UnEpic is a non-linear RPG platformer, more commonly known these days as a dungeon crawler or Metroidvania-style game. The game finally makes its way to Sony consoles as a cross buy for PS4 and PS Vita, after having been gradually released on all other major platforms.
I was initially concerned with how UnEpic would transfer to the Vita’s smaller screen after watching some Let’s Plays of the game on other platforms. I’m pleased to report that the devs have done a really good job – doing away with the on-screen hotkey menu, giving over more real estate to the action on screen. There is a consequence to this adjustment that I’ll mention later.
UnEpic begins with the game’s hero, an average guy called Daniel, playing an RPG fantasy board game with his friends. Nature calls and Daniel heads to the bathroom, the lights go out and Daniel finds himself transported to a castle. Daniel shrugs this off as a hallucination – based on the fact that he plays way too many RPG board games and video games, and plays along with the cast of weird and wonderful characters he meets on his journey as fantasy. Daniel learns that his ultimate goal is progress through the castle and to slay its master – Harnakon.
One of the first characters Daniel meets is a shadow demon called Ankora Bash, who tries to possess Daniel, but ends up getting trapped inside his host. Anokra Bash acts as Daniel’s guide, explaining the world and its inhabitants, whilst also continually plots to kill Daniel – as his only means of escape is Daniel’s death.
Daniel begins the game with his real world clothes and a lighter to illuminate his way through the castles darkened hallways. Of course as this is an RPG, there’s a huge selection of armour, weapons and potions to collect as you progress. A disembodied narrator, separate from Bash, explains game mechanics such as assigning hot keys, levelling up and save points.
Combat is initially simple, button bashing is often the easiest option to despatch the lower level minions that occupy that castle’s labyrinthine corridors. Stronger foes and bosses require a combination of weapons, spells and potions to defeat them – this is a bit of a learning process, but it didn’t take me long to figure out which potions to use against certain enemies.
UnEpic’s levels look like an 8-bit adventure game, littered with enemies, traps and rewards for the intrepid adventurer. The game does an adequate job of hitting all the standard RPG platformer tropes that it’s based on – earning XP to upgrade Daniel’s abilities, mixing ingredients to make potions, learning spells and trading with storekeepers dotted around the castle. You’ll also encounter side quests, undertaking missions to free pure spirits trapped within the castle’s walls.
The game tries its best to poke fun at itself, making jokes about the genre that it’s paying homage to, with nods to the classics weaved into the dialogue between Daniel and Anokra Bash. It’s obvious that Daniel is a fan of all things geek, as his somewhat cynical view of his surroundings lead him to compare his situation to other popular video games and movies that will leave you with a smug, in-joke getting grin on your face. I often find that games can walk a fine line between humorous and annoying, and luckily UnEpic manages the former – many was the time I chuckled at references that would be lost on a non-gamer.
Despite all of UnEpic’s positives, there are a few points that let it down. As the game is in essence a tribute to RPG games of yesteryear, it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I felt that I’d walked Castle Harnakon’s halls before, anticipating an enemy or a trap well ahead of time. The 8-bit graphics are charming, but there are a million other independently developed games that rely on the same throwback look – there’s nothing to separate it from an overcrowded market. The relegation of the hotkey assignments to a sub menu is a pain – I found that until I memorised which button combination I’d assigned (preset as shoulder button + face button) I often pulled out the wrong weapon or such. This became particularly frustrating when I was in the midst of battle with some of the stronger enemies.
UnEpic would be an excellent addition to any RPG fans library, as it has everything I’d expect from the genre. As RPGs aren’t really my bag, the only thing that kept me interested was the humour and knowing winks to the classics. UnEpic could ultimately be compared to 8-bit Marmite; if you love RPGs you’ll enjoy it – hate them and it’ll leave a bitter taste in your mouth and hunger for something different.