Witches Get Stitches
It has been a good while since I have experienced the sensation of slick and sweaty controller gripped tightly in my fingers, as if my strong grasp heightened my concentration and gaming aptitude. Normally, I take a very relaxed approach to solo gaming (competitive battles with friends notwithstanding), but there are some games that require extra determination (yes, of course, Undertale being among them) and therefore produce increased anxiety and frustration. These experiences are not without rewards, however, because when victory is finally achieved, it is so much sweeter than traditional gaming success. The latest title to produce such a wild juxtaposition for me is the latest from developer Bombservice, the creators of the wonderful Momodora series, called Minoria.
Minoria is essentially a spiritual successor to Momodora, and borrows much of the gameplay elements of its predecessors. Though the art-style has been souped up from the original 16-bit to a gorgeous hand-painted and cel-shaded mashup, fans of the original series should feel right at home. The story feels somewhat familiar as well, at least in tone and character representation. Taking place during the fourth Witch War, it is a time that is fraught with religious animosity and sees constant battle between the Sacred Office and the heretics (or, the Church eradicating the rebelling witches). Leading the charge are Sisters Semilla and Fran, who aim to thwart a mysterious ceremony being conducted by the witches that could spell doom to the land of Ramezia as they all know it.
Players assume control of Semilla, a quiet and reserved nun with untamed and wild strength. In the beginning, her skill set is somewhat limited, focusing mostly on jumping, parrying, and attacking with her sword. These are more than enough in the early parts of the game, and smart timing and positioning remain essential components throughout, regardless of any acquired skills. Supplementing these basic abilities are a wide array of Incenses, which Semilla can use to heal, attack, and otherwise enhance her repertoire. Early on, players will primarily just be using the essential Healing Incense, which works exactly as it sounds by restoring a portion of the players maximum health. Later, Semilla will acquire powerful passive and active Incenses that can be used to quickly take down extremely challenging enemies.
Minoria is at its core a Metroidvania, which means that the progression of Semilla’s experience and abilities is extremely important. Some areas are simply impossible to enter without the acquisition of certain abilities and skills, while others are just incredibly difficult to traverse. That said, progression and exploration are some of the best parts about Minoria, and even though a lot of backtracking is required (as areas previously locked later become available), it rarely felt tedious or cumbersome.
Each “room” or section of the map (broken down into squares of a grid) is filled with enemies to vanquish and obstacles to overcome. As a rule, Metroidvanias are difficult and often present great challenge, so you will find yourself tackling some rooms several times over and over before you find success. This can seem frustrating at first (especially if you are new to the genre), but over time your responsiveness and attack plan will improve, and you will find yourself flying through previously onerous rooms with ease. This is not to say that there weren’t some sections that gave me some angst; this was especially true with about half of the boss battles, which often spiked the difficulty curve. All that said, there were only a few times that I felt the need to put the game down for awhile before returning. Happily, these were few and far between, and the time away usually produced quick victory when I came back.
Those familiar with the Momodora games will feel both at home and a little mystified with Minoria’s combat. The tempo and rhythm of the deadly dance are largely the same, as Semilla mimics the movements of Momodora’s fiery priestess Kaho. Jump, parry, attack. Rinse, repeat. It almost sounds too simple, but it really does feel good to fall into a groove (especially one that births victory). I will admit, however, that I did not love the parrying mechanic. The idea itself is fine and familiar, but its execution left a little to be desired. Namely, I found it difficult to properly time when I should parry. This should have been easy, as enemies literally project when they will attempt a parryable attack with a glowing and expanding ring, but for some reason I had great difficulty in timing their attacks properly. This is too bad, too, as a successful parry results in a slick counter attack that proves quite useful. I also experienced a strange one-time bug: after a successful parry, Semilla disappears for a short time and creates a plethora of sword slashes across the screen, damaging all nearby enemies. I once performed this, disappeared, and never reappeared. It was resolved after I eventually died, and never actually happened again, thankfully.
Contrary to the somewhat finicky parrying element is the probably overly generous range of attacks from the player. This isn’t to say that damage inflicted is over the top, but rather that enemy hitboxes are extremely large. That is, it is almost too easy to strike enemies and requires little precision. On occasion this was nice and made some of the extra challenging boss fights more palatable, but it also made certain sections overly easy because enemies could be easily dispatched without them ever having a chance to retaliate. Overall, this is pretty forgivable, but it was certainly a noticeable change compared to Momodora’s tight and precise combat.
The most fun (and frustrating) part of Minoria’s combat, however, was every encounter with the game’s several bosses. Each one provided a suitable challenge (save one that I was able to easily exploit; it was still a fun fight overall, though, so I forgive it) and only sometimes dipped into the realm of unfair. Usually, though, this was because of an attack that was essentially a “one hit kill” and took some time for me to recognize the “tell.” This aside, the boss fights are all really pretty excellent, and I applaud Bombservice for their excellent design, both physically and strategically. The bosses definitely feel and look formidable, and they easily induce great exultation in their defeat.
Exploring the vast and creative world that Bombservice has created was probably even more fun for me than the combat, and I made every effort to cover every inch of the game’s map. Metroidvanias not only encourage but also require exploration, so this was something that felt organic and purposeful in Minoria. Though you will become very familiar with the game world after a relatively short period of play time, I do wish that the game map was a little more intuitive. For instance, areas that have been previously discovered are highlighted, but the only thing distinguishing unique rooms is a marker for “Inkwells” scattered throughout that provide save and recovery points for Semilla. These are helpful, but it would have been nice to have markers for other important landmarks as well, like locked doors, library portals (Semilla can travel to a library that essentially serves as a shop to buy new Incenses), or elevators. If nothing else, it would have been good to be able to add custom notes to each room. Additionally, I would have liked to have been able to “scan” over the map in its entirety instead of having it locked to my position. Granted, this is achievable if the map is accessed from the main menu instead of in-game, but I don’t understand that disconnect.
Accompanying Semilla on her somber and bleak journey is a soundtrack that is equally reserved. I think that it fit well with the tone and pace of the game, but it really did feel secondary to the absolutely amazing artwork. Many times I forgot that the music was playing at all, as the sound effects of battle tended to dominate over everything else. This is not to say that the music is bad, because it most certainly is not. Soft and haunting piano gently permeates each track throughout and is incredibly beautiful. The greatest fault of the music, really, is that it is just easily forgettable.
The visual feast that Minoria serves up more than makes up for the secondary soundtrack, however. Combining hand-painted backgrounds with lovingly cel-shaded characters, the artists have created something really fun and pretty to look at. The characters (especially the larger ones) are all finely detailed and well thought out, and it was always a treat to experience new creatures. Even more impressive was the varied and colorful environments that fill Minoria with life. Each new area felt fresh and different, enhancing the sense of awe and overall progression through the game.
By the time I had reached my journey’s end, I didn’t want to stop playing. I was just starting to feel rather adept at guiding Semilla through each challenge, and I was ready for more. Fortunately, there are extra trials waiting for players after the credits roll, and there is even an option for a New Game + with harder enemies and new things to discover. I had been eagerly awaiting Bombservice’s next game after the incredible Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, and Minoria certainly does not disappoint. For Metroidvania fans (and even those looking to dip their toes into the water), you are in for a treat.
Yes, if you:
- Are a fan of the Metroidvania genre
- Like a fair but formidable challenge
- Enjoy handcrafted and unique art
No, if you:
- Like more casual and relaxed games
- Are easily frustrated
- Want something that holds your hand
Minoria released August 27th, 2019 and is available on PC.
Note: Cannonicity received a copy of Minoria in exchange for a fair and honest review.