If I hadn't been reviewing this game, I probably would have quit right there. But, since it's (clearly) considered bad form to write a review after only twenty minutes of playtime, I trekked on -- and I'm extremely glad that I did. Once I delved deeper into the world of Baroque, I realized that first impressions aren't always the best impressions.
Now that you've kindly read through my personal aside, let's move on to the actual review, shall we?
While the game doesn't explain much from the start, you soon find out (or can read in the instruction manual) that the world has ended in something called the "Blaze." Your character has committed a terrible sin that he can't remember, and in order to be forgiven, he must enter the dungeon (called Neuro Tower) and purify the world.
Neuro Tower is where you'll be spending the bulk of your time, but before delving into the combat system, there are some important distinctions that need to be made about the game. While it can be loosely defined as a "dungeon-crawler RPG," Baroque is actually more complex than that. It's more accurate, in fact, to classify this title as a "roguelike," since all items and experience disappear when your character completes the dungeon or dies. Even when you get to the bottom floor of Neuro Tower and "win," you'll be sent back to the outerworld, stripped of everything you've earned and collected.
While that might seem terrifying to those of you unfamiliar with the genre, Baroque is probably one of the more forgiving roguelikes. For one, the game allows you to save between dungeon floors, so dying doesn't always equate to starting from scratch. Also, there's a system in place that allows you to save some items for your next run through the dungeon. Scattered in the tower are balls called consciousness orbs, which you can throw items into. When you reappear in the outerworld you'll have lost everything, but a character known as the Collector will be holding onto the items you threw into the orbs. Still, the roguelike style of Baroque is a gameplay feature that you must be comfortable with to enjoy this game.
Ironically, one of the biggest draws of Baroque might also be one of its biggest turn-offs to some -- its atmosphere. The surreal, eerie setting of this game is refreshingly unique, though. It might not look great graphically, but the bleak scenery and strange characters will still draw you into its creepy world of distorted fantasies. Then, once you enter Neuro Tower, the enemies you fight only add to the oddness. Some gamers might find it all to be too strange to enjoy, however, so it's important to know your tastes before plunging into Baroque.
As for the combat, it takes place in real time (meaning it's not turn-based). At first, the combat seems disappointing -- essentially, you only have to press one button to attack, although locking onto enemies helps, too. This gets quite repetitive, but the incredibly deep item system makes up for it (and then some). The basic mechanics of Baroque add to its difficulty, since you have a vitality meter to worry about in addition to your health. From the second you begin the game, your vitality meter starts dropping. The only way to fill it is to kill enemies or use vitality-raising items. Should your meter get to 0, then your health starts dropping instead, and should that get to 0, you die.
Aside from items that will help you in this regard, there's a seemingly endless amount of other goodies to pick up in the tower. While the instruction manual will explain the basics, each item can have multiple variations. For example, wings are a helpful accessory, but there many different types. Some improve defense, some protect against status ailments, some increase the amount of experience you earn, and so on. This system adds a surprising amount of depth to the game. Each journey you take through the tower will be unique, because you'll be finding different ways to aid yourself and kill your enemies.
In every facet, though, Baroque walks a fine line between the refreshing and the frustrating. Most aspects that some people consider bad will be nothing short of enjoyable for others. Hopefully this review will have sent enough warning signs if you belong in the former group. Yet, even if you don't, there are still some annoyances to be wary of. The bad camera angles, for one, are something worth mentioning. Fortunately, the game doesn't have a fixed camera, but (for reasons explained below) it's not always convenient to adjust your view in combat. Secondly, the vitality meter can be a real drag at times. It's an essential part of the gameplay, but I wish it didn't drop in the outerworld (or at least paused when you talk to characters), so that you could feel free to explore without a proverbial time-bomb hanging over your head.
Baroque is also very hands-off, meaning that you'll often feel lost, confused, and disoriented -- sometimes a little too much so. It might have been nice if the game offered the player just a bit more direction. Lastly, some of the gameplay choices seemed questionable. For example, there's no way to enter the training dungeon (unless I did something wrong) before either "beating" or dying in Neuro Tower first, which doesn't seem to make much sense. On the whole, though, the risks and bold choices that the developers made when creating Baroque seemed to have paid off.
Controls: The game offers two control options -- the Wiimote with Nunchuk combination, or the Classic Controller. Although the Classic Controller is probably the more comfortable option, the Wiimote and Nunchuk work well enough. Repositioning the camera in the middle of battle can be awkward, since you have to get your thumb to the D-pad while holding the Wiimote vertically, but everything else is relatively basic. "B" attacks, "Z" locks on targets, "C" throws items, and "A" opens the menu screen. There's also some tacked on waggle, as shaking the Wiimote performs a special attack.
Visuals: Baroque certainly isn't the prettiest game to look at, and most will find themselves unimpressed by its graphics. At the same time, though, the dark and dreary settings immerse the player into the game's surreal atmosphere.
Sound: The voice acting is pretty good, but the music leaves something to be desired (especially compared to the Sega Saturn version's soundtrack). Most of the songs sound like cheesy 80s metal, which would have been fine (and perhaps even a bonus) if they were more over-the-top. As it stands, though, the music in the game is mostly forgettable.
Story: The story itself isn't very impressive. Although it's odd (to say the least) and vaguely interesting, it lacks any real depth. Yet, what should be lauded is how it's told. Like some sort of avant-garde film, the plot in Baroque isn't straightforward or linear. At the beginning, you are as clueless about the past as you are about the future, so you slowly come to piece things together. However, this style of storytelling is likely to irk many gamers who'd prefer a clear, easy-to-follow progression.
Difficulty: It should be noted that the game lets the player choose their preferred difficulty, with easy, normal, and hard settings offered. Assuming that normal is the default for most players, the combat should present a sufficient but not overwhelming challenge. The combat will probably be the least of one's difficulty worries in Baroque, though. Gamers who are used to titles that hold their hands should not expect that here. You'll often find yourself unsure of where to go, what to do, or how to progress the story. You'll also have to figure out on your own what certain items do, mainly through experimentation. Let's just say that this is the kind of game you won't be ashamed to use a FAQ for.
Final Score: 7.0/10 -- Most reviews for roguelikes can be summed up with a simple, "If you enjoy roguelikes, you'll enjoy this game" mantra. Although it's tempting to say the same thing for Baroque, and it's certainly not for everybody, the game deserves more distinction than that. Is it challenging? Yes. Is it niche? Yes. Is it weird? Hell yes -- but none of these things are necessarily bad, depending on your tastes as a gamer. If you go into the game expecting a classic RPG experience, you'll probably be disappointed. If you're willing to be open-minded and patient at first, though, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by this unique piece of software. At the very least, Wii owners who have been looking for a "hardcore experience" should take note -- this is it.