Game Review - 'Iji'
The idea behind 'Freeware Games' (meaning games built from the beginning with the intention that they will be offered for free) is something that continues to fascinate me. Sure... they obviously don't look as good as the commercially released games available today - but, there's still a lot of fun to be had with some of them, if you're willing to look past that and give them a chance. And, they're free - so, you can hardly complain about the price.
A 2D platform based adventure game, in the style of early Metroid or Casltevania games – Iji will seem instantly familiar to anyone that has been around since the SNES era of gaming. In the game, you take on the role of the titular Iji – very much the typical 'everyman' ('everywoman'... uh, 'everyperson'), Iji is an ordinary young woman who finds herself swept up in extraordinary events.
The day that she and her brother Dan are permitted to visit the government research facility where their father works just so happens to be the day that a mysterious alien race known as the Tasen launch a surprise attack. Horrible injured in the initial attack, Iji recovers some time afterward to discover that the surviving doctors have used experimental technology in order to keep her alive – a fact which makes her uniquely suited to fight back against the invading forces, as this technology allows her to assimilate and use the aliens own weaponry, as well as allowing her to generate a useful energy shield. Unfortunately for her, these doctors are also promptly killed, leaving her isolated and with little clue as to what's happening around her. She is not alone, though, as her brother Dan, who in the time since the attack as managed to gain access to the facilities PA systems, is able to communicate with her. Dan sets about guiding Iji on her first goal – making contact with a high-ranking officer of this invading force in the hope of somehow convincing them to leave. All is not as straightforward as it first seems, though, as you will quickly become aware of the existence of a second alien race, the Komoto, who are somehow involved with the first.
At the heart of the game is a simple choice. Right from the beginning, players are free to choose how they wish to respond to the alien invaders. While Dan, in his position as a distant adviser, will tell Iji not to hold anything back against the invaders, and stress that they deserve no mercy, the player is free to ignore that advice, choosing instead to avoid direct conflict. This choice between pacifism and violence shapes the core of the game – influencing the way Iji herself develops over the course of the story, determining how others respond to her, and ultimately determining which of the alternate endings you are able to achieve.
Gameplay-wise 'Iji', like many of the small freeware hobby projects you can find floating around on the Internet, is very much an attempt to recapture the spirit of an older generation of gaming – in this case, as mentioned above, the particular type of 2D adventure represented by games such as Metroid and Castlevania. And, it does this well – 'Iji' manages to capture the look and feel of these earlier games to such an extent that playing it may well prove to be a nostalgic experience for many. The weaponry that Iji has at her disposal is, overall, creative and entertainingly destructive – and the ability to combine two separate weapons into something new adds a nice layer of experimentation to the experience. Throughout the game, you will be given the choice to upgrade Iji in a variety of different ways. You can choose to improve her ability to open the various security doors scattered about the place, allowing her to gain access to hidden areas or find alternate paths to her current destination. You could choose to focus on improving her health and the strength of her shields, making her more durable. Or, you can focus on her ability to use the more powerful alien weaponry of each race.
The game is also well written, overall, with the exception of the occasional awkward line of dialogue. The interaction between Iji and Dan, in particular – Iji scared and uncertain and Dan hardened by his experiences over the past few months – are convincingly realised, and add an effective emotional core to the game.
Iji may not look like much today, but if you compare it to the older generations of games that it was intended to emulate, and it stands up very well. If this game had been released years ago, back when the 2d plat-former was a popular and commercially viable format, then Iji may very well be fondly remembered alongside those other classic examples of the style today. As it is, though, Iji can provide some nostalgic entertainment for those of us with an interest in older games.
Iji has been released as Freeware (meaning that it's, well... free), and can be downloaded here.
© 2012 Dallas Matier
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