While it has been a bit of a taboo to talk about Mental Health publicly in the past, the world is slowly opening up to the destigmatization of these rather important topics, such as Burnout, Anxieties, Depression, and other issues and emotions that humans tend to feel when they aren’t at their best. I think it’s important for the media to tackle these topics head-on and to spread awareness on how to identify them or how to deal with it. What do you do when one of your family members or friends is depressed or is experiencing a panic attack? How can you help them? Questions like these tend to remain unanswered since it’s rather hard to find a universal approach to all individuals’ issues. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this kind of stuff but by sharing experiences and talking about these things, we actually can understand each other better and potentially help each other out.
Games are a great medium to do this. By introducing these topics into the world of games, you can make them more approachable and interesting, in a way, while also sharing experiences or letting players experience these situations, thoughts and emotions, even if it’s only a little. Games like Night in the Woods, Florence, and GRIS, to name a few, are really good at this. They share stories about grief, depression, loss, and other topics, and do so in a way that is more approachable for people that aren’t necessarily experienced in that area. Today’s review is about another title that is doing an amazing job with the destigmatization of Mental Health topics, Iris and the Giant.
Developer: Louis Rigaud Publisher: Goblinz Publishing, Maple Whispering Limited, Mugen Creations Genre: Roguelite, Strategy, Card Battler, Deckbuilding, Indie Release Date: February 27th, 2020 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC, Switch, Android Copy was purchased.
Iris and the Giant tells the story of a girl named Iris who is struggling with anxieties and depression and who suddenly finds herself on the river Styx, which inside of her mind links the imaginary world and reality. There she has to face her inner demons, fears and sorrows in order to climb a mountain and overcome them.
In its heart, this game is a roguelike deck builder with some CCG and RPG mechanics. It’s an interesting mix with a cute art style and melancholic and crippling topics. Your will is the only thing that is guiding you through this world and thus, it is your lifeline. To protect your will from the demons you’re facing, you’ve got to use a plethora of melee weapons, ranged weapons, shields, heals, and spells in turn-based combat to protect yourself and march forward. The game itself is set up in a bunch of lanes from where enemies and objects come from. Hovering over anything tells you everything you need to know immediately and due to the turn-based nature of the game, you’ve got all the time in the world to overthink your strategy and the potential next move. Your deck can be customised along the journey by adding cards and upgrades as you move on. If you end up dying, you can start a new run with the new cards you unlocked, the skills you selected, and imaginary friends that function as a handicap.
What I really like about Iris and the Giant is the customization aspect of the decks and runs. You can opt-in for a lot of different builds and use the skills that you unlock along the way to further specialise in different aspects. What cards do you want to see more of? The choice is yours to make, no matter what you do and whether or not you decide to rely on these “memories” or to go in completely naked! In a way, it is very intuitive and beginner-friendly but then it also has a big learning curve and some real challenge to it, which is to be expected.
It’s a roguelike after all, so it is supposed to be challenging. While the tutorial actually explains a lot of things rather well, it took me ages to fully grasp everything. The game’s principle is easy to understand but hard to master and offers a lot of skill expression, in a way.
The demons you’re fighting represent fears and issues that Iris has and struggles with and are inspired by creatures from Greek mythology, which is really cool. The story is told through the eyes of Iris in a rather sophisticated way, which is quite nice to see. I don’t think you’d expect a game that looks this cute to talk about some heavier topics so eloquently while portraying inner demons as actual enemies that you need to battle. The story is melancholic and grim at first but eventually becomes rather heartwarming and wholesome, which is incredible, and while the issues presented here are rather real, it all still is quite a lot of fun, which is important to me. In case you’re not up for an emotional ride, you can just skip the cutscenes and play the game, but if you like the story, the game offers you decreased difficulty and lots of handicaps to make it easier for you to see the ending of it. On top of that, there is also a harder difficulty for fans of the game as well as different game modes and challenges to complete, so overall, it’s quite accessible to different types of players.
And I haven’t even touched on the minimalistic style and the great soundtrack as well as the fabulous voice acting. I love the colours and the art style that the game has going for it. There are some colder areas with more blue-ish colours as well as some brighter ones representing hell, for instance, where you have fiery enemies and warm colours. The atmosphere changes as you go on, and I really like what direction the developer took the game in. It’s lovely to see a game this polished, although I’ve also got some minor issues with it.
For starters, the isometric style is quite interesting but could’ve been handled differently. Sometimes, you don’t see what’s behind certain enemies, which can lead to you potentially missing out on loot or maybe even not seeing an enemy that has been lurking there… On top of that, there is also the issue of the sound settings not being that well-designed. You can turn the game sound and the music on or off but there isn’t much of a menu here. Luckily, the graphics settings aren’t needed here since this should run on even the oldest laptop… but I still would have liked to see more options, especially in regards to the colours used in the game and so on.
But overall, I don’t think that the cons outweigh the pros of this game. I really enjoyed it and liked the approach the developer took in regards to describing depression and anxiety while also creating a fun game. If you’re into card battlers/roguelikes, I can highly recommend Iris and the Giant to you. Even if you’re new to the genre, you may still like this game for the lovely soundtrack, the cute art style, the amazing story and the well-made strategy elements.