DISCLAIMER: A review copy of this game was provided by Ubisoft
After 20 seasons of the show, South Park fans know the type of antics to expect when creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker want to make a statement. In 2014 the creators’ collaboration with Ubisoft, The Stick of Truth, came out and delighted fan with how true it was to the series. With all the kids and other main characters accounted for (there was even a brief appearance by Chef) it really was a game that could effectively be seen as part of the actual series. Thankfully, after two long years of development and a couple delays, sequel The Fractured But Whole pulls it off yet again.
A Fractured Set of Characters
Continuing very soon after the events of The Stick of Truth, you are thrown right into the action with the kids continuing to play “knights” just through the tutorial combat stage. The story quickly picks up after Cartman is no longer in character as the “High Wizard” and, instead, has taken on his super hero alter ego as “The Coon.” Not only that but he claims to also be from the future, travelling back in order to make sure Coon and Friends are successful in their quest to become the better super hero franchise. Everything ensues from this moment, especially in your role as the new kid with amazing farting abilities.
If you are a dedicated fan of the South Park series, you will remember that the last episode aired also had to do with the kids playing super heroes. The episode is meant to be the direct prequel to the game as it explains how the two franchises came to be split from one. If you have not yet seen the episode, it is readily available on South Park’s website, and I would recommend watching it before playing the game as it does include some smaller plot points that will become useful when starting to play The Fractured But Whole.
As a whole, the story mainly revolves around a new day/night mechanic. During the day, you will be able to adventure all around town and take part in any side quest or main quest you would like. Each night is much more linear, where you follow the story until you can progress to the next day. As the days and nights go on, you will gain new powers and new buddy abilities that will let you get new treasures and access new places in town. From there, you will be able to progress in each quest and start new ones.
Changes to a Simple Formula
Part of what made The Stick of Truth so enjoyable was the simplicity of the combat. It was very reminiscent of older RPGs with turn based combat and special abilities. In The Fractured But Whole, the simplicity is still there but the change is that combat is based more around mobility. So, if you are a fan of grid based combat like Fire Emblem, you will be in for a treat. But, unlike other grid based games, the battlefields here are significantly smaller. Most of the fighting areas are less than four spaces high, leaving you enough room to move around to attack, but sometimes wanting more as party members can get in the way of attacks. For ranged attacks having a buddy in front of you does not matter much, but when it comes to dealing physical damage they can get in the way. For the most part, though, the movement based combat really works and is quite fun.
The major draw of being a superhero is having superhuman abilities and this is really where the game shines, thanks to a customizable moveset. Much like the first game, you start off your journey by choosing a class and using its abilities to the fullest, gaining more as you level up. While leveling up does not make your moves stronger or award you new ones, progressing through the story allows you to gain yet another subclass and choose any of that class’ moves to swap into your current lineup. Since brute force is not always the smartest option, it is important to use status effects to your advantage, and each subclass you choose will give you moves can afflict stack-able ailments.
Each class is given three regular moves and an ultimate, once the second class is unlocked you can pick and choose which ones are currently being used and assign them each of the three slots. However, this can only be applied to your character; all of the pre-established characters have set moves and ultimates. The only hold back here is that any ability that attacks in front of the character does not work vertically, it only works to the left or the right. This led to a couple of occasions where I had to end a turn early because the character couldn’t attack anything.
To make yourself stronger, you will have to scavenge around town for artifacts, which effectively fulfill the same stat changing purpose as the last game’s costumes. You will gain more slots for artifacts as you level up, allowing for a higher level of power. Each artifact that you find or craft will have stat advantages, such as increasing the damage enemies take from status ailments or during knockback attacks. The system is pretty standard; the higher power the artifact, the more powerful your attacks are, and you can customize to make your character better at one thing than another. One final wrinkle to the gameplay comes up as the story progresses, where you will gain access to Hero DNA which is a different form of artifact. Hero DNA does not give you a raw boost in power but instead lets you customize a type of move that will be better, but at the price of a lowered stat. These really help define what type of character you will play, and as a plus they all have a unique reference to the series that will have you recalling past episodes and gags.
South Park Strikes Again
The Stick of Truth was a great game for fans of South Park that felt like you were manipulating another episode of the show: it was simple to play and funny to watch. The Fractured But Whole does exactly what its predecessor did with a couple of interesting changes to the formula. It still feels like a genuine South Park experience and as a result it feels like you never left. The Matt Stone and Trey Parker-penned comedy is still on point (I had multiple occasions of pausing the game because I was laughing so hard) and the story manages to be engaging. All in all, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is accessible, great fun for those who can stand all of its jokes.