Sometimes when you're looking around on smaller gaming news websites, you come across a game that really grabs your attention. The concept alone just manages to stick in your head, and won't get out. Many times, these small but intriguing games go unnoticed or don't manage to live up to expectations. This one, however, is a hidden gem that successfully lived up to my expectations and surpassed them.
Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass is a JRPG game made in RPG Maker VX Ace. It was made by Kasey Ozymy, who has made other RPG Maker games like A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky, Born Under the Rain, The God of Crawling Eyes, and The Heart Pumps Clay. Explore the mind of an 8-year-old boy, master a variety of transformations, and do battle with an alien entity that threatens the existence of the dream world.
Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass puts players in the shoes of Jimmy, a 8-year-old boy living in a world made from Jimmy's dreams. He lives with his cheerful mother Helga, his erudite father, Andrew, his chill uncle Lars, and his brash older brother Buck. One day, Helga sends Jimmy and Buck out on an errand to get some honey from the anthropomorphic bees that live in Giant Garden so she can make a cake. However, it soon becomes apparent that there's something evil in this world, and it's way worse than the punks terrorizing and shaking the innocent animal civilians that live in the town of Smile.
An evil force known as the Pulsating Mass is making it's presence known. Its corrupting the innocent and colorful world of Jimmy's mind. It twists the bodies and minds of the inhabitants into horrors filled with hatred towards Jimmy. If left unchecked, it will destroy the world.
The game plays in a similar manner to many RPG Maker games. You use the Z key as most games would use an A button and X acts as your B button and enters your menu. The A key uses the ability of whaterver form Jimmy is in, and the S key lets you choose Jimmy's form out of those he's discovered. F1 opens up a window that lets you change your key bindings and some other options. A recent patch allows players to press F5 and F6 to change around fullscreen options. Finally, F12 resets the game and puts you at the title screen, a trait shared by many RPG Maker games. So be careful about instinctively pressing it to take a screenshot, Steam users!
The game takes it inspiration from a variety of classic games, such as EarthBound, Yume Nikki, Chrono Trigger for its world map interface, and Silent Hill. The world of Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass has a wide variety of wonderous environments, such as huge gardens, a kingdom of instrument people, and an entire kingdom rendered in old-school pixel art. These bright, happy zones stand as a strong contrast to optional areas that lay off the beaten path. In these zones, the music changes to eerie tones that override the combat music, the world becomes dark and ominous, and the enemies resemble nightmares from our darker subconscious.
The battle system plays out similarly to other RPG Maker games, like the LISA games or Suits: A Business RPG, but with avoidable random encounters. When a battle is about to start, an exclemation point appears above Jimmy's head. If it's red, the encounter is tough for his party and must be encountered. A green exclamation point, however, means the battle can be avoided by pressing the X or S key. It's always nice to be able to avoid having to deal with easy encounters bogging down the gameplay.
There are some other interesting changes to the battle system that are worth mentioning One interesting bit is the Grift skill usable by Jimmy as a Low-Level Goon. It's basically a stealing skill. What's cool, though, is that it has some interesting and practical uses in combat other than gaining loot. For example, you can steal the voice box from a robotic enemy to prevent it from fleeing and summoning an extremely deadly foe.
There is a bit of a problem with the battle system, though. The battle system in RPG Maker VX Ace has the text scroll by very fast. With some text, like a character/enemy countering, it's almost instantaneous. This can be a problem in certain fights, like a boss who calls out whether they're going to attack or give themselves a counter buff next turn. This problem, however, is mostly an issue with RPG Maker itself.
Each character in the game has a special "equipment" item permanently locked into their "personality" slot that gives them a special passive ability. For instance, Buck's brash personality gives him a 25% chance to attack a second time when hitting enemies, while Helga's optimism makes her immune to common status conditions (sick, sleep, afraid, and immunodeficiency.) Jimmy's personality is "empathetic," which gives him the very special ability to transform into certain creatures. After defeating certain bosses, like a Revolting Blob that spawnef from some dirty dishes in Buck's room, Jimmy spends a moment imagining himself as that creature and can then transform into them.
Unlocking these new forms provide several benefits. First off, they give Jimmy special abilities he can use on the field by pressing the A key. Secondly, each form acts as a sort of 'class' Jimmy can become when in combat, modifying his stats and giving him access to different skills. Finally, if Jimmy wins a fight in a certain form, that form gains experience and can level up, providing a variety of benefits as seen below on the 'Imagination' screen.
On this screen, you can see a variety of important information. In the center right, you can see how a form modifies Jimmy's stats and the form's level. The 50's Style Vampire seen above is a magically-focused class, and Jimmy gains a permanent point to magic defense every time that form gains a level. On the left is a list of skills Jimmy uses when in his default form. When Jimmy levels a form up enough, he can take the active skills available in that form (and passive skills themed around that form) and use them in his basic form. However, the skill slots marked by a star can be used in any form, which gives us the ability to have a vampire that uses holy magic, as seen above. This system is pretty impressive in how it lets you customize Jimmy to make him one of the strongest and most adaptive characters in the game.
Graphics and audio
The graphics in the game generally have a granier and more retro style when compared to other well-known RPG Maker VX Ace games. If I had to make a quick comparison, I'd say it looks like a graphical style inspired by EarthBound. It's a style I find personally very appealing and helps draw out the dreamlike nature of the world.
Speaking of influences, the world map appears to be highly influenced by how the world map works in Chrono Trigger, another classic SNES RPG.
Of course, just because the graphical style is normally bright and colorful doesn't mean it can't also be used to create some eerie environments.
Zones like the one above also monopolize on the tonal shift to give us enemies that don't follow the normal artistic appearance of other enemies. Compare some of the enemies above to these ones below.
The music in this game is also highly memorable. It's got a wide variety of music that greatly fits the moods expressed throughout the game. We've got calm, soothing tones for places like Jimmy's house. We've got muffled whispering for that optional area above where you fight the eyes in the darkness. There's even some chiptune songs for the area that is basically an old-school fantasy game kingdom. One song I recently found that sticks in my mind also comes from an optional dungeon. The dungeon is a strange cave where the world seems to be glitching out and numbers are written on the cave walls. The soundtrack for this area was this bizarre and chaotic song that primarily consisted of samples of people shouting different numbers and static. It just stands out so much for how unique it is!
Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass is one of the most interesting indie video games I've played in a long while. While there are people who might be turned off by it being a JRPG, appearing cutesy (or being surprisingly creepy at times,) and having some minor issues due to being a RPG Maker game, they'll be missing out on something great. The game is a real emotional roller coaster with strong gameplay, a strong range of music, and great writing. It's really a hidden gem and I hope people are willing to give it a try.
|+ Strong writing.||– Battle text can be too quick.|
|+ Great mix of music and graphical styles.|
|+ Powerful and emotional story.|
|+ Unique and impressive empathy system.|