Game Title: Exile’s End
Developer: Magnetic Realms, XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 99 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes
One genre I’ve come to note that the handheld community likes and loves is the Metroidvania genre. I’ve seen more “What are some good Metroidvanias on this?” topics I’ve seen in both r/Vita and r/3DS than I could care to count. I admit that I do enjoy the genre every so often, so maybe I’m thrown into the same crowd as those people. The point is, it’s a pretty popular genre among handheld gamers.
A game of that genre (as much as the developers may want you to think it’s not) actually did come to the West not so long ago, on the PS4 and PS Vita both. By XSEED Games of all people, too. The people normally being thanked for RPGs like The Legend of Heroes, Ys, and Ragnarok published this small Castlevania title for indie fans.
Without further ado, here is my review of the PS Vita and PSTV version of Exile’s End!
The story of Exile’s End takes place in a sci-fi world, where a mining operation’s communications go dark and a team is sent in to find out why. Upon crashing onto the planet where the mining operation was set in, the leader must round up whatever survivors he can and try to find out what happened to the mining operation.
While the story does show itself in a good few ways, the focus here is definitely the gameplay. The story is decent for what it is, and it kept me going because I’m a sucker for anything sci-fi, but just note that it’s not meant to be the focus of the game.
Exile’s End is a side-scrolling action game that’s aim was to emulate the old action games on the Commodore 64. While they go very far out of their way to say it is NOT a Metroidvania title, that is definitely what it feels like in its campaign mode, though with a bit of a survival element thrown in to keep things progressive as you play.
Basically, you have Story Mode and Survival Mode you can go through. Story Mode is a 5-hour trek through the campaign while Survival Mode is more of a Free Play mode that gives you a weapon and a timer with which you have limited time to take out all enemies and make it to the exit.
In Story Mode, you have a giant map to explore, each in 2D rooms. I would compare this directly to games like Symphony of the Night or even Valkyrie Profile, in my own experience. You go through each room and then you transition to another room which will eventually make up a large map of the overall area you’re in. The goal is to reach survivors or whatever your current objective may be by avoiding obstacles and solving puzzles.
The game is as much a survival game as an action game, though. At the start, your suit has no upgrades and you have no weapons, so you’re completely blind in everything you’re doing. You take a lot of fall damage, have no way of fighting enemies or solving puzzles and have to find all the tools you need as you go. It makes it a much more strategic experience than Survival Mode, where your suit is already upgraded.
The way that strategy works is figuring out puzzles and figuring out a proper way to platform. There are a ton of areas where you have to jump down and can’t see where you’re jumping to. Platform patterns are all different so you have to look down by holding the down button for a few seconds and see where you’re going. This isn’t an uncommon feature in older games, but the game doesn’t show you how to do this. It says to look down and you’re just there saying “Umm…okay? How do I do that?”
It also doesn’t tell you how to use items once you find them, which is integral to solving puzzles as one of the first puzzles is to throw a rock you find on the ground and equip over to a level that you can’t reach. Didn’t take me more than a few minutes to figure out, but again, virtually no instruction will lead many to a swirling pool of confusion.
The platforming, itself, is pretty intricate and not always predictable. Platforms might go in one direction for 2 or 3 steps and then turn left. The fact that you take fall damage until you get better upgrades makes you constantly think about these things with using the look function. The nice thing about this is that it’s not a platformer you can just run and rush through. The game makes you think and plan.
The same goes for items and weapons. You find a pistol that has 10 bullets and you may want to think whether you want to annihilate every harmless enemy in sight or save the bullets for a boss fight later on. Unlike Survival Mode, you don’t have an unlimited amount of everything (other than Health).
With how it all works, the pacing really feels kind of slow. You find a tiny scene, then a lot of empty rooms with little to no enemies or items and that repeats. People who love to explore may not mind this, but it felt like there really should’ve been more thrown into each room to keep the difficulty and thinking going. A lot of rooms are just running in a straight line or platforming with one or no enemies to try to avoid.
This goes on for the 5-hour campaign, while you also have Survival Mode which I find much more action-packed. In Survival, you’re thrown into a stage with certain weaponry and a timer. By the time the timer reaches zero, you have to wipe out every enemy in the stage, collect the key to get out, and get out. This feels much more Arcade-y and more action-focused since all you have to worry about is platforming and gunning down any and all enemies you see. That doesn’t make it easy, but it has a much faster pace.
Anti-Touch and PSTV enthusiasts will be happy about this one. Exile’s End is 100% Compatible with the PlayStation TV and has no touch controls to speak of. You can play it on the big screen and you don’t have to worry about using the touch screen for anything.
Navigation is easy as well. The D-Pad and Left Analog Stick are used for moving around, X and Square are used for jumping and items, and the L/R Triggers are used to cycle through items on-hand to set equipment. It’s really simple to get around.
Admittedly, the game is optimized really well and looks pretty good, too. I will note that while most of the 2D world is rendered flawlessly, the character model of your character is a tad on the blurry side. It looks a little out of place with everything else around.
As far as actual performance, I have no complaints. Short load times, a smooth frame-rate, and all in all, plays just as well on the Vita as it does on the PS4.
Exile’s End is an attempt to bring back an old experience from gaming’s past. It certainly isn’t perfect with a rather sluggish pace to its campaign and the fact that it throws you under the bus about features integral to being able to play the game correctly. It’s worth a go if you like the genre, but make sure you know about how to look since the game won’t tell you.