By Chris Picone, 31 July 2022
I had no idea what to expect going into Ren’s Demons. A JRPG, sure – maybe some unusual use of RPG Maker? But the aesthetics, the style, everything about this game struck me as bizarre. Is it a game jam game or something? Some of the artwork seems extremely minimalist while character profiles and other elements are highly stylised and detailed; it’s an eclectic mix and I really don’t know what to make of it. I took a look at the website for more clues. The dev, “yo252yo,” describes his work as “experimental and quirky.” Well this could go either way but, sure, it’s caught my attention.
The game opens into a short tutorial sequence that sees you interacting with trees in a game of hide-and-seek, then a short expositional dialogue. You – and all the other second-born children – are about to enter some sort of labyrinth in an effort to find the chosen one. This is the crux of the game: It’s an RPG, like any other, but where every element of the game has been represented in some unusual, experimental manner. The labyrinth (and the other “dungeons” found throughout the game) is represented as a maze. Dotted about the maze are a series of question marks; interaction points. And so the exploration begins. Each point might be a rock or bone or some other found object. Or a narrative point, where your surroundings or your character’s actions are described, or where your party members might chat to each other when you’ve found some. It could be an event, one of the earliest being finding one of your friends lying on the ground, injured and close to death. Finally, it could be combat, which involves an interesting mix of ordinary RPG mechanics, narrative, and player intervention. A melee attack, for example, requires you to click on your target before it vanishes for a successful hit. To cast a spell you must match symbols. To evade an enemy you must determine their direction and arcs of attack and position yourself accordingly. If you don’t evade, you die, which brings us to the next interesting foundational mechanic. As the chosen one your power is that when you die you are reborn before the encounter that killed you, but with the knowledge gained during the encounter and the experience also helps you grow in power. This concept also applies to non-combat encounters, which I found to be a great motivator to explore and interact with this strange world. .
The verdict? I suspect this will be a tough sell even for JRPG fans, due to its unusual aesthetics and experimental mechanics. But if you’re open to new experiences and enjoy the prospect of the game, I encourage you to give it a go. It’s narrative-heavy, which I like, and I was quickly sucked into just exploring this strange world and its mechanics. And as someone who has played a stack of JRPGs over the years I’m finding the unusual take on the genre very refreshing.