RPG Maker 2003. Load of rubbish, right?* It makes me think of endless JRPG clones: unsubtle homages to games that were already dull. Identikit fantasies where the farmboy protagonist leaves home on an epic quest to save the land, pick up purple-haired chicks with thyroidal eyes, and loot everything he can get his pixellated hands on. Space Funeral is no different to these games in some respects. You play as Philip, a man who leaves home on a linear mission to right the wrongs of his world. You fight monsters in turn based battles, gain experience, and collect loot. Sounds familiar. Sounds boring.
But what I’ve failed to mention is that Philip is afflicted with such deep depression that he is constantly weeping, the world he inhabits is an irredeemable abomination, there are no wacky haired maidens, and his only friend is an animated pile of severed legs called Leg Horse. Welcome to Space Funeral.
It’s a horrible world. It’s what a colourblind lovechild of an unholy triumvirate of Hieronymous Bosch, David Firth, and J_Chastain would create. There was a point near the end of the game where I held my forearm to shield my eyes because the graphics were actually hurting me. Philip’s journey takes him past rivers of blood, cocktail-puke coloured wastelands, houses that look like fractured skulls, and a motley collection of deformed NPCs who are almost uniformly jerks.
His dad advises him, right at the start of the game, that he should leave the house. If you’re at all familiar with JRPGs, you’ll know that a great many of them start off by leaving the family home, but I can’t recall ever being kicked out. This is one of the many subversions of RPG tropes in Space Funeral. The weirdness is frequently effective because it is packaged in such a recognisable format. It made total sense that Philip’s character-status in the menu screen is always sad, unless he gets spooked or poisoned.
Bits of dialogue refer to the Great Change, supposedly the cataclysmic event that screwed everything up so badly. The City of Forms, the Platonic ideal from which everything in the world is reflected from, has been corrupted, thus tainting everything else. Philip and Leg Horse must expunge the evil. The narrative is not consistent enough to reveal exactly why Philip decides to do this, though Leg Horse’s motivations are later made clear.
The gameplay is a shell for the atmosphere. I spent time grinding monsters because that’s what these games generally expect of a player, yet I needn’t have bothered. Combat is incredibly easy – Philip and Leg Horse were never in danger of dying – and there’s even an “Auto” button that lets the AI do the work. This makes the many skills your characters accumulate little more than flavour text. Still, the effort is appreciated, especially since some of them are so apt, like Philip’s sob effect and the ability to distract sentimental ghosts with Old Movies.
There was another reason that I kept running poor Philip into the easily avoided enemies, though: I became addicted to the music. The victory tune is the reverb drenched, melancholic guitar outro from Love’s 7 & 7 is, for goodness’ sake. The exploration themes are also perfectly chosen: Ruth White and her demon-possessed moog synths permeate the settings with forboding, while the jauntier tracks from the BBC Radiophonic workshop add a kind of carnival-gone-mad feel to the rotten wastelands and villages of tragic therianthropes. Sure, the creator can’t take credit for the music itself, but the selections are inspired.
Space Funeral only took me about an hour and a half to complete, though it could have been much quicker if I’d dodged more monsters on the way to the surprising conclusion. I can forgive the (very) rough edges and rudimentary gameplay because of its brevity, and I respect the unusual imagination that went into the atmosphere and plot. Even if you hate games like this, it’s unlikely that you’ve played anything like it.
*Aside from maybe Yume Nikki.