void tRrLM();++ //Void Terrarium++ Review: PS5

This is one void you won’t want to avoid.

Mystery Dungeon” is a phrase that most gamers likely associate with the Pokemon series. These highly-emotive spinoffs are critically acclaimed by fans for their combination of entrancing narrative with randomised dungeon-crawling gameplay. Though the term has become synonymous with the Nintendo franchise since popular titles like Red/Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Darkness/Time/Sky, its origins stem from a genre of games that predates Pokemon by several years.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Sky
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky (Nintendo DS, 2009)

Pioneered by Chunsoft, the series was conceptualised as a Dragon Quest IV spinoff known as Torneko’s Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon, released in 1993 exclusive to the Super Famicom in Japan. Playing as the game’s money-hungry merchant, Torneko (known also as Taloon in Western releases), the player is tasked with exploring randomly-generated dungeons to find valuable items to expand your store and fend off monsters that might hinder your progress. A reliance on randomisation and challenging difficulty created a roguelike genre now widely recognised as the Mystery Dungeon.

Shiren the Wanderer Switch
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Nintendo Switch, 2020)

Series like Final Fantasy, Etrian Odyssey, and most notably Pokemon joined in with popular Mystery Dungeon spin-offs. An original IP known as Shiren the Wanderer was even created from the ground up as a game focused entirely on this style on gameplay and now spans multiple entries from the Gameboy to the Nintendo Switch. Now almost 30 years since its inception, a new Mystery Dungeon title emerges, seeking to fill a void in the dormant subgenre: Void Terrarium.

Originally released on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, this new title from NIS America (who somehow manage to pump out obscure JRPGs at an alarming rate!) has made its way onto PlayStation 5 in the upgraded ++ version. So is this roguelike worth your time, or should it be avoided at all costs? Read on and find out!

Story

Civilisation has collapsed. Humanity is on the brink of extinction. The world has fallen under the grasp of a highly-contagious toxic fungus that infects every living organism. In a desolate scrapyard nestled deep in the underground ruins, a lone robot awakens. Trudging through the barren wastes now long abandoned by humans, the robot stumbles across a dormant figure, a young girl asleep on a bed of fungi: Toriko.

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Robbie
A fungus among us.

In a comatose state with mushrooms protruding from her body, the robot focuses its entire efforts on revitalising the weakened girl and nursing her back to health. A goal that could possibly lead to the restoration of humanity. However, the harsh environment will not make this easy. Even the very air Toriko breathes is a toxic fume, slowly depleting her life. To protect the girl, the Robot must create a safe haven in which she can finally recover: a Terrarium.

With the help of a discarded CRT display known as the FactoryAI who acts as your guide, Robbie ventures into the wasteland to retrieve items to construct the terrarium and allow Toriko to survive. This bleak post-apocalyptic setting conveys a melancholy narrative of despair, tragedy, and against all odds, hope. Playing as the robot, affectionally named Robbie, the fate of humanity rests upon your cold shoulders.

Void Terrarium PS5 FactoryAI
FactoryAI is super cute and helps to motivate you.

Gameplay

Ever played a mystery dungeon game? Well, if you have, you’re going to LOVE the gameplay on offer in Void Terrarium, as it will feel immediately familiar. All the staples of the genre are here: randomised locations consisting of numerous levels, punishing roguelike difficulty, and a massive pool of items, abilities and upgrades to keep every run fresh. The only difference is you play solely as Robbie, so there’s no backup when things get tough; it’s all up to you.

The main task of the game is to obtain items to construct the terrarium, all of which are found deep within isolated locations of the wasteland. You’ll be given a short briefing as to where the desired item is located before you’re dropped into the dungeon on your lonesome. Starting at level 1 at the beginning of each area, you’ll need to defeat enemies in turn-based combat to progress your stats, unlock new skills, and have more of a chance of making it to the end goal.

Void Terrarium PS5 dungeon
Most of your time will be spent exploring the randomised dungeons.

Exploration and combat is simple and takes place on a grid, and enemies can be defeated through various means: normal attacks, skills, weapons, and items (like grenades or bombs). Areas will become increasingly difficult as you progress, requiring you to unlock permanent upgrades to improve your chances to delve deeper. It’s an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that had me returning time and time again, as I told myself “just one more run!” before I inevitably forced myself to go to bed. Each playthrough will unlock new items that can be constructed to furnish the Terrarium and in turn provide minor permanent stat boosts or skills that can be equipped.

Void Terrarium PS5 abilities
You’ll unlock new abilities and stat boosts as you level up.

That sounds pretty simple so far. Just exploration and combat. Easy, right? Not quite.

Robbie is a robot, and doing as robots will do, they run off electricity. Every movement, attack and skill within the wasteland consumes energy which is displayed on the screen. Run out of energy and you’re pretty much done for. This must be closely monitored and recharged by picking up batteries that are dropped at random by foes, or through use of particular unlockable skills. Batteries can be scarce and will force you to manage your energy wisely.

To complicate things further, Robbie must also look after Toriko at all times. Through the use of the Pet Nanny (a Tamagotchi-like device), Toriko’s hunger, health status, boredom, and even toileting habits must be closely monitored and managed accordingly. If she falls ill while out in the wastes, you’ll need to head back immediately to prevent her imminent demise. This becomes incredibly tense when you’re towards the end of a gruelling dungeon only to hear the tone of the Pet Nanny alert you to return to Toriko’s side. It definitely adds deeper complexity to the game’s exploration as you micromanage not only your own, but also Toriko’s wellbeing.

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Petnanny
I recommend not letting the Pet Nanny get to this state.

Visuals

When booting up the game, don’t be lured into a false sense of aesthetic wonderment. The 2D hub world looks absolutely gorgeous, there’s no doubt about that. Beautiful hand drawn art, vibrant, lush greens upon a dark, bleak background all set the mood of the game. Even the attention to detail of the terrarium in which Toriko is contained is impressive and beautiful to observe. Sadly, this is not at all representative of the rest of the game’s visuals.

Void Terrarium PS5 Art
The Terrarium becomes visually captivating once new items are crafted.

Once you’re exploring the dungeons, visuals become basic, bland, and feel mostly uninspired and repetitive. It works for the style of the gameplay, as it helps to visualise where Robbie and other enemies are placed on the grid and the map, but this is not a PlayStation 5 title that you’ll be playing for its graphics by any means. There’s a stark contrast when you return to the hub world to be again greeted by the gorgeous, eerie aesthetic. It would have been brilliant to see some of the art-style somehow incorporated into the dungeon crawling gameplay.

Audio

Where the game’s visuals at times feel bland and repetitive, the soundtrack by Hajime Sugie manages to create a soundscape that feels perfectly crafted for the game’s setting. In a score that is primarily electronic (how appropriate), Sugie utilises ambient tones and robotic noises of beeps and glitches to craft a unique style that is both melancholic and entrancing. I’d happily listen to the Terrarium theme for hours on loop (in fact, I probably did, as I put about 30+ hours into the game, several of which were spent in the Terrarium).

The dungeon music, though repetitive, fits perfectly with the style of each area. A swampy wasteland sounds completely different to infected warehouse sounds completely different to a robotic factory. It’s impressive how music like this can manage to reflect the game’s visuals almost better than the visuals themselves. An impressive accomplishment for the composer!

Extras

Completionists are going to have a ball with this one. As you progress through the dungeons, you’ll unlock various blueprints for items that can be taken back to the Terrarium and crafted. These consist of furniture and decorations for the Terrarium, clothing and accessories for Toriko, and skills and unique modules that can be applied to Robbie. There’s enough unlockables to keep even the most avid collectors occupied for 40 – 50+ hours of gameplay.

Void Terrarium PS5 unlockable furniture
Why craft a Wooden Stool when you can sit on a perfectly good rock?

Outside of the main story, dungeons and collectibles, there’s not much else to keep you coming back for more. Towards the end of the game you’ll be given access to an endless dungeon that will allow easier procurement of items, but it doesn’t quite offer the infinite gameplay of many other roguelikes.

Conclusion

Going into Void Terrarium, I had no idea what to expect of the game, and throughout my 30+ hour journey into the fungal wastelands, I’ve been convinced that this is a sleeper hit. Simple yet addictive gameplay with satisfying micromanagement, numerous upgrades, and a compelling story make this one of the best Mystery Dungeon games I’ve encountered. Fans of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or roguelikes in general should do themselves a favour and dive into the infected wastes – as gross as that sounds, I guarantee you’re going to enjoy it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve previously played and enjoyed other Mystery Dungeon games.
  • The randomised gameplay of roguelikes appeals to you.
  • Enjoy Tamagotchis? Well this game has one!
  • Plenty of items and abilities mean no two playthroughs are the same.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can’t stand repetitive gameplay? This game isn’t for you.
  • Retro-style grid-based exploration/combat likely won’t appeal to those wanting a modern game.

A review code for PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

R-Type Final 2 Review – Nintendo Switch

This one’s for you if classic shoot ’em ups R your Type of game.

Originally released in 1987 into arcades across the globe, the original R-Type is widely celebrated and often referred to as one the best shoot ’em up games ever made. This quintessential title featured addictive side-scrolling gameplay, advanced graphics for the time with huge, detailed bosses, and punishingly-difficult gameplay designed to chew through your spare change. In fact, the original game became so popular that it has since been ported to over 15 different platforms!

Left to right: R-Type (arcade), R-Type (Gameboy), R-Type: Dimensions (PC)

It should come as no surprise that such a successful game would spawn a multitude of sequels, spin-offs and compilations. During the ’80s and ’90s the genre was booming, and the R-Type series saw three direct sequels during this time. However, with advances in gameplay and home gaming consoles, focus for shooting games turned from the humble shmup to the now massively-popular FPS. As one last hurrah, the developer Irem decided to release the series’ swansong on PlayStation 2: R-Type Final. Released in 2003, this was intended to be the “final” game in the series and featured a massive roster of 101 unlockable ships.

R-Type Final Playstation 2
The critically-acclaimed R-Type Final on PlayStation 2.

Plot twist: R-Type Final was not the final R-Type (much like Final Fantasy is not the final Final Fantasy).

Almost two decades later, a Twitter post surfaced on April Fool’s Day 2019, showing off a teaser trailer for the ironically-named R-Type Final 2. Much to the surprise of fans across the globe, this was no April Fool’s joke at all! Later that year a Kickstarter was launched touting the return of the iconic shmup, raising over $1,000,000USD thus reviving this beloved series. Now almost 18 years since the last main title, it’s time to once again blast your way through swarms of galactic aliens in R-Type Final 2 for Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PlayStation 4.

Premise

As a direct sequel to 2003’s R-Type Final, you take on the role of a lone pilot in an endless war against the Bydo, a mysterious galactic race waging war against humanity. Having struck the source of the Bydo in Final, humanity has been able to develop more advanced anti-Bydo weaponry in order to retaliate. With a vast array of aircraft and artillery now at your disposal, you’re tasked with recovering the remaining war records from the initial conflict and to put an end to the Bydo once and for all.

The story is paper thin, as is the case for most games that focus almost entirely on gameplay. At the beginning of the game you’ll be presented with brief interactions between characters to set the scene, but outside of this any aspects of the story are delivered through simple bonus descriptions that are found in the game’s gallery and manual.

Gameplay

This is where any shoot ’em up truly shines, and R-Type Final 2 is no exception. If you’ve played any other shmup game, you’ll immediately be familiar with the majority of the gameplay, which involves piloting a spacecraft through multiple levels, fending off hordes of enemies, and confronting a large boss at the end. It’s simple gameplay that has been refined over decades, but the basic concept is mostly unchanged. Each level is scattered with power-ups that will enhance your weaponry or provide unique weapons that are more powerful but focused, or weaker with the ability to clear the screen. There are also stereotypical charged attacks, which can be devastating but leave you open and vulnerable while charging.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Laser
The laser is slow but powerful, and useful against larger enemies.

R-Type, however, manages to set its gameplay apart from other shmups through its use of the Force (no Star Wars copyright infringement intended), a small independent ship that can be attached/detached which pilots and fires autonomously. Effectively utilising the Force is essential if you want to progress through R-Type, as without it you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by enemies with no hope of clearing the screen. Power-ups to your ship will also transfer to the Force, and produce some unique attacks depending on whether it becomes attached to either the front of the rear of your ship. Some circumstances require quick management of this, as you’ll have enemies approaching from both sides of the screen.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Boss Fight
Using the Force to fire backwards is a vital tactic.

Difficulty is undoubtedly punishing, as is the case for most games in this genre, made more challenging in R-Type as your ship can only take a single hit and screens are often littered with bullets and hazards. You’ll most likely find yourself having to play through levels ad nauseum before finally gaining a grasp on patterns of attacks; though it is satisfying to pass through a level unscathed once you’ve had enough practice. There are also several different difficulty levels, which sadly I had to resort to playing on “Kids” difficulty for part of the game (this destroyed my fragile masculinity).

Visuals/Performance

Having played entirely on the Nintendo Switch, I started R-Type Final 2 with the expectation that the game’s visuals would be dumbed down in order to accommodate the handheld. Although this is partly the case, as this version of the game is not quite as visually-detailed, it is barely noticeable. The game’s cheesey sci-fi cutscenes are a pleasure to watch and environments retain an attractive sci-fi aesthetic befitting of the game’s tone.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Cutscene Visuals
The CGI cutscene at the beginning of the game looks excellent.

With detailed environments, particle effects aplenty, and a busy screen sometimes packed with projectiles, the game manages to perform incredibly well with very few drops in framerate. My gameplay was 50/50 handheld and docked during which I noticed very little difference in terms of performance. It’s a pleasant surprise to play a game with so much going on while having no compromise to the handheld mode.

Music

Composed by Yuki “Sato” Iwai, the soundtrack to R-Type Final 2 accompanies your journey through space and features the typical electronic beats that tend to be heard in shmup games. Having worked on several previous titles in the series (as well as quite a number of Mega Man games too!), Iwai creates tracks with a soundscape that are fitting for the aesthetic of each level. Although most are immemorable and none are particularly catchy, the songs will at least not get on your nerves after being heard repeatedly after each death.

Extra Features

Are you a completionist? If so, R-Type Final 2 is your dream. There is an absolute plethora of unlockable content for those that chase that elusive 100%. Completing levels will award you with currency that can be spent in the shop: unlocking decals for your ship, modifications to your space suit, or buying resources that can be spent on upgrades. There are 99 (probably even more!) different ships that can be developed in the museum and will likely keep completionists busy for hours on end. I managed to finish the game by unlocking only 17, as you’ll generally be able to find a model of ship that suits your style of gameplay.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Museum
You’ll spend quite a bit of time in the Museum upgrading your aircraft.

Strangely there has also been a photo mode added to the game, where you can dress up your pilot in different outfits, purchase silly poses, and stand alongside your spacecraft taking pictures with it. Photo modes are mostly suited to games with vast worlds and gorgeous, detailed environments (like Horizon Zero Dawn or Ghost of Tsushima), so this is an odd addition and feels incredibly out of place. Out of curiosity I briefly decided to give it a go and would likely never touch it again.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Photo Mode
Not something I ever imagined I’d do in a shmup game.

Amusingly, you’ll also unlock the option to customise the game’s name from a set of chosen words upon completing the game. It’s simple, but I had far more fun messing around with this than the photo mode.

R-Type final 2 Nintendo Switch Custom Name
That’s the shmup where you play as a cloud, right?

Conclusion

With its classic gameplay, punishing difficulty, and enough content to keep you coming back for more, R-Type Final 2 is a modern shoot ’em up that successfully carries on the legacy of this iconic series. Fans of the genre will be elated to play R-Type Final 2, especially those who supported the Kickstarter and have been eagerly awaiting the release of the game. Though if you’re not a die-hard R-Type fan and instead just looking for an excellent shmup experience to play on the go, this should be at the top of your list. Be warned though, as this game is not for the faint of heart and may instead be a trial by fire for those unfamiliar with the genre.

So, why should you play it?

  • If you’re a fan of shoot ’em ups, you’d be mad to pass up on this.
  • One of the best arcade-style shooters on the Switch.
  • Completionists will be overjoyed at the amount of unlockable content.
  • An excellent challenge to test your gaming skills.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • If you’re completely new to shoot ’em ups, try one that is more forgiving.
  • Poor reaction times? Not the game for you, as your ship only takes a single hit.
  • Those not fond of playing the same stages numerous times should avoid this game.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.