It seems to me that the retro style of JRPGs has seen quite a peak in popularity recently. Turn-based battles have been brought back and pixel art inspired graphics have graced many screens lately. Games like Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest XI have proved that the foundations of the JRPG genre are as strong now as they’ve ever been. Finding Light is here to reinforce that fact. It is a role-playing game that sticks to the basic fundamentals of the genre; exploring over-world maps, delving into treacherous dungeons, and grinding out levels against dozens of monster types as you make your way through an epic quest. It may stick to the basics but it pulls the strings of each genre staple almost perfectly and it doesn’t hide the fact that it isn’t trying to break new ground. It is a game that you can tell takes relish in its own identity.
Before the golden age
I think that most JRPG fans (that are old enough) will agree that the 16 and 32-bit eras could be considered a golden age for these types of games. Both of those time periods saw the release of amazing JRPGs that are still talked about to this day. In fact, many games today try to capture the spirit of those eras. Finding Light reaches back to a time before then. It dives into the 8-bit territory. Lone developer Joshua Keith not only goes super retro but he bravely moulded the game in the vein of the original Game Boy. Yes, the big one with a green-tinted monochrome screen. Every single inch of this pixelated adventure is presented in black and white and with old school aspect ratio to go with it. The musical score is also full of glorious 8-bit chiptune music that was very impressive. Don’t let the old school vibes turn you away from the title though because the look and sounds of Finding Light is a big part of its charm. This is a graphic style that is rarely used in games today and I enjoyed the look back. I found the game to be an unexpected treat. If you’re the type of person that gets excited over spell names such as “Fire 2” and classic turn-based combat, then please continue reading.
Finding Light calls back to a time where the story was sparse and grinding could be maddening. In Finding Light, you play as the forest nymph Mari as she searches for her missing partner Abbie and, in the process, discovers a mystery surrounding the gigantic tower known as Heaven’s Door. During the opening moments of the game, I got the feeling that this was a sequel due to the narrator explaining that Mari and Abbie had climbed The Black Tower and vanquished an evil wizard named Morgoth before the events of this game. It turns out that I was right! (You can download Mari and The Black Tower as part of a bundle with Finding Light, but it is not necessary to enjoy this story.) Two years after conquering their foe, Abbie mysteriously vanishes and another tower appears. This one stretches from the ocean’s depths and beyond the sky and goes by the name of Heaven’s Door. With its appearance comes chaos. The tower has caused massive flooding across the entire world and light is starting to give way to darkness. The premise isn’t deep and it dives straight into typical JRPG tropes throughout, but the game does manage to remain engaging from start to finish.
Finding Light resembles the very first Final Fantasy more than anything else, in my opinion. The over-world map is tiny and almost all of the game’s lore must be found by talking to random NPCs. You’ll spend much of your time in simple, turn-based battles that have no frills. There isn’t any ATB gauge or special hook to the combat. Character classes are all typical JRPG fair such as warriors, rogues, and mages. You do get an animal named Roxie that I considered to be a blue mage. You can feed her the meat of monsters to change her attributes and abilities. The battle system may be extremely old school but it’s addicting due to the quick pacing of encounters. The game has three difficulty settings and I found that grinding was super quick on the easy and normal settings. You will hit a few grinding roadblocks every now and then, but they are always over before you know it. In fact, the entire game goes at a much quicker pace than most games in the genre. You are thrust from story point to story point in quick succession with very little time in between. This is an RPG that won’t demand a huge chunk of time from the player. The exhilarating pace of the adventure went a long way to make up for the shortcomings of its retro play style.
It’s a tiny world. Or is it?
Most RPGs (of all varieties) present sizable worlds to players with possibly dozens upon dozens of areas to explore. Finding Light contains all of the typical areas; towns to shop/rest in, dungeons of all sorts to delve into, and a world map to explore. Or, world maps I should say. I was put off a bit when I first realized how small the world of Finding Light was, but as I continued to play the game expanded. My quest to find Abbie took me to the skies, the bottom of the ocean, and more. Each one of these areas got its own map and, while none of them are very big, they do offer just the right amount of variety and keep things from getting stale. With each map comes completely new enemy types to fight against, so you’re never looking at the same thing for too long. With all the static imagery that litters this game, the variety in everything was much appreciated.
Lost in the dungeons
Along with the old school looks and sounds of Finding Light comes old school, maze-like, dungeon design. I have to tip my hat to the developer for really making me feel like I was playing a game from my past with every step I took in the many dungeons strung throughout the adventure. They were a lot of fun to explore even if there were a few parts, mainly puzzles, that I swore were going to drive me mad. These moments were rare enough to not cause too much frustration, but be ready to scratch your head and let out a few expletives occasionally.
There are a few quality of life improvements in Finding Light that you wouldn’t usually find in the games it is paying homage to. Don’t worry about having to find save points during the punishing parts of the game as you can save almost anywhere. The exceptions are when you are engaged in conversation or battle. This really helped me during those moments where I was stumped on how to proceed or if I only had a few minutes to invest into dungeon diving. Another nice touch was a simple adventure log that you can reference anytime you forget what your next objective is. I can’t tell you how many times I got lost in these games as a child and really could have used a log. It sounds like a no-brainer today, but once upon a time, we didn’t get the luxury of a simple reminder.
Every aspect of Finding Light seems to be crafted intelligently and efficiently. It may stick to gameplay mechanics that are almost as old as our hobby itself but they are all crafted in ways that will help players overcome all the nuances of classic JRPGs. It will make you enjoy mindless grinding sessions. It will entertain you with a well crafted, sometimes 4th wall breaking, tale that tells you just enough to keep you going but never overwhelms you with too much exposition. Its an adrenaline rush packed into the frame of a relic with great characters and tons of villainous monsters to slay. If you’re a fan of retro games and RPGs, then I suggest you look toward Steam and see if you can find the light.
Note: This game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
- Filled with old school charm.
- It’s very fast paced.
- Very likable characters.
- Some puzzles create huge difficulty spikes.