Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Moss: Book II

From its initial announcement, I was hooked on the world of Moss (Book I), which I found to be an amazing showcase of third-person VR. When the ending of the game revealed itself to be an episodic release and that what I had played was Book I, I eagerly awaited for the next chapter in Quill’s journey. This would not happen until the release of Moss: Book II four years later, as a digital-only title despite Book I getting a physical release, though I made sure to play it as soon as possible so I could continue the story and get more mileage out of the PlayStation VR. While I found it to be quite the step up from the original game that takes more advantage of the PS4’s power, I wasn’t entirely sure it was quite worth the $40 price tag.

Upon starting a new game, the story opens with a recap of the major events of Book I, depicted in an illustrative style. From there, the story begins right where Book I left off, with Quill having defeated Sarffog and rescued her uncle Argus. Sarffog, however, is only the beginning, and now Quill must seek out the rest of the Five Glass before the Arcane do.

The basic gameplay is similar to that of Book I, though expanded upon in a number of ways. For starters, there is now a more robust inventory system, accessible by pressing the touch pad, allowing you to store items in a flower shape divided into five petals. Each of these petals stores a different type of item, and while some items are cosmetic, many of them have an affect on gameplay, including puzzle objects. While the sword and outfit you obtain in Book I’s Twilight Garden DLC don’t return, the basic ideas behind them do and are also expanded upon here (more on that later).

Among the gameplay-related items are two new weapons, the Chakram and Cariel’s Hammer. The Chakram does a little less damage than the sword, but is great for ranged attacks, while Cariel’s Hammer does considerably more damage but has a small wind-up. An idea carried over from Twilight Garden is the ability to hold down the attack button (Square in PS VR) for either of these weapons and then touch them to grant them a new power. In the case of the Chakram, you can throw them for a longer distance to stick them to a wall, then recall them by pressing the attack button again, which can come in handy when solving environmental puzzles that require using the Chakram at a particular angle. Sometimes the environment will include scratched surface or other markings as ideal locations to use the Charged Chakram, though they are well-integrated into the level design. As for Cariel’s Hammer, holding down Square summons an ethereal Hammer Trap, which upon touching it creates a shockwave that can destroy metal and press hammer buttons. Much like the Charged Chakram, the Hammer Trap can have a delayed activation, which works well when a button that requires the Hammer activates something that has a timer.

While the ability you can get for Quill’s sword in the Twilight Garden DLC for Book I is not present here, you do gain a mechanically similar ability called Sword Dash, which enables Quill to gain a burst of speed to traverse long distances. Much like the other two weapons, this ability is also used for puzzle solving, with some later puzzles requiring the use of multiple abilities at once. There is some minor tedium in that you have to manually open the inventory every time you want to swap a weapon, not to mention this is done in real time so you have to be careful when doing this in the midst of combat, however it’s not so tedious as to be unbearable and the system works well enough for a VR setting. I will also mention that, should you swap weapons while waiting for one delayed ability to go off, the effect is lost, so you must commit to each step of the process when solving a puzzle.

Quill (right) and the Reader preparing to use Sword Dash.

Aside from the Sword Dash ability, Quill can also now traverse by climbing vines, opening up more environmental design space. Tying into this is a new Reader ability you can obtain called Nature Attunement, which allows you to manipulate plant matter by either growing leaves on dead vines to make them climbable or manipulating vines to create a bridge across certain gaps, often with multiple potential paths. There are also a greater number of movable objects, with some even requiring you to move them while Quill rides on top of them (she will even make a surfing pose the first time you do it). In addition, Relic Dust seems to have more of a purpose in this game, enabling you to enter hidden Relic Shrines for cosmetic armor, which you can swap at any time through your inventory. Another thing to mention is that the player can still interact with Quill by petting and high-fiving her, though there are also moments where you can hug her to comfort her. Quill is also generally more expressive in this game with some additional body language, though she still communicates with the reader via body language and ASL, plus she will do a superhero landing when falling from a great-enough height.

Another addition that spices up gameplay is the introduction of two new regular enemies, the Ripper and the Bomber. The Ripper, which resembles a pill bug, can roll itself into a ball to attack, which the Reader can exploit by pulling them back to attack and help solve some puzzles. The Bomber, which seemingly resembles a dung beetle has a cannon that fires mines and is impervious to attack (though the beetle itself is not), which can also be exploited by the Reader to fire mines at enemies or purple objects that are otherwise only accessible to the Chakram.

The gameplay experience is not without fault, however, though any glitches I came across were rare and didn’t break the game in any way. Though I only ran into this once, there was an instance where I was climbing up steps, but despite it being low enough to register the step-climb animation, it instead registered the ledge-climb animation as if I were trying to traverse the edge of a wall. Similarly, there was one point near the end of the game where I used Sword Dash to go through a rift, which caused Quill to continue to glow with the visual effect of the ability until I changed screens, although this didn’t occur any other time I did this. There was also one instance where, despite being properly calibrated, the game started me very far away upon startup at a checkpoint, requiring me to recalibrate just to get back to the proper distance.

Moss: Book II is also major step up from Book I in terms of visual quality. The level design is a lot more expansive than the original release, even including multiple paths you can take besides the main one to encourage exploration. This, combined with an increased amount of environmental detail up to and including moving clouds and butterflies in one location, help the game world feel more alive and feel as though you truly have been transported to another world. That said, there are a few low-res textures that can ruin the effect, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

Since this is a VR game that requires you to sit down, I recommend using a swivel chair if you can, since it’s not only more comfortable for extended play sessions, but you can also more easily swivel around to greater appreciate the level of effort that went into the environmental design. I will mention, however, that this can actually serve to make levels where there is only a black void behind you a little unnerving, if unintentionally.

One particular effect I was impressed by, which was not present in Book I, was that when you return to the library throughout the game to read the book the story takes place in, the library itself changes to match where you are in the story, which caught me off guard at first. It’s a nice touch that really increases the immersion. On top of this, the book illustrations are hand-drawn rather than using in-game assets, enabling them to feature a greater amount of visual detail along with a faithful translation of the series’ artstyle.

The library changes to match the story, among other details.

In addition to Relic Dust, Forgotten Fragments return as a collectible item, except this time you are completing six stained glass windows rather than just one. However, each of these is more visible in the environment and each set is color-coded to their appropriate stained glass window, making it easier to keep track of where and when you can find them as well as how many you have collected. In addition to an in-game area that visually displays your progress in collecting Forgotten Fragments, there is once again a parchment in the library that keeps track of the images for you, though a nice touch I appreciated is that said parchment is laid directly on top of the one used in Book I, strengthening the continuity between games.

Another bit of continuity between games is that of the sound design, which is similar to that of Book I to provide a more consistent experience, particularly when playing both games back-to-back. Morla Gorrondona returns as the narrator, though shows some additional range as she provides more additional voices than last time, in a way that still feels like someone is reading a story to you. There are also longer stretches of gameplay where the characters talk with each other through Gorrondona’s narration, with the subtitles being placed based on a character’s position in space. There are, however, also moments where the subtitles will occasionally leave behind a floating black bar, although it goes away with either additional subtitles or by changing screens.

It might be difficult to see, but there is a floating black box where the
subtitles were. (Camera tilted at an angle for clarity.)

Moss: Book II improves and expands on the original Moss in all aspects, providing an emotional and satisfying climax to Quill’s journey while also leaving the door open for potential future installments. Whether or not it’s exactly worth $40 may depend on who you ask, but either way the game is a must-play for those who enjoyed the original game.

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