Review – Loop 8: Summer of Gods

I’ve gone on record to say the Lunar franchise is one I treasure so dearly. It came into my life at a pivotal moment, capturing my imagination. So much so, in fact, that it’s the inspiration for three novels that I’ve penned. After the sequel, Eternal Blue was released, there has been nothing but silence. Working Designs going out of business probably didn’t help, leading to dispersed staff. There would be an attempt at a revival on the Nintendo DS, but we don’t talk about that.

Enter Loop 8: Summer of Gods – a title published by XSeed. At the helm as the producer is the man that led the development of not only Lunar but also Grandia. Every trailer of Loop 8 I’ve seen touts it as shaking up familiar genres. The desire is to innovate by introducing ideas that hopefully aid in shaping the future. I must say, it’s ambitious, and I’m intrigued to see if it executes everything successfully. I’m optimistic, despite clenching my buttcheeks. That’s enough jibber-jabbering, though – let’s jump in.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - Blessings are what stick with you through each run.

The tropes extend to the character designs, and I love it. 

The core premise is interesting. Humanity has been separated, either living on the moon or the earth. While the former provides challenges, the latter is the most dangerous because of paranormal entities known as The Kegai. They go around murdering the humans still residing on the blue marble and leaving entire cities in shambles. This is the part where old tropes play a factor since the protagonist, a boy that descends from space, has the power to eradicate these threats – he’s the chosen one. Sure, it’s a tired plot device, but what allows Loop 8: Summer of Gods to shine are the ingredients.

For example, thanks to the limited cast, characters can breathe. They’re dripping in individuality as a result. Everyone I spoke to had distinct mannerisms. Now, I should preface the inclusion of clichés. It’s bathing in it, with typical ones such as the overly flirty woman, a nerd with youthful exuberance, and a bubbly girl that utters strange things. She’s one of my favorites because she lives in her own little world and unabashedly shows it. I found it incredibly charming, a thought I shared with many NPCs. From my first interactions, it became evident that there was a charismatic tinge to them.

I want to step back before I continue and highlight Takako. Whenever I had a dialogue with her, I was immediately reminded of my niece. Her child-like innocence takes centerstage. It’s hard not to notice how adorable she is. Upon meeting her, I was instantly referred to as a big brother. She clings to me, and due to a declining birth rate, there’s nobody her age around. It solidifies how isolated she feels. Even in the special one-on-one encounters meant to be a deep dive into her psyche, our exchanges felt wholesome. I smiled, and while her quality is subjective, she resonated with me.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - A bonding event with Takako

After all, it’s a big brother’s duty to defend his little sister. Better buy a shotgun!

You know, I felt legitimately engaged in the mysteries, particularly when it involved NPCs. A few had this habit of nonchalantly dropping subtle quotes about topics they shouldn’t be privy to, grabbing my attention. For instance, the hyperactive girl I previously mentioned spews out pure randomness. I never knew whether it was meant solely to add to her quirkiness or if her words had actual substance. That curiosity motivated me to push on because I was enthralled. Loop 8: Summer of Gods deserves praise, but sadly, there are a handful of fatal flaws that kill it on arrival. 

This first gripe may not be overly bothersome for a lot, but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when the Protagonist is silent. To clarify, there exist examples that happen to be quite well done. I’d even go as far as saying it’s difficult to picture them being verbal. What amplifies the problem here is anyone I’m talking to responds as if I’ve spoken. Their replies sometimes contain what came from my lips, causing me to wonder why I’m mute. I have a voice, which is shown periodically. I can clearly be vocal. So, I don’t comprehend the reasoning behind cutting me from the script. Bluntly, it comes across as a shortage of passion to develop me beyond being just a playable avatar. 

The biggest issue with the above is it robs us of amazing back-and-forth banter. There were so many opportunities for it. Yes, the characters are decently fleshed out, but what won’t be, aside from me, are our relationships. It’ll forever be missing a certain jeux ne se quoi. The flavor text that nails the bond between two computerized polygonal models is absent. I do enjoy the majority of the NPCs, but the caveat there is that my admiration only extends to them as a singular entity. There’s a glaring disconnect that otherwise fails in seducing me. The drive to discover be damned, the writing doesn’t reach that satisfactory end. Throughout my entire session, I felt like it was edging me.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - Beni isn’t too happy.

You know, in some circles, that isn’t much of a threat.

The second lethal blow is the story itself. Yes, I understood the gist and am a massive fan, but that won’t negate the lack of cohesion. As I was playing, I struggled to make heads or tails of what was happening. Sure, I did have a basic comprehension, but crucial pieces of this puzzle didn’t fit together. Hell, even if I met someone that seems important, there’s zero chance I can articulate their significance. Basically, I’m smitten with the foundation, but the build is a tad shoddy. It felt like this collection of characters was plucked out of canceled projects. Instead of finagling them to fit cozily within this concept, they threw them in haphazardly and called it a day.

Now, contrary to how it presents itself, Loop 8: Summer of Gods isn’t actually a JRPG. It’s certainly a sub-genre, but it’s mainly a roguelite. Every wound I succumb to means repeating the same sequence of events. I applaud the initiative, but the execution renders gameplay a dark void of tedium. See, one of the key aspects is establishing a close bond with someone. The thing is, by perishing, those values reset. Now, returning to the level of affection y’all had before you slept with the Grim Reaper is quick. Granted, it sounds conducive so far, but it’s not. If anything, it just magnifies the monotony. 

To better illustrate my point, we refer to the third category that Loop 8: Summer of Gods falls under – a Visual Novel. In every review I’ve written, I always champion a coherent story, and I stand by my declaration that these NPCs have charm. However, when I’m forced to reread a wall of text over and over, that appeal rapidly diminishes. It loses the luster, becoming a slog. It transforms into a chore because I’m retreading dialogue. Sure, if it were merely a sentence or two, I wouldn’t be fussed. It’s paragraphs, though, which rustle my feathers. I do believe the amalgamation of gameplay styles can mesh, but the implementation isn’t a homerun. Hell, it’s not even a bunt.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - A look at the bonding system

Yup, you bet your booty I eventually maxed her out. We love each other now.

Conveying mechanics accurately, especially when trying to pioneer a rare genre combination,  is essential. It’s why tutorials are necessary. Of course, not everyone is keen on those, so I bring great news with this next misstep. See, none exist, or worst yet, they do, but thanks to their ambiguity, they may as well not. The explanations are horrible, often leaving me clueless about what to do. While combat does harness the classic turn-based system, it attempts to spice that up with oomph. When I heard what the plan was, my body was ready. After an hour or so, yeah, not so much anymore.

I want to recognize how Loop 8: Summer of Gods utilizes those bonds with NPCs to replace leveling. On paper, it sounds delightful. I love how this feature encourages a player to mingle – I can’t be socially inept if I desire to bolster my strength. By chatting them up, there’s a chance to stumble on a magical creature that bestows a blessing, too, permanently raising all my stats, even after death. However, whenever I was in combat, I didn’t see a benefit. My strikes were still the equivalent of lightly being tapped because I didn’t know how to use this mechanic properly. 

See, upon targeting an enemy; I’m given three options; Friendship, Hatred, and Affection. The thing is, I’ve no inclination as to how they impact my damage output. I know it somehow relates to the relationships I form, but that’s it. The correlation between that and my strength falls on deaf ears. The game fails miserably to teach adequately. My only choice is to figure it out myself, but with several viable answers, I enter a perpetual cycle of trial and error. It’s mind-numbingly dull, exacerbated further by my lack of headway in figuring it out.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - Talking to Terasu.

I don’t think women’s in general would appreciate being called a field.

Believe it or not, the problems keep mounting. Now, I’m not sure if it’s down to balancing or my not fully understanding the supposed intricacies of encounters. That said, the brute power that my foes wield is grossly disproportionate to my limp offense. My only chance at survival is hoping Lady Luck loves me. Granted, I could counteract that by getting close to everyone I meet. Then again, that’s pretty pointless due to not having a clue as to how I translate that into something tangible. It’s frustrating because of the handful of times the opposition would wipe the floor with me.

Still, I’ll forever commend a game that’s hungry to reinvent the wheel, and Loop 8: Summer of Gods certainly is starving. It wants to bust through the norms of Roguelites, and I admire that gumption. Another method it uses to achieve the dream is throwing away the traditional and bland options of the battle command menu. I don’t select Magic to cast spells or Attack for melee strikes. No, those are removed, and to initiate an action, I choose a brief expression. Sure, it’s a fresh take and could be cool, but as is typical, the ball is dropped and rolls far, far away.

The culprit is precisely those same expressions. Each one has a maneuver linked to it, whether physical or a buff. The information to depict which does what, however, isn’t readily available by hovering over the text. Instead, it requires the activation of an ability only the Protagonist is capable of using. It’s a cute little wrinkle, but the frequency of it functioning correctly isn’t pristine. It’s spotty, at best. I’d be fed the upcoming offense of two of the four battle participants but never everyone. It’s a strange hiccup and spotlights the need for a good bit of polishing.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - Looking at Ichika’s stats!

Okay, so I definitely had favorites in the game to focus on.

The proverbial knife to the back is how inaccessible it is, thanks to these techniques having no name. As someone with a well-documented abysmal memory, I kept forgetting the effects that the quips had. It’s a stumble amplified by the very facet meant to accommodate it, not always working. My heart shattered at that realization because I had high hopes for Loop 8: Summer of Gods. From a visual standpoint, it looked to have such promise, filling me with excitement for a potential cheesy but fun anime romp. It isn’t, though, and if I were to bundle this snafu with the A.I, it’s disappointing.

I also can’t control my party members. They’re automatic, which isn’t a deterrent on its own. What pokes at my patience is how erratic they are when selecting moves. An argument could be made that having it be this way forces me to adapt and strategically align my tactics to theirs. Yeah, that’s a bang-on assessment, but that’s not how it’s going to go. See, it goes out the window when your supposed allies usually focus on increasing stats. The mindblowing part is even with all those boosts, I still hit like a weakling. I know I’m a broken record at this juncture, but God damn, I can’t understate how much the insufficient communication proves detrimental to the overall experience.

Despite my incessant moaning, I’ve got to applaud the graphical fidelity. I rather like the hand-drawn sprites. They sport that classical cartoony aesthetic that, and maybe this will sound weird, had me feeling coziness in my tum tum. I reckon it’s thanks to the familiarity it holds, having grown up with a plethora of JRPGs with a similar look. The environments are varied, too, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of déjà vu. As I strolled the town’s streets, there was an unmistakable resemblance to Persona 4. Otherwise, a few locales were inspired, while others, like the school, were generic.

Loop 8: Gods of Summer - Talking to Machina

Ah yes, everyone knows a large chest is a character trait.

There’s a persistent choppiness that haunted me during my session. To be fair, when I’d jog around, I’m not too positive if it wasn’t a stylistic choice. It really could be, but the portion I knew was undoubtedly poor optimization was when in the thralls of battle. There’s a painfully obvious chunk of jumpiness with the animations. Their movements didn’t have that peanut buttery smoothness that you’d hope for. It wasn’t enough to cause a crash, but the slowdown isn’t easily ignored. Another gripe, while subjective, is the loading. Entering new areas is preceded by a second or two of darkness. It doesn’t last long, but considering how regularly I’m transitioning screens, it’s bothersome.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you’re well aware of the dub. Now before the groans wring out, the voices aren’t terrible. In fact, they match who they represent nicely. What’s a stain on the performances is the meager direction. For some inexplicable reason, whenever I’m having a dialogue with an NPC, after each period, there’s this strange pause. It’s short but manages to take a person right out of their immersion. That robotic delivery kept me out of the universe. Yea, glimpses of personality appear here and there, but it never truly flourishes because of the awkwardness. If I’m honest, I could absorb more of their demeanors by reading and jazzing it up myself. 

In conclusion, Loop 8: Summer of Gods is dreadful. It pains me to say, but it’s easy to suggest against purchasing it. Plenty of bad decisions contribute to sucking the fun from this romp and relegating it to becoming a chore. I wanted to like it, given the pedigree, and when I found out it combined my most beloved genres, I was giddy. Unfortunately, the finished product is a big failure. It isn’t all doom and gloom, of course, because I did think the writing was exceptional. It isn’t the best, but I definitely found it delightful. It’s just a shame the voices that accompany the text didn’t always deliver. With a couple of changes, I think what’s here is salvageable, but it’s currently a skip.

Graphics: 8.0

I’m a huge sucker for the hand-drawn portraits. They are exquisite and the colors pop off the screen, especially because of the OLED. 

Gameplay: 2.0

I want to reiterate that the ideas are great but how they’re handled is nothing short of atrocious. It felt so mindless, like I was just going through the motions.

Sound: 7.0

I don’t mind the dub. I do think the delivery on some lines could have been better. That pause after every period was really unnatural. 

Fun Factor: 1.0

I didn’t have fun with it. There’s certainly potential, but the way everything has been executed just made me want to move on. A reevaluation on how things gel, and maybe actual tutorials, are a must.

Final Verdict: 3.5

Loop 8: Summer of Gods is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Loop 8: Summer of Gods was provided by the publisher.