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Atlas Wept Review: The Ultimate Role-Playing Game for Earthbound Fans?



Altas Wept Review

Steam/PC

1/17/24

Kbojisoft/Wings

Reviewed by Ole Gamer Joe


Earthbound, or Mother 2 in Japan is a game that on the surface is a simple tale. A young boy named Ness joins up with a group of friends to stop the evil alien Giygas from turning the world into chaos.  But for those of us who grew up with Earthbound, we recognize that it’s so much more than that. It’s a game about love, friendship, not understanding the world, and seeing things from an entirely different perspective. When we are young, we are oftenmore brave, more willing to take risks. 


Yet as we grow older, we realize our mortality, slow down a bit and take things in stride. At least that’s the case for me. 


Earthbound was not successful in terms of sales upon release, yet today it is revered as one of the greatest games ever created. It’s near and dear to my heart and has influenced many incredible indie releases throughout the years. Without Earthbound there is no Undertale, no Lisa, and no Eastward. It’s not that Earthbound was doing anything radically different in terms of gameplay, it was more to do with how it presented itself. Many indie developers have been chasing that magic ever since. 


A screenshot from Atlas Wept
Colorful, pixel art graphics from Atlas Wept

Some creators have been successful in capturing the essence of Earthbound’s charms such as the games I previously mentioned. Other games have struggled to differentiate themselves. This brings us to Atlas Wept, an offbeat retro RPG that comes to us from developer Kboji Soft and Publisher Wings. Did Atlas Wept leave me crying tears of joy, or tears of agony? Let’s find out in our full review. 


After opening up on a basic tutorial, Atlas Wept puts you in control of a mysterious robed character. You don’t know who you are, where you are, or just what exactly you’re supposed to be doing, but you are level 50 for what it’s worth, so clearly this character has been doing some grinding while you were away. Suddenly, you are thrust into the game’s battle system, which is triggered by colliding with on-screen enemies that track your every move. You’ll quickly come to learn that battles are mostly unavoidable throughout the majority of Atlas Wept. Spoiler alert, they are also the best part of the entire experience.


The wavy, psychedelic backdrops, party members with their backs towards the player, and bizarre, often twisted musical compositions are enough to get any Earthbound fan excited. Even the quirky enemy designs feel uncanny, with twisted alien-like abominations presented in lovely pixel art. I love turn-based combat I'll admit, so a fair warning, if you aren’t a fan of that particular blend of combat, you’ll find almost nothing for you in Atlas Wept. And I mean that quite literally, it is a game that made me feel nothing outside of battle. That’s a shame because for a game that is so clearly inspired by another release that was all about feelings, Atlas Wept is almost completely dead inside.


Perhaps it’s the “story”, I am using parentheses for those of you watching the video. There's really no nice way to say this, but Atlas Wept feels as though it was written by a rambling 6th grader. It is so disjointed, convoluted, and impossible to interpret that David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive feels digestible in comparison. Atlas Wept feels more like Inland Empire fucked Donnie Darko and we are left to make sense of it all. Games like this are why it’s crucial for indie developers to hire a talented writer when creating an RPG, or at the very least a script editor.


A screenshot from Atlas Wept
Atlas Wept features a dark, original story

But I digress, let’s try to make sense of the plot that is presented to us. The world in which Atlas Wept takes place is covered by an energy field which is protecting the planet from outside attackers. Two humans come across a robot named Gi after entering a cave via a hole that has randomly opened up in the earth. Gi explains that he has lost most of his memories while traveling and will need time to reboot in order to restore the database to its entirety. What he does remember is that he is looking for SOMEONE, so the two children who are named Lucy and Hal join up with Gi, or as they call him, GiGi, to help regain his lost memories together.


Throughout Atlas Wept you’ll suddenly shift to an entirely different party of characters. This secondary cast is led by a young girl named Dezi from the town of Boggleville. After running various errands for her parents, Dezi meets another character named Charlie and the two venture off on their own adventure. There’s a tower in the sky, random monsters, and some truly ridiculous reveals involving certain characters. I assume these moments were supposed to be shocking but are delivered with no conviction and had me rolling my eyes on more than one occasion. 


Many of the core issues behind Atlas Wept come back to the writing. Every character feels written with the exact same mannerisms making it hard to differentiate their personalities. It feels as if no care was put into creating unique dialogue that could potentially show off the quirks and habits of the cast. This begs the question, if the writers don’t care why should I? The answer is that you shouldn’t.


A screenshot from Atlas Wept
Atlas Wept appears to take some inspiration from EarthBound

Atlas Wept doesn’t need to be a literary masterpiece. That said, my eyes shouldn’t be closing while my head nods down and the controller falls from my hands either. A good RPG like the one that so clearly inspired this game should have fun character moments and events to keep things engaging, to keep the player invested. There’s no Ness here who questions why the world is the way it is, no Paula to fall in love with, and no Porky to dread each encounter from. I’m not suggesting Atlas Wept should be a direct copy of Earthbound, but it ultimately feels like they took the look and vibe of that game and sucked out all of the soul.


One might say, “Writing isn’t everything if a game is still fun” and to that person I say, It isn’t everything, but it is a crucial component of the role-playing game genre. Without a compelling reason to care about the overlying conflict, and with a lack of characters that you can get behind and feel emotions for, Atlas Wept ends up an empty shell of a game only held together by a creative and oftentimes enjoyable combat system. 


Fundamentally, Atlas Wept is designed much like any other 8-to-16-bit retro RPG. The game takes place from a traditional top-down perspective with players exploring villages and dungeons. You will have the ability to run, though doing so is mostly useless as bumping into objects disrupts the animation and ultimately running feels slower than walking because of this. Movement feels sluggish in general as this game doesn’t scroll along all that smoothly to start with.


The general flow of gameplay involves being presented with a task to complete, usually a fetch quest, and inevitably coming across a story-beat that leads to an empty, hollow dungeon. The dungeon design is flat, boring, and completely uninspired, with the game's idea of a puzzle usually involving flipping switches back and forth. While there are a few different paths to take depending on the dungeon, most of these areas feel like someone’s weekend hobby as opposed to fully fleshed out creations. Even if there were compelling reasons to explore these labyrinths, it would be pretty frustrating to do so. In an attempt to cover up the poorly designed areas, they are filled with a slew of enemies that will track you down faster than the FBI.


Even stranger, many of the attribute upgrades in Atlas Wept that you can obtain are randomly out in the open, not hidden or difficult to find at all. Because of this, becoming more powerful feels unsatisfying, as if your newfound strengths were only earned by suffering through the gameplay loop. These attribute points are presented as stamps that can be attached to a character of your choosing. The system itself isn’t awful, in fact I rather enjoyed figuring out how to place each stamp without overlapping a previously placed stamp. I just wish that collecting stamps had involved effort, not just randomly walking by them on a relatively linear path.


But let’s talk about the turn-based combat, which as I alluded to earlier is the strongest aspect of Atlas Wept. You’ll take turns bashing foes with an assortment of regular attacks and magical spells. Sounds traditional enough right? It is, except for the fact that the game takes a few pages out of the Undertale book. Basic attacks offer up a rhythm minigame of sorts where 4 cursors come together. Timing your button press just as the cursors intersect will result in dealing additional damage. 


You can almost think of it like Squall’s gunblade back in the day, where you are rewarded for your timing. It’s honestly a pretty fun way to attack, though casting magic is even more enjoyable. Each spell that you cast offers up a unique Wario Ware like minigame for you to participate in. Most of the offensive attacks are again rhythm based, however when enemies attack you things get far more interesting. Enemy attacks may involve you hopping about on a grid, avoiding unique patterns in order to not take damage. 


A screenshot from Atlas Wept
Battles in Atlas Wept can be a time commitment

While the core concept remains the same throughout, each enemy's attack feels unique and that helps to keep the combat feeling fresh (at least for a bit). Unfortunately, battles go on for far too long as enemies have what can often feel like an endless supply of health. This quickly leads to battle fatigue. Atlas Wept isn’t all that challenging on the default intended settings, so for as fun as each battle initially presents itself, it soon becomes a snore fest. I spent upwards to 10 minutes real-time in battles depending on how many enemies swarmed me at once, which left me completely burned out.


Visually Atlas Wept isn’t much to look at. In the spirit of Earthbound the game goes for a mix of 8 and 16 bit pixel art, and while it serves the purpose, many of the environments also feel quite bland. The dungeons in particular have no personality, and even the few villages that you come across just aren’t that lively or fun to explore. While the game also bites off of the classic Earthbound font in its menus, the dialogue boxes are bland and boring. As I alluded to earlier there is no character portrait art, so all told the game really doesn’t do much in the visual department to help it stand out from other great indie RPGs. 


On the flipside, I actually quite liked the soundtrack featured in Atlas Wept which is clearly inspired by the zany and trippy noises of the Mother series. Many of the compositions loop around far too soon, but most of them are well done. You’ll hear plenty of haunting synths and unusual noises. The sound effects feature a nice retro tone that wouldn’t have felt all that out of place in the late 80s early 90s. All told it isn’t revolutionary or new, but the sound work is handled well by someone who clearly listened to a great deal of Earthbound’s OST. 


Atlas Wept is a game that ultimately feels undercooked. The lack of any sort of compelling narrative hurts the overall experience deeply. The turn-based combat has some great ideas and is fun in short bursts but is far too frequent with battles that last what feels like an eternity. And while the visuals are enough to get by and the sound is quite lovely, it just isn’t enough. While not a complete Indie Krampus, Atlas is certainly shrugging at this one. 


Pros

  • Fun ideas from the combat system

  • Pretty good soundtrack and overall sound design

Cons

  • Battles last far too long

  • Awful writing

  • Poor dungeon design

  • Lacks an identity of its own







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