L. Sahara McGirt
Available on: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC (Microsoft, Epic Games Store)
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X I'm a sucker for an Alice in Wonderland plot because as an adventure with underlying themes about growing up and all the meaningless things adults say and do and deal with, it's a story that hits at why growing up and dealing with change can suck. Ravenlok deals much with the latter, as our main character is thrown into the world of Dunia after her family moves into a farmhouse and away from her friends.
Unfortunately, this also means that Ravenlok, like Coraline, Spirited Away, and many other stories before it, will be doing yet another take on the loss of childhood innocence in a way that feels annoyingly familiar. It even has our hero falling through a mirror into another world and a white rabbit greeting our young hero at the door, though he's much happier about the quickly renamed Ravenlok's presence. While I do enjoy an Alice in Wonderland plot, I am always wary of where the story will end, and entering Dunia, I was simultaneously hopeful and concerned as to whether this will be yet another story meeting the same inevitable end about change and growing up.
To begin with, as mentioned before, Ravenlok carries some of the usual typical Alice in Wonderland tropes: A mirror portal, a white rabbit, strange clocks (which display a Majora's Mask influence), a maze, a Mr. Hatter, and even an evil queen antagonist to boot. There are other bits and pieces throughout the game that are clearly influenced by other fictional media that often litters our childhoods; A literal sword in a stone, breaking jars in a very Link-like manner, soot bunnies that make the game feel like a mishmash of the stories of losing our innocence that came before it.
While Ravenlok feels like a retreading of the many fictional tales of our childhood, it does have plenty going for it. It's a vibrantly colored game that utilizes the voxel art aesthetic for its settings well. The contrast between the toned-down simple coloring of the farmhouse in the real world versus the beautiful, brightly colored world of Dunia hammers in that it is a fantastical world worth exploring. And explore, I did. Dunia is a pretty, vibrant world that could give Alice's Wonderland a run for its well, wonder and feels slightly less sinister than the worlds in some other stories despite the eerie music that accompanies our hero Ravenlok's adventure.
There's plenty to do in Ravenlok, with the random animal and strange other creatures needing things found, and most quests connect and interlock with others, allowing for an easy flow of the overall adventure. The monsters to be taken on in the game are quite interesting and made me think of some of the Final Fantasy bosses of old. They're pretty typical fare in the aspect of battling, and with some quick hits of the attack and special attack buttons fairly simple to get the hang of and win.
I have some complaints about the mechanics of the game; I'm not much of a fan of assigning shield/block buttons to anything but bumper or trigger buttons in any game. The shield button is assigned to the Y button and doesn't work well in battle situations, and no, it can't be changed. I was also initially thrown off by the first skill given to Ravenlok being named "bullet spray," surely, a better name that suits the setting exists. There are little tidbits here and there where real-world inspiration cracks at the seams of the world within Ravenlok, but for the most part, it does well infusing its many obvious inspirations.
As I completed Ravenlok in a few short hours, I couldn't help but wonder if my criticisms and lack of wonder towards the game were because I've experienced this story and similar iterations of it 100s of times. Ravenlok would probably have been the perfect game for the younger me who just finished reading Alice in Wonderland or watching Coraline at my best friend's house. Ravenlok is perhaps best left to young people around that age just getting into RPG adventures or perhaps someone looking for a storied adventure and doesn't have much time for a 40-hour romp.
If you want to join the tea party, Ravenlok is now available on Xbox Game Pass and Epic Games Store.