Upon discovering Page Chronica, my thought process immediately compared it to the sport of chess boxing. Yes, that’s a thing, and to me, idea of switching between the act of playing a thinking game and a physical sport is a brilliant combination.
Page Chronica starts off with Topez, a bored apprentice in a mythical place known as the Infinite Palace. The master of Infinite Palace also happens to be the one who protects people’s dreams and stories from being corrupted. On one fateful day, she stumbles upon a very bizarre book and decides to open it, unleashing an ancient evil appropriately named “The Big Bad” who goes on a rampage to corrupt the very thing the Infinite Palace was supposed to protect.
In her quest to stop The Big Bad’s evil doings, Topez has to force her way through corrupted folklore such as The Pied Piper and Jack and The Beanstalk.
These folklore tales have been turned into platforming stages and are filled with malicious traps and enemies that want Topez to be 6 feet under. At first glance, Page Chronica plays quite like platformers which used to grace the NES, from enemy placement to the knockback received on hit, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences in platformers.
Page Chronica attempts to make itself unique by integrating the action platformer genre with word-forming mechanics, which is a fairly interesting idea on paper. Constructing proper words is a crucial gameplay element to get through any of the stages and even more so during boss fights. By pressing L1 at any point in the game, the screen shifts into word formation mode and everything around Topez slows down.
Without forming any word, Topez has a slow movement speed and is even unable to attack, leaving her extremely vulnerable. This can be remedied by forming words, with a minimum of 2 letters. By forming words, Topez acquires access to offensive magical bullets and other passive abilities which are an absolute must in some of the stages.
In Page Chronica, Topez’s attack power is affected by the points scored from the resulting word, similar to Scrabble. On the other hand, passive abilities such as double jumps and status effect immunity are gained by spelling longer words. Therefore it is not unusual to end up in a situation where Topez acquires most of her passive abilities, but is unable to deal proper damage due to the formed word not scoring enough points. It can be an exercise in frustration to find the most efficient letter combination, especially when fighting bosses due to a certain limiting factor which will catch you by surprise.
The most frustrating aspect about Page Chronica is not the platforming section as checkpoints are adequately placed across the map. It is also not the process of forming the best word from a set of random letters. Unexpectedly, time is the limiting factor in Topez’s quest. Every second ticking off the clock brings her one step closer to death. This isn’t a problem for platforming stages, as time is aplenty and the timer is reset if Topez dies. In a boss fight, however, dying or running out of time means repeating the battle all over again, leading to an unpleasant experience.
Some games have a reputation for being punishingly difficult but are known to provide an enjoyable experience, regardless. Page Chronica tries to aim for that kind of enjoyment, but has unfortunately crossed into the unfair difficulty territory.
Boss levels have an extremely strict time limit to work with and most of the time, you can’t even hit them as they orchestrate their attacks in the background. Finally, at that fated moment when the boss moves into the field, you can only hammer in a couple of shots before they retreat into the background again, wasting precious time. Adding to the frustration is the amount of HP the bosses have. Unless you managed to form a high scoring word, your normal shots won’t even leave a dent in them and it is far better to restart the battle.
Page Chronica is playable, but the difficulty spike is like a giant brick wall and caution is advised in case you want to proceed. However, since this is Red Hare studio’s first effort, some praise must be given for coming up with an interesting idea.
Food for thought:
1. Page Chronica’s visuals is quite a hit and miss affair. The 2D assets are gorgeous but the 3D models need some extra work.
2. Changing difficulties will add additional time to the timer, so if you’re desperate for more time, the best option is to play in easy mode. I did not notice any reduction in hitpoints for bosses and enemies, but I might have overlooked this.
3. Personally I thought the presentation was a bit cluttered. Letters constantly float in the background and the GUI placement on the bottom of the screen can obscure pitfalls. If the interface was much cleaner then this would definitely be more enjoyable.
4. Going into word formation mode slows down time around Topez, but will not make the timer go slower, so be careful about spending too much time in it.
5. By forming words by using certain glowing letters, a hidden word will appear and provide a nice boost for Topez, which is always helpful.