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West (Xbox 360) artwork

West (Xbox 360) review

"West is not quite the deep wonderland I had hoped for. It's a straightforward RPG with overt moral prattle. Guiding us into deep thought is something an intelligent game should do, but forcing us down that avenue dulls the experience."

What caught my attention when I downloaded West was the promise of “deeper undertones”. I imagined that everything would have a veiled symbol and that I would probably wind up Googling some hole-in-the-wall websites to find interpretations. I had hoped for gameplay just as brilliant, either something heavily strategic or straightforward yet challenging (think Cthulhu Saves the World). And what do I get for hoping? I'm down $1 and I've lost ninety minutes of my life.

Think of a plain Jane RPG with no gimmicks whatsoever. That's West. There is very little to it than traveling from one town to the next on a tight rail whilst fighting pun-inspired enemies (all of which look like elementary school art projects gone wrong) like Baseball Bat, a bat carrying a baseball; and Haymaker, an animate bale of hay with boxing gloves. The battle system is essentially mashing the 'A' button until all the puns are corpses. Each character has a few skills and no magic whatsoever--no buffing, healing, or support spells. Skills are basically super-powered attacks, but do not increase in power as your characters level up. Gain enough levels and your older-yet-cheaper skills will do less damage than your regular attacks.

Even bosses demand very little strategy or skill, and play out like fighting a regular enemy. The only difference is that a boss battle will take an extra minute (if that) to complete. Most bosses don't execute devastating attacks; even the final boss's special attacks don't do much more damage than some of the regular enemies you face.

Characters have nothing in battle that helps them to stand out. There is no healer, fighter, tank, defender... Everyone acts exactly the same and has similar damage-based skills. The only thing that separates them is the average range of damage they deal.

When an RPG features a dull battle system, we usually hope that the story will save the day (as much as it can, anyhow). That's when I remember the key words: deeper undertones.

Think of that word, “undertone”. In this case, it means that West's themes are implied and/or subtle.

While passing through a town, a character outright tells you that every dungeon and thing you bump into throughout the land is a deeper symbol for something else. So much for subtlety.

West deploys the ancient art of delivering simplistic morals through interactions with NPCs. Mostly, it beats you over the head with its ideals, like when you bump into random hippies (no joke, these characters are actually called 'hippies') who bemoan that tunneling the earth or plowing of the swamp in favor of improved transit is wrong. I'm not saying it isn't okay to have strong opinions, but to have them forced upon you in such obligatory ways makes for a cheesy experience. Most of the time the characters awkwardly explain why something is immoral, almost as though the writer didn't trust the audience's intelligence.

Conflicts are black and white in West. It paints science and industry as villainous and greedy by pitting you against a corporation experimenting on animals, creating the horrible pun monsters you face. Yet, has the writer ever considered the life-saving knowledge we've gained through animal experimentation, such as the discovery of insulin? It would definitely make for a deeper experience if the characters faced a moral dilemma rather than a true blue evil scheme. True depth is something that examines both sides of an argument and explores avenues most wouldn't think to examine--or aren't willing to examine. Bertius didn't need to take a middle ground, but should have acknowledged the complications of the conflict between nature and industry rather than painting one as unquestionably heroic and the other as treacherous.

When our characters aren't running afoul of ham-fisted moral lectures, they're....


They aren't doing much of anything, really. West is skimpy in the plot and character departments. Most of the characters have no personality, nor do they have many lines. One of them is a token female named Lady, and she's as dimensionless as her name suggests. She has very few lines--in fact, her only major lines after you recruit her are spoken before you fight the final boss. There are very few cut scenes, areas where the characters interact, interludes, or anything to add depth to the characters. They all have the same attitudes and hold the same opinions.

I understand that indy games benefit from simplicity and brevity. West has that down pat, yet it still didn't work. Cthulhu Saves the World features a simple battle system, yet it also has interesting characters and deeper character growth when the level up. West's downfall is that it's too simple; it takes almost no effort to finish, and the story is as straightforward as a Jack Chick tract.

West is not quite the deep wonderland I had hoped for. It's a straightforward RPG with overt moral prattle. Guiding us into deep thought is something an intelligent game should do, but forcing us down that avenue dulls the experience. West may be a short and inexpensive title, but it still isn't worth the 80 MSP or the brief amount of time to play it. Especially not when titles like Breath of Death VII: The Beginning exist.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (August 12, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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SamildanachEmrys posted August 12, 2011:

Good review. It felt quite brief, but it was also clear that nothing more was needed. You justify both your praise and your criticism well, and the style overall is good. It does its job, and does it well.

A couple of errors:

'plane Jane' should be 'plain Jane'.
'bail of hay' should be 'bale of hay'.

Also: your comparison to a Jack Chick tract (while amusing for people who have read any Chick tracts) becomes a bit clumsy when you have to include the disclaimer that you weren't implying Biblical content. It might be worth switching that for something that doesn't require such clarification.

One more point, though this is really just a matter of personal preference: while reading the middle section (about the evils of technology) I kept thinking 'that's the theme of most Final Fantasy games and many JRPGs in general, it's far from unique to West'. I assume this was a continuation of your point that West seems to offer subtlety while actually offering simplistic themes, but I don't think it's entirely clear that you're not just criticising it for something common to many RPGs. Again, though, that's really just a personal feeling; other readers may well feel differently.

I know I've spent more time criticising than praising here, but it is a good review overall. My criticisms are really just polishing suggestions.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 12, 2011:

Thanks, Sam.

On your first point with the misspellings: D'oh! and D'oh! I'm prone to homophone errors.

On your second point, I just dropped the disclaimer. I'm pretty sure people can figure it out since I did say "as straightforward as". It's mainly that West's writer and Chick both tell simple, black-and-white stories as a means to sell a moral.

Last point, it's not the theme that bothered me, but the way it was presented. When most games go on a high horse about industry and technology, they don't have hippies in the middle of a dungeon telling you Industry is bad, m'kay. They usually show rather than tell, and I think that is more effective. I'm completely okay with "technology bad, nature good" storylines, as long as they're not trying to beat me over the head with their theme.

Again, thank you!

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