In the music business there is something called the “supergroup”; established musicians and artists who come together away from their usual band and/or record company, to create something for their own sake, all without any gloves on or strings attached. The band Cream pioneered the very concept of the supergroup, with other notables being Velvet Revolver and more recently The Raconteurs.
It’s never been done in gaming yet outside of one-off collaborations, but Triple-I Games is perhaps the closest to the first ever real supergroup in game development. You see, they are a quartet comprising of industry veterans Hemanshu Chhabra (ex-Bioware) on directing/design, Paul Whithead (ex-Sucker Punch) on artwork, Kevin Cecelski (ex-Bioware) on animation, and Noel Gabriel (ex-Amaze Entertainment) on sound. Between the four of them we find history like Star Wars the Old Republic, Sly Cooper, The Legend of Spyro, and Spiderman (no, not that PlayStation 4/5 one!). From this organic collaboration comes Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa on Xbox.
Much like the output of a music supergroup, Triple-I Games have sought to create something which has meaning to them. It’s not about what checks out in the focus group or the KPI demands from top execs from larger publishers, here it’s about four experienced game developers coming together to create something they’ve always wanted to play themselves.
The title of the game carries a strong philosophical sentiment to them, the idea of regret and not having the power to rebuild one’s narrative. Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa takes this philosophical sentiment and transforms it into functional game design, all situated in a rich world inspired by existential metaphysics.
Hindsight 20/20’s setup is bleak; protagonist Jehan oversees his beloved kingdom of Champaner which is torn apart in flames after being ravaged by the Raakshasa, a disease turning the citizens into ravaged creatures, with further threats brought upon by the rival kingdom of Gibsonia. Although Jehan witnesses the loss of everything he knows, a mysterious metaphysical force gives him a second chance (or several chances as it so turns out) at rebuilding his narrative all in hopes to rescue his kingdom and those he cares about.
Although the writing is far from Bioware grade, the themes are delivered effectively as the story delivery is engaging and meaningful, rife with moral dilemmas for Jehan to navigate. Aside from warring kingdoms and an outbreak of a deadly virus, there are other moving parts to the tale, including corruption within the leadership of Champaner. The game sets up with a compelling dilemma: Jehan faces the man who murdered his father, who just so happens to be the respected sheriff of Champaner, and must decide whether he lives or dies. Video Game Narrative 101 will tell you to simply kill the big mean boss, and yet Hindsight 20/20 allows you to choose forgiveness.
This first moral dilemma also ties into the core design and gameplay systems of Hindsight 20/20. The choices made are largely binary, but collectively they shape the narrative and how the rest of the game flows. It’s an authentic interconnection of branching paths. Within this process of choice comes the combat system, as players choose between a ruthless and merciful approach when dealing with their foes. Ruthless means using your blade to cut down your opponents into bloody bits, whereas merciful means using a stun baton to make your opponents submit. These involves depleting either a health meter (ruthless) or a morale meter (merciful), and while the outcome of depleting either of this is the same from a purely gameplay standpoint, the choice ultimately matters from a narrative standpoint.
The option to defeat foes mercifully without taking life ties to the broader mythology within the game’s universe, one which is largely based on Hindu/Buddhist philosophy. The setting and themes presented here draw upon Indian and Middle Eastern cultural influences, and even infusing some technological elements. It’s an inspiring setting to dive into, featuring quirky yet memorable character designs.
Regardless of your approach, the core combat is fun and intuitive, allowing you to build up combos and charging up special attacks. Although a simple button mashing affair initially, there are a lot of nuances to the fighting with things like blocks, dashing, and even counter attacks where you send enemy projectiles back at them. The combat is smooth, as you’re able to dash out of a combo mid attack, eventually unleashing special spells which have dramatic effects. The enemy encounters are frequent but always fun, and the boss encounters present moral choices as well as interesting patterns in their design.
Combat is situated in a larger setting, as Jehan explores the town, interacting with various NPCs. Once taking on a quest, players complete Zelda style dungeons as they fight enemies, collect keys, and solve a few environmental puzzles before facing the boss. It all comes together organically, and there is great ebb and flow to the pace, especially when choices and actions shape the experience in a meaningful way.
Your first playthrough can take around 6-8 hours, but this is a title designed for repeated playthroughs as you try different approaches and choices to see how the various branching paths unfold. With the combat and pace being so brisk and engaging, it’s an easy game to jump back into. Granted, not all of its level design and gameplay ideas come together smoothly, but the soundness of the overall design makes those issues minor at worst.
Granted, the graphical style of Hindsight 20/20 is far from impressive, opting for a deliberate retro look, but the game certainly has style and memorable presentation. The graphical style is oddly reminiscent of the Nintendo 64, playing off some of the earlier 3D Zelda games like Majora’s Mask. The music style is strong and memorable, driving the emotion of pivotal moments.
Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa on Xbox is a creative tour de force from industry veterans, which integrates its thematic philosophy into both the narrative flow and game design. The game incorporates the weight and consequence of choice into the way the story unfolds, but also into enemy encounters as players have a choice to forgive their foe rather than simply vanquish these polygonal constructs. It’s a profoundly engaging video game experience, both in its message on morality and how players choose to play the game.
2021 is a year of big releases and so this may end up being one of those games that is appreciated more in hindsight. Don’t sleep on this one.
Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa can be grabbed from the Xbox Store