Afterlife: a unique RPG about death, regret, and neurotic spirits

By Ryan Lambie. Posted

The first thing about AFTERLIFE that caught our attention is its witty dialogue. The game takes place in a monochrome town full of neurotic spirits whose bleakly cynical, sometimes disarmingly surreal outbursts kept us hooked throughout the demo’s brief running time. “My house is empty because material stuff can’t buy you happiness,” one character says of his depressingly sparse living room, before adding, “Just kidding. I’m poor.”

Outside, there’s a guy in a top hat who cheerfully introduces himself as the mayor of Alpha Town, before guiltily admitting he just enjoys going around pretending as much. Such is the strange world our protagonist wakes up in: little more than a white lozenge with wide, inquisitive eyes, this lost soul aims to escape the afterlife and return to his or her former (unspecified) existence. But to do that, the soul will have to navigate a boxy world of fantasists, aggressive guards, locked doors, and ultimately face a mysterious antagonist named Dr Krull. AFTERLIFE is an RPG, but one stripped down to its raw essentials: battles take the form of short, fast-paced shoot-outs, where you avoid your opponent’s projectiles and chip away at their energy by blasting them with your own. It’s an unexpected, snappy change of pace from the turn-based battles we were initially expecting.

Despite his minimal design, AFTERLIFE’s nameless protagonist has a lot of character – partly thanks to those big eyes

“I didn’t want to use turn-based combat because I feel it can get very repetitive after a while, and sometimes you need to battle every enemy just to get some XP and increase your stats, or else you won’t be able to defeat a certain enemy,” explains Fuz, the solo developer behind AFTERLIFE. “Other times, you become too powerful and some battles don’t feel like a challenge at all. I preferred to use a shooting approach because, in each battle, you have to study your enemies and their movements or patterns in order to know when to attack and when it’s better to avoid them.”

The early Game Boy Pokémon spurred Fuz’s desire to make his own RPG: “I admire how they managed to create that whole world with just four colours.”

Based in Buenos Aires, Fuz (not his real name) began work on AFTERLIFE when he realised there wasn’t another RPG with a similar premise. “I decided that if no one else was making the game I wanted to play, I should do it myself,” he says. With his weekdays taken up with his job as a programmer at a local game studio, Fuz has spent his weekends gradually working his game up from its rough initial concept; originally, he envisioned the game as a more serious meditation on life, death, and the afterlife – before all that surreal, cynical humour kicked in. “When I started creating this game, I wanted it to be more serious, and explore the death topic from different perspectives and talk about regrets, loss, and grief,” Fuz says. “But then I found out that people really enjoyed some jokes I shared on social media, so I decided to give them more space. I think you can talk about serious stuff and send a powerful message while still having fun.”

AFTERLIFE’s visuals also evolved over time, from a top-down perspective akin to an early Pokémon game to the 3D viewpoint it has today. “At first, it was just 2D because I wanted it to look exactly like a Game Boy game,” says Fuz. “Then I discovered a tool (called Sprytile) that allows you to paint your 3D models with 2D tiles. I made some quick prototypes, and it felt great! 3D environments allow me to better-use fog, lights, and darkness to create more atmospheric places while 2D characters maintain that Game Boy, nostalgic feeling that I like.”

As for the script, Fuz says the game’s dry one-liners and situations are often drawn from things he sees in the real world. “I force myself to write new jokes at least once a week – they come up quickly. I try to observe daily situations and use them as triggers for new ideas or jokes. However, the best ones appear when I just throw some characters on the scene and start improvising on what they could be talking about.”

AFTERLIFE’s playable demo – downloadable at afterlifegame.itch.io – is just the right length to give you a taste of the curious, captivating netherworld Fuz is busy creating. No sooner had we gotten into the rhythm of finding all the hidden medikits, defeating enemies in rapid-fire shoot-outs, and retrieving a key locked in a murky tower, when an ominous character swooped in and brought the whole thing to a close. Thankfully, Fuz has big ambitions for the full game: if he can find a publisher willing to back AFTERLIFE, he hopes to bring it to every console he can. So what does Fuz expect players to feel when they’ve finished playing the full version of AFTERLIFE? True to form, his response is a drily amusing one. “For those who actually bought the game, I hope it makes them feel like it’s worth fighting for what you believe is right and that you can achieve your goals, no matter how many obstacles you find along the way,” he says. “For those who download it illegally, I hope it makes you feel like you should buy the game.”

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