I turn 28 this month, in fact a week from today. At this age, I find myself wishing I had the ability to go back in time and change a number of things that led my life to be the way it is today. And honestly, not only that, but there are certain parts of my life I wish I could live over again, like the parts of my childhood I spent playing my Super Nintendo and my friend’s Playstation 1 after school, jamming out to the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night OST.
This will never happen, of course. I don’t have some kind of time machine to go back, and I’ll never be able to experience Michiru Yamane and Koji Igarashi’s masterpiece again for the first time. What I do have, however, is the next best thing: Timespinner, the first game by Lunar Ray games with an amazing soundtrack by Jeff Ball of Tiny Barbarian DX and Steven Universe fame (among many others), which follows the story of Lunais – a woman who must travel between the ancient past and ruined present of her world to put an end to the tyranny her people face from an intergalactic empire. Funded on Kickstarter back in 2014, this was one of those games I backed and hoped and prayed it would actually come to completion, having been burned by a number of other very promising retro-inspired campaigns in the past – and lo and behold, at the end of September of this year I got my hands on my pledge and devoured the game immediately. Instead of my normal “music only” review column this month, I’d like to actually talk about the game as well – and as with my occasional event coverage, I’ll give you the handy #MUSIC and #GAME tags to Ctrl+F back and forth to if you only want to read one of those reviews.
Let’s get spinning!
Fair warning, there will be some spoilers here with regards to some of the things you can unlock, but I’m going to try to keep story spoilers to an absolute minimum. There is one major thing I want to say to people who have beaten the game, and I will leave that at the very bottom of the article, so be warned.
I have some specific critiques here, but I do just want to say up front that I think everything about this game is great, and not just from the retrofetishist nostalgia goggles angle I was kind of setting up here. This is just legitimately a game where you can tell its creators loved making and poured their all into. The controls are intuitive (full disclosure: I was playing on Steam with my well-worn 360 controller), the menus were easily navigable, the inventory system makes sense. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it’s something we’ve seen many times over the years, and I thought the quest tracking system was about the only thing that wasn’t just absolutely perfect mostly because I’m a whiny baby who likes to have my hand held every once in a while. I would have preferred some of the fetch quests to have an option to “show on map” for some things – but I’m still thankful we had one instead of having to come back to the central hub to ask NPCs how many random items they needed. The core loop of the game – leave hub area, complete side quests, eventually complete main quest, move on – is fairly tight despite the drop rates on certain items feeling a little wonky (case in point, I spent probably 30 minutes fighting these eel monsters reminiscent of the underwater dragon things in Launch Octopus’ stage in MegaMan X to get three of their drop for a fetch quest, and it seemed a little bit like artificially inflating the gameplay time). Unlike Symphony of the Night and other similar games, I found it extremely difficult to level break this game at all with some minor exceptions related to finding some stat bonus unlocks before I got the super jump by freezing enemies in time and just hopping up before the time started to move again.
I don’t consider that a bad thing, but I did find it surprising the amount of thought was taken to make sure the game was played in roughly the correct sequence. And I suppose that’s also worth mentioning – this game is definitely linear, but after a certain point the game does give you a certain degree of freedom with how you’re going to clear the map. Depending on how you do so, you’ll unlock other abilities and orbs which will let you reach other parts of the map and so on and so on.
I’ve gotten this far and I’ve literally only just mentioned the biggest core point of the game – all attacks are determined by what orbs you have equipped and what active and passive skills you have equipped. This is probably one of my favorite parts of this game – I really went in with no expectations aside from “oh, I guess Lunais is telekinetic and beats people to death with blue murder balls and a hadoken, I’m into it.” Imagine my surprise when one of the orbs you get is literally just called “Gun” and it transforms…into a gun.
(Also Gun’s super attack is very reminiscent of Vash The Stampede’s ultimate attack from Trigun and let me tell you I am all about that.)
There are also all sorts of other attacks you’ll get – some more intended for close combat attacks, some for range, but, interestingly, most if not all of these attacks have an analogue as an enemy attack, which I think is a pretty great way to teach you about how certain effects work. About my only complaint about the orb system is that each orb levels up the more you use it, but some orbs don’t show up until very, very late game (and in at least one case, technically post game). This can make using some of the cooler powers a lot harder since they still hit pretty hard but not as hard as, say, if you’ve been focusing on your favorite orb all game. Although, the ones you get late game are much stronger than the ones you get earlier, so it sort of all comes out as a wash anyway. My pro-tip for you – you’ll find some things that are basically Rare Candies for your orbs (AKA free levels), I’d wait until the end game before pumping them into anything.
Level design was very well executed, and, since you’ve still got the “Inverted Castle” vibe going on due to traveling between the past and present, you can start balancing your exploration% by trying to figure out what rooms are missing on each map. I was very pleasantly surprised when I realized that something I did in the past affected the map in the future – it was basically right about then that the game really started to click for me. The fact that a game about mucking about in the timeline has the forethought to include multiple endings is great in my opinion, and if we say that the total number of endings is a number “n,” then in a single run of the game you can achieve “n-1” endings due to a particular choice that has to be made – which is fine, although, since I’m not someone who usually replays games, I was a little bummed I couldn’t do it all in one.
Speaking of not doing it all in one go, I should add that there are a surprising number of hidden things in a game this short – despite 100%ing both maps, I didn’t find all the orbs, kill all the bosses OR find all the familiars, which is frankly mindboggling to me. And I should also clarify when I say short – I beat the game on Standard/Easy mode (the only mode available to you if you haven’t beaten the game or, and I can’t believe I get to say this in 2018, looked up the cheat code for it) in about 11 hours within the first 2-3 days the game was out, probably a solid hour of which was just making sure I found all the secret rooms. I completed the entirety of the character quests in the game, which I found quite charming and a very good addition to a game in a genre which usually has about as much story as “explore the place, kill the stuff, and eventually your character gets to go home.” I would have appreciated a little bit more story, if I’m honest, but if the success of this game will allow its creators to build bigger and better games then I’m happy to have experienced this game as it is and let it be a stepping stone to other projects.
But how do I actually FEEL about the game, you might ask? Great. I feel great about this game. My personal threshold for enjoyment value to actual money cost on games is that I want to pay no more than $1/hr of gameplay, and although I’m not usually someone who replays games I refuse to be bested by this game (despite Hard Mode being a much higher level of difficulty for sure) and the fact that I didn’t 100% it my first time means I will go back and I will definitely get my money’s worth on this game.
Look man, even if you don’t play this game, you should listen to the soundtrack. I hope you do play it, of course, I really liked it, but I do so love when composers really get to cut wild and make all sorts of music for an game soundtrack. I don’t want to cheapen Jeff’s work by saying “this is an homage to soundtracks in the heyday of Chrono Trigger and Symphony of the Night”, but it’s true and I don’t think it’s bad to acknowledge that. Stylistically, this soundtrack covers a lot of ground – you’ve got everything from crazy guitar sweeps to mournful piano to a short minuet and trio that sounds right at home at a Renaissance festival. The boss battle themes sound anywhere from gothic and ornate (‘Galactic Throne’) to spacey and glitchy and experimental (‘Eternal Nightmare’). You’ll hear a few character leitmotifs cropping back up through the soundtrack – I always love that in great game soundtracks, because, not only does it help you clue in narratively to what’s going on, but also for a game that’s all about remixing the timeline, it’s good to have the music do sort of the same thing too.
If you want screaming guitars and love jumbling up time signatures, ‘The Broken’ is for you. It’s definitely not the only one on the album, but if you need something to dip your toes into to see if this soundtrack is for you then I highly recommend this bad boy.
Good shop themes are iconic, man. They’ve gotta keep you hype while doing the mundane stuff in a videogame, and bad ones make the process of inventory management that much less palatable. I love a good 3/4 dance (I think this one technically qualifies as a minuet and not a waltz because it’s slower, but don’t hold me to that), and most of all I love the instrumentation on this with its accordion-eque sound. 11/10 would buy shiny things from crows again.
This is one of my favorite background tracks in the entire game. You really do get a smattering of everything in this one too – driving bass and percussion, some good ol’ electric jazz organ sounds, heavily synthesized strings, bright sparkly arpeggios running in the background…man, it’s just got it all. It’s just a great hype track.
So overall? Yeah. Check this out. I think it’s awesome that we live in a day and age where people are able to consume popular media as children, be shaped by those experiences, and create new content that is similar to that which they loved (and may even contain direct references to that media) but is able to represent their own idea and their own story is honestly just…really heartwarming. It’s especially pleasing when it’s extremely well executed like this game and soundtrack have been. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to talk about its queer-friendly storyline as well. Although we do get much of that in a single burst of story, I find it unobtrusive and important to do in order to add depth to the characters. In a time where we’re still struggling to get positive LGBT representation in ANY media, taking a second to just come out and explicitly say “Hey, this character deviates from the cisgender heteronormative archetype you’d expect” is good and I liked it a lot. And if you’re someone who doesn’t care about the story and just wants to know if the game is good, then congratulations – the game is good. The music is good. You will not regret the money you spend on this game. I certainly don’t. I realize that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but I’m someone whose most common phrase when I like something is “hey, that’s not bad”, so like, take that as you will. I’m always afraid to overhype something as it will inevitably color someone’s experience with a piece of media and often leaves them disappointed, but like, just shut up and go play this game with some good quality headphones on, alright? Make some new happy memories.
One other quick note – this album was published by The Materia Collective! They’re a group of really talented professional game composers, you should definitely check out their website. I’ve included it and a few others below.
Last chance on that spoiler warning, buddy.
Okay, the fact that the ending lets you go full Madoka is hilarious and fantastic to me. I definitely was not expecting that, although in retrospect I probably should have. I know I made references to anime previously in the article, but this one is so brazenly blatant that I can’t help but love it.