This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
This is going to be a pretty short one, because by the time I finished Raji I had a pretty clear image in my head of what the game was to me and how I was going to talk about it. Specifically, the phrase “aggressively average” popped in my head as the credits were rolling and I still think of that every time I think about Raji. Before I get into why, I want to first give some context for the game; this is the debut game of Nodding heads games, a team of 12, based in Pune, India. I only say this, because I am genuinely impressed by what they achieved as teams with much bigger budgets, more experienced, and with more people, have made far worse games with much less ambition; that does not change my views on the quality of the game, but the potential and current ability of the studio is something very exciting indeed.
Having said that, one sentence pretty much sums up my experience with the game – and the rest of the article is basically expanding and explaining that sentence – which is “I enjoyed experiencing the game, much more than I enjoyed playing it”. What I mean by that is, the experience of the game – visuals, music, VO, art styles, story, pacing – is where the game truly shines, but when it asked me to play it – whether that was the combat mechanics or the platforming sections – I found it to be at best average and at worst frustrating and dull; for those looking for more depth, let me elaborate a bit more. First off, as someone whose culture and society rarely gets explored in its full depth or by its own people, Raji represents a type of game I want to see more of; these are Indians exploring Indian culture through their eyes, not an outsider’s. They do such a phenomenal job at it, that I was transported immediately in their world and their vision; I experienced a version of Indian culture I never experienced in video games before. They do this by creating an exceptional presentation of their history. The obvious standout feature here is the visuals; this game looks and run fantastic with a clean and beautiful in-game art style and a shadow puppet inspired style for the cutscenes. Add to this the great soundtrack work and you have a worthwhile audiovisual experience. Furthermore, the story of Raji is one of great style and flair, but not much substance. I like the biggening gods and the moments of retelling stories from Indian history and mythology, however the game is at its best when that story happens in brisk pace; unfortunately, some of the most interesting stories are told to the player by a voice over from one of the gods, while standing around a few murals in the game with nothing to do besides keep moving and miss out or stand and wait. That said, I did not regret standing around to listen to those stories and experience that side of the game; it helps that the VO actors are pretty good throughout the game.
The other side of Raji is mostly gameplay related, but there are some shortcomings in the story department as well that I want to mention; namely, the story is unceremoniously concluded within minutes. There’s a tease at the end that I found tasteless considering how a lot of the buildup was skipped over, but story was not really its strongest point anyway. What is a saving grace for the game though, is the brisk pace with which it moves and I was especially thankful for that given how poor the “gamey” parts are. Raji is an action-adventure with platforming sections as well, but I found neither the action or the platforming to be anything more than average at best. For action, Raji picks up 4 weapons throughout her adventure and all of them are different shades of bad; there’s a “spear” equivalent that is slow and unresponsive, a bow that auto-targets worse than PS1 era games and leads to many moments of frustration, a sword and shield which is too overpowered to be any fun, and a surprise weapon I wont spoil which is also overpowered but you don’t have too much time with it to stop being fun. All of these have the same 3 hit combos with light and heavy attacks, various acrobatic moves, specials, etc. I don’t think the move set is the problem, the controls are simply unresponsive and the feedback is lacking, so the ‘punch’ and satisfaction of hitting enemies is completely lacking. Enemy variety is woefully lacking and animations are basic compared to Raji. Meanwhile, there’s an awful camera system that gets stuck everywhere, but its not nearly as bad in combat as it is in platforming; without direct control of it, half of the time spent in platforming was spend guessing: Am I supposed to jump from here? Will Raji reach that? How was I supposed to tell that in a 3D space shown in 2D, I was looking a bit to the left and now I jumped to my death? I am very patient with platformers, but it doesn’t feel great to move Raji around the space; she moves fast enough, sure, but her dodge/jump animation is less about precision and more about button smashing, and the spaces are not interesting to interact with on that level. There is an attempt at making exploration be more of a part of the game, but it never really achieves that and if had been more prevalent I think that would make me less positive with the game overall.
I know reading the last paragraph will make you think that I did not like this game – and that is somewhat true – but there are much bigger and more experienced teams who would serve a less interesting, less unique vision with more problems than Nodding heads games. I genuinely think that if their second game is in the same vein as Raji, where their experience should lead them to get more of the details right and do even better at the things they got right first time round, that game would be something very exciting indeed; as it is, Raji is FINE. It is the exact game I had in mind when I used that word to be in the middle of the pact in my scale; it is aggressively average.