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Baroque - Impression

Platform: PS2 & Wii
Developer: Sting
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 03.18.2008
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by Mikel Tidwell

Have you ever played a game where neither the rules nor the goal were explained to you? You simply start playing and have to figure out everything? If you have and liked it, then Baroque is a game you should definitely look into.

I started the game with a simple difficulty option. Not to show weakness, but wanting to make progress, I selected Normal. Afterward, the story began with a couple scientists talking about an experiment enclosed in a green-colored tube. What is inside? Who knows? After this scene, the protagonist appears in an area best described as a wasteland. There are remains of structures, but nothing that looks functional or whole. As the man walks around, various others share what they have to say without prompting. Kicking or punching them evokes another response, though most simply state they don't want to die. Somber tones spell out what the scenes already depict: This world is near death.

"This is just the beginning of possibly the hardest dungeon crawling game I have ever experienced."

Off in the distance, a large tower can be seen. As the player moves toward the structure, he's stopped by a man with a long white trench coat accented by a deep red symbol on his chest. The man in the coat talks about sins and healing the world, then hands the main character a gun telling him that all will have meaning if he will use it and then departs. A few steps more and the game asks if you'd like to enter the Neuro Tower. Seeing there's nothing else to do right now, entering the tower seems like a good idea.

Combat is fairly simple, perhaps too simple. One button does a quick attack and another does a strong attack. The attacks vary based on the weapon used. The quick attack can combo a few strikes, but otherwise that's the end of the attack options. There is no strafe or block option. Gathering items is essential, but there are only 20 slots of inventory, not nearly enough for the various items that are found. However, most of them appear unidentified, adding to the mystery. The few that are identified will regain HP and VT stats when used.

About this time, I notice the stat labeled VT has been dropping at a constant rate. As par for the game, nothing has explained what that is or how to replenish. I learn that if I kill monsters, they may drop an item or a glowing heart. The heart refills a tiny amount of VT, though not near enough for what's ticking away as I explore. Eventually it runs out and I am warned that my HP will stop automatically rising and start falling instead. This change, in combination with a complete lack of fighting skill, quickly earns me a death on the third floor or -300 as it is labeled.

Instead of the expected Game Over screen, a new cutscene with the green tube and the scientists begins. They are not pleased with the performance of the subject. One wants to give up on it, but the other argues and eventually convinces the first scientist that the subject is worth more work. When the vitals of the subject stabilize, the scene shifts back to the ruined world. While this makes it pretty clear that the protagonist is the one in the tube, it does not give a clue to where this ruined world exists.

This is just the beginning of possibly the hardest dungeon crawling game I have ever experienced. Still with no true direction, the player is sent back with the option of exploring the town remnants or delving back into the Neuro Tower. Dying is not a true penalty and is even sometimes required to progress the story, but all items and experience points are lost each time the protagonist returns to this strange world. Slowly the pieces fall into place, but until I can reach the bottom of the Neuro Tower, much of it still remains. And yet, I have to wonder if the answers are truly down there or will there be more questions?

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