By Gabriel Jones 03.01.2017
The Prisoner is an enigma. Nobody knows his name, where he's from, or why he was put in a cell. His "Guardians" serve a singular purpose, to crush any hopes of escape. Their numbers are few, but their abilities are far beyond that of a normal human. It probably won't matter, because if The Prisoner is half the monster they believe he is, then his Jailers don't have a chance. In Furi, the player takes the role of this mysterious stranger. Armed with just a sword and a gun, he'll take the fight to the fools that have detained him for so long.
Furi consists of a series of one on one duels. The high velocity action is punctuated by long walks, where a weird man in a bunny mask provides crumbs of exposition. This game employs a method of storytelling that's actually really intriguing. There's very little dialogue, aside from what Mr. Bunny and the Jailers have to say. While The Prisoner is walking to the next fight, the player has ample time to think about the last encounter, as well as compare the previous jailer's statements with what they already know. This design decision makes for a clever twist on the boss rush formula.
Of course, in order to get the full story, The Prisoner must overcome every obstacle. The Jailers in this game are not to be underestimated. The fights with them are long and gruelling. Not only do these superhuman opponents hit hard, but they also have a myriad of patterns and abilities that grow in power and intensity as the battle progresses. Sharp reflexes, memorisation, and an affinity for dodging waves of bullets are paramount to survival.
In most cases, it's best for The Prisoner to look for an opening. Repeatedly striking at a defending enemy will only result in a nasty counterattack. While waiting for these moments to materialise, he'll undoubtedly become accustomed with parrying. The Jailers make frequent use of melee attacks. No matter how unorthodox their weapons or moves might be, as long as The Prisoner pays close attention to tell-tale visual and audio cues, they'll be able to deflect their attacks. Keep in mind that opponents will vary the swings of their weapon, or perform moves that can't be parried, just to catch the unaware. This is all the more reason why there's no harm in retrying battles. Knowing what to expect can make all the difference.
Battles fought at long range are more dependent on The Prisoner's gun handling and dodging skills. Bullets do minimal damage, but they add up over time, and perfectly complement whatever he's doing. The dash is an essential technique for safely passing through laser blasts. It can also be used to cover ground quickly. Due to some sort of delay, the dash is a bit tricky to use. When faced with an attack that must be dashed through, try to press the button a split-second earlier to compensate. Another factor to keep in mind is that the enemy will likely create situations where dodging in the wrong direction, angle, or distance will lead to pain.
The fights have almost a tug of war nature to them. If The Prisoner loses all of his health, then he will also lose one of three life points, and The Jailer regains any lost health. However, The Prisoner can recover their health and a life point if they manage to drain his adversaries' health meter. Think of each boss battle as a series of stages. If he can't reach the end of a stage, then he'll have to repeat it. This system never puts him into a really disadvantageous position, so it's always possible to mount a comeback. Furthermore, small amounts of health can be replenished by parrying melee attacks or collecting orbs in the midst of battle.
In most cases, the difficulty of the game lands squarely in the "hard but fair" category. Losing a battle is rarely the result of just one or two mistakes. Still, it's always disheartening to see an opponent recover their health, let alone the very real possibility of restarting an entire fight. This is where memorisation comes into play the most. With practice, one will become familiar with the enemy's various attacks. That familiarity will turn into muscle memory. The back and forth nature and constant escalation make for incredible fights. Any fan of videogame boss battles would do well to participate in these duels. It's imperative to play on the default settings. Completing a playthrough on the easier difficulty is liable to leave the player with an empty feeling, or at least an empty achievement list.
The one major complaint is that the frame rate isn't as rock solid as it should be. Whenever the screen is filled by an overwhelming array of bullets and lasers, the FPS drops substantially. It becomes even more difficult to avoid so much chaos, and the player is liable to be under an especially tense state. When the battle is nearing its conclusion, the jailer pulls out all of the stops in order to win. Unless the player is well versed in shmups, they're going to have a lot of problems. Sometimes parts of the action can be obscured by walls or muddy visual effects. It's not a major issue, just something to look out for.
A game designed strictly around boss battles isn't the easiest sale, so it's great that Furi has a slew of fantastic encounters that are challenging and exciting. Each Jailer will take a good while to defeat, but failures can never be attributed to poor game design or inexplicable issues. However, the spotty frame rate is unfortunate. The optional time trial and harder difficulty modes are welcome additions for exceptional players. If the idea of spending several minutes to an hour or more on a single fight - no matter how well-designed it is - doesn't sound appealing, then steer clear. This Prisoner's epic is as rewarding as it is punishing.