Review: Islands of Wakfu
At first glance, Islands of Wakfu appears to be your stereotypical J-RPG and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as such. It has all the required features; bonkers and confusing script, cutesy manga-esque graphics and a crazy-haired teen sent on a mission to save the world. Fans of DOFUS (the MMORPG the title is based on) would disagree however, as would developers Ankama Play (they’re French). Yes, the parent level MMORPG uses turn-based combat in battles, but this downloadable episode (set 40,000 years before the events in DOFUS) favours a less traditional combination of the X and A buttons to trigger hard and light attacks respectively.
As Nora (crazy-haired teen and main protagonist), you embark on a mission with your dragon brother Efrim to find the legendary Islands of Wakfu, after an attack on your home planet leaves you as the last of the Eliatrope people. It’s fairly straightforward stuff, but trying to wade through the language and terminology of Wakfu is a bit more taxing – try downloading the trial and take a look at the How To Play section from the main menu – and it can be off-putting at first. Not only that, but all the characters talk in reverse so they sound like that Led Zeppelin record of your dad’s you used to wind back on a turntable to see if there were any demonic messages hidden inside. Perseverance pays off though, as the general weirdness the game exudes to begin with eventually settles in and, once you know your way around the controls, starts to get enjoyable.
Although Nora is your main squeeze, her dragon brother Efrim adds an interesting second tier of attacks to proceedings – whereas Nora is your hand-to-hand, get stuck in kind of gal trained in the ancient martial art of Wakfung, Efrim uses long-range spit balls to take out his foes. What this means is that you could essentially play the title as a beat ‘em up (using Nora) or a shooter (using Efrim) or, if you’re playing co-op with a friend, a mixture of the two. On Goddess/Easy difficulty, solely using one or the other character would make for a slightly easier and duller game as you’re pretty much immortal, but selecting the Initiate (described as ‘normal’, but I’d place it more in the Hard category) difficulty encourages you (as a single player at least) to utilise both characters’ potential. Pressing Y switches between the two, and in some battles it’s almost essential to use both – especially given some of the boss battles are ridiculously hard. For instance, the first main boss you come across uses a combination of ranged and close-quarters attacks which are tough to dodge – get in too close (using Nora) and he’ll lash out, but stay too far away (to make the most of Efrim’s abilities) and he’ll launch homing missiles at you. Added into this are the smaller enemies that attack you at key points and it makes the whole thing rather frustrating.
The same can be said for the rest of the bosses in the game, as they all require patience to defeat and learning their attack patterns is key – you will perish a fair bit, but it will be beneficial in the long run, if not a little annoying. Tactical use of both characters and their various attacks is also necessary, and once you start to unlock some of the more advanced offensive/defensive skills and master them in combat it’s very easy to unleash an impressive range of moves. Nora has the ability to transport behind enemies with a tap of the LB button, which can be useful when facing off against guys with shields, but this also comes in handy when traversing the landscape. Using the right stick brings up a reticule which you can place anywhere on the screen and – providing it’s a valid location – Nora can transport to that spot. Unfortunately the reticule seems to linger on the last place you teleported to, so if you’re stuck in a tight spot you usually have to wait for your target to appear on screen, causing much stick waggling and frustration. Teleporting does help in level exploration to find the various pickups dotted around though, and there’s also a range of flower which you can bloom by using Efrim’s dragon breath. Once the flower is fully bloomed it spawns a pot of gold which can be used to unlock those extra skills, but also adds to your final score at the end of each level.
The levels are scored on how much energy you have left or how many times you died for example, and these are added to the leaderboards (which are only available on Initiate difficulty). Thankfully, you can help boost your score by hunting down candies, which are worth 100 points for each one you pick up. Exploration can be fun, but the level layout is fairly linear and you will find you don’t need to stray too far to find something worthwhile. Likewise, a selection of smaller Wakfu creatures like butterflies and beatles that Nora can ingest to boost your energy are normally kicking around somewhere too – the whole ingestion process sounds a bit fierce to start with, but the game explains that there’s this whole ‘Circle of Life’ thing going on, and not to worry about it too much. It is worth bearing in mind that you only have one health bar between the two characters, so wading straight into any situation is rarely recommended and there are instances where you’ll be thankful of a Wakfu creature, no matter how small the boost to your health. Larger energy boosts come via Wakfu-laden fruit, spawned from plants dotted around the landscape or dropped via enemies you defeat – but as well as Nora’s ability to ingest these fruits, Efrim can breath on them (using LT) to blow them up, which comes in handy when opening up new areas of the map, causing extra damage to your enemies or solving some of the puzzles, which aren’t particularly tough. You’ll encounter a few mini-games on your travels, but these are mainly QTE-style ‘press the button combination in the right order to clear a certain section’ affairs and shouldn’t be too taxing.
For the most part, Islands of Wakfu is a very enjoyable little game, certainly not one of the best XBLA has to offer but the gorgeous cut-scenes and beautiful artistry of the levels make it one of the more attractive. The story is a good one if you can put up with the slightly bonkers terminology used by its inhabitants, and the game has a very nice feeling of momentum overall. Unfortunately the trial and error nature of certain sections and the boss battles in general are frustrating, especially on Initiate difficulty – and, despite the vast range of skills at your disposal, it’s easy to make a mistake that could eventually lead to your downfall. Co-op is functional but only available on a local basis, which feels like a slight afterthought given the online capabilities of the MMORPG Islands of Wakfu is based on. It would be hard to recommend this to any particular demographic, as – in my opinion – it should appeal across the board.
Review: Islands of Wakfu Results
What we liked:
Beautifully attractive game.
Good range of available skills.
Good complimentative balance between the two characters.
What we disliked:
Trial and error gameplay is frustrating.
Eventually just a tad too linear.