West - Staff Review  

Advisory Committee
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

Xbox 360
Very Easy
Less than 10 Hours
+ It's a dollar!
- Tons of grammar and spelling errors.
- Press A to win combat.
- Can't sell items back to shops.
- Graphics are crude.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   West is a tough RPG to review. The game's creator stated that West is an "experimental" RPG that asks players to question every action within the game. West is by no means a difficult game, but it has more than its fair share of problems, making it incredibly difficult to recommend. It's one thing to have strong values and ideals; it's another to cram those topics into a game that clocks in at an hour and a half.

   The biggest problem that West faces comes from its overall story. Taking on the role of thirteen year old James, players are asked to explore and question moral values, environmentalism, science and religion, and, as if those things weren't sufficient, the struggles of growing up. For a game that only takes roughly ninety minutes to play, it packs in all of these themes, to the point where it borders on excessively preachy territory. Evil corporations experimenting on animals, gluttony, questioning the existence of God — these themes are drilled into the player's head to the point where it makes the story almost laughable.

   It's necessary to appreciate the difference between holding certain convictions, and force-feeding them to others who may not appreciate abject sermonizing, which is unfortunately what happens. Had the game been a touch longer, and been more subtle about its sincerity, the story would have likely flowed in a smoother fashion, rather than feeling like the convoluted mess it became. It's hard to care about the story of James and his companions, when their discoveries are undermined by random hippies stating how swamps are being polluted, or how the evil corporation, Helios Vector, is advocating animal cruelty. It's hard to deny that this game has passion, but when it comes to James' personal story, it falls flat, removing the potential to care about his journey west to the city.

Press A to win! Press A to win!

   West also has an enormous serving of of spelling, grammatical and sentence structural errors. On a few occasions, players will find misspelled words, or sentences that are fragmented, run-ons, or simply incomplete. This game definitely could have used a few good proofreadings before it made its way to the Xbox Indie Marketplace.

   In truth, West has quite an original approach... sort of. It's a game that focuses on self-reflection. There's a lot of symbolism in what occurs, but it feels more like it focuses too much on the creator's personality and his ideals. It must also be said that, while symbols litter the landscape, they serve little purpose, which makes it tough to care about their presence, and makes their inclusion seem pointless.

   West's battle system is turn-based in practice, but really feels more like a "push A to win" effort. There's no depth, nothing at all makes it stand out as interesting, and it's quite boring, frankly. Certainly, the characters all have skills to implement in combat -- physical attacks. Buffs, debuffs, status ailments, healing abilities, even the simple use of magic -- all are absent, on the grounds that they do not fit with the moral direction of the story. Although the removal of magic and technology from the combat system may have been in line with the game's moral philosophy, it has the unfortunate side effect of removing all interest from the combat system.

On our way to the promised land. On our way to the promised land.

   Even the game's overall interface is clunky. For starters, there's no way to sell items back in stores. Once equipment is bought, it's never leaving the inventory, creating an incredibly cluttered item list. Not being able to sell its contents is not the only problem with the inventory system, as items can be sorted according to their usage, but once the inventory menu is closed, returning to the stockpile will reveal that everything has been shuffled out of order. What's the point of being able to organize items if they don't stay that way? Also, all items, statistics, and equipment are listed on the same jumbled, messy, virtually unusable screen. Saving is also not something that's obvious within the game, as one has to click the right bumper to make the save menu appear. Thankfully, you can save anywhere, and many of the NPCs throughout the game will tell you to save often.

   West is visually abysmal. It does use stock sprites from RPG Maker, but for a game that takes place in the present, it seems very unusual to see sprites dressed in full armor. Further cementing the visual abomination, West's only original artwork is incredibly crude-looking. Each enemy name is a pun or play on words, but they look so awkward that using stock enemies from RPG Maker probably would have reduced the eyestrain. Its visuals are one of West's lowest points, never rising above a sloppy and unrefined look, which at least offers plenty of room for improvement in a future game. The same can also be said for the game's audio, which lacks any sort of remarkable quality. In the beginning area, there are moments where the audio skips, which can be a touch distracting. Although there are only a small handful of tracks, there is one shining moment in the soundtrack, and that is the final boss theme, which is surprisingly energetic.

   I do have to commend West's creator for his ideals and what he tried to accomplish with the game. But with all the technical problems, incoherent story, and crude graphics, it makes this game impossible to recommend, even to young gamers, at whom I feel the game was geared. While I've been harsh throughout this entire review, I've always believed that there's room for improvement, regardless of whether the creator is an amateur or professional. For $1 (or eighty MS Points), it's probably possible for someone to derive some enjoyment, but those looking for a deep and immersive indie experience should know there are much better options available.

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