Let’s get this out of the way first, I don’t like Undertale. The game has been highly regarded for its principles and impactful message. However, it really doesn’t feel like it makes that much of an impact when you’re told how awful you are over, and over again for making one wrong choice. So, you can imagine the dread I started to feel when the same core concept could be found in Iji.
Yes, like Undertale, Iji also has a moral message to tell. However, unlike Undertale, Iji came out as a freeware game all the way back in 2008. Not only that, but I feel that Iji actually manages to deliver this message of pacifism better. In fact, I could say with confidence that Iji was a curious project that was way ahead of its time.
So, what makes Iji a unique case above the rest? Well, let’s see what this game has to offer in this review.
Which Version of Iji Will be Reviewed?
Before we start this review, let’s talk about the developer of the game. Iji was created back in 2008 under version 5.3a of GameMaker: Studio by one person: Daniel Remar. You might know him for other freeware titles like Hero Core.
The version I’ll look at for this review will be Version 1.7. This version of the game is radically different from the original release and came about in 2017. This version of the game includes a revamped story; several endings; better graphics; and an overall improvement in terms of compatibility for modern OS’s. Needless to say, this version of Iji is the best version you can play right now.
Unfortunately, Iji was also a tough game to capture screenshots with. My attempts at capturing footage and screenshots for the game resulted in crashes. The game also doesn’t like the Steam overlay that much either. So, I will address this problem by including screenshots from other sources. Don’t worry, I still managed to capture a few screenshots on my own and external sources will be credited.
Now, with that short disclaimer out of the way, let’s start talking about the Human Anomaly, Iji.
The Apocalypse Now?
The game puts us in the shoes of the titular character: Iji. Out of nowhere, a race of aliens known as the Tasen begins invading planet Earth. Iji blacks out for an unknown amount of time only to find that her family has died and she’s trapped in a facility infested with them. Fortunately, the last few remaining scientists in the lab have equipped her with reverse-engineered alien weaponry.
Iji also establishes contact with her brother Dan through the facility speakers. With his guidance, Iji ventures deep into the facility to attempt to stop the Tasen invasion. However, this objective soon gets changed as Iji discovers that Earth has already been taken over and that she and Dan might be the last few survivors.
As such, Iji is forced to establish contact with the peacekeeping force from space known as the Komato Empire. The real stinger is that the Komato Empire has actually been chasing after the Tasen for quite some time. As such, Iji and Dan think that alerting the Empire would be a great way to get the Tasen off Earth.
Unfortunately, things don’t go as Dan and Iji had hoped for. Once the Komato Empire lands, they start wreaking havoc and fighting against the Tasen. Unfortunately, they are as hostile as the Tasen and they do not care about the fact that humanity is caught in the crossfire. What’s more, the Komato are planning to use an Alpha Strike to completely destroy Planet Earth.
So, Iji and Dan decide to carry out a negotiation plan to at least let them speak for humanity. From here, the story continues to explore the relationship between the two races; Iji and Dan’s involvement in the whole ordeal; and the moral standing between every party involved.
Who is in the Right?
That’s the thing about Iji that intrigues me the most about its morality sense. None of the parties involved can be labeled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The Tasen are aliens that took over Earth in a hostile manner but they were also seeking refuge from the Komato Empire. The Komato themselves don’t care about what becomes of Earth and its inhabitants and they also have their own agenda against the Tasen.
This moral sense can be seen even in gameplay. While I will cover this in much more detail later in the review, I still found great enjoyment from watching the two factions fight against one another. Yes, you can actually see your enemies attempt to take each other’s lives, use the same resources you have access to, the works. It’s a pretty advanced AI for its time.
Of course, being a game that’s deeply centered in its moral ground, the game also provides us with different characters. Iji is home to some characters who don’t necessarily agree with their allegiances. In fact, some of them can turn into your allies. Of course, you’ll also have some others who think Humans should be exterminated or characters who live by “The end justifies the means” philosophy.
What’s more, you also can come across several logs which bring some details about character relationships. In fact, if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to see the entire history of Earth and the Komato/Tasen.
Who are you?
Iji herself can also change depending on the player’s actions. The game keeps track of everything you do and Iji’s behavior will change depending on the player’s decisions. No, it doesn’t constantly shame you for making a single mistake the way Undertale does. Iji is pretty open and subtle and it almost feels like Iji’s personality adapts to that of the player’s.
This incentivizes multiple playthroughs. Not only because your ending will change depending on your actions, but because you’ll feel tempted to discover in what ways the game can change. How does Iji react to certain situations if she’s desensitized after killing a lot of random aliens? How about the same idea but Iji is completely passive and avoids combat as much as possible?
If that isn’t enough, you can actually find a lot of logbooks on stages that show the feelings of the enemies toward Iji. Some soldiers can be moved by the ideals you carry. Meanwhile, if you go the way of the psychopath killer, some might show resentment or fear.
Instead of locking you to one route, the game makes subtle and progressive changes. This is something I admire because it allows the player to freely choose their standing without the need of being reminded of their choices. It lets players think for themselves and truly analyze their actions and consequences in one way or another.
So, how does Iji move around the battlefield? Let’s start talking about the gameplay elements.
Attack or Run
Iji is an action platformer with RPG elements. As you defeat enemies (or collect their nanofield information) you’ll gather EXP. You know the drill, get EXP and you’ll be able to level up. Here’s the deal, you’ll be able to collect EXP from downed enemies even if you didn’t actually attack them. In other words, you will be able to get equipped for the mission without the need of using your weapons.
Yes, I said weapons. Iji lets you play with multiple weapons and use them to tell your foes to “Get away from me”. However, if you want to be passive, you’re also given weapons that will let you stun your enemies. One of my favorite weapons is the Stun Gun, which lets you temporarily disable your enemies so you can move on. Of course, once your enemy goes down (by your hand or someone else’s) you’ll get ammo for your weapons.
Indeed, you’ll be able to claim the spoils of war without being a participant in it. This lets you stand a chance without the need of shooting down everything on your path for the sake of survival. However, you may also want to have fun with weapons. In this way, Iji delivers for those who want to go the action route. The game offers a total of 9 weapons (each mapped to numbers 1-9 on your keyboard).
However, the weapons are locked behind a “Paywall” of sorts. With that said, let’s briefly talk about how Iji is going to be able to gather her upgrades.
How Weapons are “Procured”
Iji is able to upgrade her stats as she levels up. However, her stats go up in an unconventional way. Iji will only be able to upgrade her stats through in one of the upgrade stations found in the levels. However, some upgrades will be used to take down certain “Locks”.
You can’t just get any weapons or kick any doors down. Weapons, for example, require you to be able to have a certain stat leveled up. So, let’s say you want a Level 5 Tasen weapon. Well, Iji is going to have her Tasen stat up to 5 before being able to pick up the weapon.
So, you’ll be placed in a spot where you’ll have to make the decision between which stats you upgrade. Especially when you realize that the game limits the number of times you can level up per Sector. In other words, you can’t get away with grinding on the first stage for ages. The game wants you to move on and so you have to do so.
Weapons are also combinable, allowing you to create stronger weapons. Of course, you also need to have the appropriate stats before being able to do so. Some of these weapon upgrades are actually amazing, though. For example, you can get a weapon that’s able to reflect enemy projectiles back at them. That is a HUGE effect against some of the game’s bosses. Oh, right…
Grabbing Your Bearings and Facing Major Threats
In this game, Iji will be faced against some bosses during the game. Some of them can be invulnerable to your weaponry. However, some of your weapons can help you in defeating them. Heck, the final boss is a puzzle in and of itself until you realize that you can reflect its most powerful attack. With this technique, you can pretty much take it down in just a few shots.
This is the greatest aspect of Iji’s combat. Whether pacifist or berzerk, you have to think about which weapons you’ll use against bosses. You cannot just go blindly and use every weapon and ammo you have.
But is it hard?
Iji is actually quite hard. It can keep itself accessible in the Normal difficulty but it won’t be a walk in the park. However, players can actually challenge themselves with the game’s multiple difficulty selections. From the Hard mode to the Ultimortal difficulty mode which adds a timer on top of stronger enemies. This basically makes speedrunning Iji a necessity.
Of course, the harder challenge is going for a pacifist run. Enemies are going to shoot you on sight and so, it’s going to be tough to maneuver around them. If you’re skilled enough, you can gather your bearings while using your stun weapons to give you a brief window of time to do so.
Once again, this aspect works in the game’s favor. The aforementioned changes in gameplay and Iji’s mindset are pretty lenient; allowing you to actually kill a few soldiers if you really need to. However, the more you do things as “Self-defense” the less it becomes… Well, self-defense. Kind of like in Freeman’s Mind from Accursed Farms! Iji will eventually stop calling it self-defense and start feeling desensitized.
The game is also designed so you don’t get stuck from not leveling up enough. There will always be an exit for you, you just need to have the right stats. Some exits are downright shortcuts, and this only contributes to the aforementioned replay factor. As you progress through the game, you’re allowed to take multiple routes depending on your stats.
Setting Humanity Free
Overall, Iji is an excellent platform shooter that provides a lot of freedom and replay value. It has a moral message to push without forcing the player to listen to it. This game is definitely way ahead of its time. Of course, the game is freeware so you can pretty much play it right now.
Quick forewarning though, don’t play this game in fullscreen if you have a high-res monitor. The game is locked under 800×600 resolution and will only force it when playing on fullscreen mode. The sprites look nice regardless and the game is pretty fun to play from start to finish.
I highly recommend you play Iji if you want to play more games like Axiom Verge. It takes clear inspiration from Metroidvania-style games and it also rewards players for going the extra mile in terms of exploration. The overall experience will take you a couple of hours to finish so give this game a shot if you have the chance. In the end, humanity depends on you.
What do you think about our Iji review? Are you going to play the game? What’s your favorite metroidvania-style game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Are you looking for more action? Check out our Zombie Army 4: Dead War review.