Have been meaning to get around this one for a while, so much i eventually got a PC to run most games decently, in the meantime. As in, 3 years ago.
So, do you like games like Oneechanbara and Senran Kagura, are you into the niche of “anime ladies fighting with scanty clothes and swords”? Want more of them?
The Initial is borne of that mentality, and comes from a niche indeed, a chinese 5 people team called Restory Studio, who clearly know their audience, so much that one of the first paragraphs on the Steam store page says “THE INITIAL is a hyper action game about pretty schoolgirls battling against evil.”, which is a very apt and synthetic description.
Because you already know if you’re in or out after that.
You know where i stand on the matter.
The plot is a very flimsy excuse for high speed arena action against waves enemies, high number combos, etc, and takes place in a special school for students gifted with ESP powers, with the protagonist, students Ruri and Erika, fighting against an evil organization that has secretely collected info from all the students (as they are all great warriors, at least that’s my guess), with the purpose of creating an artificial girl with ultimate power (the titular Initial).
So yeah, the story is just there to be there, and clearly not the focus, as the game clearly wants one thing: to have ESP schoolgirls with big ass weapons fight enemies.
The dialogue it’s a lot of bungum about energy being stolen, restoring sci-fi stuff, clone girls, with an uber cheesy anime style japanese dub, i mean, really “anime”, i’d say it’s not good but what did you expect from an indie low budget title coming from the doujinshi sphere?
Still, they have cutscenes and a passable dubbing, which is more than first Oneechanbara game did, so big props for caring way more than D3 and Tamsoft did for a retail release back then.
And you can tell this is really made on a very small scale, as the character models feel like they wouldn’t be out of place in a 3D (not that kind of 3D) porn, as everyone looks fashioned out of silicone and plastic, and the enemy variety really leans into the “niche” angle, even more than a Tamsoft title the enemies are all obvious anime fetishes, gotta have the swimsuit, cat ears and shoulder mecha weapons, it’s a “must”, contrasting big time with the small and big robot enemies.
I will give them props for bothering to localize the text in english, but it’s clear none of the people doing it knew english to any real degree and probably fed most of the dialogues and text through an auto-translator, given the odd choice of terms, incorrect conjugation, questionable choice of adjectives. It’s pretty awkward regardless of being in a cutscene or just browsing the menus, but you can actually play the thing and get the basic gist of everything without being confused or anything.
And the funky english translation can be a source of some giggles, at the worst, so..
Gameplay wise, it’s actually surprisingly solid, it’s clear they put all effort into making a decent combat system as the title is old school 3D “arena fighter” (as they’re often called) hack n slash, just fighting various enemies until you can proceed to the next battle, having to press a button to interact with something, often to launch the protagonist into the sky so she can air dive to the next area… and to let you see the striped pantsu. Not even in a suggestive way, just to see them. Again.
It’s a pretty spartan affair, but the combat system is not bad, it has all the essentials, from blocking, dodging, follow-ups to air combat, finishers, screen clearing specials, charging attacks, perfect timing for both dodges and blocks, you can also shoot with your “accessory gun-in-sword”.
Of course i’m playing this with a controller (a X-Box 360 one, to be precise), but still, it’s pretty responsive, pretty fast, enemies are fairly quick and aggressive as well, so they put a fight and even on the Normal difficulty setting it can be challenging (bosses especially put a good fight as expected), so it’s clear the developers knew their hack n slash games enough, as combat is fast, responsive, balanced and overall feedback is satisfying.
… which makes me wonder why they start basically not trusting fully their ability to create challenging combinations of enemy types to throw at you together, and start using suicide bombing robots, not that often, but it’s a bit cheap, even if i get it, since they had limited resources, so it makes sense to repurpose the small robot model and make it go kamikaze instead of shooting.
Also, why the fuck the hardest part of this entire hack n slash game it’s jumping into a platform?
Seriously, at one point you have to jump into a platform floating above an electric laser trap on the floor… and it’s impossible to do until you realize you can also dash mid-air to cover more ground, which is nice, yes, but i didn’t expect to be able to do that as the game didn’t tell me that, at all.
Controls work well, my only gripe is the lack of any target lock feature, which seems so obvious to have even for a no-frills hack n slash like this, like come on, even fellow hack n slash indie Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae has such a basic feature.
You can control directly and reset the camera, yes, but that’s it. The only place where you have a target lock is during boss fights, which makes sense, it does, but why not let you just lock-on like a normal fuckin 3D hack n slash? It’s not even that big of a deal since the camera isn’t bad to make it stick as a flaw, but still, a minimap showing enemies would have been welcome.
As far as progression, it’s also pretty straightforward and old school: you get coins from the battles,and use them to buy new combos or abilities in the “shop” menu.
An honestly there’s no fuff, it’s all pretty useful, which is rare to say, but yes, all the ability and combos you can unlock have some practical use and aren’t just to falsify depth in any way, they all can get handy in various situations, which makes for a satisfying combat experience.
The only gripe in regard to the combat itself it’s that its a bit too fast, so it can be a bit iffy to pull of precise timing and make perfect dodges and blocks as enemy attacks can be hard to read on the fly, but it works, and i honestly respect immensely that they even put in an advanced move that works the same way as parrying in MGR Revengeance, this is incredibly ambitious for a 5 people team of beginners, even more since it works.
I’ve seen way worse put out by professional companies with decades of experience and a way bigger budgets. And this is clearly a cheap first-timer dealio, as technically is very basic in everything, it feels and is basic, which becomes more obvious when you get into the city level and see them use jpegs pictures plastered on shops’ windows.
The downsides is that it’s on the repetitive side, level lack any room for exploration, enviromental destruction or “slightly off to the side” collectables, it’s just that the enemy variety isn’t that big, when you get down to it, but they made sure to try and make the best out of what they could do.
It helps that the combat (as it’s pretty much all there is to The Initial) is satisfying and more nuanced than one could hope for a first time by complete new indie people, the repetition is well within what you can expect for such old school hack n slash games, and the fact it’s kept short, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, so in 2/3 hours it’s over.
ON the upside, the game never tries to confuse you and just tells you what to do destroy, do, go or interact with, and saves after every battle, so it doesn’t wanna waste your time by making you do an entire stage again, giving you or anything like that. The music by Cyber Joker (with the ending theme being sung by Mika Kobayashi) is pretty decent too.
Aside from the campaign and replaying it at harder difficulties, you have a Challenge Mode, which contains a “boss rush” (actually harder versions of the boss fights seen in the campaign), them letting you play as the bosses in a room of infinite enemies (i guess because they wanted to make them playable to some extent), and surprisingly an explorable prototype version of the game (with them immediatly pointing out it was never finished, so it can be glitchy and buggy), which features no combat but lets you run around the initial draft of the school location, contains behind the scenes comment from the developers, visual jokes like the robot enemies chasing Rei around one of the running tracks like crazed fanboys.
It shows the developers had a sense of humour and real pride on what they accomplished, even pointing out the “peculiar” choice in enemy designs.
While cute, i wish they included even an endless Survival mode instead, but since they did charge only 10 bucks, whatever.
As proof that niche titles made with love and catered to the people that want it at a price that makes sense can exist, Restory Studio made a second one in 2018, Initial 2 New Stage (yes, without the “The” this time), with a more ambitious scope this time around, we’ll get around to it, i promise.