This was a tough one to narrow down, and I’ll let slip the tidbit that I almost went with Chrono Cross for today’s 30 Days of Gaming topic. Like, it was a coin toss, only I didn’t have a coin handy and decided to go with the game that had the most lovable gargoyle ever. In that regards, Primal won through and through.
But what is Primal, you might understandably ask?
Other than a game I consider very underrated and overlooked, it’s the story of love, demons, and alternate planes. Jennifer Tate is dating Lewis, a tribal tattooed lead singer for a lame metal band, and everything is going peachy until a tall, shadowy man shows up at the Nexus nightclub one evening when Lewis and his mates are jammin’ and jivin’. Suddenly, the shadowy man reveals itself to be a freaky-deaky demon, attacks, and leaves both of them unconscious in an alley. Jen is moved to a hospital room where she is in a coma and given a fifty/fifty shot of making it. As she sleeps, a gargoyle named Scree slips into her room and separates her spirit from her body, claiming that he was sent to find her and needs her assistance. Together, they will travel to an alternate plane known as Oblivion to restore balance.
Yeah…it’s a crazy whacky opening, but at least it gets everything in place to get truly videogamey. I can’t help but imagine Joss Whedon approving of it though.
Primal is divided into roughly three aspects: exploration, combat, and puzzles. Naturally, the weakest of these three is combat, and one can’t, unfortunately, simply get by with button-mashing. It can be very frustrating, especially since combat is solely Jen’s responsibility; Scree turns into a statue when danger shows up. Jen can take on different demonic forms–Ferai, Undine, Wraith, and Djinn–and each have their ups and downs, but none really make anything easier. Once all enemies on screen are killed, Scree softens and is able to heal Jen’s wounds.
Both characters can be controlled, and using Scree to hold a torch and scout ahead always comforted me because I knew nothing could hurt him. Search away, little stone buddy!
Like I mentioned though, the joy to be found in Primal sits not in fighting werewolves, but exploring the otherworldly planes, solving puzzles, and talking. Yes, there’s some great chatter here. Scree is voiced by Andreas Katsulas and Jen by Hudson Leick, and together, the two make one enthralling team. Scree is 99% seriously serious, and Jen plays the role of a sarcastic goth perfectly, bouncing off each other. She’d fit fine in a snooty book club consisting of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Morrigan from Dragon Age: Origins.
I’ve read that some consider Primal to be the British Ico. I don’t really get that comparison. Instead, I like to think of it as Tomb Raider With a Twist. You play as a strong, intelligent, well-capable woman searching for mysterious artifacts and trying to keep evil at bay. Sure, Jen does it for love, and Lara Croft does it because, well, it’s her job, but the two titles seem very similar to me. However, Primal‘s world and its characters are must more imagined, and I’d rather climb walls as a gargoyle than climb walls as an archaeologist. Oooooh snap!
So, yeah. That’s my pick–2003’s underrated Primal. Eight years later, it’s still an excellent, engrossing adventure. If you can find a used copy, grab it.
And now I will just keep refreshing the Internet, praying that one day it will spoil me all about that forthcoming Primal HD remake…