Indie games are a really hit-or-miss industry. Some indie games are fantastic, forming cult followings as strong as those centered around mainstream titles. I mean, just look at Undertale. Meanwhile, there are other indie games that are absolute trash. Poor grammar, pitiful gameplay, or buggy programming hold these games back and make them impossible to play or finish. With such a huge gap in quality in the indie community, it’s good to have reviews of the content so you can see which ones are worth your time (and possibly your money) and which ones you should stay away from.
That brings us to my most recent trip into the Steam store, and the rather unusual free-to-play title that I saw there: Jesus Christ RPG Trilogy. I have mentioned in passing in previous posts that I am a Christian, and it’s pretty obvious I’m into gaming. So it’s no big surprise that this title caught my interest. What was this game? Would it be a theologically accurate game recreating the story of Jesus as a method of teaching gamers about Christianity? Or would it be a sensationalized story of a ripped white guy ripping a spear out of his side and then using it to mow down a demon-possessed Roman empire? Since the game was free, I decided I was curious enough to download this title and find out.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Totally Subjective Review, so here’s the concept: I’m going to give this game completely arbitrary scores that have no numerical significance whatsoever. If you really want to know my thoughts on the game, you’ll have to actually read the text portion of the review. I’ve chosen to review this game Subjectively rather than Objectively due to its content and the fact that it is an indie title, which can be something of an acquired taste.
Jesus Christ RPG Trilogy was created back in 2013 by WholeTone Games, but to my understanding has only recently hit the Steam store. As the title implies, this is actually a bundle of three games in one: Jesus Christ RPG, Baby Jesus Christ RPG, and Rise Jesus Christ RPG. All three games together tell the story of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. The games are rightly bundled – they don’t really stand alone. Each one took roughly two hours, making the whole shebang a six-hour endeavor. Some features of the games, like the graphics and music, are common between all three. Conversely, things like game mechanics and story change somewhat between each title. So let’s get started and see what this title has to offer.
Jesus Christ RPG Trilogy consists of three games made on RPG Maker. If you’re not familiar with that program, it allows pretty much anybody with some basic programming skill to create a video game. The graphics are standard across all three games. These games have a simple art style with a very retro feel. The characters are cute in a “small plastic figurines that your kid would play with” kind of way. Jesus looks much like you’d expect – if you’ve ever seen any classic artwork of him, there will be no surprises here. Ally characters have unique designs while most NPCs are one of a few different generic models. Enemies, too, are limited to a few designs that are pallet-swapped. Although most of the enemy designs were rather dull, I did think some of the more sensational demons in this game had a pretty cool style. Overall, you’ll probably be saying “aww” more than “cool!” with this game, so if you like cutesy graphics or retro games then you’ll definitely get a kick out of this.
When it comes to the map and environments you can explore in, the games have some unique areas and some areas that are reused throughout the series. This is particularly clear with Jesus Christ RPG and Baby Jesus Christ RPG, where the overworld map is pretty much the same both times (but actually smaller in the former). It seems like the production value of the final game was upped quite a bit, as the map elements are totally unique and have a lot more variation than in the first two games.
I need to stop reviewing games when I’m out traveling, because I am yet again in a situation where I was not able to play much of this game with the volume on. What music I did experience was alright – I wasn’t particularly impressed and it certainly didn’t hurt the experience that I played with the music off. The good news is that if you play the game and you do enjoy the music, a soundtrack feature is in the works as DLC.
Overall, this game did its job with the presentation. I will note that when playing Rise Jesus Christ RPG, I did experience some lag and frame issues. I am attributing these to my computer’s low battery life for the time being, but it might be something for you to keep in mind should you decide to pick up the game. Other than a few really unique designs for demon enemies, there’s not a lot to impress here, but it won’t bog down your experience either.
SCORE: Not 7 times, but 70 times 7
This part is gonna be pretty predictable for most players. I mean, if you’ve read the Gospels (for those unfamiliar with the Christian Bible, the term “gospels” refers to four specific books within the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), then you pretty much know what’s going to happen. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, well then, this is certainly a quirky alternative to reading.
Baby Jesus Christ RPG tells the story of Christ’s birth. Jesus barely features in the story at all, with most of the action being focused around his mother and stepfather and the three foreign magi who come to worship him. Jesus Christ RPG focuses on his ministry and the miracles he performed during his adult life. Rise Jesus Christ RPG deals with his betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection, but most of the emphasis in this game is actually placed on an event not described in much detail in the Bible: the harrowing of Hell. These are the three days between Christ’s death and his resurrection in which he journeys to the hot place in order to save those who died before he came to earth. This is where a lot of sensationalism and creative liberty comes into play, but I didn’t mind it too much. After all, there weren’t many other ways to make those three days of being dead interesting in a narrative/gamist sense.
The cool thing about the story with these games is that it is more rewarding the more familiar you are with Biblical texts. This game is definitely designed to be enjoyed by people who have read not just the gospels, but the Old Testament as well. There are a ton of references to Old Testament lore – indeed, these elements are some of the most “stereotypical RPG elements” in the whole game. From a fetch quest to the Tower of Babel to rescuing a series of Old Testament heroes, you’ll definitely be able to appreciate the story more if you’ve grown up in a Christian church/household or are familiar with the Bible for another reason.
As someone who knew the story going in, there certainly weren’t any plot twists to this game. In fact, the most exciting moments were the ones that I knew were coming. “Alright, it’s about time to face Legion.” “I’m in the wilderness for forty days, Satan’s gonna be along any minute now.” “Ooh, I’ll have to escape Herod’s soldiers and flee to Egypt.” Kind of like watching a movie based on a novel or comic book, the moments you’re likely to enjoy the most will be those where you get to watch one of your favorite Jesus moments come to life as an interactive event.
One thing I’ll also note is that much of the game’s dialogue actually comes from the Bible itself. Specifically, the creators at WholeTone Games chose to use the New English Translation (NET), which is readily available on the internet for reference. Some dialogue is paraphrased and some bits are direct quotes. There are some original lines to be found, and these are usually humorous in nature. You know, some anachronisms where roman empire Jews know about cell phones or television programs, or in-jokes about how everyone seems to be named Mary. These bits of dialogue are a lot of fun and are a pretty refreshing break from the more serious scenes full of direct quotes from the good book itself.
Overall, the story is gonna be really familiar or really fresh, depending on your knowledge of the Bible. There are lots of little references and throwbacks for those familiar with the Old Testament as well, and the simple but fun dialogue of NPC randoms should keep you entertained between battles against demons.
SCORE: 40 Days and 40 Nights
Jesus Christ RPG Trilogy is an old-school roleplaying game in the vein of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. You interact with the world in two main phases: the overworld and the battle screen. In the overworld, you move around either a town map or the world map and interact with people and objects. If you find a treasure chest, you open it. If you find an NPC, you talk to them. This is pretty much the extent of action in the overworld, as there aren’t really puzzles you have to solve or mazes to navigate.
In battle, you are treated to a first-person view where you face the enemies you’ll be fighting. Swinging your weapon or casting a spell gives you a quick, simple animation of a slash mark or a few sparkles, while enemy figures generally just nudge forward a bit and your HP bar drops. If you’ve played a retro console RPG in the past, you’ll be pretty familiar with your options. Things like attacking, using a special skill, and using items are all standard. However, in addition to your HP and MP bars, you also have a stat called AP (angel points) in the first game and TP (talent points) in the other two. This stat goes up when you choose to Refrain from fighting, or when you take damage from the enemy. You can use AP/TP to use unique character abilities that vary from game to game.
Each game excels in a different field. Baby Jesus Christ RPG offers the largest section of playable characters as you effectively have two sections of the game: the Mary and Joseph section, and the Three Magi section. Each party has different abilities. Joseph is a warrior type that focuses on dealing damage and has no special skills. Mary can summon angels by spending her AP, so she functions best when she refrains from combat to build points and then uses those points to increase the party’s stats or heal everyone. With the Magi, you’ll be mixing and matching weapons as different weapon types give you different magic spells you can perform.
The middle game (just called Jesus Christ RPG, in case you’re having as much trouble as I am keeping these straight) focuses more on solo action with Jesus. You’ll get other characters, but most of them don’t show up until quite a bit later. In this title, you’re combining overworld exploration with battle mode grinding. The more demons you defeat in battle, the more Miracles you learn. These Miracles are not for combat application, though – rather, they allow you to progress the story by performing iconic Biblical miracles such as restoring sight to the blind, helping the lame to walk again, and banishing demons from those who are possessed.
Rise Jesus Christ RPG, the final game, has the most combat – but also the most purposeless combat. In the other games, finding a balance between MP and TP was important, and characters had varied abilities which required you to strategize against bosses. This game is all about sensationalized, gratuitous demon killing, with your incredibly powerful characters swooping into Hell and exorcising anything that moves. The battles don’t serve much purpose except to break apart sections of dialogue and story. What the third game does offer is the most original content, as the harrowing of Hell is not something described with any kind of depth by the gospel writers.
Overall, each game is its own unique gameplay experience, but the three of them need to work together to create a whole. Each one does something better than the others while falling behind in another aspect. This is part of why they come together – the full experience shows off the game at its best, while any one of the three by itself would leave a bad taste in the mouth.
SCORE: 1, 2, and 5 talents
So I’ve mentioned that for the most part, this game is pretty Biblically accurate and it will appeal to folks who are familiar with the Bible. Does that mean that people who don’t read the Christian Bible cannot play this game? Well, no, but you’re probably not going to get the same experience as someone who does know it.
If you’re a Christian or are fascinated by religion and Christian studies, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The little references to other books of the Bible and to passages that are not explicitly discussed in the game’s main plot are a lot of fun. The main appeal of the game is in reaching iconic moments in the story and getting to see them played out in front of you.
So what does that mean for people who don’t know the story, or those who aren’t interested in seeing it hashed out in video game form? If you fall into the latter category, I can’t recommend this game to you – focusing on the life of Jesus Christ is what it’s all about. There’s no getting around that. Now if you don’t know the Christian Bible but your curiosity is still piqued, you can still play the game. You’ll definitely miss some in-jokes and references – it can’t be avoided. But the story of Jesus (whether you believe it or not) is certainly an interesting one, and this game presents it in a cute, fun way that isn’t overly aggressive in the way that a Christian film might be (God’s Not Dead comes to mind).
It’s hard to talk about Jesus and his story without separating it from its religious context, but let’s try to do so for a minute. Does this game, strictly as a narrative, communicate the story well for someone who doesn’t know it? The answer is yes. Like any good RPG, randoms have a lot of information to give if you’ll just take the time to talk to them. If you don’t know, for example, that Jesus’s ministry didn’t start until he was baptized by John the Baptist, then you might not know that you need to look for him before you start doing any miracles. Heck, I didn’t realize it and I am familiar with the story! But a quick chat with some nearby NPCs let me know that getting baptized was first on my list of priorities, and from there I was able to progress through the game. The game’s main story will make sense if you aren’t familiar with it already. All you’ll be missing out on are some references to other Biblical material.
This game is not game of the year material by any stretch of the imagination. The overworld is generally boring, and combat is hit or miss depending on what title you are playing. But the game is a cute way to experience the story of Jesus as a video game. While the game is certainly designed for the niche audience of Christian gamers interested in retro console RPGs, others can play it and still appreciate the main story for what it is. However, some Biblical familiarity helps in understanding smaller references and appreciating tiny details that might otherwise go unnoticed. This indie game is a fun way to kill a few hours, but only if you’re really interested in the driving concept behind it. If playing a game about Jesus does not sound novel or fun to you, then it probably won’t be. But if you, like me, have had your curiosity piqued, then it can be a fun way to experience this familiar story in a new fashion.
OVERALL SCORE: 3 Days