While still in early access, Viola is a polished indie game with a beautiful soundtrack and battle mechanics reminiscent of The Legend of Dragoon. Viola is well-written from the humorous dialogue right down to the text shown during loading screens. There are a few areas that could use some polishing. However, at its core, Viola is a remarkable achievement for solo indie developer Jelle Van Doorne.
Viola has a simple yet unique story, nostalgic pixel graphics, and dynamic platform/JRPG hybrid gameplay mechanics.
Viola is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
The story of Viola is simple, fast-paced, and humorous. The game follows a young girl by the named Viola who struggles to play the violin. She plays in memory of her late mother, but doesn’t believe she’ll ever be as good as her. After continuously failing to follow along with one of Bach’s compositions alone in her bedroom, she crumbles under the pressure and comes close to smashing her violin in half.
Suddenly, the violin begins to levitate. Around it, a black hole appears and transports Viola to an unknown world. In this world, she meets a large wolf man, a human who wears a cat costume 24/7, a female knight, and a large blue bird. Her companions help her throughout her journey to return home. Only it won’t prove as easy as she thought.
In the new world Viola finds herself in, everyone plays an instrument. However, in this world music does more than soothe the soul. Music can unlock doors, start fires, heal people, and summon power beyond imagination.
On the surface, Viola make look simply like a platform game with a cute story and fun characters, but it is so much more than that. Viola is a platformer/JRPG hybrid that elegantly pieces together simple platformer mechanics and dynamic battle elements. The game makes leveling up your characters both fun and satisfying. Where Viola shines above other platform games is in its monster battles. In platform games like Super Mario, you simply jump on top of an enemy a couple times and usually the battle is over. Viola takes a very different approach.
In Viola, every time you encounter an enemy the game shifts from platformer to full-blown turn-based JRPG. Viola’s battle mechanics are reminiscent of the great PlayStation classic The Legend of Dragoon, where players must hit button sequences in rhythm in order for the attack to execute.
Some attacks will be strengthened by perfectly-timed button inputs, others will fail completely if the sequence is not met. In a game with music at its center, a rhythm-based battle system feels right at home. Viola mixes up the button sequences to always keep players on their feet. Some attacks will require button mashing, others will require holding buttons. Some special attacks will require a combination of button mashing, holding, and hitting buttons in rhythm.
While battles are fun, sometimes you’ll be low on resources or simply just want to end the stage sooner. Luckily, every monster battle is avoidable. In Viola there is always more than one path to take. With the perfectly timed jump, you can simply jump over monsters and avoid battles completely.
No Save Function
One very big downside to the game is the inability to save manually. The game autosaves at the end of each level, and there are no checkpoints throughout each level. Therefore, if you get 70% into a level and accidentally turn off the game, then you will have to start again from the beginning of that stage. With that said, each stage is relatively short and could be completed in 20 minutes or so.
Graphics and Audio
It’s difficult for indie developers to polish the game from top to bottom with stunning graphics, especially on a tight budget. The developer, Jelle Van Doorne, opted for retro style 16-bit pixel graphics that are manageable to create for a solo indie dev, yet give the game a unique and classic look. For something that a single developer created all on his own, Viola is a remarkable achievement graphics-wise.
While I have no qualms about the graphical style, I do wish the battle sequence graphics were a bit more polished. Firstly, I’ll say that every character’s attack animation is unique and changes depending on the attack. From the wolf’s flying fists, to the knight’s shield bash, there are unique and well-done animations for each character’s fighting style. However, when it came to the rhythm/timing-based button sequences, you press the buttons but you can’t really feel whether or not you got it right. The only indicator is “Good”, “Fail”, or “Perfect” popping up on the screen after each button press.
With The Legend of Dragoon, the combination of sound effects, character voices, and sequence animation indicated to the player the correct timing for each move. You knew right away whether you were in sync with the rhythm or slightly off. With that said, The Legend of Dragoon was a triple-A title with a large budget and dev team, so we can hardly fault a solo indie developer for not matching that quality.
In a game with music at the focal point of its story, the music and sound effects should be a well-developed part of the game, Luckily, Viola doesn’t disappoint. The soundtrack is mix of real classical music from great composers like Bach, and original scores that match the tone of the game and each level.
In Viola, the player will have to play songs throughout the game by hitting the correct buttons to match the “notes” on the sheet music. Certain songs are used to light fires when setting up camp, or open doors at the end of a level.
The sound effects are also well done from the sound of attacks hitting your enemies to the sound of Viola jumping off walls.
Only one bug was found during our play-through of the early access version of Viola. After learning a song titled “The Prelude to Travel”, sometimes playing the song would result in a permanent black screen. At which point the only option is to restart the game. There is no manual save function. Thus, this can be annoying if players encounter the bug and have to restart the level again.