Thymesia Review - Hunter Homage

Drawing from Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Thymesia creates a Souls-like experience that iterates on what's most important about From's beloved titles.

A lot of games have drawn inspiration from the works of From Software, with varying degrees of success. While many developers look to emulate that high degree of challenge that comes from the likes of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro, they often miss the fact that it’s From’s thoughtful, tight gameplay and deliberate encounter design that makes these games fun, not just a punishing difficulty. Thymesia, a 3D action game that draws heavy influence from some specific From titles, manages to strike that balance successfully, creating a Souls-like that taps into the same rewarding moments provided by its biggest inspirations.

Thymesia draws most obviously from two of From Software’s games: the aggressive, horror-inspired Bloodborne, and the fast-paced, duel-focused Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And to be sure, developer Overborder Studio owes a lot to its inspirations. Like Bloodborne, Thymesia is about a lone warrior wandering into a plague-stricken world where everyone infected has turned into a maddened, bloodthirsty killer. It has a similar atmosphere to Bloodborne and even its protagonist, Corvus, looks a bit like a Yarnham Hunter–more accurately, Hunter of Hunters Eileen the Crow.

Like most Souls games, Thymesia drops you into the middle of a weird situation without much explanation and leaves you to figure out what you’re facing as you explore its world and kill the people you find there. It all takes place in a kingdom called Hermes, which is apparently located in the canopy of an enormous tree. The world has been beset by a plague that infects people and animals, mutating them and turning them into monsters. Until now, Hermes managed to deal with the plague through the study and use of alchemy, but something has gone wrong, Hermes has succumbed, and nobody knows what to do.

As Corvus, some sort of superpowered fighter with a connection to the alchemists trying to cure the plague, your job in Thymesia is to remember what happened. Each level in the game is actually a lengthy recollection of a past event, and Corvus has previously ventured through three different locales in the kingdom and killed the monsters found there. However, the question of whether those memories are trustworthy is floating around in the background as you work through these areas once again. The whole story is a little thin; it’s not especially clear who Corvus is, why he’s such a great fighter of plague monsters, or how he got these memories the other characters want him to examine. It’s tough to patch together exactly what’s going on even as you scour the game world for notes and clues. When the things you’ve learned culminate in Thymesia’s ending, which requires you to make specific choices based on what you’ve learned, it’s not particularly clear what the game wanted you to take away, or why.

Though there’s a fair amount of story to uncover, it’s not the star of the show in Thymesia. That, instead, is the fast-paced, offense-heavy gameplay that has you ripping through small enemies and battling some tougher, more inventive bosses.

The key mechanics of Thymesia are basically ripped straight out of Bloodborne and Sekiro, and both are used to great effect. Bloodborne is a game that eschews blocking for aggression and dodging, while Sekiro mostly encourages players to duel and deflect incoming attacks with their blade in order to be successful. Thymesia puts major focus on similar ideas: You have a sword in each hand for the entirety of the game, using them to slash away at enemies and, when timed correctly, parry incoming attacks. You’ll alternate between agile avoidance with quick dodges and standing your ground against volleys of blows. Tight, responsive controls and expressive character animations mean that both approaches are highly satisfying–you’ll quickly learn to spot when you need to parry an attack, and get a knack for where your dodges will take you and how to best outmaneuver almost any foe.

Thymesia Review - Hunter Homage
Gallery

The game’s fast combat works exceedingly well, finding the same tough-but-rewarding cadence of both Sekiro and Bloodborne. Though you’ll occasionally fight multiple enemies at a time, Thymesia is largely a game about tough duels and carefully planning your attacks. You want to do as much damage to your enemies as possible, without overcommitting–as in Soulsborne games, hitting attack buttons can lock you into animations that make you vulnerable to counterattack. In fact, oftentimes, defense is the best offense, since deflecting attacks not only protects you, but it can wreck the health bars of your opponents.

Where Overborder steps away from From Software is in how it deals with health in Thymesia, and in the various means of playstyle customization it affords you. Enemies in Thymesia take two kinds of damage: “wounds” damage and damage to their overall health. When you attack with your sword, for instance, you do damage by inflicting these “wounds” on enemies. Regular attacks decrease a white wounds health bar, leaving a green overall health bar underneath. The plague causes wounds to heal automatically, so after a short time, the white health bar recharges to the same length as the green health bar. Thus, the only way to really damage enemies is to hit them with a special, high-powered claw attack that specifically targets the green health bar, whittling it down so you can ultimately drain both bars and perform an execution move.

The claw doesn’t really damage the white health bar but drastically damages the green one, so you need to chain your standard attacks together with the claw attack. The tradeoff is that the claw takes a moment to charge up, potentially leaving you vulnerable. So in practice, combat becomes a quick and elaborate dance, requiring you to plan various moves and string them together with parries to actually deal damage, while also making sure not to overdo it and leave yourself open. Battling bosses often comes down to playing defensively with parries and dodges, dealing them wounds damage, before waiting for an opening to get in some quick claw strikes to actually hurt them long-term. Because parrying deals damage to opponents, you’re incentivized to attack aggressively and to master the timing of blocks, turning all aspects of the fight against your opponent.

It’s these combat mechanics that make Thymesia a blast to play, especially once you get the hang of them and fall into a rhythm. The game also brings to bear several other good ideas that add to the underlying, strong mechanics borrowed from Soulsborne games. The claw attack, for instance, can be charged up, and if you max it out, you’ll actually wrench away a spectral “plague weapon” from your enemy, which you can then use in the fight yourself. As you face opponents, they’ll occasionally drop items called skill shards, which give you training in their particular weapon. With skill shards, you can unlock and then level up plague weapons and then equip them at Thymesia’s save points, which function like Bloodborne’s lanterns or Sekiro’s idol statues. Thus, you can steal weapons from enemies as you’re fighting them for single-use special attacks, or rely on the equipped weapon you brought, drawing on a resource you have to recharge called Energy. The plague weapons give you a wide range of additional kinds of attacks that can give you an edge in a fight, and the claw’s ability to steal a weapon from someone annoying you with it provides a handy means of changing tactics on the fly mid-battle.

Thymesia Review - Hunter Homage
Gallery

Thymesia relies on a similar leveling system to Bloodborne, Sekiro, and the Souls games, but with another smart addition. Like those games, you gather a resource (Memories) from enemies you kill that you can spend at save points to level up, increasing your base stats. Every time you do, however, you unlock a talent point, which you can invest into one of a bunch of different skill trees. These give you a host of possible upgrades, like different kinds of dodges, a parry that trades off damage dealt from deflections for less exacting timing, a damage boost for your weapons, or the ability to gain health from executions. That last one really defines how Thymesia feels–every enemy is left vulnerable to an execution when you do enough damage to both health bars, so playing aggressively and racking up kills restores your health, allowing you to stockpile your small batch of healing potions (which function just like the Estus flask of Souls games). It’s a great incentive to push your capabilities in every fight, adding to the Bloodborne focus on aggression by marrying it to a Sekiro-like cinematic execution system.

You can change and reset skills whenever you want, and there are a wide variety of different ones at your disposal. Some require you to build out a specific tree by choosing multiple skills, and sometimes, picking one skill tree closes off another. It all works to allow you to define a very specific, very customized playstyle–but it’s also one that you can change at any save point, almost whenever you want. Between the skill system and the tight, responsive combat, Thymesia’s gameplay is highly satisfying, adding a host of its own cool ideas to its underlying inspirations.

Boss fights are where the best elements of Thymesia’s combat come together with inventive enemy designs, a group that feels like a Soulsborne greatest hits record. You’ve got your fast-moving duelist, your big knight in armor with a huge sword, your giant monster, and your puzzle-heavy fight filled with regular enemies. No two boss fights are similar to the others, giving you a quick smattering of ideas that each challenge you in different ways, while still meshing well with Thymesia’s underlying gameplay foundation. A few of them are pretty difficult, too, with multiple phases and mechanics you’ll need to observe, learn, and circumvent in order to survive. It was in the game’s first major boss fight, with an agile, disappearing magician called Odur, that the game really hit its stride and endeared itself to me for the next 10 hours.

Thymesia also draws on some of the weaker things about the Soulsborne games, and can’t always quite deliver on the inspirations to which it’s trying to pay homage. The story is presented in a similarly sparse fashion the From games are known for, and is similarly disjointed and haphazard. While there are some good ideas within it, I felt like I missed a few major beats, despite having put in the work to play all of the levels and scour all of its corners. What specifically doesn’t work about it is the ending, where you’re forced to make a choice without really knowing what it means or why you’re doing it. The plot of Thymesia is something of a minor concern, since the focus is wholly on the gameplay, but there’s enough there that it’s clear Overborder Studios cared about the tale it was trying to tell–it just struggles to land it.

Thymesia Review - Hunter Homage
Thymesia Review - Hunter Homage

And, as in Soulsborne games, levels are huge affairs with multiple paths that circle back and forth on each other, allowing you to find shortcuts to reach different sections over and over again. After you finish the first memory in one of Thymesia’s three main areas, you can return to it to delve further in additional levels, fighting other bosses or uncovering bits of story. Those later levels often send you on different pathways through the original one, focusing on different sections of the map you’ve already seen, or even sending you to find pathways into new areas altogether.

The trouble is, each of the three big locales is extremely easy to get lost in, and you’ll often find yourself wandering around in circles, trying to find the one ladder or doorway that you missed. The looping level design makes all the areas feel maze-like and confusing, with backgrounds and landmarks a little too samey to make for easy navigation, and shortcuts rarely are important enough to warrant the effort required in finding them.

Generally, Thymesia is a quick overall experience, and that can play a little to its detriment as well. There’s a decent variety of enemies carrying a different smattering of weapons, and those weapons generally determine how those enemies fight. You’ll also see tougher variants on most of those enemies, who suck up more damage, hit harder, and generally require you to think harder about how to kill. Especially revisiting the same major locations over and over, though, you’ll run into the same enemy types quite a bit, and it’s not hard to develop a rhythm in taking them down. Once you’ve spent a few hours in the game, a lot of these fights become trivial as you repeat the same actions to rip through enemies over and over. Tougher minibosses shake things up, and all the boss fights are a delight, but the smaller scale of Thymesia works against it in making it a little too easy to get so good at the game that you rip through most enemies.

Still, at 10 hours, Thymesia is short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. You wind up feeling more like a general badass than a vastly overpowered killing machine for the most part, and the game’s great ideas culminate in some intense, memorable boss fights. While a few elements of the overall experience don’t gel, Thymesia understands what matters most about its inspirations, while adding a few spins of its own to create a small, smart, and rewarding Souls-like experience.

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