Thanks for clicking into our end of the year coverage! Merry-Go-Round Magazine is an independent culture site funded by people like you! With 2023 in full swing, we’re looking back at our favorite games and gaming trends from 2022 through a series of personal essays. In this entry, sometimes you need to chill out, and fantasy RPG FRANKEN was there for us. If you’re enjoying our End of 2022 Coverage, consider becoming a member of our Patreon, or even donating to our operation here!
One of the worst things capitalism takes away from us is time. I wish I had more time to spend with the people I love, to rest, and to make art. I spent so much of 2022 feeling tired and worrying about the art I wanted to make instead of actually creating anything.
I did find a way to play a few games during my holiday break. In my productivity panic, I managed to speedrun both PENTIMENT and THE CASE OF THE GOLDEN IDOL. That wasn’t a good idea. I wouldn’t recommend speedrunning murder mystery games on your first playthrough. They’re best enjoyed at your own pace so you can soak in their cool atmospheres. I did not and I suffered for no good reason. (However, speedrunning, ignoring dialogue and overlooking clues, does make games like HEAVY RAIN way more fun.)
Luckily, there was one game I played this holiday break that I did enjoy properly. In splendidland’s 2022 fantasy RPG FRANKEN, you play the role of a tiny blue hero on a quest to seek out and vanquish evil beings. Your adventures take you to different towns that risk being destroyed by the mysterious Hell’s Knight, and eventually you and several precious sweet angels you meet along your adventures must save the day by putting their tyranny to an end. You can beat it in less than 30 minutes, but I highly recommend just sitting back and enjoying it. It’s one of the only games I played in 2022 that didn’t feel like work.
Everything about FRANKEN is cute. Its soft, pixelated art style, its funny NPCs, its nostalgic and dreamy soundtrack, its creative exploration that’s filled with little secrets, and its battle system that’s so gentle that the only way you can fight is by pressing the “ATTACK!” button over and over again. FRANKEN is a cozy, great time. If I could sum it up simply, it has major “day off from high school” vibes.
Everything in FRANKEN is lovingly curated. You can really see the thought and care spendidland put into each element of the game. She cites FINAL FANTASY IV as an inspiration for the game and you can really see it in its whimsical characters, game mechanics, and story. In addition to all of this, the retro anime and bossa nova tracks that play throughout the game feel like they’re from a ‘90s Saturday morning kid’s cartoon in the best way possible. A super dreamy song plays while you fly around in your airship and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the game.
FRANKEN’s unique aesthetic, retro soundtrack, and exploration of the RPG genre as a whole are reminiscent of the grunge, psychedelic 2010 RPG Maker game SPACE FUNERAL. Both games are a whimsical celebration of the RPG genre filled with unique visuals, soundtracks, enemies, and inside jokes. However, where FRANKEN is cute, SPACE FUNERAL is super glitchy and full of blood. Fortunately, SPACE FUNERAL is so over-the-top that it’s pretty silly. And you can put it on autoplay too if you just want to enjoy the story. But the game over/victory music is so good that I recommend dying at least once.
The standout character in FRANKEN is Cereberus. I don’t want to give away too much of the game’s incredible story or jokes, but Cerberus is a unique NPC you’ll come across throughout your travels. You’re supposed to fight them but they aren’t ready to battle you just yet because they need extra time to finish drawing their character portrait. Cerberus’s whole character arc is touching and really spoke to me. In an interview with Inverse, splendidland explains that she didn’t expect to make money off of FRANKEN and that she just wanted to have fun making something. FRANKEN is so pure and joyful you can see her vision while playing it. It feels as fun to play as it probably was to make.
Like Cerberus, I’m slowly learning how to make art again. I’m taking extra time to make weird things for me and my friends and it feels right. Life is short and I’m fortunate that I get to spend it with the people I love. Friends who don’t care if I’m productive, if my hair’s messy, or if I make anything good. We’re just sweet, funny, and queer and that’s perfect for all of us. And FRANKEN is too!