Rainblood: Town of Death Review
Rainblood is a short, indie RPG originally released in China in 2007, developed by a one-man developer known as Soul-Frame. It’s a side-view, turn-based, role-playing game, influenced by Chinese martial arts novels, samurai culture, and a dark Gothic style. The creator has openly stated that the combat philosophy was heavily influenced by the works of Gu Long, a Taiwanese novelist: “the influence of Gulong’s (one of the two most popular martial novelers in China) martial arts novels, which describe the core spirit of Chinese martial art – always solo, kill in one slash, and dodge rather than defence.”
It’s a highly unique, stylized, and artistic role-playing game, that’s short, but extremely well done, especially for a ten dollar buy.
What I liked :
Simple, hand-drawn art style
I liked the look of Rainblood. Technically speaking it’s a 2D game with clever perspective in its mostly idle backdrops that give an almost 3D appearance from a top-down view. What impressed me was the hand-drawn look of the art style. It’s remarkably simple, with only a few carefully spaced bits of visual detail mixed in with a mostly sparse, and minimalist depiction of a small town called Pang.
The town is mostly abandoned due to a plague, and the unadorned, stark art style perfectly depicts what has essentially become a ghost town.
The animations in the game, both inside and outside of battle, are also impressive, and immediately catch you off guard; this game has a simple visual style and color palette, but the animations are demonstrative, over the top, and often bloody. It’s still simple art compared to the 3D games of today, but the animations are smooth and well delivered in an otherwise static game.
Again, this isn’t a visual powerhouse in the modern sense, but to me it has a classic, timeless feel visually, something that would have been considered amazing in years of gaming now past, and still impressive today. It’s a unique, manga-esque, stark minimalist, somber looking game that will continually leave you oddly impressed at how distinct it looks.
The story mixes different motifs and devices, concocting a unique plot and presentation unlike anything I’ve played before. You play as an archetypal lone swordsman character named Soul, who is passing through a town called Pang, where most of the inhabitants have fled or died due to a plague.
Soul’s past quickly comes into play, and his history starts to unravel, showing how his story has come to cross paths with this small little nowhere town. Soul was part of The Organization, the most powerful group of martial artists in the Central Land (the fictional nation that serves as the setting), and even though he’s left, people and deeds from his past are coming back to haunt him.
The game executes a handful of well timed flashbacks throughout the primary plot, slowly revealing more of what’s currently going on, while intermittently adding perspective and depth to the events by revealing more about Soul’s past. It’s a short, tight plot, that feels like it wrapped up to abruptly, but it was compelling, and emotional engaging – you can’t ask for much more.
I’m coining the term “anime-noir”, if no one else already has. Rainblood mixes a dark, somber feel, and mysterious protagonist – traditionally noir and neo-noir elements – with weird characters, macabre humor, over the top martial arts, and striking violence – marks of most anime, and manga. Surprisingly, it works remarkably well.
As an example: most of the enemies you fight in Rainblood are referred to as ghost servants, dead, tortured, and deformed victims of The Organization. They’re not intelligent, but possess basic functions like simple speech. Ghost servants also typically don’t have heads, just sort of a weird stump like thing with a mouth. There’s a weird running bit in the game, where ghost servants can’t quite laugh like a normal person; in other words, if you were to phonetically write out a laugh as “ha-ha-ha”, ghost servants only laugh as “DA-DA-DA” or “KA-KA-KA” in a weird kind of cackle, because they’re not human anymore.
In one scene Soul is preparing to fight Sawer and Strengther, a pair of level-2 ghost servants, one of whom is extremely powerful (Strengther), and the other is distinctly in possession of a slightly more pronounced, less deformed, head/stump. Soul proceeds to tell Strengher that he wasn’t always a ghost servant, and tells him that was once a handsome man and a great swordsman. I could never really tell if Soul was cleverly making this up, or if he was telling a real story, but it doesn’t matter, because what happens next is amazing.
Soul tells Strengther that Sawer stole his head, and put it on his shoulders. Yeah, seriously. Strengther becomes enraged, and as a result he’s confused and temporarily hampered in the actual boss fight. Immediately after playing that sequence, I told myself I would describe it in this review, no matter what, so there it is.
Powerful character, powerful enemies
It’s a staple of role-playing games that you start off with a weak character, battle increasingly difficult enemies, and grow stronger. In Rainblood, you start off as Soul, who is a ridiculously powerful swordsman and martial artist right from the start. Soul is capable of dropping dozens of enemies, killing foes in a single blow.
Thankfully this balanced by tough boss battles. There’s only a few boss fights in the game, but they’re distinct, require strategy and planning, and they’re not something you can just blow through really quickly.
Outside of boss fights you fight lots of enemies at once, which isn’t bad or too repetitive because Soul’s advantage is not his overt offensive strength, but his ability to counter and dodge. You’re not just repeatedly mowing down enemies, you have to use a bit more planning to take down five or six enemies in a battle.
Simple, haunting score
In sync with the visual style, the music in the game is simple and minimalist, but evokes strong emotion and helps establish memorable atmosphere. The main theme alone is utilized in many different scenes, sometimes in highly varied ways.
The lonely, deserted feel of Pang is perfectly accompanied by a hollow sounding score, that hints at a few hidden corners and makes you want to explore, but also bodes of danger.
It’s an excellent demonstration of minimal score, effectively utilized in a few key places, without ever overtly disturbing what is otherwise an appropriately quiet, and mostly silent game.
What I didn’t Like :
It’s too short
I ran through the game in a little over three hours. I loved every minute of it, but after the final scene, it felt like I had played more of first chapter to a much larger story, than a full complete tale. The pacing of the plot was generally good, except for maybe in that last scene – I just wish there was more of it.
Also, to be fair, I went through the game quickly, missing a lot of the optional content. The game is mostly linear, but there are a few optional side quests, items to be collected, and special abilities (one in particular) to learn, and in the English version they’ve even added some additional content: an extra boss battle, if you level up enough. I imagine if you take the time to go through everything in the game, you could be looking at a 5-6 hour experience, which is better, but still a bit on the short side.
Not a lot of variety in basic enemies
Outside of boss battles, you’re basically fighting two different types of enemies – that’s it. They certainly differ from each other, and require a different strategy, but I would have liked to see that expand into a few more enemy types.
One-way boss battles
This isn’t a huge flaw, so much as it is a personal gripe. Basically in every boss battle there is one specific way to beat that boss, almost step-by-step, with little room for deviation. It isn’t the same for every boss, but once you figure out the steps for beating a particular boss, it’s really just about taking it in the right order until you win.
It’s not necessarily bad because it requires you to think, but I would have liked to see two or three different ways to win a boss fight.
Rainblood: Town of Death is developed and available for purchase directly from Soul-Frame RPG. It sells online for $9.99 USD. I was provided a license key from the developer for the purposes of reviewing this game. I beat the game in approximately 3 ½ hours, without completing any of the optional side content.