If you're looking for a free indie RPG that's a little... different... you might want to try Unproductive Fun Time's surreal and unsettling OFF. Recently translated from its native French, the game follows you and The Batter, a stoic slugger whose goal is, he says, to "purify" the land of spectres and phantoms. With the help of an enigmatic and somewhat suspicious toothy cat, you'll travel through the Nothingness to such wondrous places as the Meat Fountains of Alma, to the labyrinthine library of Bismark and beyond, and pack you full of ghosts, profanity, puzzles, and nightmare fuel in the process.
Use the [arrow] keys to move around, the [spacebar] to interact, and hit [ESC] to open the menu. Battles are turn based in the most traditional fashion, with characters attacking in turn once their action bar fills up. If you don't feel like manually handling each battle yourself, you can just select the "Auto" option and your heroes will beat on their enemies as they see fit. As you level up, your characters will learn more moves ("Competence") that can help in battle, and, of course, you can find the obligatory, if somewhat disdainful, item merchant who will sell you not only more curative items, but better arms and armor to boot. You can find floating boxes that will restore your health and save your progress, but only the red ones will allow you to teleport to another Zone by returning to the Nothingness.
Analysis: OFF is a weird game. I mean, seriously. Imagine a giant laboratory with beakers bubbling away, distilling games like Earthbound, Killer 7, Baroque, and maybe a little bit of Stephen King and Peter Straub's Talisman, and the roiling, unsettling liquid they combine to make might look a little like this. The characters and landscapes you visit are bizarre to say the least, and the way you're thrust into them with no explanation or warm-up is more than a little disorienting in a way that can frustrate some players. The unique mythology you see peeking through in the conversations and designs is absolutely fascinating, however, and if you're a fan of surreal, introspective stories where what you know is only part of a bigger mystery you'll definitely want to check this one out. From its swanky and stellar original soundtrack by Alias Conrad Coldwood, to its unusual concepts and strange character designs, OFF feels like its own unique creature in ways few games rarely manage.
The downside? Apart from a healthy dose of solid, clever puzzles, it really does feel like OFF's unique story and concept is struggling to carry the gameplay at times. Unless you grew up gaming in the '80s and '90s like I did and are just used to it, random battles are the smelly, lurking, unwashed convention goer of the gaming world, and OFF has a lot of them. The auto-attack is actually surprisingly adept at handling nearly any encounter, including boss battles if you're sufficiently leveled, but it definitely gets tedious when all you really want to do is find out more about the story and the universe it lives in.
Which is, by the way, seriously worth doing. OFF isn't for everyone, but if it gets its hooks into you you're going to love the off-kilter journey it takes you on. Although the core gameplay is rarely as immediately compelling as the story and the people and places that live in it, OFF is an unexpected diamond in the rough for a particular sort of person. It's definitely worth a look, and a listen, and a thought or several if you don't run for the hills after the first Zone. It's something you can find yourself mulling over, and shows that there's still a lot of creativity (and creepiness) to be found in the simplest of RPG titles yet.
(Note: You may need to copy several font files from the OFF folder to your system's font directory. For a more detailed explanation, see our guide.)
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