Orangeblood review- Racism and Normalization of Genocidal Events does not Make You Edgy
Content warning: Game references the Holocaust and uses racial denotations and both are discussed in this review.
RPGs have always held a very special place in my heart. They’re what got me into gaming. When Orangeblood popped up on my radar it piqued my interest with it’s interesting twist on the genre. But, then I played it and my thoughts on this immediately soured. Let’s delve into why.
Orangeblood takes place in New Koza, a Neo Tokyo city where there’s technology everywhere, and an overly cluttered city riddled with gang warfare. You play as Vanilla, a woman who was just released from jail with the task to investigate some goings on in New Koza for the CIA. On her way back to the city, she chats with a confidant, Machiko, who both then plan on taking back the streets for themselves. You immediately start going on varying missions to “clean up” the competition, take over New Koza, and complete this investigation that will clear Vanilla’s name. This sounds like it could become interesting, but it quickly becomes a senseless slaughter fest where the game refuses to find a way to interconnect every plot point that happens.
The game gets broken down into two different phases as you progress through the story. The first part involves taking down one of the other gangs in the area either because someone asked you to and it’s beneficial to Vanilla, or they are threatening Vanilla and her gang. What quickly follows is a murder spree through said gang that ends in murdering in cold blood their leader/ hit job as they are trying to call Vanilla and her gang out for her behavior. This is what may be the worst part of the game, but I will get into more detail on this later. The second part is a generic dungeon fighting very similar enemies (until the bottom floor) collecting loot. This second part always ends in a robotic self defense fight that seems to be much easier than what you’d expect; again, more on this soon. This creates a very disconnected segmented progression through the story where it’s so hard not to feel like which side of the gameplay was shoehorned in to extend the gameplay. The only strand that reminds you on what to do next is a programmer that requires time to reprogram a key for Vanilla so she can get to the next floor of this multi-level dungeon that is more-or-less the overarching story of the game.
The combat is turn-based but with an interesting twist. Characters only use guns to fight, and with that comes a change in how combat plays out. As you’d expect, there is an attack, skill, and check equipment. But guns have ammo and a limited capacity, right? Well that’s where the reload option comes in. Each player under the health bar has an AP gauge that lets you know how much ammunition is left in each person’s magazine. When it gets low you can choose reload to fill your AP gauge to full. Later on in the game you can even get special benefits from reloading like increased attack power or heal other party members. Additionally, the characters slowly generate SP by taking damage, landing hits, or passively from abilities or gear. With enough SP each character can use special skills learned from items or their specific special skill. For instance, Vanilla can use a sharpshooter ability that lets her fire what is basically a six-shooter at random enemies and deal additional damage without the cost of using up AP. Jackie, the last member of your party to join the gang, can use SP to use “10-step kill” which allows her to dodge every attack for a turn and immediately counterattack. Now reloading has some negative effects too. Like if Jackie has 10-step kill active, a reload will cancel that effect. So paying attention to AP and what turn each player goes is very important.
But there are so many different stats that you have to balance, and it’s honestly shocking and overwhelming how much is involved in combat, even though many of them just don’t seem to really have as much of an effect on each person’s combat prowess as you’d expect. For instance, each gun has speed, damage, hit percentage (accuracy), damage attributes (freezing, fire, electricity), reload effects, kill effects, magazine size, how many bullets get fired each attack, crit rate. Like I said, it’s a long list. Along with a gun, each character can equip kicks (shoes) and gear (a helmet or body armor) that also affect each stat significantly. For instance, body armor basically takes each character’s speed down to a point they will be going last in a turn order. You’ll be finding so much loot when exploring “dungeons”, but most of it feels very insignificant for one main reason. Any hit percentage below 100% feels meaningless. I found my guns missing enemies way more than the hit percentage said and it was aggravating. Great guns would basically become lethal paperweights if the hit percentage was below 100%. Damage also felt like it fluctuated to a point that the damage numbers the gun said it’d land and this variation made the combat more frustrating than anything.
Now while exploring around the world and coming across enemies, you have a chance to land a strike on them before engaging them in combat. If you are lucky enough to, each character automatically starts the fight with 50SP. But, each character’s special skill costs about 40-50SP to use. Fighting generic enemies from the open world felt boring very, very quickly. After every person used their special attack, the enemies were basically dead or about to die. Even late-game enemies felt like pushovers because of this advantage. Even then, this one feature to get combat advantage felt finicky at best. The timing never matched up as to when after landing a hit in the open world would lead to getting this benefit. Hitting and immediately engaging in combat? You may not have that 50SP boost. Hitting and waiting a split second? Same thing. You may find yourself fighting the enemies normally.
Even with the chance of getting 50SP not feeling right, combat in general is very unfair in the worst ways possible. See, not every enemy uses a gun. If they do, they don’t have to reload. If they don’t they pack more of a punch than what you’d be able to keep up with with the very minimal healing abilities available to you. On top of that, the turn gauge doesn’t even reflect how many attacks each enemy can make. Trust me, I’ve looked at the stats of enemies I know will take 3-4 turns in one and you don’t get that information from where you’d expect. This knowledge just comes from learning during the heat of battle. This creates such an unfairness and disparity when it comes to combat that winning will just come down to sheer luck. Particularly during boss fights when each enemy will do 3-4 attacks each turn that buff themselves and demolish your party, it is just downright frustrating. Let alone the fact that critical hits in this game against your party are basically one-hit KOs because of how little health you have compared to the enemies you face. When your party does get wiped, you just get dumped out by the trash (GET IT?!), and are forced to pay $1 to get 100 health back by drinking soda from a vending machine. This literally wastes so much time out of the game just because you have to sit in front of a vending machine holding “up” and watching the characters drink soda after soda after soda…. If dying dropped you off at the trash with full health, it may have made this terrible experience a little better but drinking soda for a good amount of time just twists the knife even more after you pay about a fourth of your money just because you died.
The characters do level up as well in this game. Characters that are alive get experience. But I have tried to do research as to what changes when you level up and I couldn’t seem to find anything, maybe a minimal boost in health and defense at best. Each character’s level feels very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. They don’t even get new abilities at certain levels like most other RPGs. There is no ultimate special skill that they learn. What they have when they first join the party is their only unique skill. Everything else is either bought or learned. Even enemy levels feel insignificant. You can go from a level 15 area to a level 30 and do just fine with the same equipment. No level boosting needed. Overall, combat is just a mess and needs so much more balancing to make it feel more enjoyable instead of leaving everything up to sheer dumb luck.
Before wrapping up, I want to touch on the dialogue. Your team of 4 women talk like a kid in middle school acting like they’re mature and tough when talking to high schoolers. In other words, they insert curse words into every one of their sentences. There were numerous times I couldn’t believe what I was reading. For instance, about 2 hours in1 you meet the third party member, Yazawa. Yazawa is a member of a mainland Yakuza gang who wants to clear out the Yakuza in New Koza. During this introduction Yazawa talks about taking out every single member of the New Koza Yakuza. As a response when talking about a quid pro quo with Yazawa, Vanilla says to Machiko, “If this murder-happy broad goes and strait up Holocausts all them Yakuza, and then manages to take that ‘special bread factory’ for herself…” This is the exact moment the game lost me. For some background I am Jewish. I have been Bar Mitzvahed and still practice. Reading the name of a horrific genocidal event that happened to my ancestors, and an event that also horribly affected many communities who are still fighting for equality today used as a verb completely infuriated me, as it should everyone else. There are many words that just cannot be normalized; the Holocaust being one of them. Once these words that describe horrible atrocities are normalized, those atrocities also begin to lose meaning, which then leads to history repeating itself. However, this isn’t where this games faux edginess ends.
One of the later boss fights, the leader of the Russian Mob, is telling Vanilla how much she hates being in New Koza. In her speech, she calls the citizens of New Koza “mixed-blood Monkeys”. After all the edgy talk, normalization of horrific historical events and racism (even under the guise of a small bad person) just makes one wonder… how many people did this script go through who could’ve said at any point, “we need to change this. This type of language is never OK”. I hate to say this, but I will play devils advocate. This game was developed by a very small Japanese team and it got localized to the US. Still, any person who has hands in the pot of making video games has an obligation to raise flags when questionable things like racism and normalization of international tragedies are used in the quickly maturing art of Video Games. Video Games are time and again scrutinized by government agencies and parents who either have agendas or are looking out for the wellbeing of their child. Any one of these games that have the official stamp of a platform to be playable on their system can be the next example of “this is why video games are bad”.
Orangeblood is a game that had some potential to be a fun twist on the RPG genre. But lack of combat balancing and leaving everything to chance from pre-battle hits to how powerful a critical hit is makes everything so frustrating and disappointing. I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone because of the combat alone. But this game is just simply unplayable and nobody should be buying this because of how edgy and “tough” the dialogue tries to sound. Instead of trying to sound like a gang, these sociopaths sound like young kids who want to be tough and throw around racist language and refer to horrific events. That forced edginess truly makes one wonder… did anyone read over the script after the first draft? Because in the end, this edgy game quickly dulled and hurt itself when trying to cut the surface.