Three events led to me making this post. Firstly, I was feeling a bit melancholic the last few days. Because of our goddess, Haruhi, I take every opportunity to use that word. It fits, though. I was thinking a lot about the blog. I won’t waste your time with specifics, but I was just thinking a lot.
Second, was a post by a fellow blogger you should definitely check out about an indie VN called EDDA Cafe. It was made for the game jam back in February, which some of you might know I have history with since I take every single chance I can to bring it up.
Lastly, was an interaction I had with a very pleasant indie studio called AltabeStudio on Twitter. Again, check them out. I only recommend quality, I assure you.
Do you notice the common factor? I was thinking a lot, and my attention was brought to indie devs. As weird as it is to me, as a result of that game jam, I’ve come to know a few great indie devs and have somewhat gotten involved in that community despite not being one myself. It’s kind of strange to me, but I tend to just roll with the punches now. Don’t overthink everything, ya know?
I was trying to think of something good I could do with my blog. Something beyond just slight entertainment for people. And I thought it would be nice to talk about indie stuff every now and then. Not only will it let me introduce people to some neat projects, but it will also help bring those projects publicity because I know how much they mean to many devs. It’s fun all around.
So today, I figured I’d talk about a game that I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. It’s called SoftWar, as some of you may have deduced if you could read the title. SoftWar is a card battle RPG visual novel made in Renpy. If you don’t know anything about Renpy, you may miss just how cool that is.
Renpy is a visual novel engine. One for doing visual novel things. But it is still functional enough with Python that you can do some crazy stuff with it. SoftWar does just that, and it has a ton of promise despite only being a demo at the moment.
For the sake of transparency, I will say that I know the lead dev of this project over on Twitter, Raseru. We’ve had very pleasant interactions over the last few months, and Raseru is even the one who I commissioned for my current profile picture. So I do like SoftWar’s creator, basically.
But, I do value being fair, so believe me, I won’t go easy on any of my opinions. I feel that I owe my honest thoughts to any developer, regardless of if I know them or not.
So, SoftWar. I think an excerpt from the Itch.Io page is a good a summary as any.
“SOFTWAR is a Computer-Science-Fiction Card-Battle Visual Novel RPG!”
As ambitious as it sounds, especially considering it’s made in Renpy, that’s exactly what it is. John Doe is a programmer who takes his job very seriously. As one might expect, he doesn’t care for viruses. Why would he like something that ruins years of work?
Well, unfortunately, MR. Doe doesn’t have any choice in the matter. His computer is soon attacked by a cute redheaded girl, well, her disembodied upper half at least. She claims to be ILY or the ILOVEYOU virus. Her goal? Be the best virtual assistant John could ask for. And fight virtual battles, of course.
Now, ILY is based on the actual ILOVEYOU computer worm that made its way through many e-mails in 2000, destroying all manner of things. ILY, on the other hand, is a little less aggressive. Well, presumably.
The demo is still very early on, all and all, giving about 20-30 minutes to go through, depending on how you fair in combat. More than that if you do some extra stuff. In that time, we do get to see a good bit of what the game will have to offer.
Much of the time is spent during visual novel sections, as you might expect. During these, we get a little taste of what the writing will be like, and it’s pretty good—lots of solid computer nerd jokes, really, which is about what you would expect from this. I chuckled quite a few times in the demo, even some of the ones that flew over my head, I’m sure.
What I liked in that in the very small amount of time the demo gives us, we do get quite a lot of story. It sets a lot of things up that get me excited for a full release. We get a pretty good idea of who John Doe is, build on his relationship with Lisa Fairfield, and have lots of questions posed to us about ILY and what she is. For a demo of a VN, it does a pretty solid job of setting a lot up in a little time yet still getting to the main point relatively quickly. I would say the pacing is quite good, really.
What I do wish was done a little better was the exposition that ILY gives to John about what she is. It’s a whole lot of information dumped on you all at once, pretty much triggered from John’s repeated questions. It’s a little thing, but I’m not too fond of stories that dump everything on you at once. I like a bit of a setup. For a demo, it’s perfectly fine, but I do think that could be handled a bit better. Aside from that, the story is not half bad so far. I’m invested in it, which is all you can really ask.
The characters we see are all likable so far, and of course, the art helps bring them to life as well. I could sit here for a while and tell you how much I like the art, but I would be repeating a few rants I’ve already done, so I won’t. It’s just very good stuff. Raseru does great work.
One thing that surprised me is that the game actually has bits of voice acting for ILY. I didn’t really expect that, but it certainly helps make the demo look more like a finished product. And I have to say, it was a lot better than I expected.
A lot of the time, when you get voice acting in indie games, they’re hit or miss. It usually depends on whether it’s done by a professional or not. SoftWar doesn’t have that problem. The few lines Sayaka Mashiro voiced are great. It doesn’t really sound “indie” at all. Cleaned up a little bit, and it sounds like a mostly finished product. The only criticism I would say is that one or two of the voice clips felt too quiet in comparison. It’s a minor thing, but it does stand out when the rest is put together well.
The demo has a lot of little things going for it. Between the few voice lines and the incredibly charming sound effects. The poses. I especially liked the blinking animations. It’s subtle stuff that really gives SoftWar a charming and more “complete” feel to it. If I were to judge the future product purely off of the demo, I would be very happy.
Now for the elephant (horse) in the room. What I said was so cool about SoftWar was the fact that it was a proper RPG with battles. It’s time we talk about them because I have quite a few mixed opinions on it.
The battles revolve around battleware (the cards) and bits (the little diamond things). Each card takes a certain amount of bits, and once the eight bits are used up, ILY uses the cards in the order you select them.
This may sound a little similar to Megaman Battle Network. This game is heavily inspired by that, but it certainly does its own thing. The cards have good art and are pretty creative. I love that one of ILY’s best combos is setting up a bunch of spam Email status effects on the enemy, only to blow them all up in their face. That is beyond clever for what the ILOVEYOU virus is, and ILOVE it to death.
The whole battle system revolves around this idea of status effects, really, or at least it seems far more important to get your stat buffs and debuffs in SoftWar than I see in similar games. Ultimately the goal is to lower your enemy’s health to 0, but you need to get through their shield first, which they can often regenerate.
This makes it feel almost like Yu-Gi-Oh, to me, where you have to dig through the opponent’s defenses before you can attack them directly. It’s a lot of fun. I will say, having the shield be called “SP” is a little confusing. I’m used to RPGs where that’s some kind of magic, so in the future, I think maybe a shield icon or something else would be better.
I have two issues with the battle system. Firstly, that neither the cards nor the game does a great job at explaining what they do. But that will likely be fixed in a full version where you can actually look at each card in more detail. Still, you need to figure things out for yourself for the most part now.
Second, and the bigger problem, is that the combat is very luck-based. Like, a lot. You have a random assortment of cards to fight with each turn. Whether you can actually do anything with those cards is up in the air. You just need to hope you end up with the right ones, rather than a bunch of healing ones you don’t need.
This problem will almost certainly be fixed in a full version. All that’s needed is to let the player build their deck. Something you’ll be able to do in the full game. But I do have one suggestion that, I think, would improve combat a lot, and it’s fairly simple.
As I was playing, I ran into multiple occasions where I either couldn’t use all my bits, or it was pointless to do so. Likewise, there was a few time I didn’t have enough bits for all the cards as well.
I think having the bits carry over between turns, in like a “bit bank,” or something, would be a good idea. Any bits you don’t use the prior turn carry over into the next. This would also remove a bit of the luck element since you now have something you can control in combat even if the cards refuse to work with you.
But there would clearly have to be a limit. That’s why I think only the bits you didn’t use from the last turn should carry over. Meaning, you could choose not to attack one turn and have 16 bits to expend next go around, with 16 being the limit.
That one small change alone, I think, would add a lot of variety to the combat, as well as giving the player some control in the matter, so they don’t feel so at mercy to the game. I think it would be a pretty good change.
And just like ILY above me, I’m pretty much out of stuff to say. For all the yapping I did, SoftWar is only just a demo, but it’s one I highly recommend checking out.
The demo, while being really solid, is only a small taste of what the full game will have to offer. Right at the end of the demo, we get a rough taste of what the grid will be like. Meaning there will be an exploration aspect as well.
Throw all that together with a customizable deck of cards, a full story, more characters, enemies, and polish, and I bet you you’ll have a pretty great game that shows you what Renpy is capable of.
Don’t expect that full release to be tomorrow. Projects like this take time. So while I have no clue when the full release of SoftWar will be, I give you my word that the full product will be well worth the wait. This game has so much potential, and I hope the best for it.
I hope you enjoyed this. I plan to talk about more indie projects in the future, and really anything that I feel deserves more attention. As a blogger, I get to talk about whatever I want, really, so long as it’s somewhat interesting and fits my theme. So even if my voice is a small one, as I continue to grow the blog with all of your help, I would like to point that growing voice in the right direction, and I believe this is a good first step.
Thank you very much for reading
What are some other indie projects you enjoy? I have a few more in mind, but I’d always love to hear more.