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FIST: Forged in Shadow Torch review

written 2023-08-18

I played FIST: Forged in Shadow Torch 2023/08, after Ori and the Blind Forest, Blasphemous, and replaying Hollow Knight. I don't remember where I first heard of FIST, but it caught my eye because I'd recently become aware of metroidvanias as a genre and was interested in them, and also because I like bunnies.

Ori and the Blind Forest review

Blasphemous review

Hollow Knight review

Synopsis

Unlike the other metroidvanias I've played, its combat is a lot like a fighting game, with light and heavy attacks and throws and different combos, including launching combos. I don't like this because I can't be bothered to memorize a lot of combos, so I just end up using one or two of them the whole game. Making this worse, you *can't see a list of combos you have unlocked* except at an upgrade station. So if you want to learn to play the game more as intended, you're really gonna have to up-front memorize them. This and a couple of other things make me think the game just wasn't playtested well. (Another thing that makes me think that is a couple of puzzles that require manipulating an enemy to solve, but if you kill the enemy in the room before solving it, they don't respawn!)

The game leans pretty hard on trial and error for its difficulty. It's a lot about learning which enemies take hitstun from which attacks under which circumstances. The rules often seem inconsistent, and many enemy attacks have ambiguous telegraphs and huge hitboxes that come out too fast to avoid without foreknowledge. Nor is it always the kind of trial and error where you just have to get hit once and then you know what to do: I was sometimes still confused about enemy telegraphs even after an entire life spent at them.

Trial and error gameplay

Despite the trial and error, overall I found the game pretty easy. There's only one fight where I died more than twice. To be fair, I went for 100%, fully exploring every area I could, and the game hides *most* of its combat upgrades as exploration rewards, so if you don't do all that optional exploring you might find the game much harder.

The story is pretty lame. I'll write more detail about it below past a spoiler warning. Line-level dialogue writing and voice acting is fine, but conversations flow really weirdly, like one character will suggest something, then the other character will suggest the same thing independently and act like it's a new suggestion. Sometimes voice acting is out of sync with subtitles, like, lines play in the wrong order.

Underwater sections

The underwater sections are really bad. They're shallow because you can only use one of your many weapons underwater and can't use any of your movement abilities, but they somehow decided there should not only be a lot of puzzles / platforming-like sections underwater, but also lots of underwater combat and even an underwater boss! And that boss even manages to throw in 2 rules clarity issues! If I were put in charge of this project before release, I'd cut all underwater sections from the game, at the very least cut the boss.

Nitpicks

There are a few weird cases of bad interface language. For example, your health meter is red, and your equipment meter is yellow, but the red vials you pick up are equipment restores, not health restores. The health restore pickups are green. This isn't a big problem, just a weird thing I felt like calling out.

The title of the game doesn't make sense. The words "forged in shadow" refer to nothing, I guess they just put them so they could name the game FIST. And the only meaning of "torch" is the name of the city.

Conclusion

I'd say it's decent but not great. I'm glad I played it, but I don't plan to play it again.

Story

Spoilers from this point on.

Okay so, first of all there's a really weird setting clash. The first several hours of the game are dieselpunk sci-fi with no hint of any fantasy elements other than anthropomorphic animals. Then the plot turns out to be about this ancient crystal called the Spark which is small enough to hold in a hand yet so powerful that whoever has it is supposed to be unstoppable, which is a fantasy element. Then there's reveals about the Cat Clan having had the mission to guard the Spark against the wrong hands for 1000 years, and about them having been created by gods and given this mission... oh yikes, we're in fantasy territory now. Where did that come from?

Also weird thing: they say that the Spark *is what powers Torch City*, but factions are searching for it. How is it powering their city if they don't even know where it is? And on that note, how has the Cat Clan been guarding it for 1000 years if they don't know where it is?!?

I also think a plot about searching for some magical artifact needs some explanation of where it came from, how the factions found out about it such that they're only now searching for it even though it's supposedly been around and known to at least the Cat Clan for 1000 years.

And then the Spark just gets accidentally destroyed - what a jarring twist for a plot about a magical artifact of ultimate power! - no wait! it's immediately revealed that there's a replacement hidden somewhere else. Wow. I don't know what to say.

I found the cat lady unlikable because she constantly demeans the protagonist, calling him "silly bunny" and "numbskull" even though he never does anything silly or dumb. Though this might be a blessing in disguise, because if she were a likable character then her surprise death for nothing would be upsetting.

I also don't like that this cat lady is the *only* cat person in the game, representing an entire clan of cats that supposedly exists and is very important. All the other important factions are represented by more than one character.

There's a lot of weird stuff going on with smaller factions. There's a faction introduced early called "the Organization", which is a resistance movement against the robot oppressors but this faction is never used or mentioned again after the first hour or so of the game.

There's another faction only ever mentioned early - never even seen - called the All Fur Society. No idea what they are.

And I don't like the Rat Gang as a faction either. They have this confused concept, on one hand they're traitors who work for the robot oppressors, but at the same time they hate the robot oppressors and are somehow an opponent to them? I wonder if they had different writers who never communicated. At one point the protagonist directly questions the Rat Gang boss about this inconsistency, and he just says some nonsense about how he wants "balance". The writers never explore how the hell that works or even how the Rat Gang boss imagines it works.

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