Free Cheap to be Weird is a kind of spotlight/written let’s play of small, free cheap, indie games. When most people think small, free cheap, and indie they probably imagine some YouTube fodder making loud sharp noises and calling itself “horror”. We won’t be talking about those. Free Cheap to be Weird is going to be about unique ideas from voices that might otherwise get lost in the internet. I can’t guarantee they’ll be any good, but I can guarantee they’ll be interesting.
Okay so I’m cheating a bit here by talking about a game that isn’t free. It costs 1.99 USD on Steam but it’s pretty reliably on sale for half that, often less. I think I got mine for 75 cents. I defy you to find something in a convenience store that cheap. Well, enough justifying myself, let’s get into it!
Your experience may vary
There isn’t much to say about this game gameplay wise. It’s an RPG Maker game without combat. You move with the move keys and push a button to interact with people and objects. There are choices in text boxes. You can collect money, but you don’t need more than $20. There’s a driving section in the beginning. It wasn’t terrible, but I totally ran a naked old man over in the bicycle lane and nobody cared. There are some reused assets along with new ones, but I wasn’t too bothered (It was actually kind of funny that the Monk from Last Dream was recast to play an obnoxious cashier, and I’m pretty sure the last elf Helios played the funeral home director).Oh yeah, and I beat it in 90 minutes. Like, the whole game. I know there are alternate endings and whatnot, but that’s a pretty bold move these days with a non free game. I think it’s worth my 2$ however, and I’ll tell you why.
Naked Old Man aka the real hero
Spiritually, Grefox is a lot closer to a point and click adventure game than what we traditionally call an RPG. Though unlike most RPGs I play, this is a Game where you Play a Role. I really stepped into this protagonist’s shoes and felt her fear, disgust and insecurity. You make choices, but they don’t matter in the sense of gaining good/evil powers, or unlocking a sex scene with a space alien. They matter because they make me feel sad and uneasy, because they’re affecting the soul of the protagonist and the lives of the people she judges.
(Minor spoliers from here on)
The story begins with you playing a young woman who has just decided to quit. Quit her job, leave her apartment and spend the rest of her life in a retirement community named Grefox. After a short driving sequence, she arrives at the town and then just kind of dicks about until a room opens up. There is a sequence of (arbitrary as hell) events to progress of course but for the most part it feels pretty open. You can do random tasks like pick up dog poop for money but the point here is to make small talk with the inhabitants. They’re mostly pretty negative. Sometimes sad, usually funny but kind of a downer all around and obviously not what the protagonist was expecting. Eventually she get’s a room, calls it a night, and dreams about a mysterious woman. Mysterious Woman(that’s what the game calls her) turns the protagonist old, and offers her the chance to live the lives of four old people and decide their ultimate fate.
From this point the story resembles a (slightly) less mean-spirited and far more mature retelling of Tales From the Crypt, where Mysterious Woman is the Crypt Keeper and you are the bitter irony. I won’t spoil anything else, but all four tales are equally funny, sad and harrowing even while they maintain a different tone and feel for the limited size and scope. The dialog is no Planescape: Torment but it’s also lightyears ahead of Last Dream. The writing is clear, clean and conveys all of the meaning it needs to, even if it can be a bit on the nose(Mysterious Lady really does sound like the Crypt Keeper at times).
Also, things get weird
Free to be Weird is a kind of spotlight/written let’s play of small, free, indie games. When most people think small, free, and indie they probably imagine some YouTube fodder making loud sharp noises and calling itself “horror”. We won’t be talking about those. Free to be Weird is going to be about unique ideas from voices that might otherwise get lost in the internet. I can’t guarantee they’ll be any good, but I can guarantee they’ll be interesting.
This game is like Always Sometimes Monsters had a baby with I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. It’s not as good as either, and I know a lot of people will be put off by the short time it takes to finish, but I can say without hyperbole that very few pieces of narrative, let alone videogames, made me feel so deeply