An experimental RPG with deeper undertones, West brings players across an island in search of a big city. Along the way, meet new friends and experience the power and wonder of nature.
West is the story of James, a young boy sent across the country by his father to find himself but gets drawn into something larger as the game progresses. It's the product of 19-year-old Bob Szymanski, and as such as all the markings of a typical first game including poor character development, inconsistent style, and a by-the-book gameplay. While the idea behind the game is reasonably inspired, the game is so achingly preachy and heavy handed in its anti-science themes that one would half expect the product to be funded by PETA and Szymanski to personally bomb the home of each player who chose to delete the game after the demo. Hippies, characters literally named "Hippie," can be found throughout preaching the horrors of science, filling the game with a few hours of such brainwashed tripe instead of meaningful dialogue, entertaining plots, and unique and worthwhile characters. The game may last long enough to feel of value to some, but be warned that West has squarely placed its soapbox onto the coattails of Breath of Death VII, and though the screenshots and concept may sound interesting, there's little joy to be had in seeing the game to the end.
Without question the best element in the game are the weird, somewhat Mother-styled enemy designs by Joe Bellanti. Most of the game's enemies are puns and drawn as such: Baseball Bat is literally a bat carrying a baseball, Disco Elk is an elk with an afro, leggings, and disco ball, and so forth. The silly enemies are crudely drawn stills, charming but not quite fitting with the overall style of the game. While I do like how the bizarre monsters serve as a catalyst for the game's plot, their unique style also highlights the discrepancy in West's graphics, alternating from pixel art sprites to hand drawn set pieces throughout, giving the game a rough and unfinished look. If this was confined to the animal enemies alone, then I could say this could have been an intentional design choice, but the mix-and-match aesthetic spills over into the world map and beyond, freely alternating between hand drawn and pixel graphics of varying resolutions which give West a thrown together look. Aside from James' walk cycle, the game is entirely devoid of animation, a style which works for an 8-bit looking title such as Breath of Death VII but is a bit harder to swallow when walking among 16- and 32-bit looking sprites, non-playing characters who can't be bothered so much to face toward James when speaking. That's not to say that West's graphics are terrible in and of themselves, but the lack cohesive focus does draw attention to the messy, inconsistent style they combine to create.
The real problem with West is how bland everything looks and feels apart from the enemies. James, Joshua, Lady (yes, the sole female is named "Lady" seemingly as a measure of Bertius Games' lack of creativity), and Zack all feel like MacGuffins unto each other, assembled together to act as a bully pulpit for the developer's environmentalist beliefs, none of whom have any likable or discernible personality to give him or her any depth whatsoever. The combat system is stale and simplistic, allowing players to select attack through each and every battle, saving the three possible skills earned for the mildly tougher boss encounters. In the entirety of the two hour or so quest, I used but one herb to restore hit points, a small herb I found way back at the beginning of the game, spending my wooden nickels on weapon and armor upgrades which coasted me through the end. Challenge is nil, and while I welcome that to a degree given the game's random battles, I suspect many RPG fans will be turned off by how dumbed down and effortless combat is in West, a playable but dull attempt at an RPG. Players may find the prospect of new, wacky enemies to fight and Andy Szymanski's excellent soundtrack enough incentive to soldier on, but the mechanics and script act as a one-two punch to the groin each step of the way, dragging West through the muck it wants so hard to clean up.
RPGs sell because of their stories and characters. When a game asks players to pour hours into a game, mining through the random mobs again and again, the game has to entertain and keep players interested during those isolated moments going through towns and such. West fails abysmally at this necessary aspect of the genre, penning dialogue and creating characters ripped straight from a PETA pamphlet with no regard for simple entertainment and populating a game with an interesting cast. While there's nothing wrong with seeking to incorporate one's beliefs in a product, it does a game disservice when all it wants to do is lecture the player at every step of the way. Unfortunately, West is so wrapped up in its message that it forgets what it takes to be a successful and entertaining game, crushed under the weight of its own self-importance.