Review: Yohane the Parhelion: BLAZE in the DEEPBLUE
There is a recurring theme for me in taking reviews for games that are spinoffs of series I know nothing about. Yohane the Parhelion: BLAZE in the DEEPBLUE, aside from having the probably most overwritten title I will see all year in my review queue (it has very little time left in the year to lose its lead), continues that trend. It is apparently a spinoff of Love Live! Sunshine in the Mirror, which at least explains the basics of the title.
A parhelion is a bright spot in the sky caused by the sunlight refracting through ice crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s your science spot for today, gentle reader.
Now, Yohane the Parhelion (which is what I’m calling it for the rest of the review because the alternative is going to be an ongoing joke and you don’t want that) is made by Inti Creates, a company that is no stranger to spinning out games from existing franchises big and small. Of course, they are also no stranger to making clunkers; these guys made Blaster Master Zero, Mighty No. 9, and the entire Mega Man Zero series. Point is that they’re able to do a lot with a little and also able to do a little with a lot. So how does this game stack up when it rolls out on every remotely modern platform today? (The Switch version was played for this review.)
HEAT in the UNDERAZURE
So remember how I mentioned that this game is a spinoff of an anime? Well good golly, Miss Molly, I sure hope you are familiar with that anime if you want to make any inroads into the game’s plot. Any inroads whatsoever, in fact. The game right away tells you that there is a dungeon that some people have gone missing therein, and Yohane has to go looking for her missing… friends? Acquaintances? Enemies? I assume they’re friends, but she and Lailaps aren’t going to give you anything more to go on beyond “Yohane wants to rescue these people.”
Oh, for the record, Lailaps is a wolf who can talk. I have no idea if that’s normal, if he’s special, if Yohane’s special because she can understand him, or any of the above.
I am admittedly being hard on the game’s plot here because it’s funny, and to a certain extent none of these questions really matter. The main character is named Yohane, there’s an undersea dungeon to explore. Why does she have a wolf as a companion? Dude, you are playing an anime metroidvania with a bunch of cute girls. Some of this stuff just comes with the territory. But it does mean that the game has less than zero interest in helping you get any sort of footing in the context of what the game is actually about. Either you already know these people or you don’t, and if you don’t the game has little interest in introducing them.
Fortunately, the game also does not require an elaborate introduction to these characters, and it’s a metroidvania. The plot is not front-and-center most of the time. So how does the game itself feel?
INFERNO in the DOWNINDIGO
The reason I listed off the pedigree of Inti Creates right in the opener is because I wanted to establish right out of the gate that Inti Creates is often very good at evoking a certain kind of playstyle. They are more than capable of making a light metroidvania that feels fun to play; Blaster Master Zero proves that. Unfortunately, I feel that Yohane the Parhelion keeps stumbling over itself in various minor ways that make it less fun to play through.
When you start the game, Yohane can only summon Lailaps to attack directly in front of her. However, she pretty quickly acquires the materials necessary to craft a weapon, and she can always have a weapon equipped to summon and make use of in combat as well. As she proceeds through the dungeon, she picks up materials to craft other weapons, which can run the gamut of attacks. She can also rescue other friends and cycle between them, with each friend having a different special effect when summoned, like breaking through blocks, moving heavy objects, stunning enemies, and the like.
So far so good, right? This sounds like the foundation for a fairly solid Metroidvania… except that it’s here where things start to fall down due to a combination of issues.
For one thing, your allies other than Lailaps and your sub-weapons all rely upon your dark point gauge, and if you don’t have any dark points to cast them you just cast from HP. This makes sense in the abstract to let you get through areas while keeping your resources relevant. The problem is that… you also don’t get refill items from enemies. Enemies drop items for crafting or money, not health or power refills. Those require items you can purchase when you die.
Now, this is in and of itself a kinda neat idea for a system, but it also means that you rarely want to be using anything that costs power unless you’re either at a boss or you need to. Which means that most of the time… you’re going to be relying upon your basic attack. This is exacerbated by the fact that your early new companions don’t actually have terribly useful attacks, so you don’t really find yourself wanting to use them. It’s a metroidvania where your first few major upgrades make you think “I should not use this,” which is the opposite of the usual path.
Things are made a bit worse by another well-intentioned system letting you warp instantly between save points right from the outset. That means that you can’t actually establish any sorts of unusual gates on your progress or one-way doors that you can’t pass back through easily, since you can always just teleport back without a problem. There are also various “randomized” areas of any given map in which you have to fight through a few random rooms and enemies, which sounds like a way to break up reliable level layouts but winds up actually just feeling like filler compared to bespoke rooms that are designed with puzzles and intent in mind.
Ultimately, the problem that I kept finding was that unlike a good metroidvania with progress gated by specific barriers and realizing that you can go back to clear those barriers now, it felt much more segmented and didn’t reward new approaches. There’s a block you can’t break in this room, but just look for the boss and you can. Then you won’t need that ability again for a long while, and you certainly won’t use it to explore. It’s not a great setup.
FLAME in the BELOWCYAN
For the most part, Yohane controls reasonably well, but I found that she had an annoying tendency to not slide unless I tilted the analog stick straight down. This might seem like a minor thing, but sliding is your primary means of getting low and moving fast, so it’s kind of important to be able to use it reliably.
However, even though she controls well, she doesn’t feel like she controls well. This is a kind of hard thing to explain, because it’s subtle, but I think some of it comes down to what I mentioned about Yohane’s primary attack being to summon Lailaps. Instead of pressing a button and having her attack, it feels like you press a button, wait a few frames, and then Lailaps summons in with a slash that hits instantly. On a strictly functional level, this isn’t any different from having a few frames of startup animation before your attack goes off, but in practice it feels very stutter-stop instead of a slow startup.
This isn’t helped by weird animation gaps in the character. Yohane has a crouching animation, but it’s instant; you just press down and she’s crouching. This is fine in a vacuum, but her animations for running and jumping are elaborate and fluid, making the crouch feel weird. It’s hard to explain all of this which is why I’m kind of repeating myself, but the game feels like an odd mixture of very carefully hand-crafted animations and layouts and… weirdly sloppy shortcuts.
Fortunately for the game, the music is generally a bop, which makes sense since the root series is apparently about Japanese idol culture or something? Yohane can pick up music sheets that have her start singing her own song and powers her up, which is a neat aspect of gameplay but a bit jarring in practice.
TORCH in the LOWCERULEAN
At a glance, Yohane the Parhelion looks like a very attractive pixel-art game made with care by a creator who is more than capable of making good games. And the latter part is indisputable. But nobody hits out of the park every time, and I generally found this game to be something of a disappointment. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but this year we already had an actually amazing pixel art metroidvania game that got up and did a dance with the greats of the genre.
If you’re looking for a metroidvania game to play that you haven’t played before, this game is going to deliver. It’s not without charm and it’s not wildly incompetent. But it’s a C- effort and that’s all the worse when you know that the studio is capable of delivering much better. Unless you’re in dire need of a new metroidvania or a big fan of the series it’s based upon, I wouldn’t rush to grab this one.
Review copy provided by Inti Creates for Switch. All screenshots courtesy Inti Creates.