When thinking of Western roleplaying games (RPGs), generally games like Skyrim, Fallout, Or Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic come to mind. Rarely does one consider anything other than deep fantasy, with a focus on action and exploration. Rare is it to see a game come from the west that embraces the traditional JRPG style of gameplay, with a strong focus on story and more of a turn-based battle style. Another rarity in the world of gaming is something like South Park. In today’s world, where people are offended by everything, it is surprising that a show like South Park has managed to stay on the air. Equally surprising is the fact that the show has managed to remain a hit after nearly 22 seasons. South Park has attempted to make the jump into the video game world several times before, with little to no success. Fans of the show had basically given up on there ever being a good game released. In the year 2014, hope was rekindled once again when it was announced that Obsidian Entertainment would be releasing a South Park game. Not just any game, but a turn-based RPG set in the world in which fans of the show were so familiar. Still, the question remained to be answered: would South Park: The Stick of Truth manage to be a good game while remaining true to the source material, and could Obsidian Entertainment make a good Western RPG that strayed away from the style most people knew them for? That is the question that this review will set out to answer. There are a few different things to consider when reviewing an RPG, but the most important things are typically the story and the battle system. In the following review the battle system and the story will be the primary focus, but since this is a game based on a beloved television show, the question of whether the game remains true to that show will also be addressed.
The trouble with basing a game on a television show like South Park lies mainly in the undefined world upon which the show is based. There are several different locations in the small little mountain town, from the school the boys attend to the lake where they frequently ice skate and hang out. Obsidian Entertainment actually did a fantastic job of putting the locations together on a map that makes sense. The world is surprisingly big for a little mountain town, which could have ended up with a lot of travel time that could have become boring over time, but thankfully Obsidian had the foresight to add a fast travel system based around one of the most beloved characters in the show. Every part of the world feels as if the player were actually in a real town, even the parts of the game that take place in Canada, which of course is reached by continuously traveling North until the country is reached. One of the things the show manages to do very well despite the simplistic style is the music. The game captures this sense very well, with a similar style of sound in every area of the world sounds as if it were lifted from the show. The base overworld music has a good fantasy sound while mixing in some singing from character voices that keep the player aware of the world that they are in. Based on the earlier attempts to make a game, another thing that gamers may have been worried about is the art style. Previous entries had all attempted to translate the world of South Park to 3d, and this is one of the primary problems with those games. Luckily, Obsidian Entertainment seems to have realized that this was a terrible mistake and kept the graphic art style of the game true to the television show. Every minute the player spends in the game feels as if they have been transported into the actual town of South Park.
Upon launching The Stick of Truth, the first thing the player must do is design their character. Immediately, the feel of the show is felt as the animation and the character design looks to be lifted straight from an episode of the television show. After picking a character design, the story begins with the introduction of the character and his parents, all of whom are relatively new residents in the town of South Park. The parents allude to some sort of dark events in the lead character’s past which the player can no longer remember, and they tell the player to go out and start making some friends. From here, the character encounters Butters, who invites the lead character to participate in an epic game of fantasy and adventure which all the local boys are currently playing. After Journeying with Butters to Cartman’s house, the player finds that there is a pretty cool set-up in Cartman’s backyard of a huge fantasy kingdom, which Cartman has named the ‘Kingdom of Kupa Keep’. Cartman recruits the new kid into his kingdom and. finally. it is time to pick a name. In a style of humour typical of the show, regardless of what name the player picks Cartman will call them Douchebag. After verifying that the player is sure they want to be known as Douchebag, Cartman explains that there is a nation of elves who constantly try to steal an artifact of great power that is in his possession, known as The Stick of Truth. The primary goal of the game is to be the nation who controls the stick because whoever controls the stick can make up the rules for the game. This is what is presented as the main story, but there are several major events that happen outside of the main plot arc, specifically to the main character, that paint an entirely different perspective regarding the storyline. The player must deal with alien abductions, underpants-stealing gnomes, making friends with everyone in town, traveling to Canada to kill giant queefing spiders, and many other tragic and hilarious events. Eventually, the government shows up to build the biggest Taco Bell in the world, Nazi zombies invade, and the homeless are a plague the town’s mayor (who is always doing everything in her power to get re-elected). The story is surprisingly deep for what is effectively just a make-believe game that kids are playing with each other, in which they roleplay out battles with each other and fight for possession of what is actually just a stick. That is to be expected though, as South Park has always been a show that has hidden real (and sometimes incisive) messages behind gratuitous dick and fart jokes. If the player is a fan of the storylines often presented in the show, then there is no doubt that they will come to love the story in this game, because the plot feels as if it were a feature-length film in the style of the television show, and it has several unexpected twists and additions to the base story that make it well worth completing. Even without getting into the gameplay aspects, this may be enough to sell the game to South Park fans.
As mentioned previously, the gameplay style for South Park: The Stick of Truth is that of a turn-based RPG, which is something atypical of Western RPGs. Typically, Western RPGs tend to be more in the style of an action game (where combat action are mapped directly to and performed instantly via individual buttons), and with melee or magic skills and action trees that are leveled up throughout the game. In this case, a game that has a battle system which is relatively similar to that in The Stick of Truth is the SNES title Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Like the Mario game, The Stick of Truth employs not just turn-based combat (where the player selects an attack or spell and watches an animation), but rather a hybrid action-turn system in which the player selects an attack or spell and then is given the ability to boost the damage of the attack with interactive combinations of buttons, or by holding and releasing at a specific time, or by rapidly pressing one button for the duration of the attack. In The Stick of Truth, every attack or spell has a specific set of button presses that will allow for maximum damage, and which in some cases will determine if the attack is at all successful. There are light attacks that break armor through successive blows, heavy attacks that deal one massive blow and ranged attacks for enemies in the back row. Every ally with which the player can partner brings their own special skills to the fight. Moreover, when the character picks their name they also pick a class. The classes vary from casters to different melee styles of play, all fitting into the fantasy setting of the boys’ game. There are three different sets of abilities and buffs that the player has the ability to learn and level up: the first is the basic abilities of their class, which are unlocked through typical experience gain and leveling up; the second is passive buffs that are gained by collecting friends, and the more friends the player collects, the more of these abilities they can learn; and finally, there is a special kind of magic that is learned simply through progressing the game, comprising four different spells that interact in different ways with the environment. These special spells will open different areas of the game that were previously inaccessible and they allow for further progression into the game and further completion of the various quests the player is given by all of the people in town. All in all, this is one of the better RPG battle systems and one of the more unique leveling systems that one is likely to find in a recent RPG. The interactivity keeps the gameplay fresh, allowing for a lot more input from the character in exactly how they want to play. Each fight can be unique, and each class plays differently. Even the different allies the player recruits along the way can add new and fun elements to the gameplay, making it worth switching between each of them if for no other reason than to see what kinds of attacks they can bring to the table.
Based on the fact that the gameplay is so much fun and that the story is hilarious while capable of critically thoughtful moments, it is safe to say that South Park has successfully made the jump to the medium of video games. The characters are simply fun to experience, which is to be expected in a game set in this comedically-inspired universe, and the self-referential humor paired with the typical habit of poking fun at pop culture along the way makes this a very enjoyable game from beginning to end. In addition, the game is not overlong, making it a quick and easy jaunt for anyone who plans to put the time and effort into actually completing the game. This game might easily receive an A based on the interactive battle system alone, but the aspects of the story that keep it funny and interesting help ensure that it is a top rated game. One could even go so far as to say that this is one of the best Western turn-based RPGs ever made. However, players should keep in mind that this game takes after the show in its use of very inappropriate humor, and should not be played by anyone who is easily offended, or who is sensitive to vulgarity. Of course, it is very unlikely that anyone would be looking to play a South Park video game without being very aware of just what that might entail.
Title: South Park: The Stick of Truth
Genre: Western Role-playing Game
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Platform Reviewed: Microsoft Windows
Release Date: 4 March, 2014