Supergiant Games follows up their hit debut title, Bastion, with a new game for the PS4 and PC that offers a breath of fresh air for the strategy RPG genre.
What Is It?
Transistor begins with our heroine Red pulling the titular Transistor sword out of a mysterious man’s chest as it begins to speak to her. Voiced by Logan Cunningham, the narrator in Bastion, the irony is that the Transistor can speak to Red while her famous voice has been stolen. It may sound like the same situation as Bastion’s narrator, but Transistor is an active participant in the action and he talks to her throughout the story that is a big difference from his role as just the narrator of the hero’s actions in Bastion.
The story itself is centered around this computer-controlled city that is being taken over by a mysterious virus called The Process that is essentially wiping the city out and killing citizens. A group called the Camerata are behind this viral force that is taking over the city, which is where Red and Transistor are headed to try to stop it before it’s too late. Along the way, you’ll find terminals offering messages, news articles, and other bits of story that adds greatly to the underlying tale of this city and what life was like here before things went horribly wrong.
Why Should I Care?
While Transistor looks like a traditional action-RPG, it is actually more of a strategy RPG that greatly changes some of the traditional features of the genre to make this a faster, more customizable experience compared to legends, such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. As you explore the levels, you’ll come upon encounters with enemies naturally, which is where the turn mode comes into play. Pressing the right trigger button pauses the world and brings up a new view of the battle that shows all of the enemies around you with a bar at the top of the screen representing the amount of moves that you can perform on that turn, which then gives you unlimited time to access the situation and figure out which attacks to use on each enemy to take them out as efficiently as possible. Once you exit turn mode, Red does everything lightning fast to make this the preferred way to tackle every encounter instead of fighting in real-time.
The other cool part of Transistor is the function system that lets you customize all of your actions to tailor your attacks to fit your fighting style. As you play and level up, you’ll earn quite a few functions that have a wide variety of effects that can be slotted in any of the three types of slots. There are four active slots representing the base forms of your main attacks, which are are mapped to the face buttons. Those attacks can be upgraded with up to two functions each that alter or enhance the active function’s effects. In addition to those direct effects, the four passive slots let you slot functions into them to augment aspects of your abilities or add some new effects to the way you play the game. To help you wrap your mind around all of the possibilities this system offers, the access points where you can mess with your slotted functions also offers information on each function that gives you a list of all the possible combos that can be made with that function. It’s a ridiculously neat mechanic that offers a lot of freedom to decide what sort of attacks you want to fight with to fit your style.
As great as Transistor’s unique mechanics are, it still has plenty of faults. The fact that you can only mess with your function loadout at specific access/save points is disappointing and it feels like it discourages experimenting with new loadouts as much as you could. The HUD for Turn mode sometimes bugs out and doesn’t show health/damage numbers for enemies that you’re planning to attack. The Turn mode could also use some direct control with the right stick to get a better view of your surroundings instead of just running around to see what is around you, then undoing that movement as a tedious workaround. The subtle tutorials for the battle system can be a bit too subtle to surprise those that don’t understand all of the subtleties right away with the lack of hand-holding tutorials.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Supergiant Games has done a great job with their follow-up to the acclaimed Bastion by putting out a unique take on the strategy RPG genre that we haven’t seen since Valkyria Chronicles infused third-person shooter controls into the traditional strategy RPG mechanics. Transistor doesn’t overstay its welcome at about six hours long with a new game plus mode that keeps your level and functions around while ramping up the difficulty quickly with the same sorts of tougher enemies appearing that you saw near the end of your first time through the game. Even with the PS4 and Steam’s wealth of indies this year, Transistor stands out as one of the top indie games of 2014 so far.