Orangeblood Review: Welcome to New Koza (Switch)

Come on into New Koza, a man-made island off the coast of Okinawa, in Orangeblood. A stylish hip-hop-inspired JRPG marred by clunky battles and dreadful dialogue. Gorgeous to look at and overall has a good vibe, but it's just not enough to save it.

Orangeblood Review: Welcome to New Koza (Switch)

Orangeblood is a 2D hip-hop-inspired JRPG which brings you to the island of New Koza and a gang of four criminals: Machiko, Yazawa, Jackie, and their leader, Vanilla. It combines turn-based battles with an eye-watering array of guns and boom-bap hip-hop, funk, and jazz music to create a unique experience. While often being incredibly pretty, the culmination of these varied influences is disappointingly flat.

Orangeblood is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $19.99.

Orangeblood - Release Date Reveal Trailer

Story – Things Fall Apart

The story finds you as Vanilla, dropped into New Koza with a vague mission grumbled at you from a CIA agent on the other end of the phone. Early on, you meet Machiko, the DJ, and storm Club Shanghai-La to make it your headquarters. From there, you do favours for other criminals, meeting Yazawa, the Samurai, slicing up drug-toting Yakuza, and Jackie, a kung fu specialist, who ropes you into stealing from the vaults of a casino. It’s all pretty exciting stuff and should work well as an introduction. In general, however, the story moves onwards without any real motivation.

The dazzling New Koza.

The dazzling New Koza.

Where the story completely falls apart, however, is the dialogue. In the opening five minutes, you hear enough expletives to make Jesus want to die a third time, and these are all dolloped around forced exposition as to your mission and the world you’re just meeting. Hearing someone say “hella lit” randomly can actually be pretty funny. But when you hear it every other sentence, it’s just dumb. Even without specific slang words, the dialogue is a disaster. After a battle, the main character says, “That was a waste of time”, it doesn’t feel cool; it feels deflating. No fanfare or celebration, just disinterest — it sure is not good.

Still, when it’s in the right zone, the game can be genuinely charming and funny. There was one moment where someone said something and then made a ‘Laura Palmer Scream’, apparently. I wasn’t expecting to see a Twin Peaks reference in this game, to be honest. I think it shows how individual writing often is, and that may turn some people off, but I liked it. There’s also one ridiculous side quest where you have to destroy red trucks. When you find one, you enter a boss battle with it. You fight a big red delivery truck, as a sunglasses-wearing dude occasionally pops out the side to shoot or throw a Molotov at you like he’s in Die Hard. That’s pretty hilarious and adds some charm to the cringe, but it’s just all too rare to make a big impact.

Gameplay – Step in the Arena

Stealing all the money may lead to unwanted results.

Stealing all the money may lead to unwanted results.

The turn-based battle system in Orangeblood is simple and satisfying, if a tad slow at first. It will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a turn-based game. You have your main weapon attack, which uses up AP (ammo), as well as specials which use up SP, and the option to reload to stop yourself from being vulnerable. In general, these different aspects plod along just as you’d expect. However, there can be some interesting tactics that arise once all of your party are working together as one. This is where the specials come in.

The big boss Vanilla has her main Deadeye special, a cowboy-style stand-off. With fun Morricone ayayaah, slow zoom, and a colour change, it’s all very stylish. The special itself is incredibly overpowered but costs 50SP, so unless you’re set up to start a battle with a good amount of SP, you will only use it in the longer battles.

The four kawaii soldiers have specific special abilities.

The four kawaii soldiers have specific special abilities.

There’s also Machiko’s boombox buff, which can be switched to either ‘Heat Up’, where it increases your SP at the beginning of a turn, or ‘Chill Out’, where it increases your health. Pretty simple stuff. However, this buff takes nine whole seconds for its animation to end. This wouldn’t matter if anything happened other than the expected result. For example, with Vanilla’s Deadeye, it tells you how many times you missed or hit, meaning you’re engaged in how successful it is. With this boombox buff, it just gets tiresome because it never fails. Nine seconds is a long time when you’re doing a lot of battles.

Battles are also too long. Some runs, you’ll be in some underground labyrinth and fight the same group of enemies five times, only to realise you forgot to search an area, and when you return, all the enemies have respawned. This is fine when battles are quick or can be sped up, but they can be a real slog in Orangeblood, mainly because they often aren’t challenging. All turn-based games should have a fast-forward button, this one included. This game was at its best for me when playing with my headphones in, listening to some music or a podcast, and just chilling out with it. A bit like reading a newspaper on a Sunday, I found it quite interesting and relaxing without putting much in. The times I sat down and had it as my only focus meant I got bored quite often.

Stopping for a drink in the back alleys of New Koza.

Stopping for a drink in the back alleys of New Koza.

There are some interesting mechanics. There’s one boss whose HP and attack is increased depending on how much of his money you just stole. That’s a cool idea, although I don’t know how many players aren’t going to take all his money, given that there isn’t any time pressure during the theft. All that happened, however, was that I lost immediately because the boss was ridiculously overpowered. Again, this could have been fine, but the checkpoint was a little while away from the boss battle. That is just plain annoying. In fact, I died to this boss constantly, without having struggled with any of the previous bosses. I don’t mind a challenge, but make it make sense. This was a stupid difficulty spike.

Visuals & Audio – Life After Death

While playing this game, I had one main note for the visual side of things. In big letters in my notebook, I just wrote: ‘Looks swanky’. I think that’s a pretty accurate summation. As you can see in the screenshots and trailer, the game is beautiful and stylish. There are endless nooks and crannies in New Koza to reveal another taco stand of some chubby dude who tells you to ‘f*ck off’. Flying cars, cramped ghettos, underground networks; in general, it’s a believable world.

Is it hella nostalgic? Hard to tell.

Is it hella nostalgic? Hard to tell.

For example, down in the Red Light District, you see a handful of rooms. One of these is boarded up, with a ‘For Rent’ sign on the outside. You can see blood splattered everywhere inside. It makes the world feel like it existed before you were here, which is nice. You then go down into a Yakuza-run bakery that’s a cover for selling drugs. You wander through machinery and bags of cocaine onto the delivery exit, where you have a boss battle with a Yakuza guy on a delivery van mounted with a Gatling gun. It’s great because it all looks so great.

However, on Switch, this game doesn’t run quite right. There are very noticeable delays in menus when selecting a sub-menu or an item. In-game, there are occasional freezes for about a half-second. It’s all a bit irritating. It doesn’t make a huge impact but is worth noting. What makes the menu slowness worse is that menus are a big mess of words and colours. Oh, and the auto-equip doesn’t seem to give the best weapons as far as I can tell, so you have to use the menus to get by. In general, navigating the menus is a big pain in the butt, especially with the delays between selecting sub-menus. I really do like the weapon variety; it feels exciting in its endlessness, a bit like Borderlands. But it is such hard work to know what’s what.

There is good chatter throughout New Koza.

There is good chatter throughout New Koza.

In terms of audio, there is good environmental sound, certain chatter, and little clanks as you wander through a back alley. It fits well. What is even more fitting is the stylish soundtrack. While it fits, however, it does just kind of plod around in the background. There are no memorable themes, nor even a battle theme to bring up the tension. It’s all just there, chilling out. That’s not necessarily bad, but it definitely makes it hard to say much good about it over and above the fact that it fits the aesthetic. Sometimes the music gets a little funkier, but still just meanders around you, never catching you. The soundtrack is just another criminal, hanging around a back alley, not really doing very much.

Orangeblood was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, and a review key was provided by Stride PR.

Summary
The conclusion to this is a difficult one, as there are lots of good bits about this game. However, the further you progress, the less the good things shine through, and the more the bad things stand out. It’s marred by scattershot battle-mechanics, an uninteresting storyline, and, of course, very bad dialogue. If the good aspects really draw you in, then maybe it’s worth a shot, but if not it is hard to recommend. For such an imaginative game, it is often very dull.
Good
  • Gorgeous 2D pixel art
  • Fitting and stylish music
  • Imaginative world-building
Bad
  • Dull, plodding battles
  • Egregious highs and lows in difficulty
  • Incomprehensible menus
  • Awful dialogue
5.5
Average

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