South Park is a series that's always been known for (at least) two things, pushing boundaries and bad video games. The original South Park title, released in 1998 for the N64, was my first lesson in tempering my expectations. No matter how much I might enjoy the series, you need more than that to make a great game. With that said, South Park: The Stick of Truth is, in fact, a great game. It's also quite possibly the best licensed game ever made.
Never in the history of gaming has a title's source material been so faithfully captured. Obsidian put a ton of work into making something truly authentic and it shows from start to finish. You've seen screenshots and videos, but to truly appreciate how well Stick of Truth captures the essence of the show, you just need to play. You'll believe you're watching a new episode, it just looks that good. The town of South Park and its inhabitants all come to life the same way they always have on TV, everything animates the same, crappy way the show is famous for, down to the most minute detail.
South Park's trademark humor is alive and well in Stick of Truth. Series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker wrote the script for the game themselves and it shows. I have to give publisher Ubisoft credit for not censoring this game (in the US, anyway), it definitely takes guts to release a game as edgy as this. I can't remember the last time a game made me genuinely laugh even one-tenth as much as Stick of Truth did. The only feeling I can liken it to is playing Conker's Bad Fur Day back in 2001. I was 18 then, making me laugh and feel a sense of shock at what was on my TV was easier in those days. I'm 31 now, doing that is a lot harder and yet I couldn't help but sit there, my mouth agape in disbelief at the fact that what I'm seeing is in a video game, and that said game is still rated M. You'll either laugh or be repulsed, but that's really what the series has been like since the beginning.
It's an RPG, a Real RPG
I had read that Stick of Truth would be an RPG, but somehow it didn't truly sink in until I was playing for a bit. All the key elements are there; a turn-based battle system, item and inventory management, experience points and levels, job classes and abilities. The game itself is competent as an RPG as well, the town of South Park is fairly expansive, with Timmy's fast travel points dotting the map. Every house and building in town can be entered, explored and ransacked for items, costumes and money as well. Residents will offer you side quests, each with their own rewards. Stop me if this all sounds familiar. If you stripped Stick of Truth's of its licensed and left the core mechanics in place, you'd still have a good starting point for a fun game.
The battle system is reminiscent of the Super Mario RPG series, with attacks allowing for timed button presses to increase damage. You can summon characters like Mr. Slave and Jesus to help you in your battles, and your partner characters, though they don't level with you, gain abilities as you progress. The battle system turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the game overall.
Stick of Truth's soundtrack is one huge throwback to the game's roots. Any time you find yourself indoors, you'll hear a song you remember from the show, an episode of Terrance and Phillip or the voices of familiar characters. Outdoors you have some decent music, but nothing too memorable. I doubt anybody's going to run out to buy a copy of "I've Got Something in my Front Pocket" any time soon.
The Lack of Direction
Wait, what? A lack of direction isn't a bad thing? Yeah, that's right, it isn't. Side quests aren't just handed to you, well, not all of them at least. You have to go exploring around town and find many of them. This would be a negative in a game like Final Fantasy or Xenoblade, or any game with a huge map. Those games Stick of Truth ain't. The town is small compared to other, much larger RPGs and exploring it adds a bit to an experience some might find a bit too short.
You can make a fairly unique character in Stick of Truth, provided you weren't hoping to make a girl (though there's a fix for that, eventually). Everything from beards to crab suits to an outfit highly reminiscent of everyone's favorite Hylian hero. Of course, many of these outfits take the place of armor in more traditional RPGs, meaning you'll have to balance your practicality with your sense of style.
While summoning sounds fun in practice, Stick of Truth employs the classic mechanic in a frustrating way. Summons can only be used once per in-game day, which essentially equates to once per story chapter. On top of that, each day you need to walk across town to meet with each NPC you can summon. Summons can't be used on bosses, and are essentially one-shot kills for any mob of any size outside of that restriction. In the end, they just feel imbalanced and not very useful, despite how fun they can be to watch.
The Stingy Experience System
At 15, Stick of Truth's level cap is pretty low, even so, in the first half of the game you'll likely find yourself getting your ass kicked if you don't plod through some of the earlier side quests, both to earn money and level up.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is an awesome game, offering graphics that are somehow simultaneously mind-blowingly terrible and amazing, a battle system that RPG fans will love and an original South Park story for the fans of the series this game is a love letter to. The game may be a bit too easy for some, and a bit too short for others, but in the 15 hours I spent with the game, my gripes were minor.
If you're a fan of South Park, this game should be a no-brainer. If you're a fan of RPGs in general, this game isn't Bravely Default, but it is definitely worth checking out.