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Nobody saves the world is a fantastic game

Drinkbox studios claim to fame is the excellent Metroidvania franchise Guacamelee! that consists of two games I really like yet I never finished. I really enjoyed them and found them to be great, but then something distracted me, and never thought about them again; I have great respect for them and are some of the bests in the Metroidvania genre yet I still never wanted to finish them. Nobody saves the world, ironically, is the exact opposite; I was excited about this game, but I was going to play a session just to see if the demo progress carried over and then get back to Halo. Since that “short” session, I haven’t been able to put the game down. Nobody saves the world is one of the smartest and most inventive games that solve issues I’ve had with a genre while delivering an incredibly fun experience that does not get old, even after close to 20 hours with the game.

In Nobody saves the world you play as…nobody; a naked, zombie-baby with amnesia. You wake up in a cabin and are quickly imprisoned by Randy (an apprentice to an actual magician) because he suspects you had something to do with his master’s disappearance; can’t imagine why he’d suspect the naked zombie-baby that showed up out of nowhere. Before being thrown in the basement though, you take a magic wand with you that allows you to transform into different forms, such as a rat, a knight, a bodybuilder, an egg, a robot, and so much more. To get out of the basement, you have to use your starting form (the rat) to complete quests and clear dungeons in order to gain enough wand points to open the locked door of the basement; this is where the game starts to shine, but it sounds more complicated than it actually is.  Quests have a variety of types; some tasks you with completing dungeons or talking to NPCs (a handy way of tracking challenges you don’t want to do when you encounter them or aren’t ready for yet); others are form-specific like defeating a specific number of enemies with a specific ability; later on, custom quests unlock that task you with defeating enemies or inflicting them with a status that requires special synergies (more on those later). Finishing quests can hand you form XP and/or character XP; form XP levels up that specific form to a higher level, unlocking more abilities; character XP levels up nobody (I mean your character nobody, not a dig at the progression) which grants base stat upgrades and passive ability slots.

This sounds more complicated than it is and it could have been overwhelming, but this is the first area where the game’s smart decisions and design shine. The mechanical pacing and speed at which concepts and systems are given to the player are nearly perfect. Early on, the player only needs to worry about defeating enemies with their preferred form and using their abilities to do so; this allows the player to get to grips with the combat system and its feel. Combat happens in a top-down perspective where the players will have, at their disposal, a “signature” ability that is locked to that character and will have a way to regain mana using that ability; for example, the rat bites the enemies, and over time will inflict the poison status on them and for each bite, a small amount of mana is gained. Mana is used for other abilities unlocked later on – with the rat as an example again, the first ability unlocked is “consume” which is a big bite that also heals the rat for 30% of the damage done. Furthermore, these abilities have damage types like sharp, blunt, dark, and light, which need to be used to break the “damage wards” that some enemies have. Where things get interesting is the ability the player has to switch to any form whenever they want and for those forms to have any 3 non-signature abilities equipped, alongside any 3 non-signature passives. Thus, the rat – a short-range form that excels at poisoning enemies and dealing damage over time while using its mobility to avoid damage – can now have a ranged ability or a defensive one to even out its shortcomings.

However, this complexity and need to synergize comes at you slowly and allows the player time to familiarize and experiment with forms, abilities, and their combinations at their own pace; for the most part, you’ll be unlocking forms and abilities that will seem OP and game-breaking, before realizing they are not and need to be combined in order to overcome the obstacles the game throws at you. This is the only game that I thought I had unlocked or found the game-breaking combination only to have my ass handed to me over and over again; the game where every form is cooler than the last and I wanted to max-rank all of them. This is due to the smart quest system; when the game rewards the grind that is inherent to ARPGs with cool abilities that remain valuable throughout the campaign, then its no longer a grind; when the quests ask you to think creatively about the game and offer plenty of options for completing them, then you don’t feel the repetitiveness of defeating enemies over and over again; when you need to use synergies to achieve an effect, but that effect is vague enough that a variety of combinations can achieve it, then it’s not “trial and error” or poor builds. There are some great, traditional, ways the game varies the experience like a huge variety of enemies (at least a couple of dozen of enemy types), different color palettes for areas, and different assets presented through its great art style that is a mix of Steven Universe and Adventure Time, but I am in awe of how that quest system got me running dungeons over-and-over without even realizing it, and how well-balanced yet meaningful the abilities and forms were.

To showcase this, let’s use an example that is especially effective in showing how this game’s design is so smart and special: The Big Gnarly dungeon. In this dungeon, there is a special modifier that makes all damage 9999 for everyone; that means enemies die in one hit, but so do you. However, there are many passive and active abilities to help prevent that for you; you have the egg’s passive (yes, you can be an egg) which does not allow your health to go down beyond 1/5th from one hit, and other abilities that enhance that, like an active that restores health at the cost of mana as well as a passive that makes your “signature” move restore more mana when used to break objects; alternatively, there is an active ability that makes you ethereal and allows you to pass through enemy projectiles and ignore enemy attacks, which, alongside other abilities to restore mana, also worked for me. Beyond those two that worked for me, there are shield abilities, dodges, and many other combinations that will require a lot more skill than I have to make work, but are definitely possible.

This is just an example of the many situations the game puts you in and allows you to figure out, but it also helps point out the two brilliant decisions Drinkbox made when designing this game. Firstly, they created the forms and abilities to their maximum effectiveness; in any other game, an OP ability like healing yourself needs to be nerfed and balanced on its own, but in Nobody, these abilities are tools to solve many different problems. I never used a passive or active ability for all my characters, but I have used most of the abilities for all forms; despite how OP they seem and how fun all the abilities are, none check all the boxes needed to solve all the problems so they can be OP and not break the game. Instead, Drinkbox balanced the game to make mana and health the most vital resources; all forms can become too powerful, but they are not sustainable since mana needs to be regenerated for abilities to be usable, and most forms are light on health and that needs to be a consideration. Secondly, Nobody is a combat puzzle game, not a hack-and-slash; dungeons present a problem and abilities/forms are tools that need to be used smartly to overcome that problem, however, the trappings and dopamine-fueled loop of an ARPG are still present and are utilized to a maximum effect, making the game addictive and highly-rewarding.

To conclude, there are a few things Nobody gets wrong; I disliked the directional combat design (to aim your abilities and move in a different direction, you need to face the direction you want and hold the trigger to lock it) and I only found it functional once I got used to it, which is not great; although the game is very funny at times, most of the time the jokes don’t stick the landing, which was a shame because of how good the jokes are that do stick. There are also things that I love that I didn’t mention like the music, the map actually being useful, co-op being a chaotic good time; however, I want to wrap this up with something that happened to me that no other RPG managed to do. I always gravitate to passive abilities or upgrades that give back to my resources – whether that’s more XP or money – and Nobody has such a passive available early on; this version though seemed game-breaking. It’s a money magnet that sucks currency in and makes it worth 20% more (upgraded it can reach 50%); so, I scoffed and bought it, thinking it will always be equipped. Fast forward a couple of ass whoops later, I unequip it and then completely forget about it, since this game’s economy is tightly balanced and every item is useful, so I always felt like I needed more (ability justified) yet I never felt like I didn’t have enough (ability not necessary). However, the real kicker that made me realize this game’s special, is when halfway through the game I unlock a character whose “signature” passive is that money decreases his cooldowns by 0.5 seconds and I immediately remember this money-magnet passive ability (that I thought would be irreplaceable yet have hardly used); not only did the game not make my go-to ability irreplaceable, but it also did not make it obsolete, since the combination of both those passives is a force to be reckoned with. A brilliant combination, one of many in the game, that made me go “holy shit, this game’s too good!”.  

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