Monday, February 15, 2016

Game Reviews: Aisleen

Aisleen is... a pretty weird game.

Although not necessarily in a bad way. (Fair warning: There's a bit of fanservice and cartoonish blood, and if you read into the story, it kind of comes across as a weird inner journey that has some decidedly disturbing aspects, although it's not deep mindscrew, it's just... kinda a bit horrifying in a fridge logic sort of way.)

Through a combo-oriented card game, you're playing through the story of an artist who is struggling with her own disappointment in her art.

If you're an artist or have ever known one, you're probably aware that this is a problem basically all artists have.

Anyway, the basic format is similar to that of Ether of Magic Cards (and Nan Creatures by extension, though like EoMC the game's purely one-on-one), with a few pretty key differences.

First off, the enemies all have very similar basic attacks and no cards the way the player does; the game's bosses each have a special ability, and every enemy heals each turn as well, but that's it. Each enemy has more hitpoints than their predecessors while the player's are capped at 100, and the later enemies tend to have over a thousand hitpoints.

But that doesn't matter, because while you still draw four cards per turn most of the time* (losing any cards you had before), you can play any number of cards per turn as long as you have enough "inspiration," the cost you have to pay for many cards and many of the game's cards will draw specific new cards and/or increase your inspiration. Most of the cards that do these things don't harm the enemy, but building up lots of inspiration also lets you use several abilities that aren't stuck to cards. (The best of these is definitely the most expensive one most of the time because it replaces your current hand-or lack thereof-with a full set of cards that draws a random card and adds two inspiration, but if you ever pull off a massive combo and build up maximum inspiration, the cheapest one will actually be more useful for replenishing your hand in the right circumstances. The middle one... eh, it was kinda more mediocre than it should have been.)

What makes this game unique is that there's no pauses between gameplay. Once you've defeated an enemy, the next one shows up, and it probably shouldn't even disrupt the flow of your turn (though the story bits might make you forget what you were doing occasionally). I'm pretty sure I've killed two or three enemies in a single turn.

You might be wondering about the card aspect of the game since there's no point where you can edit your deck; this is handled in a way that I don't believe I've ever seen in a computer card game. As the game progresses, cards are added to your deck automatically as part of certain abilities, attached to both certain of your non-card abilities and one of your cards, as well as to the final boss**. (Which makes the final boss a unique pest-it adds a useless card to your deck that clogs it up, making certain of your card draw cards' abilities draw it instead of the useful cards they're meant to.)

In and of itself, this is annoying, but what makes it interesting and more fun than it normally would have any right to be is that all of this-all of it-is being used as a surprisingly apt metaphor for creativity. The clog-up cards? They're a manifestation of artist's block.

And many of the cards seem to represent artistic moods; for instance, the card "Gore" (pictured in the below screenshot) apparently represents a mood of violent catharsis (a thing I know my sister occasionally finds herself expressing).

This is brilliant, regardless of what I think of the actual story.

What makes it even more incredible is that this game was apparently made in a hurry for a contest.

I really like this game, and if a card-based computer game with some twists sounds appealing to you, I'd definitely recommend it.

*There's a chunk of the game where Aisleen's emotional state halves the number of cards drawn per turn periodicially, though this fortunately doesn't affect the mass draw abilities any. This is also a pretty amazing of the sorts of ordeals real artists have.

**The game's creator intends to add some more content to the game, so the current final boss may not continue to be the final boss.

-Signing off.

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