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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Friday, May 1, 2020

Quarantine Game Recs: One Step From Eden

I’ve been playing more video games than normal thanks to sheltering in place, and it makes for a good topic to discuss during times where many other things are cancelled, so I figured: why not write up recommendations for some of my favorite games I’ve played while in quarantine? Today’s entry is One Step From Eden by Thomas Moon Kang, a Kickstarter project that finally released in back March. So far, it’s been one of my favorite releases of 2020.

One thing I’ve thought about a decent amount is “orphaned” series and their gameplay; that is, major game series that try new game mechanics and formats, but later abandon them, meaning they just...aren’t seen again. Like, sure there are plenty of games where you play as Mario and run and jump on platforms. That will never change. But every now and then, those major series will try a spinoff or something, and those formats are less likely to stick.

For instance, I (like many other people) am a big fan of the first two Paper Mario games, spinoffs from the main Mario series. The second title was a nice expansion on the original entry, but from the third game on, Nintendo went in a radically different direction, and nothing since has really hit in the same way. Anyone wanting more of that was out of luck.

Sometimes with these orphaned spinoff series, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a revival, like Luigi’s Mansion, which took over a decade to release a second entry. Or maybe the company will make spiritual successors that are at least somewhat similar, like Sega moving on from Sonic Riders’ hoverboard racing games to more standard kart racer. But often, these ideas can also end up just as orphaned as smaller series; ask anyone still waiting for sequels to, say, Pokémon Snap or Diddy Kong Racing.

This has been one of the biggest areas for indie games to explore, in my opinion, since most of these ideas still have room to grow and explore. For instance, I’m partially convinced that the boom in 2-D Metroidvania indie titles is in part due to Nintendo’s seeming hesitance to continue the semititular series.* If Nintendo wasn’t sure where to go with new ideas for the series, plenty of other fans were ready to step in with their own interpretations. Other orphaned subseries and mechanics have seen their own revivals (for another example, the original Paper Mario’s influence lives on in titles like Underhero and Bug Fables).

*For reference, the last five 2-D Metroid games have been: 2017’s Samus Returns (a remake), 2010’s Other M, 2004’s Zero Mission (another remake), 2002’s Fusion, and 1994’s Super Metroid.
One game mechanic like this that I grew up with was Mega Man Battle Network’s battle system, where you moved your character around a grid throwing attacks at an opponent on the other side of the screen. It was really interesting, but when the series petered out shortly before the 2010s began, there really wasn’t anything to work with those ideas anymore, making it ripe for someone to take and re-invent.

And that’s where One Step From Eden comes into the picture. Taking inspiration from the old Battle Network series, it improves and expands on the battle system and transforms it into a wonderful new experience.

If you’ve ever played something like Slay the Spire (one of the roguelikes I mentioned in my 2019 roundup), One Step From Eden is that, but battles use the aforementioned battle system rather than turn-based combat. You take a character from node to node on a journey, defeating monsters and machines with your trusty deck of spells. Every victory earns you a new spell to add to your rotation, and maybe a relic or other bonus to improve your chances. The goal is to fight your way through seven worlds en route to the titular Eden; if your health reaches zero, it’s game over and you need to start again.

And as daunting as that’s actually kind of nice getting to start over, because there are a wealth of ways to customize your playthrough, and getting to try them out has been one of the more entertaining aspects of my many playthroughs. With the old long-form storylines in Battle Network and its limited deck sizes, it was easy to get locked into one playstyle, with fewer incentives to change for the sake of it.

Since you start from zero every time in Eden, there’s little harm in building in a totally different direction each time. And the game even lets you set “preferred” types of spells for each run, making them more likely to turn up so you can re-find synergies or playstyles that you’ve liked in past runs (I’m particularly fond of Phalanx’s shields, and Anima’s power to call down the wrath of the elements upon foes). And for added variety, you’ll unlock the various world bosses as characters over time, allowing you an even wider variety of options to play with.

I won’t lie, the game is tough, especially at the beginning. But there are patterns that you pick up on, and once you do that and find a style that fits your play, deep runs become no problem. In all, it’s a very interesting, rewarding, and fun gameplay loop to master.

Of course, there’s more to games than just that, but on the other fronts, One Step From Eden does admirably. I’m a huge fan of the general aesthetics. In particular, the character designs are great, with a distinct style that translates beautifully into the game’s pixel art. And each of the member of the cast stands out thanks to their distinctive designs, from the knightly Reva; to Gunner, the mercenary with a gun larger than he is; to the mysterious rock-fiddler Violette. That is exactly the type of thing you want in a game like this. I found myself anxious to unlock each new boss, despite obviously knowing nothing of them going in. And it helps that each one gets a kickass boss theme, which are the highlights of the solid soundtrack, to help give an even fuller picture of them.

Those make up the majority of the visual and story elements, which is maybe my only major complaint. I wish a bit more of the story and worldbuilding came through the game itself, because you can tell it’s there. The story is kept minimal (which makes some sense, since it’s a roguelike), and most of the flavor texts and quotes you encounter are jokes and references, which aren’t bad, it just made me wish there was a little bit more to flesh out the world even more, because I really dug the bits I did get at the time and poking around online later. 

The combination magic-and-technology going on is cool, I’m always a fan of dual sci-fi/fantasy worlds. It appears to be set in a sort of post-post-apocalypse, where different groups have sort of re-established a semblance of order after some time, and appear to be the manufacturers of the types of spells you use (e.g. the aforementioned spells that provide armor all come from the same source, a group or corporation or something actually named “Phalanx”, which is a cool in-game justification for the theming if nothing else). And of course, naming the end destination “Eden” conjures up a lot of ideas on its importance and possible motives for the storyline. But how all the characters relate to this world, each other, the importance of the various groups, the general specifics of it all...well, it’s fun to imagine, at least.

So yeah, if you need something to fill your hours this quarantine, I’d absolutely recommend picking up One Step From Eden. It’s been one of my favorite games of the year so far, I imagine myself coming back to it again and again going forward.

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