The intensity and the fun of a bullet-hell game comes as you successfully weave between endless patterns made up of hundreds of bullets, mashing the “fire” key as you desperately try to take down the adversaries pummeling you. It’s when your enemy’s health bar is low – and likely as not yours – that the intensity reaches its full peak, only to be let out by either the despair of your death or the cry of sweet success.
It’s a balance much like life. We face crises and troubles and it’s when the intensity has peaked and we reach the cusp of either hope or despair that life, for better or worse, is at its sharpest. This is when we don’t take things for granted and we realize how fragile we are – a tiny player-character amidst a hell of bullets. ITTA conveys both of these feelings. It's an adventure game with bullet-hell boss battles that is built on themes of despair and hope. The frantic boss encounters and the time in-between spent wandering a fallen world will send you to depressed lows and right back up to intense highs.
Despair and Hope, in Look and Sound
ITTA’s world is a lost, fallen civilization, filled with dead bodies and old, ruined statues. The visual design is excellent. Corpses seem woven into the landscape. Old statues bleed, cry, and in some cases resemble rotting skulls. It’s brilliantly unsettling.
The whole land hangs in limbo between life and death. It's as if time has been frozen since some horrible event far in the past. You get hints at what happened here through books and conversations with the remaining NPCs. Each NPC reinforces the theme of brokenness as they are either a wandering spirit or someone who has experienced loss.
One of them, a shepherd who works on your weapons, is a spirit wondering with his herd. Another, a cartographer, is bent over with a distressed expression on her face always. An old man with a cane wonders about searching for his loved ones. One of the land’s automatons hangs off a ledge, mired in some substance, saying that he’s been hanging there so long he doesn’t really mind it anymore. The tortuous forms each boss takes don’t lift the experience, either. They come off as broken beings – once-great people, now forlorn monsters.
There are glimpses of wholeness and joy amidst the brokenness, though. In the old man's dialogue, there is kindliness and a sense that all can be well again. There is also the occasional whole monument, like cat statues you'll find. Player-charactter Itta is a lost wanderer like the NPCs but is also on a journey of desinty, albeit an unclear one. There are hints that Itta will free all the lost soults here - that she is in some way different.
One effective juxtaposition of these central themes - despair with hope - is an unsettling visual that shows up occasionally after Itta dies in a boss battle. A scene plays of Itta’s body plummeting down a limitless void, images of her bloodied face faintly appearing across the screen. This happens just moments before her body appears again in the overworld and she returns, back to normal. It's poignant and a microcosm of the emotional journey ITTA takes you on from start to finish, all aided by its masterful visual design.
The soundtrack too complements this emotional journey. It wavers between adventuresome and melancholic tones as you explore the overworld. Boss battle music is appropriately frantic and tense. Through the music, you always have a solid sense of place and a tight connection with the player-character and gameworld. You will enjoy diving in to this world.
Tight and Crisp with a Touch of Zelda
ITTA is a smooth, crisp experience. It controls well and the visuals and audio blend together seamlessly. Most of the game is spent either in a boss battle or traveling between them. The controls are simple to understand: you move, shoot, dodge, and switch weapons. Special powers activate automatically during boss battles if you successfully dodge enough bullets. You can also bring up a map, but otherwise, there’s no inventory or complex system to manage.
In design, ITTA can also be compared to the original The Legend of Zelda. The overworld and some of its elements – NPCs who help you with weapons or who fill out your map – are the clearest comparisons. Itta’s movement across the overworld, the process of solving the game’s few puzzles, and the boss’ lairs – the closest thing the game has to dungeons – are Zelda-esque.
One ingenious puzzle that involved a smart use of statues had me stumped for a bit. Other times you have to know just where to look to fire a shot at a hidden lever. When you find bombs, you can blow open cracked walls you’ve come across. The game is not overwhelmingly Zelda, but you’ll pick up on small inspirations here and there.
Given the enjoyable design, the game’s short length is disappointing: I clocked 4 hours. This did not include all the side material, but it did include the main quest up to and through the final boss fight. ITTA’s sweet, but short.
ITTA Review | A Tale of Hope
You may have a reservation about ITTA: it has bullet-hell boss battles. These are known to be difficult and stressful. But think of ITTA as a good entry-level bullet-hell title. I’m not a veteran of the genre, but I made it through the game in one piece. A couple of times – in the late-middle stages of the game – I had to use the game’s “Accessibility” options to get through a boss fight. That these options - Invincibility and a damage multiplier - are present should also inspire you to check it out if you're on the fence about its boss battles. Most of the game I played without these, and I did just fine.
The story, too, is not solely about despair. Hope is just as important a theme. The end of the game is surprisingly touching and fully worth the journey. So don’t be turned off ITTA because it sounds too difficult or too dark. Give it a chance, and you’ll find a smooth, enjoyable, quality game experience. It unfortunately ends much too soon, but while it lasts it is worth the journey.
TechRaptor reviewed ITTA on PC via Steam using a personally purchased copy.
- Crisp, Tight Feel and Control
- Haunting Visuals That Embody Themes of Despair and Hope
- Adventurous Soundtrack That Also Captures the Major Themes
- Not Too Hard and Not Too Easy
- The Main Quest is Too Short