It took a good while before I realized that DON'T GIVE UP: A Cynical Tale isn't an RPG in any sense of the word. In fact, it wraps itself in the trappings of that genre so thoroughly that it fooled me for the first hour. There are no items, no maps, no leveling or XP, and no incidental or random encounters. This is a linear adventure consisting of dialogue, combat, and traversal. At first glance, you might think this is a journey in the vein of Earthbound or Undertale, but it’s not that, and it’s not that good.
Narrative is DON’T GIVE UP’s driving force, moving at a brisk pace over its 8-9 hours. It’s a journey themed around overcoming depression and anxiety, a semi-autobiographical tale with a heavy dose of the fantastical. For the most part, players control Tris (ostensibly named after dev Tristan Barona), a socially inept, struggling game developer haunted by his emotions. Occasionally players also jump into the shoes of Subris, a being within Tris’ spiritual world who battles Tris’ inner demons in a much more literal way.
Engaging characters, exhausting story
The design in both Tris’ world and Subris’ world feels a bit generic, with neither the uniqueness of Undertale nor the eccentricity of Earthbound. It ends up feeling like a lot of grey in one and purple in the other. It’s all serviceable, but certainly not memorable.
Dialogue makes up most of the runtime, and it’s largely entertaining. Unfortunately, nobody but Tris gets enough time to become fleshed out characters. Everyone else in the cast settles into roles such as the bubbly friend, the girl-next-door, the muscle bro.
Tris is the classic socially-awkward self-deprecating character. He isn't always the most likable guy in the world, and he’s a better character for it. Occasionally, players get dialogue choices, usually boiling down to being nice or not. They don’t seem to affect anything past the immediate situation, but they do lend to a bipolarity about Tris, a sense of apathy in his mood that rounds him out even more.
Trying not to spoil much about the relatively short story, I’ll say that it’s largely confusing. It’s not that it tries packing too much in, but what’s there often feels contrived or uninteresting. Thankfully, DON’T GIVE UP never drags due to its blink-and-you’ll-miss-plot speed that keeps the mind from dwelling too long on just what is going on.
The banal and the boring
Traversal makes up a large part of the experience, so it’s really too bad that there’s nothing unique about it. More often than not, it feels like an objective is there to add five minutes to the game. With no random encounters or any sort of side quests, it’s just running from A to B, occasionally with an annoying lack of direction.
That being said, walking around the world isn’t all bad. Music is the strongest part of the package and while it doesn’t reach the heights set by soundtracks of other pixelated indies, it’s varied, enjoyable and never grating. A couple of particularly jauntier tracks make me hope for an eventual OST release, even if that seems unlikely.
Three times in my 9-hour playthrough, I had to reload the game due to finding myself either stuck in a wall or warping outside the world. It’s annoying, especially when the autosave system causes you to lose nearly half an hour of progress.
DON’T GIVE UP: A Cynical Tale Review | Quirky and complex combat
Combat is where the gameplay really is, and what’s here is surprisingly fun. It consists of four-directional dodging, parrying, a light, and a heavy attack and a super attack. While simple at its core, battles become more complex as players progress and enemies perform attacks requiring more than mere dodging and button-mashing.
While I enjoyed most of my time in combat, there are some difficulty spikes. There are no random encounters and no leveling, so fights boil down to skill. I had no troubles, for the most part, only occasionally having to restart a battle once or twice (thankfully, dying only brings you back to the start of a battle). But near the end, two particular battles made up roughly a quarter of my total playtime of 9 hours. These battles were massively harder than any others and quickly became frustrating rather than fun in part due to how much of a breeze every other fight was.
Even as an extremely linear experience, DON’T GIVE UP: A Cynical Tale feels empty. The act of walking makes up a sizeable chunk of the gameplay. Even a scant few puzzle sections and an entertaining soundtrack can’t make that fun. A New Game + mode is available but being so linear, it’s tough to imagine ever wanting to retread this path.
TechRaptor reviewed DON’T GIVE UP: A Cynical Tale on PC with a copy provided by the developer Taco Cat Games.
- Fun Dialogue, Even With Cardboard Characters
- Entertaining, Bouncy Soundtrack
- Simple Combat Which Builds and Builds
- Confusing and Contrived Storyline
- Generic Art and Design
- Frustrating Difficulty Spikes