I like a good gender-swap story as much as the next guy or gal. So I’m glad to see an indie game based on the concept that there’s a mischievous witch who curses people by turning them into all sorts of things, including switching their gender. The titular Xen is that witch and when an adventurer in a fantasy kingdom runs afoul of her, he gets turned into a girl, thus beginning the RPG adventure of Victim of Xen.
Will is a tough swordsman who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. His village stands up to Xen when there’s a political shift in the kingdom, so she punishes several villagers by polymorphing them into various things. Will ends up as a cute anime girl and, to dispel this curse, he must chase the witch around the world.
The early parts of this story play out much like any drag farce based on the same idea. Yes, Will fends off amorous advances, endures the indignities of being dressed for a formal party and of course he draws the attention of a randy nobleman. Will can still fight well enough, though, and his quest for manhood looks and plays like any classic JRPG.
Character icons for conversations and combat are drawn in gorgeous manga style, but when traveling the world, the characters all appear in super-deformed blocky style. When combat begins (be it boss fight, or random battle), players have the standard allotment of ATTACK, ITEM, DEFEND, SPECIAL ATTACK, and ESCAPE menu options. Will gathers gold to buy new and better weapons and armor, of course he also gains Experience Points from killing monsters to level up. Will and his party of adventurers even end up flying around in an airship eventually! It should all be very familiar to fans of the genre.
Victim of Xen doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s a classic JRPG that plays pretty must the same as the Final Fantasy games did fifteen years ago. There are no bells and whistles in terms of mechanics for fighting or exploration, but the game does this simple style in a competent way. There aren’t combat animations, but rather portraits of the enemies appear when a battle starts and very simple effects represent the player’s attacks. The music and especially the art will help keep players interested while hammering the space bar to select the default attack and default target over and over again.
Unfortunately the fun gender change set-up is very quickly written out of the story. After about an hour of playtime, Will is cured of this transformation and afflicted with yet another (less fun) one. Making matters worse from a story perspective, is that less than halfway through the game, Will finds that the only way to cure his problem is to find the missing shards of a magic orb. The unusual premise of a magical sex-change quickly becomes yet another use of the biggest cliché video game quest plot device there is: “Assemble the lost pieces of the mystic Plot Device”.
Another problem is that it is very easy to get ahead of where the designers want you to be at the start of the game. This can result in long exploration of a section of the world before triggering the encounter that launches the main story. There’s also a bug that can cause the game to crash shortly after defeating the first boss. In terms of story, there are some likeable characters, including a playful girl who’s just discovering the world outside her village. The idea behind the character of Xen is great too. Plus there’s a complex story of political intrigue that Will eventually becomes tangled up in while trying return to his original body.
Alas, the most interesting aspect of the story, the gender change, ends up being a brief subplot for yet another quest to assemble the ancient Thingamabob. Still, it does do a good job of recapturing that classic feel and the manga artwork looks terrific – fans of classic JRPG’s will probably get a good dose of nostalgia out of Victim of Xen. It has a rather short playing time, around five hours (less if you blow off the side quests), so it’s more of a snack for gamers hungry for a return to the days of the SNES.[review pros="Funny, unusual story line. Great art" cons="Adds nothing new to JRPG formula. The occasional bug." score=71]