A while back I posted about The Desolate Room, a game that never quite grabbed me. I’ve argued before that bad games can still be worth playing if they’re interesting enough, and there were in fact some interesting mechanics at the hart of The Desolate Room, but the game’s flaws outweighed these for me. I was left, however, with an interest in checking out the newer offerings from ScottGames, like the fairly recent sequel, The Desolate Hope. But rather than jump right to their most recent release, I decided to go through the ScottGames catalog in order, which meant starting with their next game, Iffermoon.

Iffermoon, like The Desolate Room, could be classified as a Japanese-style role-playing game due to its party-based, separate-screen battle system full of charge bars and special abilities. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Outside of combat, the player guides Silence, the young protagonist, through the various locales of the planet of Dinostria in side-scrolling fashion, stopping to chat with the diverse inhabitants and collecting various items along the way. There’s no real platforming; the side-view is merely the method for traveling around, and acts as a showcase for the strikingly imaginative and beautiful locations as well as some really fantastic character designs for the people you will meet. These, as well as the rather unorthodox story, were the main draws for me.

This was somewhat surprising, given that the combat system was the best part of The Desolate Room. Iffermoon’s combat is similar, but runs in real-time, with characters automatically using basic, weak attacks. The player is in control of special abilities, which require characters to build up charge before they can be used. Like The Desolate Room, these abilities often complement one another, like the Teleportation skills which can boost the damage from Elemental attacks. But with everything progressing in real-time I felt there was less opportunity for true strategy, as I was trying to make quick decisions without wasting time. It also meant that I spent all my time looking at skill menus and didn’t have much chance to watch the pretty particle effects exploding over the screen as my characters did battle with the enemy. The combat is certainly not bad by any means, but I wasn’t as taken with it as I’d been in The Desolate Room.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of other things to do besides fight. Foremost among these is collecting new characters to join the party. There’s a large roster of characters that can be found (some harder to find than others), but most will ask you to perform some tasks before they will actually be available in combat. Some of these tasks are of the grindy type that bothered me so much in The Desolate Room — usually running around and collecting objects that are strewn over the floor, or fighting a bunch of battles — but in Iffermoon these activities are made somewhat less annoying because there’s usually something else to do at the same time, like explore a new area or travel between points in the storyline. Best of all, recruiting new characters is completely optional, and the player can complete the storyline just with the starting party if desired. There are other ways to improve one’s combat ability, too. Three different sub-games are available in Iffermoon, accessed through arcade cabinets, and each offers rewards that boost overall combat effectiveness. I was particularly taken with Stellargun, a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up that’s simple but solid. Finishing the highest level of Stellargun (no easy feat!) granted me a very powerful once-per-battle ability for each of my characters that made the standard combats a breeze. Which was nice, because it let me go through the storyline with no trouble at all.

And the story is definitely one of the highlights. The titular Iffermoon once orbited the world of Dinostria, creating and guiding the life on the planet below, until one day it crashed and strife was introduced to the world. Or so most believe. What’s certain is that Iffer, the substance the Iffermoon once used to alter reality, has now spread over the world, and reality has become mutable. Indeed it is the power of Iffer that lets Silence bring his allies to battle; it poses and answers the question “what would happen if they were here?” and thus battles can be won without Silence’s allies ever actually showing up. The full tale features enough of this kind of brain-bending to make it quite engaging, all while leading the player through a variety of gorgeous locales. I don’t want to spoil these locations, but I must stress how interesting they are, not only visually but in how they relate to the world and its workings. Uncovering a new vista or learning a new tidbit about life on Dinostria spice up what is mechanically just a series of battles, and when it’s all finished, the player is still free to wander and try some extra challenges. There are several secrets to find and apparently a hard mode to unlock for those seeking a true test of skill, although I did not pursue it myself. Indeed, one of the biggest strengths of Iffermoon is that it has something to offer if you just want to see the story, or if you want to overcome every challenge, or something in between.

It’s certainly not for everyone. It’s decidedly odd, and there’s a lot of backtracking and some definite grinding required if you decide to tackle some of the optional content, but Iffermoon is a stronger and more cohesive game than The Desolate Room. Best of all, it’s available for free from ScottGames’ site (scroll down). If you’re looking for something a bit unique, consider giving it a try. You might find Dinostria to be a refreshing place to visit.