Void Terrarium, also known as void tRrLM(); //, is a roguelike game released by NIS America earlier this month on the Nintendo Switch and PS4. In the game, the world has become overrun by toxic fungi. In a bid to save themselves, humanity retreated underground, but that only delayed the inevitable. You play as a small robot, wandering the infested, scrap-heap underground. One day you come across a human girl and an AI robot. With the AI’s help, you take the girl, Toriko, under your protection. You search for food, create a shelter and concoct medicines all to keep the last human alive. But it can often be a race against time as you learn that human lives are ever so fragile.
This review is based off the Switch version of the game.
To be very honest, I haven’t played many ‘roguelike’ dungeon crawlers before, so it came as an initial shock at how brutal it was. Just like a traditional dungeon crawler you explore a map, collect resources and aim to reach the end. But ’roguelike’ games add a do or die dynamic. There’s no checkpoints to return to, and if you die you’re kicked out and have to start all the way at the beginning again. Not only that but you lose all the EXP and skills you’ve gathered. One saving grace is that the game does auto-save between each level. Each time I died, I would close the game, and reset. I almost worked myself into a frenzy trying to pass each level.
But as I kept ‘crawling’ through the levels, and adjusted to the gameplay, my mindset shifted. Rather than mindlessly hacking and slashing, I began planning my level conquering. Each time the robot levels up you get the choice of one of two different abilities. I started being a bit more strategic with my choices, and managing my resources across the levels. But most of all, I began savouring the excitement of getting closer and closer to my goal. The game turned into a challenge I couldn’t get enough of.
The game’s strategic element not only limits itself to fighting, but also with the ‘tamagotchi’-like feature with Toriko. As you travel through the dungeons you can see Toriko’s health, contamination level and her waste level. Sometimes it’s worth giving up a dungeon crawl to head back and take care of your human. But, no trip to a dungeon is wasted. Food collected can be fed to Toriko, and materials crafted decorate her terrarium. Decorations aren’t just for show and in turn strengthen your robot. Even when Toriko became sick, and I had to divert from my main goal, it wasn’t a frustration. I was excited to explore a new place to get the medicine, or collect new design plans. I only wish the game had a bit more interaction with Toriko outside of patting her head. For a character who never talked, she did manage to endear herself to me. But I can only imagine how much more invested in the game I would have been if I felt a stronger connection to her.
From the start, what grabbed my attention about this game, and sustained it, was its graphics and music. There’s something quite soft, almost soothing, about the graphics. Most of the terrarium area is filled with shades of green, and I guess the psychology behind tranquility and green is true. Toriko’s design is both creepy and ridiculous cute, a combo that shouldn’t work but just does. Adding to this was the techno music, which could be quite ‘zesty’, but really complimented the robotic character that you played as. My only irk with the designs was with the dungeons and the monsters that populated them. As with most dungeon crawlers, the dungeon’s designs often felt quite repetitive. The ‘organic’ monsters, or presumably mutated animals, weren’t exciting, often just looking like misshapen blobs. And there wasn’t anything too new or innovative about the machines.
As much as I enjoyed the gameplay, I did have one key frustration with it, the game is incredibly heavy handed with status ailments. As you play through dungeons, there are monsters that can poison you, paralyse you or cause you to glitch. Which isn’t unusual for dungeon crawlers, but even healing items can have this effect. It was crazy annoying trying to heal mid-battle and then falling asleep because the bio gel I picked up had a random status ailment attached to it. There’s a point in the game where it becomes significantly harder and it was here that the status ailments came into its full frustrating swing. It turned what was a fun game into a grind just to get to the next level.
A smaller complaint is in regards to the character of Toriko. As I touched on earlier, I did wish that she played a bigger part in the overall narrative. The game itself does not contain much text, and while the story it does have is quite immersive, I was desperate for more. It was often disappointing to complete a mission for just a few lines of text and then start grinding towards the next stage. Ultimately, the game’s dungeon crawling mechanic is expansive but at the expense of what could have been a really powerful story and character.
There is also a ‘randomness’ to the game that some may find unappealing. Levels are randomly generated so each time you enter the dungeon is a whole new experience. It can almost feel like the luck of a the draw if you manage to have a really good run or a bad one. I remember getting so close to the end of one dungeon, but the final ‘checkpoint’ was in the middle of a monster lair. No matter how many times I tried to reset I just could not pass and had to resign myself to my fate and restart However, I didn’t mind this too much as the randomness did mean that each time you visited a location it would be a brand new experience.
Overall, I had a lot fun with Void Terrarium. As I did not have previous experience with roguelike games, I won’t deny it was a bit of a learning curve. But once I had settled in, I found it an exciting challenge. The game does have its flaws, often making the game walk the line between being enjoyable and a grind. And the story often felt secondary to the gameplay. But playing as a little robot in a big, desolate world is an experience I’d do again and again.
Thank you to NIS America for providing me with a review copy for this game