Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop Download
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: July 14, 2020 (Worldwide)
Price: $24.99 USD
From a distance, void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium (which shall be henceforth baptized as ‘Void Terrarium’ for the purposes of this review) may seem like a small and innocent roguelike dungeon crawler, and at first, it may be so, until you start to slowly unravel the subtle layers of its world, familiarizing yourself with its lore, and uncovering the high stakes of your journey.
Void Terrarium is the brain-child of Masayuki Furuya, who previously created Hotaru no Nikki (htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary) for the PS Vita in 2014, and both worlds share many similarities in their presentation, most notably with Void Terrarium’s main character Toriko seen as having more than just a passing resemblance to Hotaru no Nikki’s Mion, with both characters waking up in ruins and needing the help of a companion to escape.
Although the setup for the story is very similar between the two games, the execution is very different, with Hotaru no Nikki more about platforming and solving puzzles and Void Terrarium a challenging roguelike.
Void Terrarium follows a familiar trope found in most apocalyptic tales: Humanity is believed to be extinct. A robot stumbles upon the last remaining human girl. The little child must be protected at all costs if humanity is to be brought back from annihilation. Yet, it is this kind of simplicity alongside the dark but charming characters that allow me to accept the gravity of the situation and immerse myself in the role of the small robot doing everything it can to keep the little girl alive against all odds.
The world was overrun by toxic fungi which had forced humanity to rely on a factoryAI to establish subterranean colonies for their survival. After the factoryAI decided to ration the limited resources, humans started to steal and fight amongst themselves, and when the machine attempted to intervene, they revolted against it and in a mere moment of rage, the factoryAI completely eliminated humankind.
Void Terrarium doesn’t waste time getting the journey started, as mere seconds into the game, you take control of the little robot and start your first dungeon, then soon-after you are able to make it out and find the little girl, frail and all covered in fungus. Right after that, you meet the aforementioned factoryAI who holds immense guilt for wiping out all of humanity and decides to help you once it gains the knowledge that there is a human girl still alive.
Void Terrarium, like its namesake suggests, is all about finding a suitable safe haven to protect Toriko, the little girl, from the harsh environments of the fungus-infected world. As Robbie (the small robot), you are tasked with exploring the wastelands and scavenging for parts to repair and create a safe habitat within the terrarium for the girl to survive.
The crafting system in Void Terrarium is one that is necessary if you plan on completing your journey. Not only is it needed to build items that will make the terrarium life one that is bearable for Toriko, but to boost up your own abilities and firepower. Want to make a cozy one-bedroom glasshouse for Toriko? It could come at the expense of your abilities needed to survive fighting in the dungeons.
Need to make your robot as powerful as possible? Doable, but might leave Toriko exposed to an environment in which she is more susceptible to get sick. Finding the right balance is the key to going deeper into the game, but it is also a song and dance that can be repeated depending on which terrain you are getting ready to tackle.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
If there is one thing about Void Terrarium, it’s that it will cause a lot of headaches. The dungeons can be frustratingly hard, especially if you do not become acquainted with the skills system early on. Forget about grinding your way into overpowering your enemies like you would on an RPG. Want to venture into a dungeon and gain as many levels as you can? Sure, go ahead. But keep in mind that as soon as you reach the endpoint or are defeated, you will lose all of the progress you had made.
Instead, you need to build up your arsenal by acquiring blueprints to gain additional abilities that can be equipped before revisiting those dungeons. Materials you have in your inventory cannot be brought back to the terrarium, but instead are converted into four types of resources: organic, inorganic, energy, and contam (contaminated). Gathering enough of these resources, and in some cases, special items will allow you to make the schematics of the blueprints into a reality. With these, items are created to increase your starting inventory size, add abilities that improve your attack or defense or improve living conditions for the child. The good news is that these abilities are permanent and will be with you every time you start a new dungeon.
Enemies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, although “bosses” are few and far between (exactly two (?) for that matter – although I did not venture far enough inside the Endless Ruins, so someone throw me a bone!). Instead, you will encounter rats that steal your items, bob-omb type enemies that will explode soon after you hit them, living plants that will snap at you if you get close, and even small larvae-types that will explode in a pool of acid once defeated. All in all, there are numerous enemy types which total over 90 different enemies you will face throughout your journey.
Void Terrarium features an assortment of different melodies and music that encapsulates the experience of being isolated in a moribund world. The music can be fast-paced and movie, almost techno-like, but can be as quiet as the underground which you find yourself on. The characters themselves are completely quiet, their voices absent, with beeps and bells representing digital dialog spoken by the two robotic protagonists, with only a wall of text to indicate what they speak.
For the most part, none of the songs have lyrics to them, which perfectly blends with the quiet protagonists, except for “Watashi no Terrarium” by Kokusyoku Sumire, that perfectly brings home the emotional experience. There is a soundtrack CD called ‘Sporific Sounds’ which is part of the Limited Edition of the game, but for some odd reason, the aforementioned ‘Watashi no Terrarium’ credits song is not part of that collection.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
The graphics for Void Terrarium are not state of the art, but most of the game is played from an over-the-top third-person view while traversing through the dungeons, and an almost 2-Dimensional perspective when back at the hub. You will consistently travel back and forth between the two places, with Robbie literally landing back at the terrarium every time his journey ends.
Void Terrarium is not a demanding game by any means, and as expected the performance itself is smooth on the Nintendo Switch. I did encounter some “The game card could not be read” errors at some point, but given that this is a digital download and not a physical cart, and it happened right after I did a system update on the Switch OS, I’ll attribute it to that.
Visually, there is hardly any difference between the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 versions of the game, and why would there be? This is a small package with a little neat presentation, but that you can still get loads of hours of playtime.
As a fan of open-world games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or large-scale JRPGs in the same vein as Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, taking on a roguelike game would seem like an afterthought. The notion of playing a game where you are in a small dungeon-like setting and moving through a limited grid using what is pretty much a turn-based system would make it seem like a very constrained and almost claustrophobic experience, especially since you are confined to a small environment that oftentimes you need to revisit again and again …and again.
No one will confuse Void Terrarium with a Triple-A release, and it is not meant to be. Aside from the game’s retail price of $24.99, as well as a Limited Edition that sells for $69.99 and packs additional goodies like a Collector’s Box, a soundtrack, pin set, among other things, the replay value alone is worth investing in. The game’s average run should last around 20-25 hours but can easily climb close to the 40s if you are attempting to unlock all achievements. The overall game is small, with procedurally-generated areas giving it a decent-sized variation, but there is a good amount of content to be had.
The game itself will take you close to 25 hours to beat, with an average of 40 hours required to complete all of your achievements. It can be tedious and repetitious, but once you are able to build yourself to handle any challenge thrown your way, you can attempt to see how far you can go through the ultimate challenge, the Endless Ruins.
For a game that, for all intents and purposes, features only four characters, two of which don’t have any lines of dialogues, the game does pack a sentimental punch. Split between the possibility of two different endings, you find yourself with two impossible decisions with two devastating results, that will have you going back and forth arguing which one holds greater moral significance.
Void Terrarium is not for everyone, with its roguelike nature and unforgiving combat requiring patience and mental fortitude, but if you go in with the proper expectations of what you will find, the ending result is a journey worth taking.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A download key was provided by Publishers for the purposes of this review
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