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"The changeling looked at the foal much like a space explorer would look at an alien life form. He resisted the urge to prod it." - Flitter

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Random Game Review: Iji · 3:53pm Dec 8th, 2013

You know, it's kinda odd for me to do game reviews in this blog thing, since I'm really not much of a gamer... but lately, I've found myself distracted from MLP fanfiction by something linked to me on one of the IRCs I'm on.

It was an article about a new game called MURI, which was made in the style of very old VGA/CGA-coloured platformers like the original Duke Nukem games.

Now, I was a bit disappointed when I found out the game wasn't actually ready. It was just a funny trailer, mostly. However, another video at the bottom of the article piqued my interest, on a similar (but slightly more advanced looking) rpg/platformer called Iji, made by the same programmer. The trailer, oddly enough, mentioned the ability to spare your enemies, as if jumping over an enemy and running on was anything out of the ordinary.

The game intrigued me, and apparently it is completely free, so I decided to give it a try. Well, suffice to say, I was impressed.

The gameplay

Iji's gameplay is a combination of the classic 2D platformer, like the old Duke Nukems before he went 3D, and games like Deus Ex, where you gain levels and use them to upgrade your skills in specific areas. Iji has seven such skill areas, with ten levels each. However, the game has only ten sectors to play through, and caps your level on a maximum of five levels per sector. This means you get only fifty levels, for seventy stats, meaning specializing is inevitable. The stats are Health (your maximum health), Attack (the damage your weapons deal), Assimilate (how much ammo you get from each pickup, and how much ammo from each weapon type you can store), Strength (increases the power of your Mighty Foot, allowing you to kick down more powerful enemies and more reinforced doors), Crack (allowing you to hack more advanced defenses, doors, chests and enemies), and finally, the two weapon stats, Tasen and Komato, which are the names of the two alien races in the game. Weapons are never dropped by enemies, but are lying around, and you can only pick them up when you have the required level in their specific weapon stat, depending on which race it belongs to. Level points can't simply be assigned when you get them, though. You have to find a "cyborg upgrade station" of the specific stat you want to upgrade, and spend your level points there.

On to one of the most interesting skills in the game: cracking. When you are first introduced to it, it is shown as a minigame to open locked doors and chests. Failing the minigame always has a negative effect: chests blow up, doors suddenly require a higher Cracking level to get through (which also means a more difficult version of the minigame). You can do a lot more with it, though. You can crack enemies facing away from you to sabotage their weapons, and you can us the Combination Stations that can be found in certain areas to hack the nanotech weapons you picked up to combine them, which gives you access to more powerful secondary weapons. You even have to hack a boss' personal nanoshield in one of the boss battles. Now, cracking is done in real-time. It does not pause the game, meaning that aside from the cracking minigame's own detection countdown, you need to be really fast if you want to crack certain enemies; they usually don't stand still for long.

The game has loads of secrets, a few of which are sneakily shown in the official game trailer. For example, you see Iji throwing herself onto an enemy rocket, to be blasted out of an otherwise-inaccessible window. There are wall posters hidden on every Sector of the game, and there are extra secrets unlockable only after you managed to get to all of these posters. While not exactly improving replayability, this does give the hardcore oldskool game freaks something to do.

Not that the game doesn't have replayability... it's a game you need to play at least twice, in my opinion. The reason why, of course, is the next point I'll be discussing.

The story

This was one of the first things about this game that really sucked me in. The titular character, Iji, is not some generic badass Duke Nukem, or hardened cop... she's a twenty-year old girl on the brink of a nervous breakdown. After an alien attack that killed most of her family, she wakes up and find out she's been in a coma for six months. During that time, scientists had used reverse-engineered nanotechnology from the aliens to not only save her life, but turn her into a combat cyborg capable of being humanity's last hope. The complex she wakes up in was used as main staging area of the aliens, and the only other human survivor in there seems to be her brother, Dan, who is stuck in a control room and communicates with her through the building's intercoms.

Now, this is where the story becomes interesting. Throughout the game, you find personal logs of a lot of the aliens, and they paint quite a different picture of the ruthless invasion. It seems the invaders, calling themselves Tasen, are themselves a hunted race, on the run from the Komato. Apparently, the two were once one race, but the Tasen's refusal to go along with far-reaching genetic manipulation to improve themselves made them into a despised minority, and eventually a war broke out between the two, in which both sides massacred entire planets. The Earth is the Tasen's last-ditch effort to create a colony to avoid extinction, though they know they're far from innocent themselves in the grand scheme of things.

Now, on to Iji herself. She's a pacifist at heart, and very uncomfortable with the idea of killing people, and you see her mental state deteriorate as the game progresses and she kills more enemies. All she wants is someone that will listen to her, and no one does, and she's forced to kill or be killed. She becomes neurotic, and certain game events only make it worse. By the end, despite the earth being 'saved'... she is a total wreck. A broken person.

And then the final stats screen showed my kills ranking, putting my kill count on "Genocidal", just below "One Woman Army". Truly, Iji had become what she feared most. The ending credits song that played just before had only emphasized that; "I know, in darkness, I will find you, giving up inside, like me."

However, three ranks below that was the interesting rank of "Innocent", only achievable by having a kill count of exactly zero. This is, of course, the point where I remembered that little detail from the trailer. "Spare". Also remembering some of the boss battles where you had to kill the boss, though, I really wondered how that was even possible, and I initially disregarded it as a joke. That is, until I researched a little more online, and found out the game had ingenious ways of bypassing some of the boss battles and other inevitable kills when you spared your enemies. In fact... it seemed a lot of major elements in the story changed, despite the levels staying mostly the same.

So I tried it. I looked up all the tricks to avoid these deaths, and I tried the Pacifistic Run. And it stole my heart. The generic shooter game with a rather interesting story suddenly turned into something wholly different. Faceless enemies turned into named characters you interacted with, boss battles became mutiny in the aliens' ranks, and in one boss battle, you even gain an ally, blasting away alongside you to take down the boss, and delivering that killing blow that Iji is so reluctant to deal herself. The ending, similarly, goes from mentally broken to hopeful, a chance of peace and happiness despite the broken world.

This game is, in a word, beautiful.

On the subject of writing, since this is a fanfiction site... I wrote a short story playing thirty years after the Default Bad Ending of the game, in which Iji meets a certain Tasen hacker who is convinced there is some way to... change the past, and do better. If you're interested...

Iji: Reboot (deviantArt)

Fair warning: it's more or less required that you know about a bunch of the game's secrets and extras, especially the Null Driver and Yuka's news page :rainbowwild:

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Comments ( 9 )

Oh yes, a very fun game. It gets absolutely ridiculous if you find any of the various "silliness switch" items or levels.

If you're looking for another underrated 2d platformer, try Knytt. It goes the opposite way, being combat- and (almost) enemy-free, and telling the entire story with the landscape, music, and background characters. It also contains some beautiful and entirely optional secret areas.

Sounds neat, and I may have to try it!

Heh. Clown Mode, the Scrambler... yeah. Lots of silliness.

The 'Bad Ending' (well, default ending really) to this story intrigued me so much I wrote a short story about it. I used Yukabacera (Tasen hacker, ex-boyfriend of Vateilika, and the creator of the Scrambler) as co-protagonist in that. He's a fun character to write, with lots of characterization in the "Yuka's News Page" pages written as teaser to the game, and being a bit of a game secret, he's one of the more likely to survive a violent run of the game.

I remember playing this game a while ago after Deceased Crab (I think) played it on Youtube. I played it twice, once managing two kills throughout, and once just killing everyone. Anyone that's on the edge, I would highly recommend trying it, especially since it's free.

Yeah, the completely kill-free run requires some really special tricks, like keeping that teleport pad mine, and using the velocithor (it can shoot through walls!) on the shielded generator instead of confronting Assassin Asha.

1586023 That makes sense. I just redownloaded it, so I'll be able to retry that sometime. Also, if you haven't yet, try putting in the Konami code on the main menu. It doesn't do much, but what it does do is kind of funny!

Iji, i found through Youtube. And a player did a pacifist, and non-pacifist run, and the difference, as you said, night and day. But yeah,, this is how a game should be! And glad you found such a gem in this.

Yeah, I used TheWanderingNewbie's videos... watched the whole Pacifist Run breathlessly from start to end, and then decided I HAD to do that myself :rainbowkiss:

1588895 Yup, indie games are just taking center stage anymore, and the more people spread the worth of mouth, better the devs get love.

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