You know when you were younger and watched Star Wars for the first time? Remember how excited you were when Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star? Remember how badly you wanted to be in the trench in your own X-Wing, taking down the enemy and pushing out another victory for the good guys?
That’s exactly the kind of vibe I got from Kromaia. It’s Kraken Empire’s first game – a stylized arcade shooter with massively frantic gameplay and a beautiful environment, which is incredibly reminiscent of games from twenty years ago. For some reason, the constant waves of enemies and frantic shooting reminded me massively of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, which was a nice introduction into the game. There hasn’t been a Star Wars X-Wing game since X-Wing Alliance in 1999, so Kromaia was a nice taste of nostalgia for my inner child.
At the beginning of the game, you find yourself in a small room piloting an aircraft with a standard gun to fight against a single enemy, and a scatter gun which allows for multiple attacks to occur at once. It’s all very grey and monotonous, but allows you to test out the controls that were outlined moments before. This is beneficial: the explanation of the controls for someone who isn’t experienced in the genre could be seen as ambiguous, but this area allows you to really get the hang of it before getting down to the main game.
As a quick sidenote, if you do end up playing Kromaia – and you should, especially if you’re a fan of the shooter genre – you should definitely press F1 and experience the game from a first-person perspective. It isn’t something explained to the player and I happened upon it accidentally. It adds massively to the feeling of immersion and is a great way to experience the plethora of what Kromaia has to offer.
There is some kind of story behind the game, but it’s rather vague. From what I was able to gather, you play as a rogue consciousness in the form of a spaceship, guided by a malevolent deity who’s insistent on making you seek revenge on four different Gods found on four different levels. In a game where gameplay is such a prevalent focus, too much story could alienate the player and cause confusion. Nothing felt forced in this aspect. Following the story isn’t essential for completion, it’s an added bonus for anyone who manages to understand it.
Before I go any further, I’ll be honest: I prefer to play games on console over PC, mainly due to my laptop’s awful specs that cause even the most basic of games to lag, along with my reliance on a controller that’s come into fruition from years of playing on various generations of PlayStation. Kromaia is different. Considering the freedom given to the player as they roam around the environment and the number of assets that are fully traversable and fully destructible, the game ran fantastically, even on my primitive piece of technology. Each level has its own unified style which is showcased through the design of buildings, enemies, runes and even the way in which the environment reacts to the player. Everything is works together throughout a level in such a way that an explosion of hues of colour burst forth on the screen, creating an aesthetically pleasing experience for the beholder.
However, one thing I will mention is the issues I found with the physics systems within the game. Although the majority of the time this acts entirely in its favour – allowing the spaceship to make smooth and fast-paced manoeuvers to promptly operate through a level, making for agile and rapid gameplay – it can act as a prohibitor for progression when facing a boss. Upon getting too close to the creature, our meshes would collide and I would glitch out against his body. The noise made when the spaceship makes a collision with an object repeated over and over, becoming louder and louder until it became near deafening. This also occurred a few times when I would be racing around an environment, being chased by hordes of enemies before becoming wedged between two pieces of the environment.
Don’t think that this inhibits the gameplay however; occurrences like these are rare and don’t cause any serious issues. The experience is overall incredibly enjoyable, thanks to Kromaia’s focus on physics and a wide-variety of physical objects found around the environments, which provide exciting and satisfying levels for the player to make their way through. A dynamic range of enemies also adds an enjoyable sense of danger.
What I did find – and what I find with the majority of shooters I play – is that as each level is completed, the repetitive nature of the genre becomes more apparent. Kraken has tried to prevent this by giving the player access to different ships with different abilities across each level – a personal favourite being the melee focused ship with the capability to throw shuriken at oncoming enemies – but Kromaia still falls slightly short in offering true variety. The process of flying through twenty different gate fragments to awaken the sleeping God at the end became slightly monotonous after the second level. For people who are a fan of the shooter genre, this may not be a problem. Monotony is safe if you find a design which works – just look at the old arcade classics that Kromaia is reminiscent of – but due to the other aspects of the game which work so fantastically, I kept on expecting and even wanting more, which unfortunately, never came into fruition.
In an industry where shooters tend to be increasingly homogenous, Kromaia stands out from the crowd. I felt challenged whilst playing: the second boss alone took me around an hour to defeat. In the past couple of months, I’ve become a massive fan of games which don’t guide you through a designated path. Although a compass is provided for to help you pilot their way through a level, following it is entirely optional. If you choose to, you could go in the complete opposite direction and explore the endless environment presented to you. Each level is expansive and a joy to drift your way through. Although design elements are simplistic, the sheer number of assets and the colours presented make for a wondrous lapse of concentration on the goal, taking favour instead of exploration and wonder. At times, despite the gameplay being completely different, the visuals bring to mind nothing less than Mizuguchi’s fantastic Rez – abstract spaces filled with bold splashes of color and an almost Tron-like aesthetic. Kromaia is an incredibly pretty game to look at, though the slight blur filter placed over the visuals can take a bit of getting used to.
Atmosphere plays an important part in any game, and thankfully the music in Kromaia manages to create an atmosphere that is both relevant and enjoyable. The voices used – which sound incoherently English – add a sense of ambiguity to the plot which leaves the players guessing and wanting to progress to learn more about the story. The music is presented in a flurry of cacophonous tones and emphatic inflections which add to the immersion of the spatial surroundings.
Kromaia is a thrilling game and an impressive development feat considering it was created by just two people. If you’re missing something in your life that provides a hectic amalgamation of color, celerity and combat, then look no further. Despite its flaws, the steps that Kraken Empire has taken to make their game stand out from the crowd has paid off and Kromaia would be a fantastic addition to the collection of any fan of the shooter genre.