South Park: The Stick of Truth

Licensed videogames, in many cases, tend to be a mixed bag for game critics, although there are occasional exceptions, such as the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, and even those titles towards which reviewers are apathetic just might have their share of redeeming aspects, such as James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game on the Nintendo DS. That aside, development on an RPG based on Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park animated television series began in 2009, and proved quite turbulent, ultimately coming out for prior-generation consoles in 2014. Does the product, South Park: The Stick of Truth, avert the typical curse of licensed games?

Players take control of the New Kid, who just moves with his parents to South Park, Colorado, with players able to assign a class when customizing the character, including Fighter, Thief, Mage, and even Jew, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In a rarity for a Western RPG, furthermore, Stick of Truth features turn-based battles, with enemies visible within the streets, fields, and occasional buildings of the eponymous mountain town, where hitting them with the New Kid’s equipped weapon starts an encounter with the player having an advantage, although foes can take the player by surprise and act first. The player can also instantly kill certain visible foes through environmental effects such as passing gas on open flames, still obtaining experience.

In battle, the New Kid is accompanied by a buddy, with a typical structure of the player’s characters executing their commands immediately after the player inputs them, and the enemies taking their turn, although sometimes turn order is unclear, particularly if either ally has slow status. Stick of Truth pays homage to Japanese roleplaying games such as the Mario RPGs and The Legend of Dragoon, with timed button presses increasing attack and defense. Fortunately, if players aren’t fully skilled in this aspect, they can keep plenty of healing snacks in their stock, and if the New Kid or their buddy heals during their turn, they can still execute an offensive command.

Although in most JRPGs a basic command, standard attacks are anything but, since during that particular option, the player has an array of button-pressing options when executing their attack, such as chaining a combo of normal attacks depending on their equipped weapon, good against foes with substandard defense, one more powerful attack, good for wearing away armor, and an attack propelled by flatulence necessitating points from a special gauge. Standard magic skills consume Power Points and too require certain button-pressing combinations the game mercifully indicates, with characters recovering all PP, in addition to HP, after the player wins a battle, though the flatulence gauge remains the same.

Outside battle, the player can outfit the New Kid with various armor having certain effects such as heightened defense against various kinds of attacks, and a melee and ranged weapon, with most equipment having a level requirement, experience gained both from combat and completing story objectives. Level-ups give the player one point they can invest into their PP-consuming skills, although they have effects beyond said abilities such as heightened damage. The protagonist can further befriend South Parkers old and young via Facebook to occasionally gain a point to invest into various perks, which too have sundry inane effects.

The battle system definitely works for the most part, although there are a few incongruities, such as the total lack of an option to defend to reduce damage, which can be a burden in some cases such as enemies riposting melee attacks or reflecting ranged skills, and switching the New Kid’s battle buddy wastes a turn, a step down from the vastly-superior character-swapping systems of Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy X, Breath of Fire IV, and Wild Arms 2. Even so, the pluses of combat very much outweigh the minuses, with adjustable difficulty further accommodating different players.

One cannot say the same of the non-battle gameplay, which is arguably Stick of Truth’s weakest element. For one, constant lag plagues the PlayStation 3 version, prominent when traversing the menus, and while the game autosaves at fixed checkpoints, manually saving just duplicates the save created at one of the aforementioned events. The player can also only view playtime in the save menu, with the in-game clock being somewhat slow, and frequent load times plague the game. Many fart and puzzle mechanics necessary to advance at points are also somewhat esoteric, with this reviewer spending nearly an hour, for instance, trying to learn a flatulence technique from Randy Marsh only to realize he was using the wrong analog stick. Ultimately, the developers should have given this area a once-over.

Where Stick of Truth shines most is its narrative, which has a largely kid-centric perspective akin to EarthBound (which South Park co-creator Trey Parker says was in fact one of the inspirations for the animated show), but definitely pushes its ESRB: M rating to its limit, with plenty of genuine humor that makes this perhaps the funniest RPG this reviewer has ever played, even not being much of a fan of a series due to a reason rhyming with “smelly farts” that is luckily relegated to an optional quest. The script does contain occasional errors, but otherwise, the storyline very much puts the “art” in “fart.”

This reviewer hasn’t played many Western RPGs with superb soundtracks, Stick of Truth occasionally sporting generic fantasy music in sync with the fantasy roleplaying the child characters perform throughout the game, and there are some technical issues with the music such as menu navigation occurring in silence. However, the voicework, spearheaded by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is very much on par with that in the animated series, and somewhat compensates from the otherwise lackluster aurals.

Stick of Truth is visually faithful to its source material, although there is occasional slowdown and choppiness that brings down the graphics, alongside the fact that the game doesn’t really push the PlayStation 3 to its visual limits bringing into question why the loading times can be so long.

Finally, the game can last players as little as six hours or up to twelve, maybe beyond, depending upon sidequests and achievements.

Overall, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a licensed game that for once averts many of the pitfalls common in the videogame subgenre, given its solid combat system, genuinely humorous script and storyline, great voice acting, and plentiful side content. However, there are some things that bring its five-year development time into question, such as the lengthy loading times, generally lackluster music, slowdown, and choppiness, not to mention pitfalls such as occasional esoteric puzzle mechanics. Even so, fans of the animated series and nonfans alike largely owe it to themselves to check out one of the better licensed games out there.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy purchased by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Enjoyable combat.
+Story and script are genuinely funny.
+Solid voicework.
+Plenty side content.

The Bad:
-Fart and puzzle mechanics sometimes esoteric.
-Long loading times.
-Generic soundtrack.
-Common slowdown and occasional glitches.

The Bottom Line:
A good licensed RPGs for fans and non-fans alike.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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