Venetica is a European action-RPG set in Italy. The player takes on the role of Scarlett, a young woman who is compelled by tragedy to oppose forces of evil growing in power from the nearby city of Venice. Scarlett has one major trick up her sleeve: she is the daughter of Death himself, and this gives her access to the Twilight World and the ability to interact with the dead.
It must be noted that Venetica launched as a budget title (its initial retail price was lower than the "standard" 360 game). Like many budget titles, it lacks the polish one sees in larger projects. The question, as always, is if it is too unpolished to be enjoyable. Let's hit the specifics.
Graphically, this game has issues. On one level it is visually impressive; you have a variety of looks due to a mix of settings (even the different districts within Venice have their own, unique looks). However, the graphical quality is definitely lower than what one tends to expect from a 360 title. Comparing to another budget game, Deadly Premonition, I'd say Venetica's graphics are overall better, but Venetica suffers from a lot of graphical glitches. I'm not just talking about shearing and clipping issues (though those are present), but even entire characters disappearing. My first playthrough I had no idea the gondolas that were sailing around actually were to have people in them, I thought they were just powered by magic! My second playthrough the error fixed. There was another scene where guards were to be swinging a battering ram; all I saw was a magical ram floating in the air. Woosh! I've read some people have had these graphical problems result in them being unable to progress. I did not run into any game-breaking graphics glitch, but obviously the potential is there.
As for sound, I felt the background music worked well most of the time. Sometimes I'd hear accelerated fight music when not in combat, but I may have agroed an enemy that couldn't reach me, so that might not be an actual flaw. The voice acting, however, is a mixed bag. The accents themselves don't really follow the setting (no major character sounds Italian), and sometimes poor sound recording really shows (namely in various sentences playing at different volumes, or having strange cuts in the audio). The voice actors vary in quality, too. They aren't Two Worlds bad, but you'll probably laugh a few times at some poorly scripted/delivered lines.
The controls are simple to understand and overall work well for the title. It's a bit disappointing that there's really just one attack button, as that does make combat more monotonous than in many other action-RPGs. The D-Pad to execute special commands by-and-large works well, though I often felt limited by being able to hotkey so few options (but you can easily pause to access a specific move, so it wasn't a big deal). Controlling the camera was easy and rarely was I forced to stay in a bad-view mode, so that was greatly appreciated. In all, I was pleased with the control layout.
The story is serviceable, but it could have been so much more. The overall plot is your standard save-the-world-from-impending-doom that you see in almost any RPG. The motivations of the villains are simple, but reasonably explained and acceptably developed.
No, the biggest issue with the story is on Scarlett's side of the equation. When the game starts, she doesn't realize she is the daughter of Death. When it is revealed, it's almost like she doesn't care and isn't surprised. It also isn't really explored. The same with the Twilight World Death resides in and Scarlett can access at will. Other than some cut scenes to move the plot forward, it essentially functions as a stealth and health-restore device. Nothing is really done in the Twilight, other than key boss fights.
There was a lot of potential to explain the Twilight, and have Scarlett actually do things in it of substance and depth. Instead, the most unique aspect of the game remains an underdeveloped gimmick of limited applicability.
Replay Value (5/10)
The game has two endings, driven by morality actions the player takes during the entire game. It's not just a one-decision thing, so you are pretty much compelled to do two full playthroughs if you want to experience both sides of Scarlett. The differences throughout the story, such as the situational dialogue, are so slight, however, that outside of achievement hunting this isn't much incentive. The game is pretty short (you can likely do a full, all side-quest playthrough in around 20 hours; I punched through a more direct playthrough that only did a few side quests in 7 hours), so choosing to try a different approach in Venetica isn't particularly consuming.
The game does have three guilds, and Scarlett can only join one per playthrough (and one must join a guild to advance the plot). Taking care of guild #3 does not require a full play, but obviously it does mandate some additional replaying. Each guild does have its unique line-up of quests, though, and those quests are sufficiently different that I found them entertaining.
"Fun" Factor (7/10)
Overall, I did enjoy my time in Venetica. I was getting a bit fatigued of it when punching through my "evil" playthrough, but I thought the quest variety was good. The combat, while simplistic, is spaced out enough with other game elements to not come across as overly grind-like. It also helped that a variety of skills and weapons were available to mix things up. The game also opens up fast-travel options as progression occurs, cutting down on backtracking frustrations and letting one focus more on the game. The game does not auto-save, but it did not take me long to adjust to manually saving and I never had an instance where I failed to have a recent save ready, so that did not impact my fun.
So, in summary, I had a lot of fun despite the flaws, but it could have been so much better.
I don't rate on achievements, but for those considering this game and wondering about the challenge to full-clear it, here is some information. It is not a hard full-clear, just time-consuming. One can likely finish up all the achievements in 40 hours, if you take on a strategy to minimize playthroughs. You will need to play through the main quest twice, and complete three guild quest chains, so that's about 2.5 playthroughs. There are two "collectible" style achievements, which are easy if you use guides (and you will probably need guides to find them all).
I'd say the most frustrating achievements are hitting max level and getting 2,000 reputation. Even doing all the side quests I still didn't reach max level by the end of the game and had to go grind points in the arena (so, it's easy to fix if you aren't high enough, but frustrating to have to grind levels like playing an old NES RPG). Reputation is far more sensitive. The maximum available depends on which guild you side with, and some rep options go away after a set time. I actually finished my first, big playthrough at 1,990 rep, and so I had to invest additional time on another playthrough to get the 2,000 points. So, be aware, the rep won't hit 2,000 naturally in all instances, you must plan for it and avoid doing things that will cost you rep.
I played through the main quest twice (once good and once evil), and used a chapter one save to handle my third guild and meet my rep requirement. My total time investment was on the order of 40-50 hours. All playthroughs were on Easy difficulty.
Overall score average: 5.6
Score-to-Star Translation Guide:
5 stars: 9.01 to 10 (out of 10)
4.5 stars: 8.01 to 9
4 stars: 7.01 to 8
3.5 stars: 6.01 to 7
3 stars: 5.01 to 6
2.5 stars: 4.01 to 5
2 stars: 3.01 to 4
1.5 stars: 2.01 to 3
1 star: 1.01 to 2
0.5 stars: 0 to 1