Sometimes, games use their art style to build on or set their tone and themes. Other times, they have tones and themes that go completely against what you’d expect based on the artistic direction. Void Terrarium 2 falls into the latter category. You play as a cute little robot named Robbie, you protect the absolutely adorable Toriko, and you get to customize the terrarium Toriko lives in with cute decor and plants and things. Then, you get to the story.
Void Terrarium 2‘s narrative is sad, touching, and definitely one of the game’s strong points; there’s a lot to it and it’s not afraid to go into some darker subject matter. For starters, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the atmosphere has become heavily contaminated to the point of being uninhabitable. You and your sentient computer friend factoryAI must protect Toriko, the last surviving human, from both the toxins in the air and the slow progression of the disease plaguing her body. All the while, you have to learn what exactly her illness is in order to try to find a way to cure it. For how nice and cutesy everything looks, the story is the total opposite in a very good way.
Beyond the story, the gameplay of Void Terrarium 2 is also handled quite well, though it isn’t without its quirks. Right off the bat, you’re thrown into a dungeon called a “wasteland” with absolutely nothing. There’s no tutorial, no explanation of what’s happening, and no dialogue or text of any kind. Fortunately, that wasteland is incredibly short and simple, but the immediate jump into that certainly threw me off since I didn’t know things like controls yet. There are tutorials that come after this, though, as well as dedicated tutorial and practice dungeons, which are a big help before you really dive into the wastelands proper.
The wastelands themselves are, of course, randomly generated from the rooms and how they’re connected to the enemies and items scattered throughout. As these have a starting area and several branching areas that you move to as you progress, it’s phenomenal for keeping things feeling fresh, but it’s not a perfect system. Just about every expedition has you out searching for an item that’s usually lying on the ground somewhere on one of the deeper floors of whatever area it’s found in, so they often feel like fetch quests. There’s also little in the way of boss fights, especially unique boss fights, which left me a bit disappointed. There are what the game calls “monster houses,” rooms filled to the brim with monsters that are nice, but even those often feel a bit more like a time sink than a challenge considering that you can just take one step back into the corridor you entered from and fight the monsters one by one by one.
There’s also a perk system in Void Terrarium 2, in which you can select one of two random perks each time you level up, and it’s a good way of adding variety to expeditions. There are countless perks to unlock, ranging from standard stat boosts to item efficacy upgrades to buffs when certain conditions are met. There are so many perks to unlock and test out that you end up with plenty of ways to go about completing an expedition, with your strategy often changing at least a little bit depending on which ones you get. Naturally, you don’t always get great perks, which can lead to your run ending pretty early on, but that’s part of what makes rogue-likes fun. If you didn’t get anything great, you jump right back in and hope the randomizer shows a little mercy.
The other aspect of Void Terrarium 2 is its caretaking element. Toriko is very frail and as her guardian it’s your job to keep her happy and healthy. The best part of the caretaking system is that Toriko needs food, which you have to scavenge for in the wastelands. That means you have to manage your inventory a bit in order to bring food home for her, and you also have to be careful of just what you’re giving her. Food has contamination levels, and the more contaminated what you feed her is, the more her own contamination level rises. Naturally, hers can be brought back down, but that isn’t always easy if you can’t find clean food. The other elements of the caretaking system feel a bit more chore-like than anything, with you even needing to literally clean the terrarium. They’re not terrible and are quite simple, but they feel like they take more time than they should for you to just stand in place and hold a button until Robbie is done sweeping.
Lastly, there’s the terrarium editor, which is a neat and rather strange part of the game. As you return from expeditions, you gain materials that you use to craft items for the terrarium. Many of these items offer base stat bonuses, meaning you go into expeditions stronger, and that’s a very clever tie-in between the dungeon and caretaking elements that helps encourage doing both. That said, there are elements to the terrarium such as temperature and humidity, and those seem a bit out of place. Their seemingly only use is for growing plants, which is fine on its face, but plant growing’s only benefit seems to be that you get more terrarium decorations that adjust the temperature and humidity. It’s nice that it’s almost a self-contained system within the terrarium editor, but that’s also what makes it feel a bit odd. The good news is that you can completely ignore it after you’ve learned how it works if you so choose. Really, though, it does lend itself to the terrarium editor as a whole. It’s a nice little break between expeditions that gives you time to relax and do a little inconsequential interior design work to help liven up Toriko’s living space.
Overall, Void Terrarium 2 is a solid rogue-like. The dungeon dives are plenty of fun even if there are a few underwhelming aspects, and it offers some nice side content to wind down with between runs. It’s certainly not perfect, and some parts feel more optional or redundant than anything else, but it more than kept my interest throughout.
Void Terrarium 2 is available now on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.