|1. Super colorful Metroidvania spin-off of the anime “Love Live! Sunshine”|
|2. Interesting choices in combat and exploration aren't necessarily good or bad but give the game a unique feel.|
|3. An overwhelming list of craftable equipment isn't super necessary when you can fight enemies with a summonable wolf.|
I want to be honest up front: I don’t know who Yohane the Parhelion is.
After a basic search, I think that Yohane is a failed pop idol, and her new game is a spin-off of an anime that is a spin-off of another anime, but that’s about it.
This game caught my eye with me knowing less about its source material than I did when I tried out a RWBY game last year.
There are probably fans of Yohane out there who are super pumped about Blaze in the Deepblue for how it ties into the lore. For me, it is just a really fun, really colorful Metroidvania that kept me sane over a few sick days.
The Story So Far…
Let me do my best to summarize the story of Yohane the Parhelion -Blaze in the Deepblue- (yes, that is how the title is written).
Yohane is a (dark) magical girl who works in a small town as a fortune teller, though her community values her skills as a “handyman” more than anything else. Suddenly, and with basically zero build-up or explanation, a labyrinthine dungeon appeared out of and/or beneath the sea, and several folks from town mysteriously disappeared into it. Yohane herself felt beckoned to the dungeon, and with the help of her wolf decided to overcome its challenges and save her friends.
I don’t know if Yohane is known for dungeon delving. I don’t know if her talking wolf is spectral. I don’t know why she summons weapons floating above her hands instead of holding them. I don’t know why every friend you rescue has some sort of amazing magical power they can use to help you.
None of that is really explored in this game in any way, but it also doesn’t feel like it really matters. A lot of Metroidvanias aren’t super concerned about deep narratives, and this one doesn’t care at all.
Thankfully, where Blaze in the Deepblue falls a bit short in the story it is incredibly strong in vibes. The dungeon you explore as Yohane is drawn in fantastic pixel art that is bright and bubbly and vibrant and uses a lot of depth to create really strong environments.
There are several distinct areas to explore, and each one is drawn with a unique color palette to give it a sense of identity. A desert-themed area is all stark yellow with flowing sand, while another space seems to be entirely lit by glowing crystals that give a very quiet and mysterious vibe.
Even the enemies are tweaked to match the environments. Floating turtles always sort of zig-zag across the screen, but a red one with a mound of rocks on its back in the lava area might shoot fireballs at you. There is still a pretty limited bestiary, but variations per area always look fresh, if not offering fresh challenges.
On the gameplay side of things, Blaze in the Deepblue is a bit odd. Movement feels nice and fluid, including as you unlock abilities like double jumps and wall climbing. Combat, on the other hand, is strange. You can attack enemies either with an equipped weapon or by summoning a companion to attack. Your wolf does a basic slash in front of you, while other companions you unlock have bigger and more bombastic abilities.
What makes this combat system weird is that every weapon and summon aside from your wolf uses up mana when you attack. They don’t use a lot of mana, and when you run out you can continue attacking at an HP cost. But still, not being able to use any weapon without seeing my mana tick away meant that I spent most of the game just using my wolf to attack.
The other oddity is that the game overemphasizes hitstopping on every attack. The entire game pausing to emphasize each hit makes it feel really impactful, and the bit of refresh time between attacks reinforces that. Most games have some amount of hitstop, but it feels way stronger here than I expected.
On some bosses, you can basically juggle yourself by swapping back and forth between attacks to stay in the air. This aspect of the combat isn’t bad, but it definitely took some getting used to compared to other Metroidvanias.
There is also some oddity to the exploration side of the Metroidvania equation in Blaze in the Deepblue. Progress in this game is gated both by obstacles that your summoned companions can destroy and by hurdles that new traversal abilities allow you to overcome.
When you’ve seen the same horizontal slab of stone blocking your progress 6 times, then beat a boss and unlock a summon that is a glorified butt slam it’s exciting. You are rewarded for defeating the boss with immediate access to so much more of the map.
What’s weird is that the mobility upgrades aren’t behind bosses. Instead, they are just in treasure chests that just sort of exist in the world. Whenever you enter a room with a chest it is marked on the map, and it took me more than half the game to understand how to see the visual difference between chests that were random treasure, chests that let me upgrade my companions, and chests that contained required traversal abilities.
This isn’t an objectively bad design, but opening a chest I thought would give me crafting items I didn’t care about and instead gaining the ability to move through the world in a new way felt weird.
Finally, I’ve got to talk about the one design element of Blaze in the Deepblue that I don’t understand at all. Metroidvanias tend to fall into one of two camps on how your character gets stronger. In Metroid games, killing individual enemies is worthless, because upgrades come from finding specific items to either boost your power or ammunition. In Castlevania games, each enemy you kill nets you experience points until you level up and become more powerful.
In Blaze in the Deepblue, every enemy you defeat has the chance of dropping crafting materials. Whenever you gather enough to make a new item, a glowing icon appears at the top center of your screen (thankfully you can turn this off). That icon prompts you to pause the game and open the massive list of MORE THAN 70 CRAFTABLE WEAPONS AND ACCESSORIES.
I counted, but then I lost count.
At the start of the game you can only equip one weapon and one item, and finding chests throughout the game can bump that up to one weapon and 3 items. Every weapon has stats for how much damage it does vs how much MP it costs, while every piece of apparel gives you a certain amount of HP and MP.
Some of them have additional stats, but mostly that’s it. Maybe this system sounds great for some of you, but for me, it was just a constant nag to pause the game, open the crafting menu, craft whatever new items were available, close the crafting menu, open the equipment menu, and see if I was wearing the strongest stuff.
I’ve been playing a lot of Metroidvanias lately and played Yohane the Parhelion -Blaze in the Deepblue- almost back-to-back with Aria of Sorrow when I was home sick last week. I don’t think that this is anywhere near a perfect game, but it has an amazing art style, a colorful cast of characters, and enough momentum that every time I thought “I’ll just get to the next boss and then take a nap”, I just kept playing instead.
I don’t know if this is a must-play for fans of the show, but I know that fans of the genre can easily pick this one up for a quick, breezy game in a delightful environment.
Just don’t get too hung up on crafting new gear.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Terrifying Turtles
|Title:||Yohane the Parhelion -Blaze in the Deepblue-|
|Release Date:||November 16, 2023|
|ESRB Rating:||E for Everyone|
|Number of Players:||1|
|Platforms:||Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam|
|How Long to Beat:||8 Hours|
|Recommended for fans of:||Magical Girls, Good Dogs, and Exploring Dungeons|