Undertale meets Guitar Hero in this psychedelic, mind-bending indie rhythm RPG.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the video game industry is no exception. Thanks to its massive success, it's no wonder that the critically-acclaimed 2015 indie game Undertale would spawn others that clearly took inspiration. Though quirky RPGs are not a new genre - take games like Earthbound, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, or even the more recent Citizens of Earth. If you're a fan of any of these games, then you might take an interest in this strange indie rhythm/RPG you've probably never heard of: Everhood.
The first title from oddly-named indie European developers, Foreign Gnomes, Everhood is a perplexing blend of bare-bones RPG gameplay, quirky characters and dialogue, and a combat system unlike any other you've ever encountered. While on the surface this may just seem like a simple cash-in on the game responsible for a million skeleton memes, there is enough to set itself apart as its own unique, ridiculous, and oftentimes disturbing adventure. What it lacks in base gameplay, it makes up for in spades with its creative Guitar Hero-esque combat which thankfully makes up the majority of the game.
Playing as a mute doll known only as Red (who reminds me heavily of Geno from Super Mario RPG), you awaken in an unknown land to find your arm has been taken by a thief. The story initially is simple: retrieve your arm and along the way discover those responsible, all while meeting the odd cast of characters who live in the mysterious world of Everhood. Initially the plot, setting, and characters seemed very cliché, and its attempts at forced humour and striking similarities to Undertale were almost off-putting.
However, as I progressed further through the story and encountered a massive plot twist, I found myself becoming engrossed. In fact, by the end of the game, I had become quite involved and attached to some of the characters. I had judged a book by its cover, and had been pleasantly proven wrong.
There's nothing overly impressive about Everhood's gameplay outside of combat, most of which is achieved through entering different doors as part of a central hub world. Each door leads to a unique area, characters whom you interact with, occasional secrets and items to locate, and once completing each area you slowly progress towards the goal of retrieving your arm.
The game's quirky and sometimes bleak sense of humour will grow on you and makes traversing otherwise bland areas much more entertaining. Along the way you'll encounter a colourful cast of characters that seem as if they may have been pulled from some sort of Undertale bootleg, but there's a certain charm to them. It's a game that is sometimes odd, sometimes genuinely funny, and sometimes just downright disturbing.
This is where the game truly shines, and thankfully this is also where you'll be spending the vast majority of your time. Not only is the combat incredibly unique - blending platforming, action and rhythm into a streamlined experience - many fights are exhilarating, visually impressive, and accompanied by some brilliant beats.
As I mentioned earlier, the combat is somewhat like Guitar Hero: five columns, notes of different colours flying towards you to the beat of the music. You have the option to dodge them, jump them, or as you progress through the game you gain the ability to deflect them back.
On numerous occasions throughout the game I was downright impressed by this combat, which despite having an initial steep difficulty curve, becomes natural after only a few encounters. You'll find yourself improving with each failed attempt, and can also adjust the difficulty on the fly. Once you develop a feel for the beat of the music, your twitch reactions will improve to the point where you barely even need to think about your moves.
This is also where the visuals will completely blow you away. What was once a bland, undecorated game, becomes a visual spectacle thanks to the effects featured in the game's battles. Whether you're playing in handheld mode or on a larger screen, the graphics during battle will truly immerse you. And don't take my word for it, check out this short excerpt from one of the trippier battles:
So for a game that relies heavily on rhythm, you'd expect a pretty decent soundtrack, right? Well Everhood delivers.
The soundtrack is created by the developer and multiple indie musicians and features music spanning multiple genres. What initially starts out as simple drum n' bass tracks progresses further into the realms of rock and heavy metal, discordant pop, short pieces of classical music, and even some tasteful flamenco guitar. Each track also has a distinct style of attack for you to overcome. Fast-paced songs are littered with small notes you can easily jump, whereas bass notes can take up the entire playing field and chords will launch a wall of notes that can only be dodged.
So is it just an Undertale rip-off? No. Although it takes many elements from Undertale in terms of its character design, aesthetic, and even small details like the font and character voices, there is enough to set Everhood apart as its own unique experience.
Is it as impressive or memorable as Undertale? Not quite. Admittedly the game still feels rough around the edges. Some areas appear bland and can be tedious to explore, certain snippets of dialogue feel forced, and gameplay outside of combat is lacking. However, the truly brilliant and engaging combat makes up for all the game's shortcomings. Considering the game takes only 5 - 6 hours to completion, I'd say it's well worth your time if you're looking for a unique indie game in a similar vein to Undertale.
So why should I play it?
You're a fan of rhythm games and RPGs (think Crypt of the Necrodancer).
Undertale had you hooked.
You're tired of turn-based RPGs with boring combat and want something different.
But why shouldn't I play it?
Rubbish at rhythm? You're gonna have a bad time.
Forced humour makes you cringe.
You can't tolerate games with very basic, minimalist graphics.
A review copy was provided for the purpose of this review. You can find out more about Everhood here: Everhood Official Website
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com