There must be a reason why so many games from Indonesia are set in schools, like most recently in the dreamy 90s adventure “A Space for the Unbound” or the ultimate Indo-horror classic DreadOut. It almost seems as if the school days left lasting memories and scars on the game developers who have since outgrown them.
Troublemaker: A Narrative Fighting Game Set in an Indonesian High School
Gamecom Team‘s newest game, Troublemaker, also takes the Indonesian high school setting to heart but once again looks at it from a different perspective. In the narrative fighting game, we slip into the role of a student who has to make a name for himself among the rival student gangs and mostly lets his fists do the talking.
In the playable prologue, we follow the student Budi, constantly being threatened and teased by other students and for whom violence seems the only way out. He is transferred to another school after first promising his mother that he will change.
Arriving at the Cipta Widaya Vocational School, however, it only takes a little while before Budi gets involved in fights again, although or perhaps because he would rather spend time with the pretty Sophia. So Budi stumbles into one tricky situation after another, finds new enemies but also new friends, and fights his way through a school competition in which gangs compete against each other in fights.
Exploring the Campus and Fighting Rival Gangs
Great classics like the Persona or the Yakuza series clearly inspire the gameplay, as various gameplay mechanics alternate, all occurring on the school grounds. In more narrative and partly open passages, we explore the campus independently, talk to our classmates, or play mini-games. We also spend much time in cutscenes, primarily structured as dialogues.
The core element of Troublemaker, however, is combat. Again and again, Budi is involved in ring fights, often against several opponents at the same time. In these, he has light and heavy attacks, blocks, and counters that are typical of the genre and can be linked to form combos. Special attacks, called “sick moves,” cause more damage and allow for impressive, often over-the-top maneuvers.
Although Budi is a good fighter by nature, to defeat the school’s best opponents, he must resort to the services of Richard. This mask-wearing student not only sells goodies such as fried noodles or alcohol that award bonuses in battle but makes it possible also to improve his skills like in an RPG and unlock new moves.
Light-Hearted and Snotty Tone of Adolescence, Controversial Topics Included
So equipped, we fight and chat through the approximately 6-hour narration. We particularly liked the completely exaggerated but thoroughly likable characters and the light-hearted story, which never goes beyond the level of a low-budget television series in terms of language and structure, but still manages to provide an exciting insight into the lives of Indonesian schoolchildren. On the positive side, large parts of the game are fully voiced, albeit “only” in Indonesian with English subtitles.
The fights, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. We particularly liked the direct hit feedback and the action-packed staging. Some sick moves are also quite creative (K.O.N.T.O.L for those in the know). Less beautiful, however, is the lack of collision detection, the opaque RPG system, and the highly recycled assets that make many opponents look like clone armies.
A Fun Game with an Unconventional Tone and Setting
One shouldn’t make the mistake of misunderstanding Troublemaker. Despite criticism of school violence and corruption, the game is not a profound study of the milieu but an action tearjerker similar to what might be shown on TV. This isn’t bad, as it picks up on the light-hearted, snotty tone typical of adolescents. The game does not shy away from swear words or slang and sometimes touches on controversial topics such as sexism, violence, or alcohol. Still, a more elaborate approach would have been great, and the lack of it can be seen as wasted potential.
Ultimately, what remains is a fun game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is made with an eye for detail to depict school life in Indonesia. Weak technology, bugs, and the not-quite-perfect balancing and writing don’t make Troublemaker a highlight. Still, the setting and unconventional tone alone makes it a gem worth playing, albeit a curious one.
Troublemaker is available for PC on Steam. This review is based on a free review copy provided by a PR agency.