ravenlok

Ravenlok Review – Reverie And Spirit

Coming out of my age, I've been doing just fine...

If Echo Generation was Cococucumber’s attempt at an eighties-infused Stranger Things send-up, then Ravenlok is their attempt at a faraway fantasy. So far as how it’s presented, Ravenlok is as charming as they come. It falls down a rabbit hole into a wonderland of wonderfully strange, and it finds inspiration in coming-of-age, fish out of water fairy tales like Spirited Away and Alice in Wonderland.

Ravenlok appears to hit on the well worn tropes of escapist fiction, as the game’s heroine retreats into fantasy to deal with her family’s countryside relocation.

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I’d argue the game is intended for adolescents and younger and, as such, doesn’t really capitalise on the emotional weight that comes with such life-changing events. As wildly imaginative as the setting and lore seems to be, Ravenlok is handled simply when it comes to its rich-in-cliche narrative and dialogue, which won’t challenge even the most unaccomplished readers. Cliches set firmly aside, toppling the Caterpillar Queen’s harsh reign is a fantastical time and really does have the magical flair you’d want from a game like this. 

After you’re dubbed Ravenlok, prophesied saviour of the troubled realms, you’re given a crash course in defending yourself against all the nasties that wait ahead. The sword and shield you find at the game’s beginning will be the same one you deal your final blow with, and in a sense that simplicity will better suit a younger audience but it also places a lot of pressure on the game’s combat to be fun and dynamic in spite of this. Unfortunately it really isn’t to be, the game does trickle feed four special powers you can use in battle for added control, but it still remains fairly one-note from go to whoa. Ravenlok also resists the urge to implement any kind of skill tree, instead opting for a simple two-currency system of gold and feathers which are spent on potions, bombs, and stat buffs respectively. 

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Even if the combat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, there’s an undeniable joy in the adventure itself. It doesn’t waste a second of its eight-or-so-hour journey with each quest’s ultimate objective seeming to feed into the goal of the next. It was this briskness that helped the game feel moreish despite its shortcomings in other areas.

Ravenlok’s camera is without doubt the game’s biggest frustration. For a modern action-adventure game to not have a completely free camera feels like a sin. With a fixed and rather limited viewpoint in any given area, both exploration and combat can feel cumbersome and clunky.

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While there’s an undeniable variety in terms of their designs, pretty much most of the kingdom’s defenders are as threatening as a wet lettuce leaf. Either there’s a glitch that causes stun locking, rendering them relatively inert, or the A.I. is just poor enough that the notion to fight back doesn’t register in their minds until it’s all too late. Judging by some of the oddly handled stealth sections the game has, which literally let me waltz by the guards in plain view, I suspect it’s the latter. 

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With only a handful of realms, I did often manage to complete objectives out of sequence—I’d fairly often complete a fetch quest before I’d even been assigned it. It never broke the game, though I did suck the wind out of my sails time and again to have my immersion within this world dented. Inconsistent sequencing was the least of Ravenlok’s concerns as far as its design goes, and all it takes is one glance at the game’s regular, wave-defense ambushes you must survive. Some games will have enemies descend from the sky, or break through the earth’s soil to spring an attack, but Ravenlok simply has them materialise out of thin air.

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I can’t overstate how pleasant Ravenlok’s world is, and how many allusions it makes to the fairy tales and fantasies we’ve grown up with. There’s a mirror-laden hedge maze labyrinth to explore, as well as an insanely scaled tea party where toppled tea pots and mouthwatering sweets are the scenery. Whoever was charged with Ravenlok’s art direction certainly read the book on fantasy and has done a fine job recrafting, in a lot of ways, the childlike wonder of these familiar scenes through the developer’s oft-used voxel art style. There are more than a few stunning vistas to take in, I especially loved the giant, cuddly looking Totoro-cat’s cliff side view of the labyrinth. Having enjoyed it in games like Cloudpunk, I feel the choice absolutely serves Ravenlok’s world and even the overuse of bloom throughout can’t stop this from being one of the better looking fantasy titles of the year, even if it doesn’t push the technical envelope.

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The game’s score also gets a big tick, rounding out what is a pretty faultless fantasy presentation. As the story can be a tonal seesaw, Ravenlok’s orchestral follows. Elfman-like staccatos punch through the game’s more eerie beats, while I feel like the composer definitely attempts to invoke Hisaishi’s contemplative piano movements to underpin some of the more touching, heartful moments. 

If you’re after an action-adventure game that’ll challenge you with tasks requiring both physical and mental determination, Ravenlok probably isn’t that game—it’s too basic to stand shoulder to shoulder with contemporary fantasy titles that tend to be fuller packages. 

If you’re looking to be flown to a gorgeous, strange world for an afternoon and crudely hack your way through what feels like a greatest hits from the fairy tale annals, then you could definitely do worse.

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Conclusion
Through its picturesque presentation, Ravenlok definitely captures the reverie and spirit we’d expect from a coming-of-age fantasy. Sadly, the game’s one-note combat doesn’t offer a challenge worthy of its world, while the cliched story devalues its charming cast of misfit critters.
Positives
Gorgeous presentation across the board
Really cool fairy tale setting and characters
All of the quests seem to flow into the next
Negatives
The combat is unfortunately one-note
The camera is painful
Poor A.I. and weird enemy pop-in
6.5