was as surprised as anyone when he found out that's something that can happen.
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