Morality choices in video games often offer players a unique power fantasy. Deciding to follow a straight-and-narrow ‘good guy’ narrative can be just as rewarding an experience as causing as much social destruction while roleplaying as close to a villain as is allowed.
Then there are the more poignant choice-based experiences like Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa that convey a more nuanced take on morality. Indie developer Triple-I Games carves out a unique place in this grey-area philosophy by encouraging multiple, short playthroughs of its third-person action-adventure. This allows players to see fairly quickly how their decisions have affected the story. However, in creating a repeatable structure that benefits their choice system, the combat gets increasingly stale the more times the game is played.
Story – You are your choices
Jehan’s hometown of Champaner has already been reduced to ashes when the game begins. You take control of the one-armed protagonist as he pleads to the Gods for a chance to save his town. His wish is granted, and he is sent back in time. Knowing that King Marcos’ kingdom was destroyed by enemy Raakshasas, Jehan sets off on a quest to stop these diseased creatures from their destruction. He also wants to alleviate his guilt for being absent when the fighting originally began. It’s a solid fantasy set-up that sets a clear goal to work towards; make choices to save Champaner.
This is where Hindsight 20/20 shines as a narrative experience. It takes this traditional fantasy tale and turns it into a puzzle. It’s not as simple as good actions = good ending, or bad actions = bad ending. I found this out at the end of my first playthrough, after trying to make as many ‘good’ decisions as possible. These merciful actions actually resulted in the death of certain characters, and an ending that made me want to immediately jump into another playthrough to try and change.
The title offers a short story that can be completed in two-or-three hours once the dungeon routes are learned. This means it doesn’t take very long to see how different actions affect the story. After three playthroughs, I still haven’t achieved the ‘perfect’ ending, and I don’t think there is one. I’m not playing with the goal of saving Champaner anymore, but to experience the consequences of my altered decisions.
As a choice-based experience, the indie title absolutely delivers. Unfortunately, it falls short when it comes to character and story. Everybody feels like generic fantasy constructions, with the sole purpose of reflecting Jehan’s actions. It feels like acting out a dramatic pantomime most of the time, coming across as a little silly. It’s a major letdown for anybody who was drawn to the game by the indie developer’s past experience working for story-rich studios like Bioware and Sucker Punch.
Gameplay – Limited shelf life
In addition to linking player choice to the narrative, Triple-I’s action-adventure ties the combat system to Jehan’s morality. Using a stun baton is ‘Merciful’, and doesn’t kill, whereas the sword is ‘Ruthless’, and most definitely kills. The sword delivers on traditional hack-and-slash gameplay, but the stun baton requires a little more thought. It relies on chaining attacks between enemies. So hitting somebody multiple times won’t do anything. You have to find a sweet spot between at least two enemies to start the combo and drain their ‘Morale’.
It sounds convoluted, but once I got the hang of it, the stun baton ended up being my preferred weapon of choice. Lining up multiple combos was super satisfying, and helped take down some of the more annoying enemy types. They take the role of traditional combat archetypes like ranged, grenadier, and tank. Using Shakti is also an effective way to clear encounters quickly. The ability delivers a devastating special, or snipes individual enemies. Shakti is acquired by killing enemies, or depleting their morale, depending on the weapon in use.
There are a few bosses in Hindsight 20/20, but they are some of the weaker examples of combat. They aren’t a terrible experience; they’re just not very interesting. The trick to defeating them is basically the same, and once it’s worked out, all you have to do is rinse and repeat. There’s no real challenge, and it gets boring fairly quickly. This is the exact issue that I ended up having with all of the combat after three playthroughs.
While the repetitive nature of each save file benefits the choice-system, it greatly hinders the combat. None of the enemy encounters are ever changed, so they end up becoming a predictable check-list of moves. This is the same for the dungeon exploration, which involves finding the correct colour of key to the corresponding colour of door, and completing block puzzles. Traversing the same area, to fight the same enemies, to get to the same boss became a real chore. Having some sort of new game plus, or randomised elements to room layout and enemy encounters could have stopped the gameplay from becoming so stale.
Graphics & Audio – Plain and Simple
The action-adventure delivers a simple design, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It brings back memories of playing a game from the PS2 generation. This might not do it for some, but I liked the clean, cartoony visuals on offer. Jehan in particular has a great character design, as do the Raakshasas. Unfortunately, most other characters suffer from poor design. The aesthetics are not kind to the less flamboyant citizens of Champaner. Anybody not dressed in armor or special gear looks drab and uninteresting. There’s also a strange pixelated texture that only appears on character models for most sections of the game.
Hindsight 20/20 also does a great job of differentiating the different enemy types through colour and design. It makes the flow of a fight more obvious, as I would start with easily identifying the ranged attackers and taking them out first. The simple colour-coded doors is another graphical design choice that makes traversing dungeons easier. Triple-I seems to really nail a logical gameplay experience through small graphical decisions.
The soundtrack is a fine accompaniment to most of Jehan’s travels. It’s understated, but really shines at key moments. Although walking through the streets of Champaner went on a little too long during certain cutscenes, the grand musical notes fit perfectly with the big occasion. However, the tracks constructed for the Raakshasa Gibsonia area end up being pretty poor compared to Jehan’s hometown. Even the boss battle has a quiet, lacklustre track accompanying it.
Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa was reviewed on Xbox Series X with a review code provided by Stride PR.