Review: Page Chronica for PS3

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Title: Page Chronica
Price: $10.99
System(s): PS3
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Red Hare Studios (Red Hare Studios)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone” for Mild Fantasy Violence

It’s always exciting to see a new developer appear with its first game. Red Hare Studios is new to the world of video games and has decided to make its entrance with Page Chronica. It’s an unusual adventure that essentially blends a challenging platformer with Scrabble. It’s a unique premise to say the least and while Red Hare Studios should be applauded for taking chances, Page Chronica isn’t all it could be due to a restrictive timer and boss fights that come down to chance rather than skill.

Lazy librarians never prosper.

Topez is in big trouble. She works in the Infinite Palace’s library under Morpheous, Lord of Dreams and Master of Stories. However, her status as apprentice means she really isn’t terribly involved in major library affairs. She’s supposed to be protecting the library, but since she’s still a beginner, she acts almost as an extra librarian. She tends the library, looks after the books and does cleaning. As you can imagine, this frustrates Topez.

We first meet Topez as she’s about to start slacking off while at work. Instead of doing her chores, she decides to investigate and read a chained up, ominous book she found hidden on a back shelf. Obviously, this doesn’t go well. The moment she uses her magic to undo the chains, a ghostly figure calling himself the Big Bad emerges and demands to know where Morpheous hid a specific book. Since Topez doesn’t know where it is, the Big Bad decides to start going through other books in the library, leaving Topez to search through the stories to undo the mess the Big Bad made and recapture him.

NES hard with a timer that constantly haunts you.

Page Chronica is a platformer that won’t let you win unless you play smart. Players control Topez as she goes through levels inspired by various books, hoping to set right the things the Big Bad has done in his search to find the book Morpheous has hidden from him. This means running and jumping through areas, fighting enemies while avoiding obstacles and traps, in the hope of reaching the goal at the end. It doesn’t sound too difficult, especially since Topaz also has special abilities that allow her to run faster, double jump, become immune to status ailments and use different magical attacks.

The catch is, normal Topez doesn’t have any of those abilities. She’s just an ordinary librarian. She can only use these spells if she casts spells, which is done by spelling words. At any time, a player can tap L1 to enter the Page World to slow down time, collect letters and spell words to earn abilities. The more longer and more complex a word, the longer and stronger Topez’s newfound strengths are. Ones made using glowing letters are also better and can unlock a hidden word that, if spelled, confers additional bonuses upon Topaz. It’s a mechanic that works well and while some people may complain that the assortment of letters available is random and doesn’t guarantee good words, I think it adds to the challenge. Red Hare Studios doesn’t coddle the player in Page Chronica and has made a Nintendo Hard game, so it only stands to reason that people won’t be guaranteed the opportunity to spell words like enchanted (did that one during the third stage) or exhaust (found it against the first boss) all the time.

Now, if Page Chronica was just Nintendo Hard, that would be fine. I like Nintendo Hard games. No, rather I love Nintendo Hard games. They may make me nearly decimate controllers in frustration, but they always keep me coming back for more. It’s just that Red Hare Studios really seems to pile it on with Page Chronica. It wasn’t enough for boss battles, even the earliest ones, to be grueling matches against fiercesome beasts with damaging attacks, the ability to hop in the background to hide and bloated hit points. You had to also be fighting a restrictive timer.

Timed segments were always my least favorite gameplay feature in video games. I hated the pressure and the feeling of failure if I messed up because I wasn’t fast enough. So seeing the constantly ticking timer in Page Chronica naturally gave me pause. Granted, changing the difficulty level can give you more time, but it’s still discouraging to always see it lurking in the upper left corner. I will admit it isn’t too bad in levels, since there are plenty of checkpoints and even on the normal difficulty level there’s plenty of time to reach the goal, but it’s brutal when facing bosses. Even if I was playing skillfully, grabbing the shining letters to get hidden words and spelling my heart out, my spells just didn’t seem to do enough damage. When I did manage to win, I felt more like I had gotten lucky than I had played skillfully.

On the plus side, the more you play the faster you get at forming words. So it’s more about replaying Page Chronica levels and boss fights repeatedly until a rhythm is developed and one is used to relying on the glowing letters. There are quite a few collectibles scattered across levels, which I waited until a second run-through to start accumulating. So I almost felt like those and the challenge levels were preparing me for the four crazy-difficult boss fights I would eventually face. Still, even if someone did plan to play Page Chronica to completion so he or she would be a master speller and fighter, I think the timer would still feel like a limiting burden and the bosses would be cheap.

If you get lucky in Page Chronica, you win. If not, you keep trying again until you do.

Page Chronica is all about luck. Was I lucky enough to get a good smattering of letters when I pressed L1 so I could spell a long word? Was I lucky enough to master the timing of the boss’ attacks on the first try? Was I lucky enough to race through a level without taking too many hits and exhausting my special abilities supply before time ran out? It is terribly stressful. The funny thing is, had the timer not been present in Page Chronica, I don’t think I would have had any of these issues. It’s an admirable and unique endeavor for Red Hare Studio’s first effort. I really like the concept and the execution is pretty well done. It’s just that the timer can suck the fun out of the experience. Page Chronica has some issues, but its ingenuity makes me think Red Hare Studios is a developer to watch.

Site [Page Chronica]

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