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Underrated gems: Venetica

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Gaming is unfortunately a pastime fraught with drama, but what about the drama that never was? What about games that have a lot to offer, but that disappeared off the face of the planet without making a huge fuss? This is part one of a presumably endless series of articles exploring the greatest games you've never heard of. First up, we have Venetica, released in North America in 2011.

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Venetica is a role-playing game by Deck13 Interactive, a German developer most known for their adventure games like Jack Keane and Ankh. As you'd expect from a developer's first RPG, the game is a bit rough around the edges, and yet that roughness is exactly what makes it so absurdly charming. The first thing you'll likely notice about the game is that its animations and graphics are B-rate. This is true throughout the game and allows for some truly hilarious moments, such as when you summon a ghost to chastise a bunch of corrupt politicians, only to have him begin singing and lecturing them while giving them "crazy eyes." The voice acting is equally campy on almost all fronts, though main character Scarlett's voice acting is actually solid enough to never become grating. The bad voice acting is instead reserved for the ridiculous side characters, such as the flamboyant town smith and the many nameless NPCs who politely yell out, "Oh, hello!" every five seconds. You'd think that this quickly gets old, but it's actually so campy and ridiculous that it never ceases to be amusing.

The game does have its less than charming flaws, to be fair. The city of Venice which you'll spend the vast majority of your time exploring is broken into different sections (such as the Outer City, Inner City, Docks, etcetera), and the mandatory quest that grants you access to the Inner City area requires getting rid of a flying creature. Problem is, the only way of doing this is to devote points gained from leveling up to a magical skill, and in a bizarre design decision, the creature is immune to the first offensive magical skill you gain. This forces you to devote two points into magic, even if you're more of a melee-focused character. If you've already spent all of your points after leveling up (which most people likely do), you're forced to roam around the city at night looking for robbers to fight for experience until you finally level up and can move forward with the story. This quest isn't handled very well at all.

The RPG elements are also a bit on the light side. While you can focus on weaponry or magical spells, you'll inevitably use plenty of both by the end of the game, lessening the joy of personalizing Scarlett somewhat. Despite there being several different kinds of weapons and armor littered throughout the game, they're the same ones you'll find and end up crafting every time you play. Similarly, weapons can be upgraded, but only in preset ways.

As for combat, the most similar game to compare it to would be The Witcher 1, as attacking in Venetica is done through the same kind of timed click-combos. Attacking is slower in Venetica, however, making combat as a whole a bit easier. That's not to say that the game is easy or anything, though, because the difficulty is just about right. Most players will blow through the early game without any problems, but many will likely need to use health potions at some point during the more challenging late-game boss fights.

Lastly, the story. Not only is Venetica's story charming and unique, being a bit like a campy fairy tale, but it also ties neatly into the gameplay. You play as Scarlett, the daughter of Death, tasked with ending the tyranny of his would-be successor who twisted the natural order of things to become immortal. Being the daughter of Death comes with some serious perks, too, because this means that you can enter the "twilight" world of spirits and eventually (later in the game) interact with the dead. It also means that you're capable of surviving death, though your ability to do so has to be recharged by killing enemies with a special blade. This is most humorously put on display when some would-be robbers attack you and slit your throat, only for you to return back to life moments later and deliver some swift karmic justice.

Venetica is a gem. A flawed, quirky gem, yes, but a gem nonetheless. Its strange sense of humor and RPG-lite gameplay will turn hardcore gamers off somewhat, but anyone capable of enjoying it for what it is will inevitably come to love Venetica. This is a game that can already be picked up for 7-10 dollars, and it's well worth that price.

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