Okay, let me get this out of the way first, the following is a review of a doujinshi (fan) game for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I will warn you now, if you have not watched the series yet, I suggest you bypass this article until you have seen it through because this post will contain more spoilers than a Nascar rally. So if you don’t want anything spoiled, go watch it… Now… You have been warned.
Okay, so let’s figure out who made Grief Syndrome. Why it’s our friend from Twilight Frontier, Tasofro. Tasofro has an affectionate place in my heart for co-developing with ZUN Touhou 7.5: Immaterial and Missing Power and Touhou 10.5: Scarlet Weather Rhapsody (and the 12.3 expansion pack Touhou Hisoutensoku). There’s plenty more to their repertoire too, all worth checking out, so these guys have been in the business before and are, in a way, a name you can trust for the doujin gamer.
Anyways, Grief Syndrome is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up where you play as one of the girls from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. You go through many of the major conflicts of the series, ending in the climatic showdown against Walpurgisnacht. After this short five stage jog, you can start a new lap through the game and fight again with your powered up characters and exponentially powered up enemies. The game rewards score-running and time-attacking. Don’t expect lap 1 to be the most filling experience, but that’s fine, these kinds of games are meant to be like this.
True to beat ’em up nature, it’s always so much more fun with friends. The game supports up to three players each playing as one of the five girls. Life is kept track by a “soul limit” timer near the girl’s Soul Gem. Even if a girl is healthy, the limit will slowly tick down and you’re dead for good once it hits zero. You will naturally recover damage, but your limit will deplete faster when you regenerate. Dying also causes a massive amount of your “time to live” to be wasted. But fret not, you have a wide arsenal of moves at your disposal from basic attacks to four different special attacks (think Smash Bros.), and a super move that temporarily sacrifices HP and is given back to you with no penalty to your Soul Limit. Though should you be hit while recovering your sacrificed life, the unhealed portion will turn into damage.
There’s a variety of styles, but bear in mind, not all characters are equal. Madoka is great as expected of a main character. Projectiles make combos a cinch, and her ability to charge her arrows and camp in mid-air makes short work of enemies. Sayaka and Kyouko both have great solo-run capabilities as melee fighters or of course attracting enemy attention. Homura has her explosives and time stops, which are very useful in many situations and very powerful to compensate for her lower Soul Limit. Mami is perhaps the most difficult (perhaps as a sort of shoutout to her early death?) to use thanks to her range and damage paling in comparison to Madoka and Homura. However she is very rewarding to use and there’s something to be said when you polish off a boss with a well-timed Trio Finale. At time of writing there was also an update rather recently that fixed a few bugs and added pre-time warp Homura, who plays differently with her hilarious golf clubs.
The game is very well designed graphically. Tasofro animated very wonderful sprites of the characters, and while the enemy designs can get repetitive (a beat’em up and hack-n-slash genre weakness), they are all true to form to the anime, each one as if it was lifted right from the series. All of the menus, music, and interface burst with the series’ general style, including the weird cipher-text that appears under the bosses’ names. Lots of the series is incorporated into the game. There are many alternate future endings depending on who survives at the end of a run. You can even enter a bonus fight against Octavia if you let Sayaka die. Quite clever overall.
When all’s said and done, reviewing a doujin game is a bit different from say, a commercially published game. A game like Grief Syndrome is a game for the fans by the fans, so rubrics for story and graphics and such are a bit more odd. Tasofro did a fine job with this game, though part of the the level design was frustrating for one stage. But nailing down many of the series’ themes and other high notes was accomplished elegantly. The cast is varied in playstyle, and I would highly recommend taking this game down with some friends. If you’re a fan of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I’d say Grief Syndrome is worth a shot if you’ve got the time.
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