The evolution of video games as an acceptable mainstream pastime isn’t without its negatives, not the least of which is the sacrifice of challenging gameplay as developers fight over the meatiest chunks of the market. On occasion, however, some developers dare to stray from the pack and fill an otherwise forgotten niche clamoring for the challenges that used to be, before the dawn of quicksaves, mindless damage sponge enemies and QTEs. The list is small but elite, including games like Demon Souls, The Binding of Isaac, Darkest Dungeon and now, Pera Game‘s very own Overfall.
Playing Overfall is equal parts addictive and emotional. Gameplay is one part strategy and two parts luck, relying heavily on random events ranging from power-appropriate quests, potentially crippling handicap attributes, consumption of limited food to heal your otherwise permanently bloodied team, and a constantly growing swarm of Nordic, dimension-traveling pillagers, the Vorn. This, of course, is all in addition to typical battle modifiers that can swing even decisive battles in an unexpected direction, such as missed hits and criticals that can destroy mage and rogue-esque companions in a single blow.
Players start with a team of two starter heroes, a warrior, and a healer, who get plopped in the middle of an expansive ocean and sent on their very merry non-linear suicide quest. Provided you survive long enough, you’ll earn more companions along the way through various events initiated by visiting islands and helping those in need. Among the huge roster of partners, a smaller number can be chosen as starter classes, replacing the default lineup of warrior and healer. This is important, as these are the only two characters of a potential max party of four that can be upgraded; the bulk of earned companions can be recruited and controlled in combat, but otherwise come with no customization or evolution, making them helpful but ultimately very expendable allies. Players will also earn other unlockables throughout their journies, including new powers in the form of unlocked weapons, and new utility skills. While each session begins anew with a random, procedurally generated world, unlockables remain and will greatly aid in extending future play sessions by increasing starting power and potential.
Game sessions are very short. Especially when first starting, death is guaranteed and almost immediate until strategies develop and unlocked items accrue. Quests are completely random, and it is entirely possible for the very first quest gained to be far beyond the abilities of the initial, two person party default of unupgraded skills and weapons. The result can prove frustrating at best, rage-inducing at worst. Even late game, one misstep can cost an entire play session; the death of a teammate, for instance, can cause all survivors to manifest a fear of the creature responsible, weakening them in fights against that particular enemy. Similar to another exceptionally challenging game, Darkest Dungeon, bad habits, diseases, fears and such build the longer a session draws out, and are often unpredictable. While some end over time, most are permanent, and without a way to remove them, already challenging battles eventually become nigh impossible as characters lose stat points, run straight into danger out of fear, or permanently die. In fairness, beneficial statuses can also be earned, though these require a bit more intent than the more naturally occurring negatives.
Overall, the difficulty of Overfall is a welcomed change of pace from the growing mountain of games that offer power on a silver platter. There are times, however, when Overfall‘s mechanics shy too far away from ‘challenging’ and seem instead bullying and mean-spirited. For instance, in addition to the wealth of negative statuses that build onto your characters and the lack of customization for most of the roster, the last enemy of every battle also goes into a kind of rage mode. In this mode, the enemy is immune to debuffs, hits harder, and seems to dodge attacks much more often. There are times when that final, single enemy can even be harder than the swath that once accompanied them. This further complicates an already complex battle system that relies so heavily on crowd control and debuffs that there is a whole turn, every single round, dedicated just to utility skills. While an interesting mechanic on its own, it seems uncalled for as a constant, considering all the other challenges awaiting players at every turn.
Overfall can appear to stack chips against the player to a wildly unsportsmanlike extent. However, it’s worth considering that dying is not necessarily something to avoid, but rather part of progressing. The overarching story actively considers the reincarnation of the player characters because it’s in their nature to eventually die. Once one accepts that their death as inevitable, the goal of playing changes; there isn’t so much ‘winning’ as there is making the most of your session before you’re dog-piled by the Vorn. The alternative is riskier, progress measured by actively engaging in short land excursions that have a chance to increase your reputation with one of the several warring factions, the goal being to unite enough of them to fight the Vorn and find the Lost King. Even then, however, the player isn’t rewarded with an ending so much as a new beginning for their next journey, still preferable to watching your body disintegrate into smoke and bone.
Quests are a plenty, and are thankfully fun on their own given that they connect very vaguely, if at all, with the constantly looming directive of the Lost King. More often than not, the main quest seems more peripheral than the side quests, the latter being where the bulk of one’s time is invested. Of the massive amounts of random quests possible, most are short but memorable and enjoyable, especially impressive given that Pera Games is an Istanbul-based company. Occasional errors in translation aside, jokes and references land and offer a stark but engaging contrast to a dangerous world. Even more interesting is the Story Builder mode, where players can build their own stories through a series of parent-children nodes. The Story Builder is easy to use, yet offers a very deeply detailed ability to create quests of any length, decide rewards, enemies, dialogue options, and more to entice any budding storyteller. The player-created stories can then be shared in Steam Workshop which, combined with the randomly generated world, will help flesh out Overfall’s replayability for a long time to come.
Graphically, the game is uniquely beautiful. Characters are all drawn comically tiny, with stunted attributes and humorously exaggerated features that hide their murderous intent. Everything is hand-drawn, from player characters to enemies and environments. Impressively, across tons of different characters spread out across several races, everyone looks unique and lovingly detailed. While the stumpy bodies may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to deny the gorgeous, painterly world and the creative cast of characters. Skill effects are pretty understated, however, and though some may prefer the simpler energy balls and slashes of swords, some additional flair would have gone a long way towards making combat feel more impactful.
Overfall was one of the most polished of Early Access games on Steam and has shaped up to be an incredibly impressive first leap for Pera Games. While some enemies and classes could benefit from additional tuning, the experience remains both fun and rewarding in spite of, if not because of, the brutal challenge and lack of predictability. Both the amount and quality of content is impressive at its asking price on Steam, ensuring a well-deserved spot in any RPG fan’s library.
Overfall was previewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
An incredibly challenging experience tempered by engaging gameplay and a beautiful, hand-drawn world.