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Red Johnson's Chronicles: One Against All Review

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On 10/17/2012 at 05:00 PM by Julian Titus

Julian Titus' Chronicles: An Existential Crisis

For fans of puzzle style games like Professor Layton that also have a masochistic streak.

Video games are truly a unique medium. They blend graphics, sound, characters and story with intricate mechanics to create a completely immersive experience that simply can’t be duplicated anywhere else. When a game is crafted well, these elements merge together seamlessly, forging an illusion that is difficult to break. Then there are games like Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All, a game so disjointed and jarring that it not only broke the immersive illusion for me, but it actually forced me to think long and hard about video games as a whole, and ask myself if they’re worth my time.

Red Johnson’s Chronicles is an adventure game that pulls elements from standard point and click games, Heavy Rain, and the Professor Layton series. You play as detective Red Johnson as he tries to find his lost brother Brown, with the help of Black, their older brother. Yes, this is the story of different colored Johnsons, and that absurdity is brought up ad nauseum during the story. To find the clues to Brown’s disappearance Red will need to talk to people, use his UV lamp to find hidden messages, get into some Quick Time Event scuffles, and solve some Sudoku puzzles.

The majority of the game focuses on the puzzles, but I’ll come back to those in a bit. The wrapping for the game’s brain teasers come in the form of narrative and cutscenes, and developer Lexis Numerique has come up with a truly embarrassing story here. This is in large part due to some lackluster voice actors that seem to also be at the wrong end of poor voice direction. It’s not in the same league as Heavy Rain, but I got the distinct impression that English wasn’t the first language of at least a few of the voice actors, and it made the dialogue a complete chore to listen to.

That dialogue is overwrought and in serious need of an editor, and that goes for any of the text found in the game as well. The writing in Red Johnson’s Chronicles isn’t even up to the level of a trashy paperback you buy at the airport to read on a long flight. Overly verbose to the point of hilarity, I couldn’t help but wonder if this game was supposed to be a satire on story-based video games or if I was really supposed to take it seriously. In the end I opted for the latter, but if you somehow end up playing this game I recommend the former—you may get some enjoyment out of it that way.

Occasionally Red will encounter a Quick Time Event. These button-prompt heavy mini-games are nothing new, and I’m usually all for them.  Heck, I really enjoyed Asura’s Wrath and that game was pretty much built on QTEs. However, Red Johnson’s Chronicles is one of those games that likes to throw QTEs at you when you’re not ready for them, and a single mistake means game over. Haven’t we evolved to the point where it’s possible to miss a couple button prompts and still succeed? Heavy Rain did it back in 2010. Heavenly Sword did it way back around the launch of the PS3, for that matter. When you fail a QTE you get to try again immediately; the only penalty is to the money you earn for completing the event. If you’re anything like me, though, just the idea of failing something as superfluous as a Quick Time Event is enough to get you to seethe with annoyance. And seethe I did.

The QTEs are a problem, but they are few and far between. Most of this game revolves around the puzzles. In fact, the flow of the game tends to be “cutscene, puzzle, cutscene, puzzle, puzzle, QTE, etc.” There really isn’t more to the game than that.

As the story begins, some of the puzzles are rather clever and work well within the fiction of the game. Using Red’s UV lamp to find a hidden message on a lockbox gets you to examine the item from different angles until a key code becomes visible. Other puzzles involve coming up with a composite sketch of a suspect from listening to a description from someone you’re interrogating. Breaking into a mailbox may involve some savvy observation of your surroundings. These are all logical puzzles that fit into the gritty, quasi-noir setting for the game.

It becomes apparent all too quickly, however, that the story of Red Johnson’s Chronicles is just a wrapper for a bunch of puzzles you can find in any activity book from a drugstore. These puzzles were so jarring that they made me question what I was doing in the game and why, as well as the motivations of the other characters. Why am I using Sudoku to put the buttons on a cash register in order? Why would a kidnapper and possible murderer leave me a message through a nonogram puzzle? What’s with everyone using invisible ink? And why the hell would you leave a complicated series of brainteasers that reveal the combination to your crappy work locker? Wouldn’t you just write it down somewhere safe? And if the contents of said locker were so important why keep them at work to begin with? Why is the person I buy hints from a spitting image of Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch?

My questions didn’t stop there. As I sat evaluating Red Johnson’s Chronicles it forced me to take a long, hard look at video games as a whole. When I really think about it, why does anything happen in video games? Why are there elaborate door locks that need helmet keys or intricate emblems in the Spencer Estate from Resident Evil? Is there really any purpose to finding all of those pages in Myst? Maybe the island would be a nice place to live alone. Why do I always have to collect 7 of things in RPGs? Why the hell does a giant evil turtle insist on kidnapping a ditzy blonde princess that doesn’t seem to have any reason for living other than being the damsel in distress and occasional go kart racer? What am I doing with my life?

Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All nearly broke me. In my existential gaming crisis I came to the conclusion that, yeah, video games are pretty darn stupid when you stop to think about them in detail. I guess the key is making sure that the game is so mesmerizing, so engrossing, that you simply don’t stop to think about that fact, or perhaps you don’t want to. When a game is doing its job, you enjoy the tasks it lays out for you, and even if they don’t make a lot of sense in the fiction you don’t care because you’re having fun. But when a game fails at its job you aren’t having fun; the illusion breaks and you’re forced to take a long hard look at this hobby and how absurd it really is. In those moments, I suggest playing a better video game. Or go out and spend $2.99 on a big activity book—you’ll have more fun with it than you will with Red Johnson.


Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

10/18/2012 at 10:42 AM

Would it be out of line for me to thank you for taking one for the team Julian?

Also, is one of the girls wearing a camo hat with... cat ears?

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/18/2012 at 02:49 PM

I can totally see someone really enjoying this game. For me, I became very aware of the mechanics and came to the conclusion that it was just a decently packaged collection of minigames. Displayed in a different format (like an iOS game) and I could see people having a good time with it.

And yeah, that character pretty much flies in the face of everything we said in the Femme Fatales episode of NWP. She's basically a slut with little personality or depth and is instead just another obstacle. One that happens to sleep with anyone that asks, and finds Red Johnson's name hilarious.


10/18/2012 at 12:37 PM

The real question here is: does Red ever get a ridiculously high level Pikachu at any point in the game? If not, I recommend reducing this rating by at least .5 stars.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/18/2012 at 12:42 PM

I see what you did there. As far as I know, there is no Blue to be found in this game, nor Professors named after trees. If there had been it would definitely have been more enjoyable.

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