RPG Maker as a platform is fairly robust and versatile, as with a little imagination and trickery, creators are able to come up with games other than just the intended RPG. It’s admirable to see developers try to push the envelope with this platform too, but despite attempts to create something novel, the limitations are still apparent. Angels of Death is an interesting indie effort to say the least; one that has gained some measure of cult success on other platforms in a relatively short time. And it is now also available on Xbox.
Angels of Death can certainly be one of those games that some will either really adore, whereas others may not understand what all the fuss is about. In truth, the experience sits somewhere in the middle, where some of its ideas and ambitions as a horror adventure game are not as fully realised as one would like, mainly due to the limitations of RPG Maker itself. Interestingly, the original release was actually freeware on the developer’s website before being distributed more commercially, and truth be told, despite some subsequent efforts to polish up the experience, the game does very much come across as a freeware concept. There are some moments of decent production values and ideas, but not enough to distract from the conceptual feel of it all.
Angels of Death follows the horrific experiences of a young Rachel Gardener, an amnesiac who finds herself trapped in a twisted facility, trying to make sense of her surroundings, all while trying to survive. It doesn’t take long for her to realise that she is trapped in some twisted game, where each area is guarded by a murderer. Early on Rachel has an encounter with one of these murderers, Zack, and after an intense chase sequence and some very unusual circumstances, Zack and Rachel suddenly find themselves as unwilling partners, together trying to escape this messed up institution and beating it at its own game.
Even when other aspects of the presentation aren’t as strong, the story delivery manages to achieve its intended purpose. This is a twisted narrative, and even when the graphics don’t do it justice, the vivid description and delivery of the horror get the job done. It’s an impressive feat given the limitations of the game itself, and so those who find themselves enjoying Angels of Death more than others are likely those who found the story compelling. In fact, the game went on to spawn other mainstream media such as novels and manga, and even a 16-episode anime television series. Clearly, Angels of Death delivers on its haunting and twisted narrative, enough to inspire successful spin-offs, and so if you’re after a horror tale filled with interesting and complex characters, then the game and its related media will satisfy.
That being said, Angels of Death, as a video game, is rather basic. The core gameplay and controls are simple, and even the level design is bound to the limitations of RPG Maker. Although the game tries to change things up with different sequences and set pieces, it all largely feels like a scripted adventure, where it really comes down to “talking” to the right object to move things along. It tries to emulate old-school survival horror games with its menu design and presentation, but even this can feel a bit clunky. Sometimes the right item will be used automatically on the right occasion, but then in some instances, you need to manually enter the menu and then select the correct item to use. It’s all very inconsistent and cumbersome.
Graphically, Angels of Death is weak, and while the characters are interesting, their artwork is a bit on the amateurish side. The sound design makes up for the lack of visual prowess, by creating a haunting and eerie mood for the most part, and then complementing more urgent situations with intense sound effects. Still, the overall presentation feels a bit on the unfinished and unpolished side.
Angels of Death on Xbox will likely win over horror fans who are after a compelling and twisted narrative, featuring a cast of characters that are just as complex as they are nefarious. It’s easy to see how the storyline has spawned so many related media, but as a video game this feels like a conceptual RPG Maker effort at best; one where some of its best ideas are held back by the inherent limitations of the engine.