I do love the JRPG style of games, that’s not anything new or exciting. What is new and exciting isNoahmund, a JRPG out of Spain’s “Estudio Abrego”, and it has been quite the experience. In Noahmund, the land known as Feros is in a pitched civil war, and an Agent of Shinn known as Galina Angstroud is the only one willing and able to seek out and destroy Salaber’s most powerful (and recently deployed) weapon. A journey of truth, salvation, a battle against all odds, and real-time games of chess await in Noahmund. I played with a controller, but the keyboard and mouse work just as well. There are some elements that do not make sense to me and were certainly confusing. While I enjoy the aesthetic, the gameplay and the story of this game, it also has a pretty intense difficulty curve. In its present state, I’ve been frustrated with how quickly the game’s challenge ramps, but that can be fixed by toning it down just a little.
The game moves in a sort of peculiar “chess” style, where you pick a direction and activate, and you’ll move to the next point on the grid. You control a trio of characters, but Galina is the most important one based on my experiences. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses. One of the things I pointed out is that this game is very challenging, and that seems to be due to the fact that you cannot simply out-grind your enemies. You only seem to grow more powerful after you complete a dungeon/area, and not through regular battles. On top of this, in a dungeon, items are at a premium; if you die in battle, at least you come back at 1 hp if you’re victorious. Failure means you have to try again or go back to your last save point. You have infinite do-overs but some of these fights feel just hopeless. The enemies are visible on the map and have pre-determined patterns, so paying attention to this can let you avoid some of these more difficult fights if you should want to (and I sure know I did).
Speaking of battle, this “Motion Battle Chess” system seems a little complicated at first, but I really don’t think it is. Battle also takes place on a large grid, with your characters on one side and the enemy on the other. It’s a real-time battle, and when the enemy declares an attack, you’ll see those squares highlighted with a red glow, so you know to move out of the range of it if you can. Sometimes you’re simply in too deep and will have to take the hit. You will control one character at a time in battle (but can swap with L2), and the AI will control the rest of your team. The right pad will be your attack, swinging in whichever direction you choose to attack in. The left stick will move you. Your Face buttons (X, Square, Triangle Circle) are skills for them, the D-Pad are your in-battle items (set in the menu out of battle), and holding R2 will offer different attacks. Stalos Ti, for example, has an energy whip that strikes a few blocks ahead of her after a delay. While the battles are fought in real time, there is definitely a brief moment of time from when an ability goes to fire, and the actual release of it, so you (and the enemy) have time to react.
The premise of the battle system is easy, but the implementation and tactics in real-time is another thing entirely. Many of the enemies feel they are simply far superior to my team in terms of damage, range, and HP. In almost every fight, we either died (at least once), almost died, or one person died. At least you can get a full heal at the rest stops/save points on the map. This combat system is really interesting at least, and each character you have fulfills a different role and has their own unique feel. I found myself using Galina the most. To go along with the Chess aesthetic, there are also mysterious chess pieces to collect. These can be used to augment and change your skills in the “Skills Menu”. This is one of the only real ways you can customize your characters in this game, outside of growing in power and equipping new gear. This is a game of strategy though and I appreciate the hard work and effort that was put into it. Noahmund is more than just a chess-board – there are also puzzles.
You’ll have to avoid traps in battles, and figure out motion-based puzzles in the actual map. Some of these can be downright infuriating, but that’s the nature of puzzles in JRPGs, so there’s no complaint there. If a puzzle isn’t challenging, there’s no point to it. Not being able to adjust the camera angle can make some things very frustrating though. Overall, these puzzles are very easy and are just a series of inputs or steps to take before you can progress. There have been times I couldn’t see an enemy on a panel because there didn’t seem to be a way to move the camera, so I would just walk right into them. The visual aesthetic of the maps is absolutely breathtaking, and I adore the hand-drawn style of the maps you explore. Noahmund won “Best Audio” at the Malaga Gamepolis festival, and it’s no big secret why: This is a wonderful soundtrack, and everything down to the drip of water, the click of gears, and the ferocious attacks in battle all stand out to me.
4D Chess – 3.5/5
Noahmund is certainly worthy of merit and belongs in the Square-Enix collective. It’s a beautiful title with a dark, interesting story. Noahmund is also incredibly unforgiving. There are some serious difficulty spikes that pop up, and they begin very early into the game. I feel like it could stand some alteration in how challenging fights are in the beginning, at least. It does not scale well in and could definitely turn off players who are coming to it. That being said, I really enjoy this world that Estudio Abrego has crafted. They have crafted characters I’m genuinely invested in and have backgrounds that are worth exploring. I did notice a few instances where the languages were incorrectly displayed (Spanish displayed instead of English), and while it did not make the game more difficult, it is something to be aware of.
The only other negative was navigating the first town. The map did not seem at all clear to me and I just wandered helplessly. It did let me see how vast this starting town was, so it wound up being a positive. The only other thing I did not quite understand is the purpose of the “Turn numbers” in the top left of the screen. When you make a move on a map, that number increases by one, but I simply could not figure out the purpose of it. Noahmund is still a gorgeous RPG and one that will definitely give players their money’s worth. It’s a story worth experiencing. It does frontload a lot of the exposition until you actually get down to the action, but the story was well told. It does need a little tuning, but I still overall enjoyed the game.