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Blue Omen Operation blends Mario RPG & retro anime

Where's Devilman when you need him?

Sometimes, an aesthetic is all its takes for a game to capture my heart. In this case, a mixture of Go Nagai-inspired retro anime stylings (pointy line-art, intense eyes and big hair ahoy) paired with a colour palette and pixel-art style reminiscent of PC-98 visual novels was all it took for me to sit up and pay attention to Blue Omen Operation, an indie JRPG currently doing pretty well on Kickstarter.

The generously-sized playable demo helped too. It's rather good. You should try it.

Clearly inspired by the Mario RPG series (especially the Paper Mario games), Blue Omen Operation seems as firmly focused on delivering weird jokes as it is telling a story. In the demo, protagonists Jiro (punk guy with a shapeshifting hand) and his buddy Yagiko (some variety of gothy devil-witch) are on the hunt for magical treasures in an abandoned, haunted hotel. A potentially grim and spooky scenario, were the duo not strangely adorable and the mystical evils more interested in scamming people out of their money.

Blue Omen Operation seems more interested in using the supernatural setting to deliver a steady stream of offbeat humor, both inside and out of combat. Outside, it's familiar stuff - wander round, search for goodies, chatter with NPCs. You know the drill. In combat, it's even more clearly inspired by the Mario RPGs, with your two-member party requiring a little bit of reflexes to control fully. While turn-based during decision making, incoming attacks can be dodged with a directional tap just as the enemy is about to swing (helpfully indicated with a flash), and your own attacks can be boosted by hitting the action button at key moments during the animation.

You'll have to master this system if you want to survive. Neither of the protagonists can take more than a few hits, but a successful dodge will negate all incoming damage. Daring players can even counterattack instead of dodge. Higher risk, but it lets you get in a free shot during the enemy turn. Larger attacks have minigames - tests of reflexes, button mashing and similar - attached to them, making combat a bit more involved than JRPG standard, although not quite up to Undertale's level of bullet-dodgery. Yet. The developers insist that a skilled player can avoid every single attack, if they're quick enough on the draw.

The kickstarter for the game went live a few days ago and took it well past the initial funding goal in short order. There are a mountain of potential stretch goals laid out for it still, with $15 considered a preorder. Teensy tiny indie (one coder, one artist, one musician) outfit Bananasoft reckon that it'll not be released until well into 2019, so any launch is still a long ways off. These things take time, after all. Still, the demo is fun and well worth a play.

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Dominic Tarason