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Unsighted - Review



I’ve talked a lot about death in the past. It’s a depressing concept to say the least, and the more you think about it the more saddening it gets. It is an interesting concept to explore though. What leads to death, how does it happen, and what may possibly happen afterwards when the lights of life finally go out. Death is fascinating, but what if we were to apply death to other subjects? Now, what do I mean by this? Death in video games, okay, hear me out readers. Death in fiction has always been interesting. Whether it be to signify an important plot point or introduce some new death/life related rule to the universe. Death has been used to explore interesting themes in life or help remind the protagonists that the sacrifices they make will ultimately help them get towards their goal of righteousness. Death is actually a pretty important device when it comes to storytelling. Death is also an important device to gameplay. Whether it be the player dying from taking too much damage, or the plethora of enemies they kill along their journey. However, not many developers or gamers have fully considered how death should be executed in both realms. Storytelling and gameplay. There should be a mechanical consequence for if the player continues to die, or there should be an explanation as to why the player character can keep resurrecting from death. Then there’s considering all the enemies the player will kill along their journey, how it affects the mental mindset of the protagonist, and how the murderous actions of the protagonist affect the world around them. You wouldn’t want ludo narrative dissonance happening now?


A good example of death as a mechanic and being given a logical background would be Hades. Zagreus is the son of Hades, and we’re not exactly sure what he is supposed to be the god of. It’s later theorized by Achilles that Zagreus is possibly the God of Blood, and that his ability to resurrect over and over at the start of the underworld could be connected. The River of Styx which travels through the entire underworld is made of blood, anyone who tries to escape is returned through bloody arms, and Thanatos the Death Incarnate collects the souls of the dead and returns them to the river. Plus, the gods of Greek mythology are immortal and trying to kill them is near impossible due to them possessing immortal properties. Hence, Zagreus cannot truly die and when he is slain in combat he rejuvenates quickly to normal health. A great explanation as to why death as a mechanic in Hades is completely justified through the writing. Katana Zero is another great example of death making sense through both the gameplay and writing. The main character uses a drug that allows him to see into the future, so when he fails to clear out a room of enemies it turns out he’s actually planning out what series of kills to carry out. When you do successfully clear a room it’s the protagonist finally choosing what plan will work best.


These two games are some of the best examples of how death as a mechanic is justified through the writing. However, the game I believe does this perfectly has to be the Dark Souls series, or any of FromSoftware’s modern day work. In Dark Souls, the land has been ravaged by what is basically a disease. Known as The Undead Curse, individuals who are turned undead are bound to fires of The First Flame. They cannot truly die, and they are reassembled at any close source of fire, usually a Bonfire. That doesn’t mean being undead is completely useless or all hope is lost. Undead have the ability to collect Humanity, a physical manifestation of energy that can turn them back into humans for a short period of time or until they die again. Feeding Humanity to the Bonfires will fuel the dying First Flame, and in exchange they gain temporary humanity. I absolutely love how this is written into Dark Souls. Struggling individuals in the ruined world try to maintain what sanity they have left by relying on a resource that is hard to come by and is practically drugs to them. Death is there to drag them down until they are nothing but a husk, a Hollow from what the game calls it. It’s brilliant and not only gives the player a reason to get back up from each failed attempt and continue pushing forward to find a form of hope.


Later Dark Souls inheritors would continue this plot device in some fashion. Bloodborne has the player bound to a paranormal plain of existence, and they can’t truly die unless they sever all ties to this realm. Elden Ring has the Tarnished connected to Grace which is some holy energy in the world. Even the rising soulslike genre has found a way to carry this trend onward. The Blight in Ender Lilies is exactly similar to the Undead Curse of Dark Souls. A disease that turns people into undead madmen who struggle to die permanently. The path towards the afterlife has been cut off by a powerful artifact in Death’s Gambit. All of these are cleverly explained in some way. Certain soulslikes don’t do it well as others, like Fallen Order just simply respawning the player without explaining why, but for the most part I thoroughly believe soulslikes do it the best.


Looks like there’s a new kid on the block to challenge other soulslike contemporaries. It leans towards the traditional adventure style of gameplay like Hyper Light Drifter and Death’s Door, and it puts a heavy emphasis on death and how it affects the world around you. The game I’m talking about is Unsighted, developed by independent team Studio Pixel Punk and published by Humble Games who are well known for helping get small indies out there alongside a few others like Devolver Digital. The developers claim Unsighted took influence from numerous sources including but not limited to The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and of course Dark Souls. The main focus was that not only was the player character slowly dying, but inhabitants of the world were also dying. They all had ticking death counters and when time was up they would meet a terrible fate. Forcing the player to work against the clock, gather the resources needed to increase their death counters, and get good quickly. This made Unsighted a stressful soulslike to play, but in a good way. There was a Majora’s Mask feeling to the game that made the player carefully watch the current time and consider what pathway would work best during their journey. Unsighted came out in the middle of last year and while it didn’t blow up critics quite liked it. Being one of the more innovative titles to come out during 2021 and even ending up on a few end of the year lists. Unsighted was a gem and I’m glad I finally decided to play this game. Unsighted is truly special and I want this game to get the love it deserves. So today we’ll be talking about why I love Unsighted and why it deserves your attention. Time is running out Alma…..


Story


The game opens up with a humanoid android waking up in a dark lit, abandoned laboratory with no one in sight. She has no recollection of who she is and how she possibly got there, but her current goal is to find a way out of the ruins she’s stuck in. She navigates the lab, discovers a few documents left behind, and soon picks up a sword that allows her to fight any of the corrupted machines down there. Once she activates the terminal to the elevator out a monster made of corrupt energy appears. It has a giant glowing eye and arm which tries to slam Alma into the ground. Thankfully she is able to reach the elevator in time before the monster catches her.


Once she reaches the surface she finds the city streets to be in utter ruins. There are no humans in sight and any robots left behind have all gone insane. Transforming into mindless machines which attack on sight. As our main character ventures forward, she does encounter a sane robot. A little fairy bot by the name of Iris. She yaps at our protagonist that there is a town nearby, and there are individuals who just so happen to recognize us and remember who we are. Before we can reach it though we find a giant iron spire lying in the middle of the city. Possibly made by humans themselves. Unfortunately, before we can investigate the spire further, more of the giant green-eyed monsters from earlier appear and begin to tear us apart. We are left to rot in the rain with no left to save us. Luckily, Iris flew off to find other humanoid robots to save us.


The android is then taken to the Gear Village, a small township of robots who work together and prosper. She is put back together by two engineers, Olga and BB42, and soon greeted by what claims to be an old friend of hers. A stern leader by the name of Vana. From there she calls our protagonist’s name, Alma, and the memories start coming back. Alma was a humanoid android built by Doctor Zepherina, and she was her greatest creation. Being able to adapt quickly, adjust to any scenario, and help out the fellow robots around her. Alma lives in a world where humans have finally figured out how to forge advanced machines to do their work, but they have begun to treat their creations more like tools than individuals. These machines were programmed to always follow orders, but Doctor Zepherina came along and started to give them sentience. She helped sentient robots escape their masters and helped build a village where they could prosper.


The way she was able to give robots sentience was using a mysterious material from out of this world known as Meteor Dust, which came from a crystal meteor which landed months ago. All was going well until the humans came along and decided they wanted to steal the meteor from the robots. Not only recapture the machines that belonged to them, but see what the properties of the dust were and how it applied to these machines. This then led to a war which brought the surrounding cities to ruins and the humans fleeing from the scene. It was a gruesome battle, but ultimately the machines won. However, just before the humans retreated, they planted a metal structure atop the meteor and from it came the corrupt monsters who tried killing us earlier.


This leads us to the present day. Alma was one of the very androids who helped fight in this war, and along with her was another humanoid android by the name of Raquel. Alma was injured during the battle and Raquel sacrificed her life to save Alma. Ever since then Raquel has gone missing, and the Anima within sane robots to keep them in shape has slowly been draining ever since the spire covered the meteor. The monsters are preventing anyone from coming in, and the only way to kill them easily is by forging a weapon designed to cut through their skin easily. The weapon can be forged by collecting five shards scattered across the land, but each of the crystals is guarded by a powerful machine who has become corrupted. Not wanting every sane robot around her slowly losing themself, Alma decides to gear up and set out on a dangerous journey. Prepared to face whatever madness was left behind after the treacherous war.


Gameplay


If you haven’t read the introduction section already Unsighted is this weird mixture between Metroid, Dark Souls, and The Legend of Zelda. You explore an interconnected world full of enemies, secrets, and dungeons lying in certain sections of the world. While exploring you will come across a checkpoint and if you die you are spawned at these checkpoints. Combat functions similarly to the classic Legend of Zelda but borrows quite a few elements from Dark Souls. The stamina meter which dictates how many attacks and dodges you can do at once. Then your health bar, which goes down quickly because enemies hit like trucks. Luckily you have a syringe which is your main method of healing. The syringe refills at checkpoints, but it can also refill when striking enemies. If you read any of my reviews or essays on the Soulsborne games, specifically Bloodborne and Elden Ring, you know I think healing in video games should be handled really carefully. The healing system of Bloodborne is one I’m willing to defend, because while your Blood Vials don’t refill at checkpoints and are finite items they can be looted off of enemies. Plus there was a mechanic that allowed the player to re-obtain health by attacking back at an enemy after they hit them. This not only encouraged an active playstyle but taught the player they weren’t completely screwed as they wouldn’t have to always use a healing vial straight after being hit. Then there was Elden Ring which while not as good as Bloodborne did allow them to refill the flask by killing powerful foes while exploring. The healing system of Unsighted is close to the one of Hollow Knight, where it refills whenever you strike foes and more about figuring out when to use it during a stressful scenario. Finding windows of opportunity during combat.


I just rambled on about healing for a whole paragraph, so let’s move onto world exploration and how progression in Unsighted is much closer to a metroidvania than a soulslike. The interconnected world and dungeons you venture through may feel linear at times, but as you get further you open up shortcuts which makes backtracking throughout the dungeon less tedious. That’s the usual soulslike stuff, but certain paths won’t always be available. You’ll need an item to access areas of reach or progress with the dungeon. This is where the metroidvania aspect comes into play. I know, later Legend of Zelda games would do this as well, but metroidvania does a way better job at this. One of the first items you get is the High Jump Boot, which allows you to jump across gaps and even climb up certain walls. If you jump straight out of a run you can perform a long jump, which is good for running away from huge attacks or evading multiple enemies. There is the spinner for riding on rails and moving along quickly, and the hookshot to zip over to poles. You can even unlock a second hookshot to cling between walls.


Whenever you kill an enemy you obtain bolts, and these can be spent at shopkeepers and to level up Alma. Whenever you level Alma up she unlocks a new chip slot. Chips being perks or stat boosters which Alma can swap out at any time. These chips include increased maximum health and stamina, increased damage and defense, or even special stuff like stamina not being consumed when running or obtaining health whenever you kill three enemies. Those last two you always want to have equipped. Shopkeepers can sell Alma crafting resources and new weapons, but Alma can also find these while exploring. There are two types of weapons, melee weapons and guns. One is good at attacking up close but consumes stamina, and the other is good for attacking from afar but has to be reloaded during combat. The two melee weapon categories are swords and axes. However, you can pick up variants with different effects and ailments. One thing to keep in mind is that you lose half of your bolts whenever you die and have to go back to the area you died in to collect them. Die again before picking them up and they're gone for good.


One of the last core elements we should touch upon about Unsighted is its most crucial one. It’s written into the story really well and the player is constantly reminded of it throughout their journey. This mechanic being the ticking death counters on every character, even yourself. Every sane robot in Unsighted is slowly losing Anima, and whenever you talk to them it lists in the bottom right-hand corner how much time they have left. A full hour in Unsighted being roughly around sixty seconds in real time. There’s also a chart you can bring up in the menu screen to see how many hours a character has left without speaking to them, and when they have less than twenty-four hours left text pop-up text will appear. It’s nice. It means when a character is about to die and you’re busy you know, and you don’t get screwed over because the game didn’t signal to you that they are about to die. Everyone is losing time to live, but there is a way to increase theine fand lengthen the distance to inevitability. Scattered throughout the world within treasure chests is Meteor Dust, a material you can give to NPCs to increase their time by twenty-four hours. This not only keeps them alive but allows them to continue whatever services they provide for you. Whether that being selling you items or allowing you to upgrade your gear. Two tradeoffs pop up though. The first is that you need at least three clumps of Meteor Dust to craft permanent syringes to heal more often especially during upcoming boss fights, and Alma needs the dust when her death counter starts falling short. If you run out, then you won’t be able to continue playing the game. This created a lot of stress while playing Unsighted, but it did make the game more fun. As I raced against the clock to reach my destination and explored wherever I could to find spare Meteor Dust. Besides that, there really isn’t much else. Well, there are the several bosses and the parrying system, but those two are really explanatory. Hopefully you can forge the blade to slay monsters, reach the spire, and see what lies at the bottom.


Thoughts


Unsighted is one of the best adventure focused soulslikes I’ve played since Hyper Light Drifter, and it may be one of the best indies to come out in recent years. It looks simple on the surface but packs a ton of depth underneath and there are certain design choices it nails better than other video games of the same type. It’s fun, charming, and gets its main themes across through what is surprisingly a well told narrative. Dear lord, that story was better than it had the rights to be.


The main story of Unsighted is a mix between vague soulslike world building and a character driven plot. There is history and lore to Unsighted which can be figured out through the logs and documents you find scattered throughout dungeons. How mankind was trying to find a way to evolve or mess with knowledge they had no control over. Only to then fall immediately due to their selfishness. Near the end the game tries to explore human nature, and how time and time again we are bound to make the same mistakes. Sins aimed to harm others and leech whatever innocence could possibly be left within their souls. Wow, that was darker than it should have been. There’s the soulslike world building, but there’s also the character driven plot. Alma, bit by bit remembering her past and the friends she grew up with. Bringing up the light side of a person who loathed her at first, and slowly seeing them grow a relationship. Love, the one greatest thing about individuals. Seeing her not just push forward to save all those she cares about, but to find the loved one who saved her from death. A difficult journey driven by affection. It’s not the best story about love, but it’s one the better ones I’ve seen. Oh yeah, Unsighted does a really good job with representation and the main protagonist is an LGBT character which I really loved.


Now we get to talk about the game itself and how it feels to play. It’s good. I think you should probably know this by now as I was just gushing about how well designed Unsighted is. All the influences and genre blends that Unsighted took should have led to a disaster, but it came around to being really well made. The game does a good job guiding the player towards where they need to go, but still encourages them to explore and go off the beaten path to find supplies that will help them in the long run. Each area is colorful, distinct from one another, and there’s enough unique mechanics to make you interested in what challenges lie next. The combat is good. It doesn’t have a ton of complexity to it and it is disappointing that the only melee weapons that are available are swords and axes, but it is really fun. Landing successful attacks and combos feel satisfying and impactful. The controls are smooth and responsive, maybe even more responsive than Hyper Light Drifter. Every enemy and boss is challenging enough but never impossible, and even when the difficulty starts to curve it feels great when you finally get through a tough fight. My only complaint is that around the second boss and everything after that there is a heavy incentive on parrying. It’s fine, I mean Sekiro focused on rhythmic parrying combat and it was this year I finally understood it. However, Unsighted is one of those games where parrying can either break the balance of a fight because you always deal critical damage after a successful parry which always instantly kills a basic foe, or you are completely screwed if you don’t how to successfully parry or maintain ground with multiple enemies. Besides that, combat is good.


I love the death counter mechanic and how it gets the player to play better. Unsighted is not a time loop game like Outer Wilds or Majora’s Mask, but much like them you are working against the clock. Trying to get from one place to another quickly, not wasting so much time through dying and then backtracking, and getting better at the combat so that boss fights don’t take up so much time. Not every character will have depth, and their main purposes will be replaced later. The blacksmith at the beginning will have a brother later who does the exact same thing, and there are characters who will give you portable packages that allow you to do what they do but on the go and by yourself. However, the game just does a good job to make you care. See how they are trying to find positivity in the world and push through each day. The more Meteor Dust you give them the more they begin to love you, and the rewards you get are always worth it. So it’s sad to see when their time starts running low and they are sitting in a corner breathing their last breath. It got so bad for me at the end that I ended up deactivating the time counters in the setting. Unsighted has some really good accessibility options by the way. From turning the death counters off to lowering the difficulty of the combat. It’s nice and it lowers the stress, but I do believe this game is best experienced when you have these risks on. It’s more fun, engaging, and gets you to feel more involved with the story as the mechanic has its effects.


Other compliments I can give is that the pixel art is really good. This is one of more sparkly pixel art styles I’ve seen, and it’s going up there with titles like Hyper Light Drifter and Katana Zero. Its beautifully detailed and visual effects add a little bit of liveliness to the world. Then there is the soundtrack which is great. Not one of my favorites, but I don’t think there’s a single terrible track in this game. It’s all very lovely to listen to. At the end of the day, I highly recommend you play Unsighted. The game lasts around eight hours long which is a perfect runtime for this sort of game, and it goes for around twenty dollars which is the perfect price point. It even has a ton of replayability as there’s a way to start back at day one with all your gear and the developers have a speedrun mode to see how fast you can beat the game. Items like the spinner and the dual hookshots are designed to help you zip around the world and speed run through what should be fifty-minute dungeons. Unsighted is a near masterpiece and I really do hope this game gets more of the attention it deserves. In the end I give Unsighted a 9.5/10 for excellence at best.


9.5/10, Excellence

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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