Noxia Somnia

Noxia Somnia

Noxia Somnia is a pixel-art horror game that tells an emotional story through a peculiar combination of several game mechanics. At its core, it’s a side-scrolling adventure in 2D, in which you sometimes fight enemies and bosses, other times you try your best to run away from invincible ones while being chased, and yet other times you solve puzzles or ponder about the deeper life aspects that the dialog cutscenes bring up.

It’s a game about facing your deepest fears and controlling your negativity and sorrow with hope and luminous thoughts of self-forgiveness. While it does touch on sensitive topics such as depression, bullying, and self-harm, the overall direction of the game is a light-hearted one, aimed at giving you constructive advice on how to overcome these emotional struggles.

Gameplay-wise, you will control Tristan and guide him through his nightmares to fight off “harvesters” – these are monsters who feed on people’s fears, pain and despair, hunting them with the goal of harvesting their souls. A central hub where you can shop for consumables, items, or cosmetics and upgrade your talent tree with the currency you earn from defeating monsters can be visited between the three acts that the game consists of or when the level offers you a portal to the hub. The levels are fairly lengthy, having several doors that lead to other rooms, some of them exiting in the same screen, others leading you to a different segment with a new set of doors. Without a map available, the navigation was pretty difficult for me, especially since the enemies reset every time you come back to the same room. I got lost multiple times, and each time I had to defeat all the monsters again, which on the positive side gave me enough currency to fully upgrade my talent tree. Each level has one invincible enemy that starts chasing you when it detects you and one of the main gameplay mechanics is to manage your detection meter by hiding in other rooms to avoid getting caught.

The game can currently be played on two difficulties: a “story mode”, in which the enemies are more forgiving, and a “nightmare mode” of considerably increased difficulty and extra bosses. There’s no median option between “easy” and “hard”. Additionally, one extra difficulty mode (“Ultra nightmare”) is planned to be released soon. The game has Steam-integrated achievements, but to obtain 100% completion you will not only need to gather all collectible items, weapons and cosmetics and defeat all the bosses, but these have to be done in nightmare mode. Additionally, there’s a speedrun achievement and a no-death run that have to also be done in nightmare mode. Even if the game is rather short (the ending can be reached in ~5 hours), achievement hunters will have to spend a considerable amount of extra effort to obtain that sweet 100%.

For me, Noxia Somnia is a mixed bag. I really liked the story and how relatable Tristan (the protagonist) is. Among the many slice-of-life episodes that we get to see from his past, each of us can relate to at least one of them: being called a failure / nobody (or feeling as such), regrets for things that remain unsaid before a loved one passed away, finding out that your friends are not honest towards you, etc. We see Tristan rise above all these situations, finding strength in himself to accept his flaws and work towards bettering his negative thinking, or simply forgiving himself for his failures. The resolution of each of these scenes is uplifting and brings a most-wanted peace of mind.

On the other hand, I am not the biggest fan of the struggle that the game gives you. It’s likely symbolic for everyone’s lives, yet for me, the added frustration of the difficulty mode decreased my overall enjoyment, and not even the outstanding retro pixel art was able to make up for it. The enemies hit hard, the navigation is cumbersome (although it does leave space for a lot of exploration), and your consumables (like the medikit) are limited. However, one thing that I liked about the boss fights was that the cooldown of the next boss’s ability is indicated on top of its health bar so that the player can plan ahead and prepare to dodge it. Despite that, the boss battles are rather long and difficult (on “nightmare” mode). There is also no manual save feature, and the checkpoints are rather scarce, which means that the built-in autosave often makes the player replay a lengthy segment.

A lot of love has been put into creating this little indie game and this is rather obvious while experiencing the game. However, Noxia Somnia is not a game that could easily satisfy a wide range of players. It’s meant more for those who like challenging story-rich / emotional games and don’t get easily frustrated by repeatedly dying.

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