Iji

Iji

Cave Story fans will get significant déjà vu from Iji. Both games are solo-developed freeware action-platformers that brush against the borders of Metroidvania. They both have exceptional soundtracks. They both have far more in-depth narratives than you’d expect. And they both received more acclaim than they would have gotten had they been developed and released under different circumstances. The word “free” lowers a lot of standards; it did it in the 2010s by its association with shitty mobile games, and it did it in the 2000s by its association with shitty browser games. And yes, by the standards of solo-developed freeware in 2008, Iji is phenomenal. It has 10 sprawling levels (and even more after updates), 16 different weapons (ditto), a branching narrative, and even voice acting. And all of this is delivered competently…except the voice acting, which is comically amateurish.

That’s all Iji is when you ignore its price tag and credit length: competent. It’s a decent pastiche of traits pulled from Deus Ex, Half-Life, Metroid, and Halo with the occasional neat idea of its own, such as weapon combination. Story moments are occasionally blended into gameplay effectively, the bosses usually have environmental weaknesses that can be exploited by any character build, and the player’s stats often have multiple overlapping uses. On the other hand, the enemies are practically mindless, and they’re so heavily armed with explosive and armour-piercing weaponry by mid-game that being launched across the room becomes a secondary method of transportation. That sounds like a pretty solid ratio of pros to cons, but Iji also insists on its pacifistic gameplay and narrative options despite them being half-baked and illogical.

Prior to a later update that added mildly useful non-lethal weaponry, there were very few tools for stealth or evasion. The most common tactic on a pacifist run is to hop around endlessly, dodging what attacks you can and tanking the rest. Not only does this look and feel very stupid, it’s also distinctly not fun. And yet, the game heavily favours this route narratively, chastising players who don’t take the high road against the aliens who massacred all of humanity. It’s a bizarre choice that makes a potentially nuanced story about violence begetting violence difficult to take seriously, and it’s compounded by generally sophomoric writing. Speaking of things that are hard to take seriously, the art style is unpleasantly simplistic, and that’s putting it charitably.

5/10
5/10

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