Done Playing: Iji (PC)

I finished playing Iji about a day after my previous post went up and just now got back to it for a second playthrough. Unfortunately, the time vs. reward ratio for hunting down secrets and trying not to kill enemies is a little too extreme for me. Hours disappear and one tiny little screw up means a complete restart. The unlockable maps are indispensable in secret hunting and the option to play single stages is handy but the replay value is clearly aimed at the hardcore.

There’s loads to do afterwards but the majority of the game can be experienced in just a few day’s time. Like Braid, Iji is an experience whose value lies in its engrossing world and compelling gameplay. I had originally likened it to Out of this World but I realize now that the similarities end at their visual style. Iji is an action /platform game but it manages to set itself apart from everything I’ve ever played. This is thanks to its strategic approach to enemy encounters and its array of weapons and skills.

It may be 2D but every inch of these levels presents a new way to deal with an enemy. You can use blast damage from other enemies or nearby turrets to take out opponents, you can reflect their attacks back at them, or you can avoid combat altogether. Or, ya know, you can use one of eight weapons to destroy anyone in your path. Experimenting with weapons and “cracking” them via a minigame to find their alternate forms is just one of the many surprising subtleties of Iji.

Of course, you can’t crack hardly anything without improving your cracking ability; one of seven skills that you’ll find yourself painstakingly pondering over when you finally get another upgrade point. You can quickly build up points by killing enemies and grabbing their Nanofield (long story, think of it like their souls) but the game is so expertly designed that you can collect most without having to personally kill anyone.

The story and dialog tries to get you to think about the enemies attacking you but the message never quite hits home until the end of the game. By that point I’d killed hundreds of aliens and figured I’d do better the second time through. Which brings me back to the start. Iji is an action game by design and sparing the lives of as many aliens as possible takes a surprising amount of time, strategy, and consideration. I’d like to think that one day I’ll load it up again and explore my compassionate side. Until then I’ll always keep a free 35 megs of space on my hard drive and a warm spot in my heart for the amazing and unforgettable experience of Iji. Thank you Daniel Remar.

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