Games in Review: OFF

This was my review after I played it for the first time, in 2013.

For the last month or two, I’ve been on a serious indie video game binge, particularly of the RPGMaker variety. If you’re not familiar with with RGPMaker, it’s a free gamemaking program that a lot of cool, mega-creative people use to produce their own relatively simple, low-budget, independent video games; and a lot of these creators then distribute their free, role-playing and adventure games on the Internet, much to the pleasure and undying gratitude of broke college students everywhere, including myself.

If you’re like I am and lose patience pretty easily with long term, real time games, (I keep telling myself that one day I’ll sit down and trek through Skyrim, but that day is yet to come), then RPGMaker games might better suit your tastes.

My late introduction to indie games began when I stumbled upon a game called OFF, created by Mortis Ghost and Unproductive Fun Time. (And of course I found it in my favorite virtual place ever, Tumblr, where I now find all of my favorite things). Originally produced in French in 2007, and later translated into English in 2008, the game and it’s extremely well-written storyline are very eerie to say the least, unsettling even at times. “OFF” has a stoic, aloof, and almost cold protagonist-hero, numerous creepy adversaries that sometimes warrant your sympathy, an ambiguous plot and elements of horror that come into play unexpectedly, and a symbolism throughout that, when it reveals itself, packs a resonating punch. Just my type of story.

A summary of the game is best given very briefly, such as this one from one of the contributors:

In “OFF” you take control of a mysterious person called “The Batter”, who is described to be on an important mission. The Batter, and yourself as his controller, are dropped off in zone 0, the first of 4 zones in a perplexing, unknown world, about which you slowly find out more and more in the process of the game.

That’s about all you know for most of the time you’re playing. With only a few hints here and there as to how to proceed from a guide-like character called the Judge, you wander around the “zones” and purify them from evil, which you soon find out are plaguing little creatures and ghosts called Spectres. The lack of information as to why the batter has been chosen as the hero for this mission, and where he even came from, is what will end up keeping you engaged ’til the end. The battles are fun, (if you’ve ever played early-gen Pokemon games you’ll enjoy them), the zones and their backstories are intriguing, and the narrative’s even funny throughout. The funniest character in the game is the items-merchant Zacharie, who drops in occasionally and doesn’t just break the fourth wall, but blows huge, gaping holes through it, interacting with both the player and the batter.
The “old school” graphics, the basic controls, and the almost too-simple leveling-up method during game play are exactly that way for a reason: they don’t distract you from the narrative, and make you pay attention to what you’re reading whenever a character speaks. No line is out of place; it’s all going to be important in the end. Though the turn-based and menu-based combat can slow down the pacing a bit, (although your speed does get better the higher you level up, and there is an “auto battle” option for whenever you get lazy like I did), it seriously helps that all the little battles along the way are set to the catchiest song in the world. (I legitimately got excited whenever I ran into another at-random adversary ’cause it meant that I got to hear the song again. In fact the entire soundtrack is really, really creepy and cool.)

I think that what I liked best about this game was that it really required your mind in order to get through. You’re not just moving right along and pressing keys. There are puzzles along that you have to mentally work through in order to proceed: patterns to discern, codes to unlock, hidden messages to seek out, hints dropped by characters that you’d be wise to remember. You never know what you’re going to need to use in the end so you find yourself paying dedicated attention to everything, hanging onto every word, or at least I did.

The puzzles are just challenging enough that they won’t make you quit, and the pay-off for figuring everything out is rewarding enough that you stay put.

Each time you finish a “zone” and defeat each level’s final boss, a little bit more and more about the underlying story starts to become clear. But the more you know about the game you’re playing, the more your opinion and what you think is happening has to start forming and influencing your decisions; the game truly is nothing without the player. The different perspectives and allusions and possible conclusions that the game reveals are all yours to decide on, all yours to carry out.

I can’t say virtually anything about the way that it ends except that, if you were paying attention, it’ll seriously make you think about your life and your choices for a long time after you’re done with it. (It hit me like a ton of bricks, but that just may be because I get way too into these kinds of things–English major problems.)

I recommend OFF to video-game-players non video-game-players alike. It’s simple enough to grasp that I recommend it to everyone who has a few hours to kill, and who wants to play something that will challenge them, entertain them, impress memorable lines and characters on them, and remind them of one of life’s inevitable truths.

All that, and it’s free. You can’t really argue free.

If I’ve persuaded you enough to try this thing, the download link for the game is here (scroll down a little bit and you’ll see it; all it is is one zip file, and then you’re ready to go). OFF and the indie games like it that I’ve been playing just go to show that some of the most meaningful fictional stories of today can be told in simplest and most unexpected art forms. OFF may not have been sponsored or published for money, and it doesn’t seem to offer as much as it will at first, and it may just be a video game, but it’s now up there with all of the fiction that I ever spent cash on to read and play through.

Escaping from your purpose is impossible.
Art by Tumblr user @japhet-the-firebird

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