Thymesia is the latest title donning the mask of “Soulslike”. This time around, it takes inspiration from Plague Doctors, while trying to fill a hole that was Borne a fair few years ago.
The Man in the Fragrant Mask
Thymesia puts you behind the plague mask of “Corvus”. They’re the kingdom’s last hope at stopping a maddening disease. And wouldn’t you know it? The key to all of this lies within your fragmented memories.
Because traditional narrative storytelling is so 2000s, Thymesia puts the larger narrative into cutscenes and leaves the intricacies strewn around the Memories in the form of collectible notes.
Doctor Doctor Please
Fortunately, this way of telling the story isn’t quite as obtuse as some games that put essential lore in the description of items; it does require you to stop and put the pieces together. This is especially due to the fragmented state it’s told in due to Corvus’ poor mental state.
The story never really captivated me and none of the characters felt especially memorable. This isn’t helped by the way the bosses are presented, which I’ll touch upon later on in the review. Sadly the Plague Doctor aspect of the game feels underutilized due to the game wanting to match the tone of its peers.
Plague Borne from Souls
Thymesia is an action RPG very much in the style of “Souls”. You know the type by now; Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and even The Surge. They’re tough 3rd Person Action RPGs that revolve around pattern memorization, quick reflexes, and even quicker deaths.
Your character is quite a nimble little Plague Doctor. While fun, it does restrict how you tackle the game. This is a feeling that seeps throughout; you have some freedom over your build, but you don’t get the chance to play as something akin to a tank or mage.
While playing Thymesia, you’ll spend your time going between “memories” to solve the mystery of the plot. These act as your levels, segmenting the world into parts. This is quite different from a giant world like the illusion presented in titles like Dark Souls or Bloodborne. For those familiar, it’s more akin to the earlier Demon Souls, where there is a clear distinction between the worlds.
The memories are all horror and plague-themed locations ripped out of the 1600s such as Carnivals, ruined villages, and forests. As you play through, you’ll be unlocking shortcuts as you go and taking down everything in your sight until you reach the boss of the memory.
Just Because You Can, That Doesn’t Mean You Should
While the gameplay loop is nothing new, chances are if you’ve played any Soulslike you’ll fall right into the Exploration and Combat fusion very quickly. It’s more in the combat and leveling where Thymesia tries to differentiate from its peers for better and for worse.
Thymesia employs a dual health bar system. One is for health and the other is similar to a guard. Take down the guard and the health will soon start going down much faster. While you can whittle most enemies’ health down with regular attacks, it’s much quicker to employ your “claw” attack after a barrage of hits. This knocks the enemies’ guard down and leads to a swift death for all who oppose you.
A fully charged claw attack also bestows on you a “plague” weapon which acts as a temporary sub-weapon. When activated this can also give you temporary boosts such as teleporting.
Other ways of depleting this guard bar are to successfully deflect attacks within a very short deflection window or by throwing “feathers” to parry. These are great for stopping the bar from refilling and putting you back where you started. That said, the “feather parry” and several other aspects of the game could do with being tweaked or explained better.
While a unique way of tackling combat it does tend to fluff the boss fights with what feels like additional unnecessary steps. I could be wrong but I think a similar feature was in Sekiro and it wasn’t something I enjoyed there either.
Remember, Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases
There are many skill trees to jump into to try and customize your character. These affect aspects like how your scythe attack handles, your deflection, what type of claw you have, and how you handle health or energy regeneration. This feels quite in-depth and allows amazing freedom for your character in some ways, but doesn’t quite replace the fact that you are stuck with only the stock weaponry. You never can escape the feeling of fighting like a nimble thief.
Permanent Subweapons are there to unlock. These are tied to the energy meter, and through exploration, taking down stronger foes, and finding items, you can change the properties of your options.
The balancing in the game is quite bizarre. Very early on, you’ll hit the wall that is the first boss and they are a nightmare. I’m aware that “Soulslikes” are famed for difficulty, but this spike comes out of nowhere and even introduces attacks that can end the fight very quickly. It leaves your only option as to get the heck out of Dodge when you see the on-screen prompt.
While the game maintains a degree of difficulty, this first boss remains the toughest challenge the game has to offer. Later bosses are more gimmicks over challenge. Further in, you can run a build that essentially breaks the difficulty somewhat, which makes the first few hours a tough slog compared to the latter half.
The feel of the game is quite floaty and never feels quite as tight as it should do. Sadly this results in an almost cheap feeling with the gameplay.
You Look A Little Green Behind The Gills
Visually Thymesia nails the Plague Horror aesthetic. The locations are fairly varied, but all fit the theme. Enemy designs range from interesting to “infected” citizens. It’s never anything too awe-inspiring, but nothing strays from the set look and it has some wonderfully grotesque stuff going on.
The color pallet seems to be a mixture of greens and browns sending players back into the days of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3. Again, I suppose this fits the tone of the game, especially the green, but it made the levels feel rather samey in tone despite the variation.
Graphically the game is fine. While not the levels of other titles we could mention and it certainly doesn’t look like something distinctly “current gen”, the animations are good and the cutscenes are done well.
Audio features a lot of ambiance, and the sound effects do a good job of letting you know what’s happening. It’s a shame there aren’t any more audio cues to clue you into what attack is coming next, but it’s a fair effort overall.
The distinct lack of voice acting negatively affects the game. Boss dialogue appears in the form of subtitles, which are rather distracting when you’re one slip up away from the game over screen. It just detracts from the product as a whole when this happens.
Thymesia is a great idea, but it feels like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be its own thing or march to the beat of the Souls Drum. This hampers the product, alongside the loose feeling, lack of feedback in combat, and non-appearance of voice acting.
In a post-Elden Ring world, we need to be looking at innovative and unique additions to a genre that has seemingly reached its apex. Sadly Thymesia seems to be solely carried by dated and constructive design, alongside an interesting theme.
WAIT FOR SALE ON THYMESIA
Many thanks go to Team17 for a PC review code for this title.
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