Thymesia, the debut title from Taiwanese developer OverBorder Studio, is an action-RPG soulslike taking place in Hermes — a land overrun by plague. You control Corvus, a mysterious character who can harness the power of the plague against enemies and is the last hope for the Kingdom.
When the plague starts sweeping across the land, felling kingdom after kingdom, Hermes is one of the last to stand thanks to its use of alchemy. This soon goes foul, however, with monsters and death flooding the streets. Corvus has to veer into his memories with the help of Aisemy, a red-hood-wearing girl who helps his recollection, whilst also acting as a source of checkpoints. Each memory acts as a different level, with its own unique setting and final boss. At the end of these memories you find different key items to use in Hermes’ Answer; seemingly the only way to end the chaos permeating in every part of the kingdom.
The enemy designs range from the subtle to the outright horrifying, with the corruption causing varying degrees of mutation. Most enemies you fight will appear as crazed villagers who have succumbed to the corruption, but you’ll also face the odd knight with more divergent appearances, such as a giant swollen arm that they use as a club, or crystals sprouting off their back that greatly increase their health pool. The design of Corvus himself is handled with an impressive simplicity, conveying the plague doctor aesthetic in a deadly and menacing way.
The world building feels a little more shallow, however. Thymesia opts for a similar sort of vague storytelling that is prevalent — and unfortunately handled a lot better by other titles — in this genre. Notes and flavour text are dotted around the levels to build the lore, but it ultimately feels disjointed. Each memory takes you to a different area that has no real connection to the others, and although they’re all beautifully designed, it's hard to view the story as a cohesive whole with such little substance to bind them together. It all culminates in a final boss battle that I won’t spoil here, but seems to have been designed more to fit the hypothesis of “it’ll be really cool”, as opposed to “yeah, this makes sense and is a satisfying cap on the story”.
The title really shines in the combat system though. Having played the pre-release experience which had some serious issues with its combat mechanics, I was worried heading into the final build, but OverBorder Studio has taken on every aspect of feedback to tweak the systems so that combat is a lot less painful and much more rewarding. Your basic sabre attacks will wound enemies, which will highlight a small chunk of their health bar; following up with claw attacks will permanently chip away at this vulnerable section, which will otherwise recover. This wound system means that combat starts off challenging, but starts to balance out more as you grow stronger. You gain a talent point each time you level up, which allows you to obtain perks that can increase your various damage outputs, provide you with new combos and attacks, or other combat buffs like increasing the amount of time it takes for an enemy to recover their wounded health.
You attack quickly and dodge smoothly, and combined with the plague weapon system and claw ability, you can combo to the result of some thoroughly satisfying lethality. Killing enemies grants a chance for them to drop shards of their weapons which you can craft into a permanent plague weapon to use alongside your sword, each having a unique attack that can be upgraded to deal more damage or provide you with combat buffs. You can also use a charged claw attack to harness an enemy’s specific plague weapon for a single use, which you can use separately from your personal one, allowing for even more versatility and choice to your combos. Though you are lacking a shield for general use, Corvus is equipped with a dagger to parry enemy attacks and has the ability to throw dagger-like feathers at enemies to parry or interrupt their charged attacks. These charged attacks cannot be parried normally, so you have to be ready with your feathers as soon as you see the telltale green light that shines above an enemy’s head before they leap into a charged attack.
Another area where Thymesia excels is in sound design. There’s a gratifying clang of steel for when you parry attacks, and the overall mood of each level is portrayed just as well through sound as it is visually. The score also shines, with the musical themes of the Twilight Circus boss fight being a personal highlight; a sort of whimsical circus fanfare with a deeper, sinister subtlety almost latently flowing through it. There’s also a particular musical queue that triggers when you’re low on health and getting engaged by an enemy that drives a sharp tenseness into the moment, triggering the adrenaline you might need to focus and pull off that last-ditch dodge or parry.
I tried to go the entire review of Thymesia without making direct comparisons to the Soulsborne series, but reviewing a soulslike title without addressing those similarities is evidently — ahem — the Dark Souls of videogame reviews. Thymesia is a melting pot of FromSoftware titles, taking the dark moodiness of the Dark Souls series itself, blending it with a dash of Bloodborne gothic, and topped off with Sekiro-style parries, as well as its own take on the posture/vitality mechanic through the wound system. Thymesia falls short when it tries to emulate the atmosphere of the Soulsborne series, but exceeds when it allows itself to be itself. Anyone approaching this title in the hopes of reliving those experiences may be disappointed at the shorter length and scope of Thymesia, but it proves to deliver an experience unique to itself. A promising start from OverBorder Studio, I look forward to seeing where they go with future releases, and how they expand on Thymesia.
Thymesia (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A satisfying soulslike action game that delivers quick and rewarding combat that is held back only by its attempts of trying a little too hard to be like other games. Though a relatively short experience, definitely one to try for any fans of the genre.