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April 2020

Nightingale Downs

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Developer: SimProse Studios
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2017


PC Review - 'Nightingale Downs'

by Cody Medellin on March 7, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

You play a deer that's been tasked by your clan leader with a most urgent mission: Find and sabotage the plans of a local human settlement that's intent on destroying your homeland.

When you hear of RPGs, you often think of long, sprawling adventures with epic stories and lots of character depth. You think of numerous battles — some are memorable, while others are necessary to gain XP so future battles aren't so treacherous. You think of lots of puzzles, a plethora of items, and side-quests to pad the time or make the main quests feel more important. Nightingale Downs has none of that, and your outlook will be dependent on what you expect for $2.

The story plays out like a conservationist plot wrapped in mild fantasy elements. You play the role of a deer who's sent on a great quest by the leader of the forest. Humans, who are seen as a great and powerful threat to the animal kingdom, have started to appear and are cutting down the forest. Despite your fears, you accept the quest and try to save your homeland from destruction.

For the most part, Nightingale Downs takes on typical RPG conventions. Several of your animal friends give you quests, and completing them grants you access to new items or new areas. You'll get into randomized battles that give you XP and currency that can be used to either heal yourself or further power-up your abilities. The process is streamlined, as you won't gain new attacks when you level up, and you won't have to worry about armor and weapon stats.

The lack of armor, items, and attack expansion is fine if Nightingale Downs is intended as an RPG for those who are just getting their feet wet in the genre. The rest of the design decisions do the game no favors. There are three worlds to explore, but they're small in scope, since each world is comprised of four screens. That creates an interesting issue where the quests force you to do lots of backtracking to fulfill them. Even more fascinating is the fact that the key to completing any quest is usually one screen away, so while you'll hate the deer's slow gait, you won't have to suffer through the lack of a sprint button for too long.

The combat system is also perplexing. The menu system is easy to understand, but the amount of wasted space in both the HUD and your own menus suggests that the interface was meant for multiple party members but the feature was abandoned. Almost all of your fights end up with the enemy attacking first, so you're always at a disadvantage. Curiously, the game loves to detect a miss with the most basic attacks, so if you're trying to not burn any spirit energy, be prepared to rarely do any damage. The same goes for enemy attacks, so there are pretty long stretches where both combatants attack with no real resolution. When a hit does go through, it usually scores some pretty big damage, so you'll start to save after every battle or every encounter so you won't lose and have to replay long stretches of the game.

The common answer to some of the combat imbalances would be to grind until you can eventually overpower your foes. However, it seems like some stats don't make much of a difference in fights. In particular, the ability to gain an advantage in a fight doesn't seem to do anything, since most enemies get the drop on you. The same goes for the stat that increases the ability to find rare bonuses, as items rarely appear in the first place.

The result is a very short RPG that feels bad. None of the quests take very long to complete due to the very small map size, and despite the terrible hit odds, the fights don't drag on that long. By the time you see the end of the game, a little over an hour has passed. With no incentive like a New Game+, this will be a game that you'll immediately uninstall to make room for meatier titles.

On the presentation front, the graphics are decent enough. The graphics look quite nice thanks to the expanded color palette. Charming effects, like blowing leaves and fog, are overlaid on the map. The use of chunky pixels for the portraits is odd, and the battles against overblown animal sprites laid against more detailed illustrations is uninspiring, especially given the lack of attack animation and effects. The soundtrack is quite pleasant until you get into battle. You're introduced with a loud shriek before hearing a soundtrack best fit to a JRPG battle sequence. The effects consist of terrible-sounding animal grunts that play at louder-than-normal volumes. They're almost as bad as the voice work, which is groan-worthy but laughable.

There's nothing wrong with Nightingale Downs being short. Indeed, a short and cheap RPG can be a primer to see if a player who's unfamiliar with the genre would like it before trying meatier fare. However, the imbalanced gameplay, odd pacing, and wonky battle system demonstrate a poor idea of what the typical RPG experience would look like. Paired with decent graphics but terrible audio, it's difficult to recommend Nightingale Downs, even if it is only $2.

Score: 4.5/10

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