Wednesday, February 9, 2022

RPG Time: The Legend of Wright - The Final Preview

We got to play roughly two hours of RPG TIME: The Legend of Wright. From it’s unique pencil drawing style to diverse gameplay and creative world building, it left us craving for more. Luckily, RPG Time: The Legend of Wright releases soon on March 10 on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.

Playing an extended demo of RPG TIME: The Legend of Wright reminded me of seeing the classical animation of Cuphead for the first time. While pencil drawings in a notebook are something we’ve all seen before, it feels unique when brought to video game format. Walking around inside the notebook of an elementary school student is a fresh experience, and crossing from one page to the next genuinely made me feel like I was controlling a character in a way I had not experienced before.

Unlike Cuphead though, RPG Time is not focused on action, which makes its unique visual style only the beginning of its appeal. As in most RPGs, RPG Time offers a wide array of different activities, ranging from battles to exploration and character dialogue. You control Wright, the hero of this adventure, traveling through the lands of Cardboardia in order to save princess Lay. On his journey, Wright gets involved in (often hilarious) events and meets interesting characters along the way.

While pencil drawings in a notebook are something we’ve all seen before, it feels unique when brought to video game format.

That being said, RPG Time’s cast of interesting characters isn’t limited to only the hero. Appearing outside of the notebook in animated form, 10-year-old elementary school student Kenta Nakamura will be your game master. Kenta aspires to become a game designer one day, and the notebook in which you play is actually his handcrafted game on his school desk. He presents his notebook as though it were a handheld system, and selects music from his MP3 player to match every situation. Meanwhile, Wright’s HP is represented by Kenta’s measuring tape. Kenta enthusiastically narrates the game’s story and events, and puts on masks for each character as he reads out their dialogue. If he doesn’t like the way things are going, he might just take out his eraser and get rid of a passage or draw a giant ball to crush Wright. After all, Cardboardia is Kenta’s creation and subject to change whenever he feels like it. During my playthrough, I really started to love Kenta’s character and quickly built an appreciation for his endless passion. Kenta’s presence allowed me to sense the nine years of love and care that developer DeskWorks have put into creating RPG Time’s world and characters.

The game’s tutorial has a part in which Kenta introduces himself, and he tells you about his personal favorite games of all time. While these aren’t games that actually exist in the real world, it makes RPG Time’s understanding of and appreciation for video game culture apparent right away. The main game is full of video game references too, ranging from Hadoken-like commands and sprite-like segments to esports tournaments. These references are implemented as interesting mechanics or events that come from Kenta’s pure admiration of his favorite games, rather than coming off as cheap parodies.

I was constantly astonished by the game’s immense creativity.

During my 2-hour play session, I was constantly astonished by the game’s immense creativity. One moment I was digging up items with my newly obtained shovel, the next moment I was using it to battle a giant monster. Next, a mole suddenly challenged me to a game of baseball, after which came a section where I drove a tank to collect worms. Naturally, the next step was to take that tank and enter an esports tournament. RPG Time constantly shakes things up in the most bizarre, hilarious and cute ways. While the moment-to-moment gameplay itself might not be extremely deep, the amount of variation it offers is amazing. Throughout my playtime, I was rarely tasked with the same objective twice, as each event came with its own uniquely tailored portion of gameplay. It often felt like playing a great Mario game that continually brings new ideas to the table, while at the same time delivering an engrossing world and story like Earthbound or Undertale.

The portion I played didn’t feature any random encounters, and battles only occurred when Wright had to face someone in the story. Attacking enemies is done by moving a pencil with the right analog stick in similar fashion to the brush strokes in Okami. Rather than putting an emphasis on stats, abilities or strategy, RPG Time’s battle system seems to be all about finding the enemy’s weakness, which is hinted at through dialogue. This makes the battles feel more like special events than hardcore gameplay, although you can definitely take damage, which can be recovered by drinking cola or slurping ramen in the food menu.

RPG Time is all about the experience of being guided by Kenta through the quirky world that he has created. Defeating an enemy or finding the solution for a puzzle is never made too difficult. That said, it’s not a passive experience either, and if you fail your current objective Kenta will take you to the page in his notebook on which he’s drawn an adorable game-over screen.

Each page in Kenta’s notebook is filled with cute details. You can trigger the Help Mode at any time, in which Kenta will tell you about all the different objects and characters he’s drawn for that page. There’s also a quirky Ninja character called a Mininin for you to find on most pages, which creates the incentive to look at these drawings more closely. The game is filled with cute little secrets and optional branches, and the player’s curiosity is always rewarded. For example, in my second playthrough of the demo I tried using a special move before I was supposed to know it, which resulted in a surprised reaction from Kenta. It feels like anything that could come into the player's mind has been thought of. These carefully yet playfully crafted details go a long way to show just how much Kenta and DeskWorks want you to have a good time in the world of Cardboardia.

RPG Time’s handcrafted visuals go beyond just Kenta’s notebook. Ranging from origami-folded princesses to cardboard scenery, the majority of RPG Time’s art was created physically. Making an interactive experience out of these cozy creations is something only a video game can do. With just as much care put into the game’s mechanics and storytelling, RPG Time feels like it has the potential to become one of my favorite independent Japanese games of all time.


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