Review – Batora: Lost Haven
God of War, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and several other notable games grace the action genre. There’s a robust variety, some with distinct ideologies that help them blossom, while others concentrate on filling the hole for unadulterated violence. It provides this safe avenue to alleviate the frustration that is sometimes festering in an individual’s heart after a hard day or getting your heart stomped by a cheating ex. Despite the vast array of differences spanning the many titles, one facet ties them together with a tight bow. It’s that shot of adrenaline injected into your veins as you look at the sword ballet on the screen. Batora: Lost Haven seemed to capture that feel, and I knew, I just knew, I had to cover it. With a female protagonist, I’m ready to murder in glorious HD.
The only apt description for the literary prowess of Batora: Lost Haven is how much of a mixed bag the quality is. For instance, the banter between both Protagonists, Avril and Mila, is fantastic. Their back-and-forth bickering even garnered an under-the-breath chuckle. It’s a superb showing of their comfort with one another, while also implicating possible romantic involvement. It perfectly communicates their close relationship. It keeps them grounded and gives us some relatable spars of quips. Stormind Games did an excellent job injecting them with personality; despite the brief duration of this journey – clocking in at 10+ hours, there isn’t enough time to feasibly flesh out all characters. To dedicate the focus to these two was an intelligent decision as they took center stage. Still, it would have been nice to see the others not be bland husks.
The storytelling itself is adequate but suffers from absent elements crucial to distinguishing between being decent or grand. Sure, while the general gist of the plotline is straightforward, it also lacks nuance. Every sliver of new information is presented very matter-of-factly. It hardly plants seeds to sow doubt in what’s said. There’s no attempt to generate intrigue with breadcrumbs. It seems the developers were adding artificial flavouring wherever viable, proving detrimental. It dilutes the oomph of later revelations by infusing them with a sense of sheer randomness. There’s no shock, just indifference and a semblance of confusion. Batora: Lost Haven feels like several ideas were thrown at a wall to see what stuck before being haphazardly inserted. Essentially, the writing’s shallow. Hell, if the devil’s in the details, then Satan’s missing.
This may seem weird to say, but the ambitious desire to tell an engrossing tale is precisely what shackles Batora: Lost Haven down. When you actually peel back all my complaints, there’s a legitimately fascinating game here with equally fascinating ideologies. For example, a couple of different narrative outcomes are influenced by my decisions with NPCs – I effectively cosplay as the Grim Reaper. If I do decide, their death can pretty much be guaranteed. Keep in mind that the path divergence is minimal and never dramatically alters how core events transpire. I applaud the passion. Unfortunately, it’s that same passion that’s hindering literary prowess from flourishing. Not due to sucking, but l due to the notions not being suitable for a short, 10+ hour romp. They’re too extravagant to translate, leaving us with a plethora of gripes from this damn snob.
As an Action RPG, it’s almost an inevitability it dabbles in equipment, and let me tell you, Batora: Lost Haven certainly does. The functionality, however, won’t follow the traditional sense we’re used to seeing. I can’t toss on whatever I’d like all willy-nilly because there’s a method to the chaos. Throughout her journey, Avril can tailor herself to be one of two alignments – a Conqueror or Defender. These aren’t the common good and bad routes but exist to test your morality. Their other and most vital utilization is linked intrinsically to those wearables. These take the form of Runes and come outfitted with a cost and symbol. This value determines if something can be worn. I’m pretty smitten by this mechanic due to the strategy behind it. I can build Avril, beefing her up as a powerhouse or mage – it’s customization in the loosest sense of the word.
Okay, boys and girls, batten down the hatches because these following paragraphs cover the one feature that had me drooling. To accompany the two facades Avril can embody, she’s also capable of invoking a pair of natures. Now, I’ve already alluded to them earlier, but to reiterate, she can either wield a blade of orange fury or cast purple daggers of anguish. What’s especially engaging about the combat is monsters also possess one of these attributes. Typically, that wouldn’t affect how damage is distributed – as long as Avril’s strength is high, that generally dictates output, but that’s not the case here. As a delicious little wrinkle, I must also match the stance of my enemies. If, say, I magically blast a creature shrouded in an orange aura, I’d inflict minimal pain. Battles tend to be ridiculously frantic, too, which is fun – what a rush!
Health bars are a foregone conclusion in RPGs, and that’s no different in Batora: Lost Haven, although it comes with a saucy caveat. Avril has two, and their depletion happens in quite a unique method. If she’s victim to melee, it normally calculates, draining from one of them. If she, however, is impacted by sorcery, it suctions from the other. That’s right, they are both reliant on the respective colour, or attribute, that they represent. If I’m keen to survive, I have to multi-task, splitting my attention. Not only should I be privy to approaching baddies, but I must be acutely aware of the punishment each meter can sustain before drying up. Of course, I failed a handful of times, dying in the process. Thankfully, there’s a generous checkpoint system intact. At most, I lost five minutes, if much. One thing’s for sure; this extra factor makes encounters bloody invigorating.
For anyone that enjoys Diablo, ability cooldown shouldn’t be a foreign concept. It’s just as well since it’s implemented here, and fortunately, the majority isn’t bothersome. The refresh rate is pretty brisk. Problems only arise when rolling or blinking away from incoming strikes. The contributing factor is the Runes with a perk attached that needlessly boosts wait time. Sure, it may be by a second or even a third of one, but when you’re in a fast, melt-your-face-off confrontation, that slowly becomes substantial. I’d ultimately ignore any Rune with that passive since avoiding attacks is already arduous enough. Adding on a handicap like slow dodging seems like a recipe for annoyance. Granted, I concede it cranks up the difficulty, creating a challenge, but it also highlights how these features are divorced, showing the possible absence of forethought.
With everything said thus far, one thing is definite: Batora: Lost Haven demands quick reflexes. As an older gamer, mine aren’t necessarily awful, but I indeed have delayed reactions at points. It’s one reason I was beaten so frequently. Not to mention monsters pack a serious wallop. I’m not prepared to deem that a result of atrocious balancing, though. You see, the game’s meant to be a hasty affair. That said, an accessibility discussion is worth having. Regardless, my losses never felt unfair because they were due to my negligence. When it comes to AI, that’s a different story. When I have companions, they cluelessly waltz into enemy attacks before dying, which means game over. It didn’t matter if I was doing phenomenally – their demise meant mine. It doesn’t happen habitually, but man, it’s rage-inducing when it does.
Batora: Lost Haven is flawless with performance. It’s just as well, too, because, given the genre, stutters would be nothing short of catastrophic. Thankfully, no matter the technical strain it was under, it kept firm. Even when I’d be rapidly spinning in a whirlwind of murder, it remained rock solid. Whenever I was thrown into a cutscene, character animations were seamless and had the coveted peanut butter smoothness. Thanks to the beefy specifications of the PS5, the loading is essentially nonexistent – it’s an optimization wet dream. As for visuals, well, it has this gorgeous cel-shaded aesthetic, future-proofing it from aging. A thought did creep into my head as I played. See, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was running through an interactive Pixar movie. With a buffet of particle effects served out and magnificent collision detection, this title is a masterclass, nailing every goal it strives to hit.
The audio quality of Batora: Lost Haven is, without a doubt, an utter mess. I’m far from an expert, but there’s an undeniable issue with mixing. Even when toying with the settings and adjusting volumes, the voices were too low, or the background noises became so loud they drowned everything out. After fidgeting around, it seems the responsible party is this strange piece of ambience that, for some reason, is much more pronounced than anything else. In those brief moments I did hear the music, it seemed peaceful and calm. Regarding the voice acting, it’s decent but has a glaring omission of cadence. I found the line delivery to be subpar; some of it was okay, but others were flat. I do want to highlight the scenes with Avril crying. The actress did a great job capturing that.
In conclusion, Batora: Lost Haven is a thrilling romp of fast-paced carnage. The combat system is a blast and left me constantly engaged, gripping my total and utter attention. Once beaten, I immediately hopped back into New Game+ for another round. Somewhat unexpectedly, enemies scaled to my level, maintaining that challenge – unfortunately, the seemingly suicidal AI brought about waves of irritation. Anytime I’d try to steal aggro, their insistence on taking it back was a bit baffling. Sadly, the narrative also struggles, not fitting within the game’s length. It falters at presenting emotional impact. None of those moments can breathe to allow the player to empathize with Avril. No matter how many scenarios it threw at me, my face remained stoic. It wasn’t for lack of trying; it overshot, presenting a full story where it could only fit a short tale.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for cel-shaded graphics, but I absolutely adored the visuals. The character models are well-made, with the portraits appearing during dialogue being grand.
Nothing about it is inherently wrong. I do wish that what you could do was slightly more varied then it is. The level scaling is great but having a cap of 30 for Avril undermines that because the challenge stagnates. Make it 100!
The music that’s here seems good. If I could hear it, I could probably tell you with confidence. I can’t, however, with that odd ambiance overwhelming everything.
I loved it. The mechanic of having to switch between natures added an extra layer of engagement. I was always on my toes as I weaved through attacks. It was a blast.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Batora: Lost Haven is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Batora: Lost Haven was provided by the publisher.