void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium Review

The cheeriest apocalypse ever

void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium is the latest game from Nippon Ichi Software, and it’s certainly a unique one. The game is a mystery dungeon at heart, but it introduces various other aspects to keep the game fresh.

The Story

The story is quite simple, but I feel that’s where its strengths lie. The game starts as the player character, a cute little robot named Robbie, wakes up in a desolate world. After wandering around, he finds both a very emotional Artificial Intelligence, and a living human girl. The AI, simply called FactoryAI, then helps Robbie to take care of the girl, who they name Toriko in the hopes of continuing the human race.

The story does have its twists as the game progresses, but I feel the ending lacked its intended impact due to how abrupt it is. Perhaps that’s because I feel the story’s strengths lie in the interactions between its seemingly incongruous characters.

Void Terrarium’s characters bring out the game’s charm, with FactoryAI communicating with Robbie through text, Toriko acting as a visually expressive character, and Robbie’s use of simple emoticons and animations to display his mood. This all allows the game to express its individuality well. The robotic nature of Robbie and FactoryAI perfectly contrasts with the simplicity of Toriko, which leads to the game’s best scenes.

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Gameplay

Void Terrarium stands out among other mystery dungeon games by implementing various elements from the roguelike, survival and even pet simulation genres. The way this works is as follows:

Roguelike

Rather than having permanent level-ups and skills, like in a more traditional mystery dungeon, Void Terrarium resets your level to Level 1 every time you enter a dungeon. As standard, dungeon layouts are randomly generated, but the element of luck comes once again every time you level-up, as you are given two different skills to choose between. These can be as simple as an additional stat boost, or as intricate as automatic damage on enemies in front of you.

Of course, this can lead to completely broken results. For example, I once had a run where I had abilities that negated 95% of damage, I had a 100% critical hit rate, up to 80% damage bonus and additional attack range among a whole host of other abilities. While the different abilities are fun, a good number of them are extremely situational and I often struggled to find a use for them.

Survival

This is where the survival and simulation aspects of the game help. After dying or completing a dungeon, all of your items are converted into resources from four categories: organic, inorganic, electrical and contaminated. As these resources accumulate you can use them, alongside materials you find in dungeons, to craft various items. These items include furniture for the simulation aspect, inventory size increases, and a number of equipment items that tailor to your playstyle. This equipment includes active skills; abilities related to the skill draw, such as adding an extra skill or giving a chance to select two skills in one draw.

Simulation

The third major aspect of Void Terrarium is the simulation section that comes in the form of Toriko. As you explore dungeons, she gets hungry and the titular terrarium gets dirty. To remedy this, you can find food items in each dungeon to use after you leave. You can clean the terrarium and keep Toriko happy through the Pet Nanny, a Tamagotchi stylised section in the corner of the screen. This also monitors Toriko’s health and contamination levels so you can choose the best time to leave the dungeon.

The contamination level is controlled by the type of food you give her, as most of it is contaminated. The contamination level is less of a worry than Toriko’s health, and more of an indicator of how likely it is that she will get an illness.

The illness system is one of the most interesting parts of Void Terrarium, as every so often Toriko will fall ill due to various circumstances. For example, she can contract the illness that killed off humanity, she can break her leg, or even have rare genetic diseases. Each illness adds new cutscenes and conversations, which is a nice touch, but there is a downside. The process of curing each illness is exactly the same; you go through the exact same three-floor dungeon filled with only the weakest enemies. You find materials on the last floor and then make the thing you need to cure her. There isn’t a new dungeon design or unique music, just the same three floors over and over again.

Role Play Game

Once you’ve crafted all of the different blueprints you find in dungeons, you can place them in the terrarium, which does absolutely nothing, but it’s very cute. The crafting does have an effect though as, regardless of the item, the first time you craft something you will get a permanent upgrade.

These include stat boosts, an increase to Toriko’s health, and even the ability to remove skills from skill draws. Something more interesting is the “knack” system. This is a class system that changes the probability of skills appearing in draws to suit how you play the game.

Where this all comes together is in the dungeons themselves. There are eight different dungeons you unlock throughout the game, each one with a different theme and new enemies. Expect genre staples like monster houses, a copious number of traps and a lot of running around looking for stairs. Despite this, Void Terrarium manages to innovate in the way it handles items and inventory management.

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Items and a Problem

Each item has three different effects depending on its stage of contamination. Uncontaminated items have a standard effect, lightly infected items will either lessen or amplify the item’s effect, and highly contaminated items tend to have a high risk, high reward system. This can lead to other effects, so it’s a good idea to try and remember what effect contamination has on certain items.

Inventory management is also important, as I often found myself having to save space for blueprints, weapons, armour, and crafting materials — while at the same time I picked up as many things as possible to get resources and have a stockpile of healing items.

As you don’t keep items, the game wouldn’t really work with a traditional hunger system. To replace it, there is the “charge” system. This is functionally the same, but the abundance of items means you probably won’t run out very often. The way the game makes energy valuable is by making it the currency for active skills and interactions with Toriko. With energy being so accessible, Toriko’s health limits your exploration. When she dies, it’s game over.

My only gripe with the dungeons in Void Terrarium is that there are too many traps, especially with the enemies that make more. The problem with the traps isn’t that they’re unfair, but it’s more that many of the status ailments last way too long, especially when there are multiple in the same room. I can see how the traps would be an interesting challenge in a room with enemies, but when all the enemies are gone, it just becomes a nuisance.

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Presentation

Void Terrarium’s art style is gorgeous. The character and enemy designs are all really cute to contrast the harsher environmental design.  Despite this contrast, or perhaps as a result of it, there is a hopeful feeling that the overall visual style provides. This is also emphasised by the game’s soundtrack.  The game’s music fits the mood of the game extremely well. Its techno style and intense nature captures the atmosphere of each dungeon, while the calmer theme of the terrarium makes it more homely.

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Replayability

While the game is inherently replayable due to its roguelike elements, none of the dungeons feel all that unique, especially when compared to other games in the genre like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon.  Each dungeon looks and feels the same, with the only variation being the enemies, the music, the colours and the odd decoration here and there. This does make the game feel stale much earlier than it should. Void Terrarium’s total 8 dungeons, when compared to the 31 of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, feel rather underdeveloped. While there is an infinite dungeon, it just recycles everything from the rest of the game.

Conclusion

I’m very conflicted when it comes to recommending Void Terrarium. It’s a lovely game, it’s fun and full of charm, but I don’t know if there’s enough of it to justify its price tag. If you really want to play a new mystery dungeon game, I’d absolutely recommend it, but if you’re only mildly interested, I’d recommend keeping your eye on it until it goes on sale.

void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium is available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4


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mazen haggag

Video games, films and books have absorbed my life for as long as I can remember. The love of engaging stories that these three pillars of my life provide through works like Discworld, Final Fantasy and a whole load of weird films is probably what inspired my similar adoration of writing.

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