Style and substance aren’t always the easiest bedfellows, not the least because everyone trots out that old adage every time something remotely stylish comes along. Othercide is undoubtedly weighed down with an excess of panache, boasting a monochromatic, neo-gothic horror art style whose only colourful highlight is one of haemoglobin scarlet, and an atmospheric soundtrack that’s capable of giving you chills all by itself. As for substance? Well, we’ll come back to that later on.
You take on the role – or perhaps the persona – of The Red Mother, a near-immortal warrior with whom you’ve exchanged realities, and whose goal is to stop the Chosen One of Suffering. You do that by sending your Daughters – cloned versions of yourself that you can create – out into this nebulous black and white landscape, to face off against the grim creatures that reside there.
It all makes very little sense in the traditional sense. This is a narrative, and a setting, that isn’t particularly interested in letting you know what’s going on, and Othercide seems to revel in its dark setting with an unmistakable glee.
Mixing horror with roguelite and tactical gameplay, there’s a keen balance between the converging forces at work here. As Mother you send your army of Daughters into battle, though there’s little expectation that they’ll all return, and that tugging loop of death, rebirth and resets that sets the tone for the roguelite genre are built into the fiction with admirable sincerity.
All of Othercide’s absorbing turn-based action takes place on the Timeline. Just as with any number of RPGs, most notably the Grandia series, the Timeline flows along, and dictates which character will take action next. Here in Othercide, each character has 100 Action Points, and you spend them moving around the grid-based levels or using one of the many skills at your disposal.
Careful control of the Timeline is often the key to winning battles. You have Delayed skills which force you to wait a set amount of time to activate, with the payoff being that they’re then very powerful. Interrupt Skills meanwhile prepare your character to counterattack, while some skills can push your enemies back along the Timeline, buying you more time.
It’s a great visual indicator of what’s happening on screen, and of what effects you’re going to cause, though it’s a shame that tactically the visuals otherwise don’t serve to provide you with the information you need.
It’s certainly stylish, there’s no doubt about that. Built entirely in a black and white, film noir comic style, with red highlights the only colour to be seen, it’s not exactly a new idea – Sin City and Hellboy did this kind of thing years ago – but that doesn’t make it any less striking.
The problem it presents is that the visual clues of a battleground aren’t always immediately obvious. Some of the creatures will easily show up, but others, particularly the reaching hands that indicate where a new enemy is going to spawn in, can easily blend into the background. I had the sense of loving the art style, and each of the horrific beings in particular, but it loses some of its impact during the battles that make up the majority of the game.
Between missions you find yourself at the Chronomap. From here you can manage your Daughters in the Inner Void, bringing them to life via Germination, upgrade and unlock new skills – here called Traits – and select missions.
Each time you unlock a new Trait you have to choose between two possibilities, allowing you to tailor each Daughter to a particular playstyle or use. These can then be modified by finding Memories amongst your fallen enemies, amplifying the damage or defence, or altering the chance of a critical hit.
There are more difficult decisions to come when you discover that the only way to heal one of your Daughters is to sacrifice another. And not just any one.
I thought I could beat the system by Germinating a new Daughter who I’d instantly dismember, but you can only heal by sacrificing a Daughter of the same or higher level. The payoff of that exchange is that the healed daughter receives a portion of the sacrificed one’s power. As the kind of player who’s lost hours of progress to save a beloved Fire Emblem character, it’s a difficult thing to get used to, but the game’s stylings actually help you to feel more detached from the transaction.
Each Daughter can be given a name, or have one randomly generated, but I found the more you germinate, the less attachment you have with them. The distinct elements of their design come down to the class they are; Shieldbearers wield a pike and a massive shield, Blademasters are your damage-dealing sharp pointy women, while Soulslingers carry a pair of pistols to harangue the enemy at range.
The other differences you get through multiple germinations – hair, face and clothing – aren’t different enough to form any real bond, and that’s almost certainly the point. They are simply weapons, and their value comes in their levels, and their skills. You can resurrect the best of them if you have a Resurrectio it’ll be a logical choice, rather than an emotional one. It’s an interesting dehumanisation of your own army, when you’re tasked with facing off against creatures that are horrific in appearance, but are equally inhuman in reality.
The roguelite loop ties into the fiction well, and if you lose all of your Daughters you’ll find yourself returning to the beginning of the Recollection with an all-new squad to coax along. Sometimes I wonder how roguelites get away with losing progress when it’s something that all gamers despise, but Othercide, as with the best of them, ensures that the permanent unlocks you’ve obtained will help you make shorter work of the nightmare creatures the next time around.
Besides the striking art, I love Othercide’s audio. From the screams of, well, pretty much everything, through to the voice acting and incredibly atmospheric soundtrack, this element of the game’s design has been nailed down with the clearest emphasis. It begs for you to wear a headset, and I think the synth-led tones and chugging guitar riffs were the defining element that kept me from giving up when the game seems adamant that it’s going to give you a very hard time, run after run.