Furi – PlayStation 4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: The Game Bakers
Publisher: The Game Bakers
Release Date: July 5th, 2016
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Futuristic bunny men, guns, lasers, samurai beam swords, high-octane action, insane hairdos, and just a touch of Afro Samurai. All of these things make up the most out-of-the-blue indie game of 2016: Furi. Wide-eyed and clueless, I delved into this title on a whim, and boy, was I impressed with what I got. Furi offers all the fun of role-playing as an intergalactic anime badass wrapped in one tidy little package, without all the hangups of mainstream triple-A action titles.
In Furi, you begin playing as a nameless character in a futuristic world, having just escaped some sort of stellar containment facility. Immediately, you are confronted by a masked “jailer,” who assaults you with a stick weapon using a variety of attack styles and projectiles in what essentially turns into an extended boss fight. But wait, a boss fight already? The game only just started! Well, therein lies the amazing charm of Furi: the entire game consists exclusively of extended boss fights, with zero smaller enemies or mini-bosses in-between. Moving from arena to arena, the silent protagonist takes on the jailers, each coming with their own host of unique move sets and fighting styles, slowly working his way out of the confines of the extensive prison system as his bunny-man friend narrates for him, taking the player along a power struggle over the fate of Earth.
The combat in Furi takes place from a top-down perspective. The player is equipped with a small handful of weapons and fighting moves that will carry them through the entirety of the game. This includes their pistol, which can fire individual shots or charge up for a more powerful one, as well as their samurai beam sword. They can dodge laser blasts and parry incoming melee attacks. And, well, that’s about it. Pretty simple, right? Well, not exactly. When playing, it’s kind of easy to forget how seemingly simple the control scheme is, because Furi manages to make the combat extremely skill-based, relying heavily on the player’s judgment and ability to time moves perfectly. Of course, this can lead to some very frustrating and unforgivable gameplay, but when mastered, it’s extremely high-paced button mashing action that rewards the well-practiced player.
As far as the difficulty level goes, I’m glad that the development team on Furi decided not to ease up, sometimes requiring players to try a boss over and over in order to beat them. A lot of games these days are opting for optional or self-altering difficulty levels without much regard for how it truly affects their game. Furi plays very much like an arcade game, and that trial-and-error aspect is part of what makes games like this so good; there would be no feeling of reward without a real possibility of failure.
While many games spend a lot of time focusing on their protagonists, the bosses are the true stars of Furi, both in terms of their character and in terms of their design from a gameplay perspective. To start things off, each one of them has a unique character design with a neat weapon or collection of weapons. Cool. Each one has a bunch of dialogue that establishes a back story or relationship with the protagonist in a way similar to most animes. Cool. Finally, each of them (and I mean every single one) hosts a ridiculous array of unique moves, attack patterns, and arenas that keep each new encounter feeling fresh and distinct, while also remaining thematically consistent with their individual personalities. Absolutely freaking awesome.
Typically lasting between 10 and 20 minutes, the fights in Furi square the protagonist off against a small enemy on a sprawling map, progressing and evolving in style and difficulty through a series of waves or phases. The bosses will fire maelstroms of bullets and laser beams at the player, sometimes attacking them directly in a fast-paced flurry of activity. The player is constantly trying to dodge, parry, and outmaneuver their opponents against all odds, resulting in some really intense, heart-pounding moments. I can recall several moments where I was an inch away from death, desperately executing dodges and attacks to chip away at my enemy’s last bit of health. Furi manages to create an amazing feeling in these moments, mostly due to the development team’s sheer focus in the raw gameplay and unforgiving difficulty.
Another really interesting thing about the bosses is that they all seem to play by the same rules, keeping each fight consistent with ideas and themes that the player begins learning from the very beginning of the game. For example, let’s take a look at another game that is based almost entirely around boss fights: Shadow of the Colossus (see above). In Shadow of the Colossus, the player explores a desolate land, taking on gigantic, grey, hairy titans in a myriad of ways. Each titan has its own secret or trick to beating it; for one titan, you have to shoot its feet in order to climb it, for a couple others, you have to use the terrain in very specific ways in order to render them vulnerable. There is no one overarching technique that works on each titan; they all play by slightly different rules, meaning that sometimes the player has to bang their head against the wall a bit in order to figure out the next trick.
Furi, on the other hand, is a little bit different. While each boss may have their own set of moves and arena layouts, their attacks all kind of use the same recognizable formats, realized with impressive variety. There are small bullets, large bullets, laser beams, laser waves, and, of course, physical attacks directly from the bosses, themselves. Sometimes there are bullet hell sections, and other times there are more timing-based melee sections. This means that no duel has a hidden secret to beating it; if the player is properly skilled, they have all the tools they need to beat any boss on their first go. But, that doesn’t mean that the bosses start to feel samey or stale after a while, since the beams, waves, bullets, and attack combos are rearranged for each boss in highly creative and interesting ways to challenge the player at every step. As I stated earlier, Furi is more of an arcade game than anything else, so these common threads among bosses go a long way toward creating a more skill-based experience where the player is expected to react to new situations with the security of working within an overarching format.
Every boss in Furi features a handful of waves or phases within the overall fight, each one taking a slightly different format or pattern. The player’s progression through a boss is marked by depleting the small health bars that represent these phases. If a player fails at a phase, they get two more tries to beat it before it’s game over, with their own health bars having been depleted. Beating a phase within those three tries can recharge depleted health bars, making the game’s difficulty feel rather dynamic while also harking back to the ‘Continue?’ screens on old arcade games, putting the player on a similar playing field as the bosses, themselves. This is a deceptively simple, yet highly innovative method of handling health, giving the player a dynamic threshold for failure while making the protagonist feel more like he belongs in the world of Furi, battling his own peers.
After each fight, a weird section will follow where the protagonist simply walks to his destination. Really slowly. During their first playthrough, the player is unable to skip these sections. Not a whole lot goes on; the protagonist silently walks, surrounded by beautiful futuristic scenery while his bunny-man friend explains the plot and lore a little more. I think it’s really interesting that these more experimental ambient sections were added in, making the player feel like a silent, cold-hearted badass while transforming the world of Furi into a little bit more of a real space. It is a little bit annoying that you can’t skip these parts if you want to, but the speed-run mode that unlocks after your first playthrough does away with them for unadulterated, high-action gameplay. To the developers’ credit, the scenery is pretty striking.
While playing Furi, something very familiar kept sticking out to me about the art design, yet I couldn’t quite place it for a while. Then it hit me: Afro Samurai. That’s right folks; the artist from Afro Samurai did Furi. What results is a sort of campy, yet tasteful take on futuristic anime tropes, much like Afro Samurai‘s art style did for the samurai anime genre. The art design in general is great. Having been developed by a relatively small team, things don’t always look perfect, but they went with more of a cel-shaded look to help mitigate that. The close-ups of characters’ faces don’t look that great, and hair moves kind of weird, but I think the art team did a great job with the resources they had.
The sound design is also great. The voice acting is fine; it’s not noticeably bad, and there’s even a Japanese audio version (even though Furi was made in France, so that’s cool). What really stands out though is the soundtrack. With acts such as The Toxic Avenger, Danger, and Knight, Furi‘s lineup sounds like the soundtrack of Kung Fury, and boy, is it good, featuring a lot of solid techno beats to accentuate the game’s futuristic setting.
Finally, we come to the story. Furi‘s story is, while not the most well-written story in the world, one of the most interestingly executed stories I’ve seen in a while. Furi is an extremely linear game, taking the player from point to point, where the dialogue of the different jailers will give the player more insight as to how the protagonist wound up in this elaborate jail in the first place. Pretty standard. However, I’d like to point the reader’s attention toward two very interesting factors that raise Furi‘s story a cut above the rest: Story/gameplay synergy and sequence breaking.
Let’s start with the story/gameplay synergy. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that, throughout roughly the entire game, the developers went to great lengths to ensure that gameplay and combat mechanics validated and commented on story elements. Take, for example, this one jailer, who, according to the story, has spent years honing his swordsmanship in the hopes of taking on the protagonist one day. Thus, the entire battle that follows deals exclusively in close-quarters combat, dodging and parrying his moves in order to prove that you are the ultimate swordsman. Another jailer is comparatively young, with no real fighting skills, so she, in turn, spends the entire match running away from the player, letting turrets and traps do her dirty work. This is a perfect example of the developers saying to themselves “in what way can we let the players, themselves, explore the themes of our story?” And the answer is always gameplay. In this way, the story and the gameplay achieve a synergy together, more fully immersing the player in ways not many games seem interested in trying, while avoiding burdening the player with a bunch of extra info that has no bearing on the gameplay.
Next, let’s take a look at sequence breaking. Many games have very concrete beginnings and endings. Some games will have optional endings once you finish the game, and that’s cool, too. For as short of a game that it is, Furi has four separate endings. Two of these endings are linked to a final choice by the player, which is pretty standard. The two others, however, are hidden within the game, itself, reliant on gestural or expressive actions by the player that will end the game out of sequence. These endings are not locked behind obvious choices; they are discovered entirely accidentally, and I think that is really awesome. The developers have technically allowed the player to end the game earlier than it’s supposed to actually end, all in the name of crafting a more atmospheric and immersive story that can lead to slightly unique first impressions from each player. I’m really impressed that the team experimented with the linearity of video game stories, giving Furi more of a mystique. I think more games should play with features like this.
Furi, for all intents and purposes, is a very impressive game, much more so because it came out of freaking nowhere. Taking control of a cyber-samurai badass, the player explores a well-crafted world that understands that gameplay should be the first and foremost element. The game is action-packed and absolutely heart-pounding at times, but that doesn’t mean that a bit of story can’t be woven in during the gameplay, itself. The developers even saw fit to experiment with a tidy handful of gameplay aspects alongside a tight, tight focus on the boss fight mechanics for a well-rounded, wholesome experience. The music is great, the visuals are great, the combat is awesome; Furi just feels good.
Furi is not going to win game of the year. Hell, I don’t even know if people will be talking about this game ten years from now. Yet it embodies so many traits that define what makes a game great. Foremost among these traits is its willingness to experiment and burst free from the traditional mold in an effort to propel the medium forward and hold itself to a higher standard. Why can’t more games be like Furi?
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