I came across Orangeblood, a new indie game published by PLAYISM, and had to give it a shot. On paper, Orangeblood is an enticing project. It’s a 1990s hip hop-inspired JRPG featuring a crew of vulgar ladies fighting government suits with randomly-generated ordinance. All that set in a colorful, cyberpunk-like world with multiple options for wild visual filters and other settings. This combination of setting, style, and genre seems perfect, but the execution was deflating in a way that rolled beyond disappointment into frustration.

Things go off the rails pretty much as soon as Orangeblood gets started. You wake up in some kind of CIA containment cell, and the dialogue and set-dressing is completely incomprehensible. It doesn’t necessarily seem poorly translated or localized, at least when it comes to understanding what’s happening. Instead, it feels like the folks tasked with translating Orangeblood had to make the best out of cyberpunk-flavored word soup. As more characters and adversaries get introduced, the setting, stakes, characters, nothing makes any sort of digestible sense.

A lot of that is down to Orangeblood trying so hard to capture its edgy, urban vibe it trips all over itself. It’s reflected in the localization to a fault; the script is full of grammatically correct slang and bizarre swearing cadence that reads like Ben Shapiro trying to ghostwrite for Jim Mahfood. It is really, truly unpleasant to sit through and try to digest, and that’s coming from someone who genuinely loves hip-hop, vaporwave, etcetera.

Ironically enough, the soundtrack here is pretty dope. While putzing around in acid-stained, JRPG hypebeast city, the music is full of energy and style, and you can hear Orangeblood’s intent. Way better than you can see or read it, anyway.

Speaking of reading, I’m not sure if the PC version suffers the same kind of issues, but playing on the Nintendo Switch straight up gave me a headache. Like I mentioned earlier, Orangeblood has a host of visual options you can play around with, from a CRT filter to several different kinds of color themes. Even the default visual settings feel like some wild filterings over relatively normal pixel art. But no matter what you set it to, there’s this ever-present blur that’s just hazy enough to strain my eyes. Some odd lag that crops up every now and then, combined with the blurry filters, was sometimes just enough to trigger some mild motion sickness.

Visual weirdness aside, I still wanted to give Orangeblood a fair shake. Maybe, I thought, if I could tweak the filters enough and had some patience for the haphazard writing, perhaps there could still be a fun, small-scale JRPG romp with sick music. But the combat just doesn’t do much for me either. There’s hardly any nuance to the combat, as characters don’t have many options beyond basic attacks, and it seems like the core concept is Borderlands-like randomly-generated weapon stats. But in a visually dubious JRPG-style game composed of small sprites, it’s really hard to notice or care about that sort of system.

I’m glad games like Orangeblood are out here trying to mix things up! Especially on the Switch, it’s awesome to see risks being taken in JRPG spaces where tropes often reign supreme. And the Japanese hip hop theme is something you just never see over here in localized videogames land. But in trying so hard to stand out and present a unique style, Orangeblood just gets in its own way too much to be an enjoyable ride. It’s too edgy and incomprehensible to be a good story, too blurry and noisy to look nice despite all the clear effort, and the combat system ultimately adds up to grinding and making your basic numbers go up. It’s a style over substance kind of situation, but without the style to actually pull that off.


Pros:

  • Dope soundtrack
  • Lots of weird visual filters
  • Creative environments and settings, visually

Cons:

  • Incomprehensible storytelling and “hip hop cadence written by nobody who understands hip hop cadence” localized dialogue
  • Dull combat system based around RNG numbers and little else
  • Blur and lag that can be uncomfortable to look at depending on the user (YMMV of course)

Score: 5

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review