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Grimm’s Hollow Review: Harrowing Ambition

Alone to wander the afterlife, Lavender awakes to a ghastly sight: balloons. Determined to find answers, you are tasked with helping Lavender wander the desolate purple-ness of the afterlife, combating the toils of regret and solitude along the way. To review Grimm's Hollow is akin to reviewing the struggle within all of us.

Grimm's Hollow Review: Harrowing Ambition

Introduction

This review of Grimm’s Hollow will set a personal achievement. Normally, when I prepare to write down a formal review, the subject has set in my mind for at least a day or more. While I believe that critiquing is best done when the topic is fresh, there remains an urgency to let the emotions settle. My personal schedule will not permit me this leniency this time around. In order to get this article out the day of Halloween, I have to do it within an hour of finishing the game. With an RPG like this, residual emotions may run the risk of tampering my personal preferences.

This time of year is one that many count down the days to. Halloween remains one of the most impactful holidays in the United States, resulting in millions of communities allowing kids in costumes to go around the neighborhood from early to late evening demanding candy with a magic phrase. Even as an adult, the opportunity to cosplay and participate in scary activities makes October 31st a memorable day of festivities. For me, I don’t generally dress up or even do anything too out of the ordinary. What I do like to do is partake in spookier-than-normal games and what have you. Wouldn’t you know, Grimm’s Hollow comes out of nowhere and releases the night before Halloween, providing an eventful pre-Halloween treat. What it ended up focusing on gave new meaning to what many consider the traditional Halloween frights.

Grimm’s Hollow is available on Steam for free.

Story

While I’ve been wrong about a creator’s intentions before, this game feels like it wishes to tell a story more than it wants to enrich the RPG formula. The “Story Rich” moniker, excessive amounts of dialogue, and presentation of characters and narrative significance reminds me greatly of Undertale. Similar as it may be, Grimm’s Hollow is its own entity, wishing to provoke and elaborate on a story that’s a tad more straightforward.

Something that can be noted right away is the game’s desire to appear cute. Humor is incorporated quite often early on, and periodically throughout the events that transpire. Much of it isn’t funny, but at least it isn’t so distracting that one couldn’t take it seriously. Some of this may be a result of the title character, Lavender, and the spunk she brings as a lead. While her age is only implied, her presence evokes a maternal maturity found in those a tad older. Inquisitive, caring, and immensely stubborn, her independence makes for an endearing perspective. There are some things that a silent protagonist cannot provide, and this is an example of a well-written lead character. The game is as much her journey as it is ours.

The journey is ours to die in

The journey is ours to die in

What I didn’t come to expect from Grimm’s Hollow is just how serious the story gets, which makes it risky to review. Efforts have been made in the past to generalize a story based on vague emotional buffers to avoid spoilers, and this may be another case. On paper, the story is simple: a girl dies and awakens in the afterlife, with a sudden realization that she needs to find her brother. Upon doing so, the goal shifts and the focus of the story alters its trajectory. “One-track” would be a good way of elaborating on the narrative, with the twists and loops only done to hamper the expected arrival time. In the big picture, there’s only a single goal and the entire game is confined to seeing it through. To some, that lack of nuance could be a dealbreaker.

For what it’s worth, this linear path isn’t so painful. Of what does occur, I was invested enough to care for the characters involved. Characters have clear goals and personalities that embody their place in the game. And while I may simply be too excitable, I’d argue there’s symbolic representation to the events of the game. Specific characters and their ambitions, the type of enemies one faces, the areas one goes through, and the trials that Lavender faces—all feel strangely calculated. Messages lying in wait could make for repeated dissections. As could the heartfelt messages of loss and forgiveness, too, but nevertheless.

There's a tired Lavender in all of us

There’s a tired Lavender in all of us

Gameplay

One other reason I feel story was more interesting to the developer is that the gameplay aspects are not deep. As an RPG, this is a very run-of-the-mill interpretation of the genre, with some real-time strategy as a spice. One can level up various statistics, learn new moves, and build up experience-like points to use as currency for shops or a talent tree system. Battles consist of normal attacks, special moves, items, and fleeing. One has a timer bar that one must wait to fill before doing anything, as is the same for enemies. Does this all sound familiar? It should if you’ve played any RPG ever. This review could paint Grimm’s Hollow into a very bare-boned gameplay experience, but in all honesty, I was fine with it. It’s a matter of expectations. This game is free, and spans only two hours. Don’t expect Chrono Trigger.

If you’re an RPG veteran, this probably isn’t the game for you. Should the incredibly simple and straightforward game mechanics not bother you, there’s fun to be had here. Battles take up about 60% of the game’s two-hour-ish runtime, so one need be fond of it quickly. The assortment of enemies one faces provides ample challenge to experiment with new techniques and strategies. Some enemies multiply, others poison, while a few are just all-around awful. My advice to anyone trying this out, though, is to advance through the talent tree immediately. I died a handful of times within the first twenty minutes because of neglecting the talent tree. The initial stages of the game kind of throw instructions at you and expect the player to pick it up as they go.

You can evade special attacks but not NORMAL attacks - Grimm's Hollow Review

You can evade special attacks but not NORMAL attacks

From a performance standpoint, Hollow’s Grimm runs well, though not flawlessly. Movement feels a tad stiff while traversing aquatic tiles moves far too quickly. While I didn’t go out of my way to walk through every wall, there was one I stumbled upon by accident where I stepped into the black void of the background, which seemed to serve no purpose. Some issues with menus popping up when they shouldn’t be occurred during endgame battles. Nothing gamebreaking by any means, but enough accumulative bugs to question the immersiveness of the world.

Graphics & Audio

I have to confess: I tend to like darker aesthetics over their colorful cousins. Grimm’s Hollow has a wonderful world to review, complete with deep shades of purple, blue, and black. It reminds me quite a bit of the underground caves in Outbuddies, only fluffier. As I said before, the game wishes to be cute, and that can be seen quite provocatively with its aesthetic. Most important characters have round, chibi-ish faces that, frankly, feel almost Hot Topic-esque. Enemy designs have a very ghostly, at times horrific design that embodies the chaos of the afterlife. The only thing I would find improvable would be the quality of characters’ in-game sprites. Some characters, such as Grimm, look like giant balls of black with faces, which seems amateurish. The hand-drawn images, though, are gorgeous and I wish they were more prevalent throughout the story.

IMPORTANT: Do not neglect this! - Grimm's Hollow Review

IMPORTANT: Do not neglect this!

When the game advertised specific names for the composition, I grew a little more expectant. They kept putting it out there, so I expected the soundtrack to be something worthwhile. In a highly subjective field such as music, I feel Grimm’s Hollow has a decent soundtrack, albeit nothing that will confuse one with the aforementioned Undertale. I enjoyed the way that battle themes changed depending on the area and the awareness to occasionally minimize it in emotional moments. Really, I enjoyed the way the soundtrack was employed to evoke emotion more than the soundtrack itself. Nothing that one would bob their head to, just something that helps an already moving narrative. For me, it was enough.

Summary
As a Halloween treat, this is a game that could satisfy a quick craving. (Note: Halloween is not a prerogative.) What it doesn't do with gameplay finesse, Grimm's Hollow makes up for in emotional value. The feelings that we all share when it comes to love, loss, and self-sacrifice are on full display with careful positioning. Gameplay traditionalists will scorn it, but for those willing to accept simplicity wrapped in heartfelt ambition, it's a steal considering its nonexistent price tag.
Good
  • Emotional, potentially symbolically-rich story
  • Very good gloomy aesthetic
  • Overall quality far exceeds its free status
Bad
  • RPG elements are bare minimum
  • Story has very little nuance
  • Somewhat ambiguous instruction details
6.5
Fair

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