99 Spirits Review: I’ve Got 99 Problems, but a Spirit ain’t One

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99 spirits

Title: 99 Spirits
Price: $14.99
System(s): Windows PC
Release Date: May 31, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Fruitbat Factory (TORaIKI)
ESRB Rating: N/A, All Ages

Japan’s mythology contains many supernatural creatures, chief among the the yokai. They’re a difficult kind of creature to pin down, since the broad definition can contain anything outside of the ordinary, from a monster to a ghost. In the case of 99 Spirits , the yokai players face are more well defined.

99 Spirits deals with the idea that tsukumogami inhabit our world. Allegedly, an inanimate object become anthropomorphic and a yokai after it turns 100 years old. Then, in 99 Spirits, these now self-aware creatures go about causing trouble to humans.

99 spirits

One sword to banish the spirits

99 Spirits‘ tale begins with tragedy. Her home in the Heian capital has been assaulted by tsukumogami for years. Her parents were always equipped to handle it, except for one night. An especially large force came, and a shadowy figure approached Hanabusa’s mother to eliminate her and her daughter, and steal the Gokon Sword. Hanabusa’s mother was smart though, and knew the man in front of her to be a traitor. She had already sent Hanabusa away, and hidden the sword.

Unfortunately, this led to Hanabusa’s mother’s demise, and her father to be lead astray by the shadowy figure. A white fox with the power to speak lead Hanabusa to friends, so she survived relatively unscathed.

Except, years later, Hanabusa has come to believe that she must be an emotionless soldier against the tsukumogami that killed her parents and assaulted the city. She goes out every day, with an ordinary sword, to beat them back. Yet, on the day of the legendary Night Parade, she gets a chance to defeat the tsukumogami for good. The white fox returns in a human form, reveals he is the servant of a god, and that Hanabusa’s mother entrusted him with the Gokon Sword for safe-keeping. Suddenly, Hanabusa has a means of dispatching the yokai for good.

99 spirits

Fighting monsters with the power of words

See, when a tsukumogami appears in 99 Spirits, it is as a blur. They’re a shadowy and undefined figure that can’t be beaten. They can only be driven away with a normal sword. The Gokon Sword, however, can actually defeat them. Players move Hanabusa around a map to reach the blurs. When one is touched, a battle begins.

This battle is turn-based, and initially involves building up the power of the Gokon Sword. Attacking fills the first gem’s gauge, which allows Hanabusa to get hints as to the tsukumogami’s identity. Defending fills up the second, which gives her the ability to name the creature, based on the clues. For example, the first yokai you can actually defeat is a pair of anthopomorphic pants. So the clues say it’s an article of clothing, and you see parts of its name. When you have the chance to name it, you click the second stone, type in the name, and then it gets a proper name and HP bar. From there, you have to finish it off before it runs.

It works very well and means 99 Spirits has one of the more inventive, turn-based battles I’ve seen in a JRPG. However, it does introduce a bit of tedium as well. These gauges must be filled and sometimes it can take a long time to build up the secondary Gokon Sword gauge. If you choose the easiest difficulty level, the enemies won’t attack as often, which means the battle can drag on a bit before getting to a point where you can say what an enemy is. Fortunately, the attack and defend keys are also mapped to the X and Z buttons, to make fighting more streamlined. Also, Hanabusa does eventually gain more powers for her sword, but the first gems are the ones she initially needs to battle back against the yokai.

While the unusual battling system and inventive storyline are what make 99 Spirits special, the presentation is also quite pleasing. The soundtrack is more than some generic JRPG fodder, and is well worth listening to both in and outside the game. The voice acting is well done, even the English language option. I was especially surprised by that, since this is an indie game. Most impressive is, perhaps, the character art. The designs for the major characters are reminiscent of an anime series, and I was eager to see how each kind of tsukumogami would appear once I called them out.

99 spirits

Hanabusa’s got the power

99 Spirits‘ greatest selling point is its originality. I have never encountered a video game that centered around tsukumogami folklore, and it works quite well. Especially since revealing a tsukumogami’s identity is crucial to Hanabusa’s success. Sometimes getting to the point where you can defeat one of these yokai is tedious, but the investigative nature of battles is refreshing. Fans of JRPGs and mythology should definitely look into 99 Spirits, and I hope we see more unusual releases from Fruitbat Factory.

Site [99 Spirits]

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