Othercide review: grimdark goth-girl grind-a-rama

Othercide is flipping hard. Just fantastically difficult. But then you gradually tease out strategies to deal with seemingly impossible bosses, find ways to form incredibly powerful combos, and suddenly it seems doable. That taste of conquering seemingly insurmountable odds is sweet, sweet nectar indeed.

It takes patience, though. After barely any kind of tutorial, you’re thrown straight in at the deep end to begin with. You’re initially faced with screen after screen of obtuse stats and skills, with barely any idea of what it all means. Having played many XCOM-style, turn-based tactics games in the past, I had some notion of what I should be doing – but if you’re new to the genre, this definitely isn’t the place to start.

The story is similarly impenetrable. There’s some kind of big baddie called The Other, which has been corrupted by something called The Suffering, and you initially play some immortal guardian-type called Mother, but then Mother dies and becomes Red Mother, and she starts germinating Daughters to continue the fight, and so on and so forth. It’s basically a load of goth women fighting Junji Ito-style nightmare creatures. If you’ve ever painted your bedroom black at any point in your life, then this will be right up your street.

Personally, I’m more into primary colours or chalk-based Farrow and Ball legacy paints, but I still appreciated the minimalist colour palette that Othercide employs. Everything is rendered in black and white, with the odd accent of red, which for the most part looks excellent – if a little murky on occasion. That said, I got a bit tired of the samey maps, with each level blurring into one another in an amorphous mass of Gothic columns and miserable statues. And the same layouts keep recurring far too often considering the amount of times you have to replay the game – but more on that in a moment.

Let’s talk about the meat of the game – the turn-based combat. Like XCOM: Chimera Squad, you have a timeline running along the bottom of the screen, showing the order in which each enemy and ally will act. Each character has 100 action points (or sometimes more), which they can use to move and attack, with each attack costing different amounts of AP. But if you go below 50 AP on your turn, entering what’s called Burst Mode, your character will be set further back on the timeline – effectively causing them to miss a turn. This sets up a neat tension whereby you constantly have to decide whether to just use 50 AP and perhaps leave your character in an advantageous position to attack on the next turn, or spend the full 100 AP to finish off an enemy, with the possibility that your character might be vulnerable to an attack while they wait for their go to come around again.

As well as regular attacks, each Daughter has access to some reaction skills, which can trigger on the enemy’s turn. For example, the Blademaster can trigger a skill that attacks any enemy which moves within range of her. But the trouble is that these skills use hit points rather than action points – usually either 10% or 5% of the character’s total HP. And that is a problem, because health is hard to come by in Othercide.

Any damage that the Daughters take is carried over to the next level, and the only way to regenerate health is by sacrificing another Daughter. But get this: you can only regenerate a character by sacrificing a Daughter at the same level or higher. In effect, this means you’ll have to level up a whole team of Daughters, then pick which ones to cull right before the fantastically powerful bosses that await at the end of each of the five eras. It’s a bit like The Island, where you’re raising a crop of Daughters to provide spare organs for the more favoured ones.

The bosses themselves are obscenely powerful, regularly trashing your strategies with insanely cheaty area of effect attacks, and generally behaving like absolute bell ends. God I hate them. Basically, you will die the first time you meet a boss, and dying means starting right from the beginning of the game all over again. But all is not lost, because as you play through each level, you gain Shards, which can then be spent on Remembrances for the next run – and these Remembrances do all sorts of powerful and useful things, like letting you resurrect a certain number of Daughters, start characters off at a higher level or even skip whole eras entirely.

Then there are Traits. These are essentially perks that each Daughter gains by meeting certain milestones, such as completing a level without taking damage. A Daughter will also gain a perk if you use another Daughter to regenerate her. Traits are the key to success, since they’re permanently attached to a character, and so you can resurrect the same Daughter again and again, adding to her Traits every time you play. One of my characters is an absolutely badass Blademaster called Sincere, who has about a dozen traits and can one-hit KO pretty much any enemy, so I make sure she gets brought along on every adventure.

All this means that the only way to win the game is by replaying it again and again, gradually improving your favourite Daughters and unlocking more and more useful Remembrances to make your team more effective. Even so, Othercide makes you feel like you’re constantly up against it – I’m currently on my fourth playthrough, and almost all of my Daughters are running low on health, while I have very little Vitae in reserve – the stuff that lets you germinate new Daughters and equip new Memories that provide fancy modifiers. Basically, I’m not too far away from having to start another run, meaning several more hours of grinding through levels to beef up my fulsome Daughters, ready to fight the next boss – at which point they’ll probably all die and I’ll have to start again.

That description sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But Othercide is actually very enjoyable – the constant tension that comes from having to constantly keep an eye on your characters’ health means even the most routine fight comes with a frisson of danger. One wrong move could see a Daughter being stripped of HP – and that health is very hard to get back.

That said, considering this game is so focused on grinding, I would have liked to see more variety in the levels. After about ten hours of play time I’ve only encountered two mission types – kill everything, and survive until the timer runs down – although apparently there’s a third type where you have to safeguard a Bright Soul. The repetition in the maps is also pretty tedious, although I do like the variety in the enemies – each one has a very different style of attack and needs a different strategy. And speaking of strategies, there’s a lovely synergy between the character types – Blademaster (melee), Soulsinger (ranged) and Shieldbearer (tank), with another character type being unlocked about halfway through. You quickly work out that you can set up combos among the characters using reaction attacks, whereby you can hit an enemy multiple times when they move. Even so, it would be nice to throw some more classes and skills into the mix to add more variety to those repeated playthroughs.

Othercide is flipping hard. Fantastically difficult. But it’s fantastically rewarding, too, if you have the time and patience to invest.

Othercide was developed by Lightbulb Crew and published by Focus Home Interactive, and it’s available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Othercide was provided by Indigo Pearl. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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