As Peter Griffin would say – “you know what really grinds my gears?”. Irresponsible labeling of games. Now you might say “wow that sounds super specific, almost like you’re trying to segue into something”. And you would be right. There is one particular label that really grinds my gears. Soulslike. Is the game a bit challenging? Yep, then it’s soulslike. Does it follow the rule of “show, don’t tell”? It’s pretty much the Dark Souls of….soulslike games, I guess. And it even got to the point where soulslike is being used for marketing purposes for games that don’t really deserve it.
And the abundance of that is exactly what made me notice Thymesia. No description of soulslike on the store page or in gameplay trailers. Yet, the game does inherit a lot from acclaimed FromSoft games. A brooding protagonist, medieval atmosphere, punishing gameplay, and so on. So far the first impressions seem promising, but let’s see what’s actually behind the hood.
As they say, the once thriving Kingdom of Hermes has fallen to an age of calamity. So-called calamity is reminiscent of the dark middle ages, according to the tutorial area at least. Fire, destruction, abandoned homes, sick and dead on the streets. Lovely. You play as a plague doctor called Corvus. Although your medical practice is more dependent on killing than saving lives (just like actual plague doctors, hah!). Our Corvus also suffers from amnesia. The only cure for him seems to be to explore the punishing Kingdom of Hermes, unraveling more secrets and regaining his memory. There is also a small army of monsters and occasional bosses that we need to push through, but that’s really no big deal to us. Right?
One thing is certain – Thymesia is punishing. Even in that short tutorial area, you might die once or twice to that first boss. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed by enemies if you’re not careful. Also, enemies seem a bit smarter compared to usual games from this genre so they won’t be too shy to stunlock you and corner you whenever possible. They play dirty but so can you. To do that efficiently, you really need to understand the unique mechanics of this game. Spamming the attack key won’t get you far. All enemies heal over time and they’re not just gonna stand there as you pummel them. Your normal attack is there to chip away some health from them and inflict plague damage. Unless you bring down the health all the way down with normal attacks before they heal back up, you won’t get far in the game. That’s where your heavy attack comes in. It’s there to take away a big portion of their health that you destroyed with regular attacks so they can’t heal back up. So the usual winning strategy would be a regular attack, regular attack, regular attack, heavy attack, rinse and repeat.
But wait, we’re not done with the enemies just yet. Every once in a while they might throw a heavy attack at you that’s hard to block but easy to interrupt if you time it right (think of it as a parry mechanic of this game). Defeating certain enemies by holding down heavy attacks while they’re out of health will also take away their weapon and give it to you. Although it’s one-time use only, it can inflict a lot of damage on enemies and it’s great for crowd control. You also have your usual ingredients for a soulslike RPG – leveling up stats, allocation skill points, and learning a lot about the game through environmental storytelling.
The level design in Thymesia is remarkable and it does not disappoint. Every playable area is filled with shortcuts, secret passages, hidden items, and mini-bosses. Though the visuals can be a bit monochromatic to the point where you might name certain places in the game as “the green area”, “orange area” and so on. I am a tad disappointed in the lack of variety when it comes to enemies. You won’t have to get far in the game to see most of the bestiary of Thymesia even though mini-bosses and bosses are quite distinct and memorable.
The audio segment of the game is nothing to write home about. Voice acting is pretty much nonexistent and I expected a lot more emphasis on environmental sounds. You know, something else besides the frequent grunts and moans of the enemies. For the most part, you are the composer. Occasional silence is broken by your symphony of slashes and executing enemies. It is a shame because for this kind of game audio design is a big part of the experience that could very well complement the visual and world-building.
Thymesia does not run away from its influences. It’s pretty apparent where it draws most of the inspiration. If you’re willing to look past its budgetary constraints, you might end up with an unpolished gem here. It’s not easy to get into right away and it falls flat in some areas. Combat can be a bit choppy at times, audio leaves a lot to be desired and there is a wavy difficulty curve throughout the game (you might speed run through some areas while others will be a tough nut to crack). With all that said, Thymesia definitely brings something new to the table. There is a lot of effort put here, a lot of love, and while might not be love at first sight it is certainly genuine.
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