Back in 2014, developer Quang “Quells” Tran released Phoenotopia, an action-adventure flash game sporting pixel visuals. Though met with positive reception, he had a bigger vision for the game and its future. Six years later, his development studio Cape Cosmic has released Phoenotopia Awakening, a reboot of the original title. It updates visuals, music, and expands just about every aspect of its predecessor.
Long ago, humans waged war against each other. Over the course of their battling, they developed artificial beings and technology that ended up making the Earth inhospitable. The catalyst for the end of this conflict was something known as Phoenix, a creation so powerful it turned the tide of the war. With the land now destroyed, the surviving humans chose to build underground bunkers and hibernate in the hopes that the land would recover. After centuries had passed, humanity emerged and repopulated the surface, forming new countries and cities.
You play as Gail, a girl who lives with several other children at an orphanage located in the rural town of Panselo. While out of the village one day, Gail witnesses a flying ship emit beams into the town. Upon returning, she finds that all the adults and livestock have been taken. Now the oldest person living in Panselo, Gail feels responsible in finding out where the missing villagers have gone, and thus sets out on a journey.
The plot of Phoenotopia gradually increases in scope as the game progresses. Your adventures take you all over the game’s world, showing how mankind has settled the land and prospered long after their ancestors’ mistakes. Many of the aspects of the world are expanded on eventually, but many mysteries are still left when the game ends. This leaves room for sequels, a welcomed possibility for those left wanting more (which you likely will).
Phoenotopia is a sidescrolling action-adventure game, meaning you move left and right across 2D landscapes fighting enemies and interacting with the environment. The gameplay is reminiscent of titles in the Zelda series, with aspects like being able to upgrade your equipment and using a musical instrument to play songs for various effects. You can also increase your maximum energy and health, a common feature in those games.
There are many tools to find in this game. The gear wheel makes it easier to manage these, with eight slots available to assign an item or tool. This is accessed from the right analog stick by moving in the assigned direction, which automatically equips that tool or item. The feature comes in handy during the middle of a battle to pull up the proper tool for the job.
Managing your health is also important. Various healing items can be found in the game, most of which being food. These can be bought from stores, scavenged from dungeons, or caught through fishing. Keeping a good store of healing items in your inventory is a good idea in any game, and Phoenotopia is definitely no exception. It’s also important to note that almost every action you take in the game, like using tools or swinging your bat, will consume energy. Conservation of your stamina is a constant struggle that you contend with in the game.
Traveling in Phoenotopia is done on an overworld map. You move Gail across the countryside to different locations displayed on the map. While you are on the move, enemy icons appear on the map and start to roam the land. If you’ve played some of the more recent Tales of games, you may have some experience with this style of overworld enemy encounters. Black icons move randomly, but the red will give chase. If they touch Gail, you enter a battle screen full of enemies and must exit to the left or right ends of the screen to get back to the map.
Towns and various buildings can be found on the overworld map. Most of the points of interest you will find are completely optional, but often include gems that either increase one of your stats or can be used to upgrade your tools at a special merchant. You can even find fishing spots or hidden dungeons. Anybody who likes exploration will find scouring the game’s world quite enjoyable.
Gail uses a bat to defend herself. It’s a reliable source of melee damage, and increases in strength as you purchase better versions throughout the game. Various ranged weapons such as bows or javelins can also be used to fight enemies in situations when the bat is unable to fulfill its purpose. Depending on whether enemies are airborne or on the ground, different strategies can be used utilizing platforms or other features of the environment. Combat takes place either in dungeons or in enemy encounters on the overworld map.
Gail is able to dash, dodge roll, duck, charge her attacks, and execute a jump attack while fighting. Using these abilities is key to successfully defeating enemies. Due to the limited range of the bat, strategy plays an important role in combat. In addition, dojo masters can be found spread throughout the world who will teach you powerful combat moves that help to give you an edge in combat.
The combat system of Phoenotopia is easy to understand, but difficult to master in the later areas of the game. Stocking up on healing items before venturing into a dungeon is crucial. Much more evasion and damage-dealing are necessary to fight the tougher enemies, though you will undoubtedly have fun overcoming these challenges. The sheer variety of enemy types and places in which you find yourself fighting keeps combat fresh and exciting.
The enemies you will encounter in Phoenotopia include animals, humans, and some beings that are in-between. You will see many in the dungeons you are required to traverse as part of the story. There will also be enemies that you encounter while trying to travel on the overworld map. Since there are many types of enemies in the game, it’s important to study their behaviors to evade their attacks. Otherwise, you will find yourself in critical condition very quickly.
Often enemies will drop food items, which can either be consumed as-is or they can sometimes be cooked to improve their restorative properties. If you run out of healing items, these drops prove invaluable in surviving dungeons, though it is advisable to cook any food that you can to maximize their effectiveness.
At the end of each dungeon you encounter in the game, you will have to fight a boss enemy. These have particularly unique attacks that necessitate specific approaches in order to survive for very long, let alone win. Stocking your inventory full of healing items is a must, unless you have an inflated opinion of your combat prowess. A health bar is displayed at the bottom of the screen during boss fights, giving you insight on how you’re doing and what attacks are hitting hard. Your mastery of Gail’s combat moves and evasion tactics will be put to the test during every boss fight.
Your first time fighting any boss will be some of the hardest times you will have in Phoenotopia. Some bosses’ tactics and fighting styles will seem insurmountable and, at times, just plain annoying or cheap. The good news is that every boss can be defeated handily once you memorize their patterns and change your approach to fighting them. Using different tools to deal damage, for example, can make a world of difference. It’s this experimentation and triumph that make these boss battles fulfilling without being overly infuriating.
Spread throughout the locations you travel through, many types of puzzles can be found. Some are required to be solved in the course of the game’s story, while countless others are optional. Oftentimes these optional puzzles yield gems for upgrading your stats or tools. The types of puzzles you’ll encounter include ones with boxes, switches, timers, and even unique puzzles with sudoku or code-breaking elements. The diversity in puzzle types is a nice feature. None of the puzzles that are completed in the course of the story are excessively hard, and most optional ones can be solved with a reasonable amount of diligence. It’s often a matter of using your tools in the right way.
A number of the puzzles in Phoenotopia involve playing songs on your flute. Different song stones can be found all over the game that require certain songs to be played in order to open doors. This musical aspect of the game adds a whimsical nature that enriches the game’s world. One negative thing about this is you often find these doors long before you have learned the pertinent song, so unless you have a great memory, these doors may never be revisited.
An organization known as the Geo Club operates in the game that rewards you for completing their dungeons, which are spread around the game world. After joining the club, you can seek out their dungeons and complete them for tickets that can be redeemed for several items. The puzzles encountered at these locations make up a majority of the game’s more creative puzzles. Completing these puzzles is recommended for anyone up for a fun challenge.
Numerous food items dropped from enemies, bought in stores, or found in containers can be cooked at a campfire or stove. Equipping the item and interacting with a fire source starts a cooking mini-game. A symbol moves left and right along a meter with a green portion in the middle. You must press the indicated button while it’s in the green region successfully multiple times in order to cook the item properly. Should you fail to do so, a junk item will instead be produced. Depending on the quality of the item, the speed at which the symbol moves and the time allotted to complete the mini-game differs. Practice is needed to get the hang of it.
You should certainly strive to cook food as much as possible. Healing items are important for surviving the majority of fights, especially later in the game. You may find difficulty in cooking certain foods, with the meter moving at breakneck speeds. Luckily, not all of the best food in the game takes fast reflexes to cook, and some don’t even need to be cooked at all.
Once you have a fishing rod, you can use it at any water source with fish in it. After casting your line, the line must pass in front of the fish before they will bite. When you get a bite, a circular meter with a green portion appears, much like the cooking mini-game. In this case, you need to use the analog to keep your reticle within the green bar, which moves in intervals. As long as the pointer stays in the green, the fish’s stamina will go down. Every moment it isn’t in the green, however, your stamina will go down.
If you’re able to get the fish’s stamina to zero, you catch the fish. Larger fish will have more stamina and smaller green portions, and will even flip your controls so you have to press the opposite direction on the analog stick while keeping the pointer within the bar.
Generally, the harder a fish is to catch, the more restorative it will be. All fish you catch should be cooked to get their full benefits. Fishing is a relatively easy and reliable means to obtain food to use for healing. It’s always a good idea to do some fishing before heading into a dangerous dungeon. Newly encountered fish that seem difficult to catch are easier to nab later in the game when you have more stamina or a better fishing rod, so don’t be afraid to catch some of the smaller fish for the earlier parts of the game.
There are three types of gems in Phoenotopia: heart rubies, energy gems, and moonstones. Heart rubies each increase your health capacity by a small amount when obtained, while energy gems do the same for your stamina. Both are relatively difficult to find, being found primarily in optional areas off the beaten path.
Moonstones are the game’s most plentiful type of collectible. There are over 100 of them to find in Phoenotopia. These can be traded for upgrades to your tools or for unlocking warp pads that make traversing the world much easier. Both of these services make the game a much more enjoyable experience, so it’s a great idea to look for any hidden nooks or locations, since moonstones are the most common sight in optional locations. They can also be found by catching any fish you find that have sparkles coming off of them, though these fish are often difficult to catch.
Phoenotopia features a pixel art style, similar to its original flash game roots. However, do not assume that this means considerable effort was not put into its look. The difference here is that the art has been expanded on considerably. Plenty of detail has been put into the game’s environments, with foreground and background adding depth to every location’s appearance. Towns and dungeons are vibrant with life and character. The sprites also evoke as much emotion with their gestures and actions as any 3D-rendered character.
Over sixty songs are included in Phoenotopia. Piano and synthesizers are a common feature in the game’s musical tracks, though a few songs also utilize other instruments. The music always fits the locale where it’s played. Dark sewers feel mysterious and dangerous. Battles carry an air of suspense and action. The music does a fantastic job of supplementing the gameplay and mixing with the visual look of every location Gail treks through.
The game has its own achievement system, which may provide you with different goals to achieve that you may not have been able to in your playthrough. Fulfilling these offers no reward other than personal accomplishment. You can also try finding any gems you will have likely missed. For the especially brave and ambitious, there is an optional boss near the end of the game that you can’t even attempt to fight unless you have collected all health upgrades. Needless to say, it is challenging.
Do not be surprised if you come away from Phoenotopia wishing it wouldn’t end. The experience is truly charming and fun. The pixel style belies the game’s true complexity. The plot transforms more and more as the game goes on, and leaves many intriguing plot points open for a potential sequel. The gameplay is exciting, and the environments are packed with hidden secrets to discover. The game’s price point of $19.99 is a steal for the number of hours of enjoyment you’ll get out of the game (Minimum 25 hours, and much more if you like exploration). Phoenotopia is a AAA experience wrapped in a pixelated indie package.
Final Rating: 9 out of 10.