Orangeblood is the first game to come from indie developer Grayfax Software and was published by the notable Playism, who brought us such games as Kero Blaster and La Mulana. It’s a JRPG with strong influences from 90s black culture, with hip-hop and rap being the dominant inspirations.
The year is 199X, in an alternate world where New Koza, an artificial island off of the coast of Okinawa, is host to some of the roughest and toughest crews in all the world. As a result, the culture on display is a hodgepodge of black American, Russian, and Japanese gangs. The game starts with our hot-blooded and impudent protagonist, Vanilla, locked up in a cell, being forced to carry out orders from a mysterious yet powerful group. They promise her that if she does this job, she’ll have her criminal record completely expunged. Joining her on this quest is the up-and-coming DJ Machiko, a spunky yet naive young woman who’s the younger sister of one of Vanilla’s past associates. The two have a series of misadventures as the game proceeds, and eventually meet with two other party members as the story progresses.
Orangeblood’s dialogue can oftentimes be exhausting, with characters using ridiculous levels of swears and lines such as “thug life!” or “I’m on you like stank on shit.” It feels like a non-black person attempting to recreate that manner of speech, but with absolutely no subtlety or nuance.
The gameplay in Orangeblood is nothing special, yet nothing offensive. It’s a very simple JRPG system with interesting ideas that typically fall flat. For example, Michiko has the ability to freely switch between two modes: Heat Up and Chill Out. These modes provide different passive buffs, with the former giving an SP bonus and the latter providing additional HP at the start of a turn. While in theory this mechanic seems interesting, in gameplay it’s simply clunky and obnoxious to switch between, especially with a lack of proper indicators about what mode you’re currently in. The game uses the turn order system found in games such as Final Fantasy X and and Octopath Traveler, with ally and enemy placements shown on the top right. This allows the player to plan around certain events and even kill enemies before they have the chance to attack.
Difficulty spikes in this game are tremendous, sometimes jumping 10 levels in-between areas. As a result, grinding is a necessity in this game. About two hours of my total nine were spent leveling my characters in order to take down an incredibly difficult boss enemy. After losing an encounter with the aforementioned bosses, the game sets every character at 1 health and spawns the player at the most recent checkpoint. These checkpoints feel arbitrarily placed and can ask you to do an unnecessary amount of walking just to have a rematch. Trying to traverse the environment at 1 health is no fun either, especially if there are no healing points nearby, which is often the case. Dodging enemies on the overworld with clunky controls is a mess, and I really wish there was an easier way to retry boss fights. After returning to a boss arena, there’s no way to skip their dialogue, so you have no choice but to mash through text you’ve already seen time and time again.
The aforementioned healing stations, while a neat idea, are annoying after you sustain a few deaths. Characters regain health by drinking root beer at a vending machine, but one root beer only heals so much. You may have to interact with the vending machine up to 15 times in order to fully heal your party. This gets old incredibly quickly and I don’t understand why it wasn’t simpler. Vending machines also cost a dollar, but that is a minor issue and costs are usually negligible with how much money you get. On the topic of the overworld, the hit detection can be incredibly off at points, with collision into objects and enemies oftentimes feeling inaccurate. There are even times where you can walk straight through parts of the scenery.
Orangeblood’s aesthetics are pretty par for the course, with neither dazzling nor disastrous moments. Sometimes the overworld can suffer from pretty major slowdown, and the sprite art can make it difficult to traverse the world. There are times where I can’t tell where to properly enter a door, where the borders on a map are, or how to traverse to the next area, because the elements on screen look too similar. In handheld mode, the text is almost unreadable and gave me a few headaches before I decided to stick with docked mode.
There are numerous typos in Orangeblood’s script, and text frequently overlaps. The stylized letters make it difficult to read some bits of dialogue and text boxes cover each other all the time during overworld sequences and boss fights.
This game’s soundtrack is surprisingly solid and does a great job recreating the atmosphere the setting is attempting to capture. Though the tracks are catchy, they can sometimes be used for too long and begin to wear thin. I recall during one area, there was only one theme, even during normal and boss enemy encounters. I may have liked it first, but after about 20 minutes, it overstayed its welcome. I also had a few instances where songs simply did not load in at all after a death.
Orangeblood has a neat premise but ultimately fails to live up to it in all departments, sans the soundtrack. The visuals leave something to be desired, the gameplay is hollow, the story is vapid, and on the mechanical side of things, frequently runs into issues. I respect and appreciate what it’s going for, but the execution is simply too sloppy for me to enjoy and I certainly can’t vouch for it.