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Under the Spotlight: Tamashii: Chronicle of Ascend

Out now on Gamefound

Need a band name? Neon Samurai. You’re welcome
Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Cyberpunk as a genre has been around long enough that most people can quickly recognize its familiar tropes. And Tamashii: Chronicle of Ascend has them all: neon lights over a dreary dystopia, slick cybernetic enhancements, questionable heroes, shadowy street fights, corporations run amok, and an omnipresent, invisible network of AI and digital landscapes. But it’s Tamashii’s take on that last bit that makes any concerns about this being another cliché disappear like tears in the rain.

Ascend has eyes everywhere. And also cameras. And motion detectors.
Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

So first, the basics. The setting is Japan in the year 5869, and a domineering AI named Ascend has taken control of the world. At a glance, Tamashii is a standard adventure game for 1 to 4 players who are sometimes working together and sometimes as opponents. Players will explore maps comprised of location hex tiles to complete specific missions, finding loot and enemies in equal measure along the way. All very familiar territory for an adventure game. What makes Tamashii really cool, though, is its emphasis on character fluidity. Most adventure games have you pick a character class that you’ll stick with for at least the current adventure and possibly the whole game. Not Tamashii. In a world where humans can upload their consciousness into a vast digital network, having just one body is so twentieth century.

What makes a man?
Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Players start the game with a basic body called a Walker. But in this game, bodies are just shells. The game uses a bag building mechanic to represent the fact that you are constantly tapped into a highly advanced digital network which can both augment and transport your complete consciousness. Each turn, players will draw cyber tokens representing different bits of code and arrange them on their player board’s grid. You can then move the tokens around the grid a number of times equal to your character’s programming score for a bit of pattern building.

And these patterns are all-important. Your cyber tokens come in four different colors and your grid contains 20 different spaces which means achieving some of the patterns can be quite the task. Once you’ve positioned one correctly, you can send those tokens back to the bag for a number of different effects. The simplest ones, known in the game as Basic Algorithms, are just 3-in-a-row patterns which will upgrade your Shield, Firewall, and Recharge stats.

Fun Fact: The working title for this game was Altered Cardboard.
Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Going for something more complex, though, allows you to achieve the aforementioned body swapping. Your Walker body is fine, but different jobs need different tools. As you explore, certain locations will allow you to learn blue prints for new bodies and jump into them if you have arranged your cyber tokens properly. Each body comes with a different set of stats and special abilities, so being able to swap is incredibly useful when faced with unexpected situations. If your current mission becomes heavy on hacking, The Hacker or Visioner would be a perfect choice. But when it’s time to fight, the Assassin or the Quanimator (a shiny robot samurai) are more suited for the task.

Move quickly, keep quiet, and don’t attract attention.
Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

And the more actions you do, the more likely you’ll need someone with combat skills. After all, Ascend has a vast robotic network that is always on the lookout for dissent. Every turn you get 3 actions, and for every action you take, there is a chance that your Trace level will go up. Once it reaches a certain point, enemies will start to appear in ever greater (and deadlier) numbers. Combat is mostly a simple die roll but here, too, your cyber tokens come into play. You can spend them to exploit your enemies’ unique weaknesses, hack them, or escape them. Without spending cyber tokens in combat, things can get bad quickly. Each attack you make counts as an action which means there’s a good chance your Trace level will be going up. Battles are noisy after all, so you’ll want to finish off your enemies as quickly as possible. That means keeping a close eye on your token patterns and planning ahead.

As you defeat enemies, you will gain experience points which you can use to augment your current body with gadgets both useful and deadly. Each augmentation has an XP cost and is drawn from your Class Deck. Each player chooses from 1 of the 4 available classes which will determine the types of augmentations you can get throughout the game. Considering all of the different augmentation/body combos that are possible, the random map and enemy layouts, and the randomness of drawing your cyber tokens, it is easy to see how you’ll never play the same game twice.

Tamashii: Chronicle of Ascend has been live now on Gamefound for only a few days at this point but has already far surpassed its funding goal. And we all know what that means: stretch goals! Five of them at the time of writing, to be exact, but who knows how many more might be to come. But at just €66 for the core pledge, I think it’s worth it to find out.

by Zane Messina

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