Play At SEA: The most interesting titles of the SEA Game Awards 2020
By Tan Jee Yee December 2, 2020
- Creepy Short Tales: 7PM may have dominated, but fellow nominees are just as intriguing
- A Space for the Unbound looks to be an emotional gut punch; Timelie is wholly unique
The SEA Game Awards 2020 had to contend with two unprecedented things. The first is how to adapt a physical awards ceremony into a virtual one, due to the Covid-19 pandemic – the solution being to stream it virtually. The second is to accommodate a growing number of quality Southeast Asian (SEA) games, which is steadily crafting its own identity.
This is most apparent in the biggest winner of the awards: Cellar Vault Games’ Short Creepy Tales: 7PM. The Malaysian horror title, which features unique paper cut-out visuals that lovingly depicts Malaysian-Chinese Culture, won three awards that night: Best Visual Art, Best Game Design and the coveted Grand Jury Award. Beyond that, the game was also nominated in pretty much every other category.
Short Creepy Tales: 7PM certainly deserves the recognition – a distinctively Southeast Asian title that is also beautiful and technically superb. But, as the SEA Game Awards does, there’s also a bevy of truly fascinating titles that we would like to shine a spotlight on.
A Space for the Unbound
A Space for the Unbound might prove to be the second emotional gut punch from Indonesia’s Mojiken Studios, whose beautiful and arresting point-and-click puzzler (and winner of the 2019 SEA Game Awards’ Best Visual Art prize) When the Past was Around just got released to critical acclaim.
Unbound’s gorgeous pixel art didn’t manage to bag the Best Visual Art award this year (it went to Creepy Short Tales), but it did win Best Storytelling, which should mean that this slice-of-life adventure game – set in 90s rural Indonesia – has the potential to wrench hearts and draw tears.
The game follows two high-school students, Atma and Raya, as they navigate the end of their school years. A mysterious, supernatural event is occurring in their idyllic town, which entails some good ol’ teenage sleuthing and adventuring.
True to adventure games of yore, there will be much conversing with townsfolk and listening to personal stories, spiced up with a mechanic that allows the players to dive into people’s minds “Inception-style”. You can also apparently pet every cat you come across, which is giving us heart palpitations.
There is no release date just yet, though a prologue chapter is now available on Steam.
Developed by Thailand’s Urnique Studio, Timelie features a little girl and her companion cat who have to escape an enigmatic, abstract realm using their power to manipulate time. Time control isn’t new in games, but Timelie’s approach is intriguing. Rather than merely being able to rewind time, players can also look into the future or jump into any point of time freely – essentially giving players the power of manipulating time like a YouTube progress bar.
Timelie is a stealth puzzle, focused on guiding the girl past roaming guards and obstacles. The presence of the cat, however, provides Timelie with cooperative gameplay elements in a single-player title. Players will need to coordinate the girl’s and the cat’s actions through the game’s “parallel planning system”, completing roles that are unique to them in order to clear a level.
It’s a truly unique take on stealth puzzle games. In general, stealth games are all about waiting and observing guard patterns, planning your steps in the process. By giving you control of time, Timelie sidesteps the waiting process, and makes planning more interesting.
Of all the nominees of the SEA Game Awards 2020, Love Esquire may be the most audacious. Developed by Yangyang Mobile from the Philippines (after a successful Kickstarter campaign), Love Esquire puts you not in the shoes of a fantasy hero, but rather his lowly squire. A squire with aspirations to be a full-fledged hero, of course, except with less-heroic intentions.
Love Esquire is a hybrid of different game mechanics – it is, at once, a role-playing game, a visual novel, and a dating sim. It features a turn-based combat system, except that the squire you play isn’t all that well-equipped to fight monsters. Instead, you get access to a multitude of unconventional means of helping the hero fight, such as healing him or taunting monsters as a distraction.
The meat of the game, however, isn’t adventuring, but getting to know the main cast of girls that the squire can court (this is a dating sim, after all). As a whole, it doesn’t deviate too far from the dating sim formula, but the important ingredients are all present: an interesting premise, great art and visuals, and solid voice work (it did win Best Audio).
Love Esquire doesn’t innovate, but like Fires at Midnight, it does show that there are Southeast Asian studios who are daring enough to venture into content specifically for adults. And, if anything, that there is space for sexy games this part of the world.
Blood Moon: Genesis (Project G)
SEA Game Awards 2020 is also a showcase of some of the most promising student games in the region. The Best Student Game award this year went to Don’t Stop the Party, a dance-themed party brawler by students of UOW Malaysia KDU University College that is so conceptually strong and charming that it also picked up the Audience Choice Award.
In comparison, Blood Moon: Genesis (also by a group of UOW Malaysia KDU students) may not be quite as visually striking or brimming with personality, but it does have one of the most interesting gameplay mechanics in a hack-and-slash action title.
The premise of Blood Moon is that the spirits of the Solar and Lunar foxes have bonded into a physical body (named Aiko), now tasked with sealing a powerful demon. The combat system is reminiscent of stylish action titles like Bayonetta and NieR: Automata, but the key difference here is that you can switch between both spirits with the press of a button.
Each spirit has different attributes and offensive styles. When using the Solar spirit, players gain access to an odachi (a Japanese greatsword) and is focused on hard-hitting attacks; while the Lunar spirit is all about being nimble and evasive while fighting up close. Both spirits have their own health bar, which regenerate when they are not activated.
This means that players would constantly be juggling between two fighting styles depending on the situation (and also their health). The game itself is solid to play as it is, but if expanded with a more robust combat system and into a full-fledged adventure, it could be an action title to remember.
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