The Tarnishing of Juxtia, developed by Actual Nerd and published by Mastiff and Neverland Entertainment, is the latest game inspired by FromSoftware’s legacy: The Souls games. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they’ve changed the action genre landscape, essentially creating a new sub-genre that has and probably will continue to gain more fans with each release, from Demon Souls all the way to Elden Ring. Wearing its inspirations on its sleeves while taking new paths to reaffirm its identity, The Tarnishing of Juxtia aims to be the new Souls-Like you’ll want to play. But I didn’t think I was the right person to review it.
I tried to play the Dark Souls trilogy and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I tried to immerse myself in the ancient, fantastical worlds that were created to discover what everybody loved about them. But alas, I failed. Its mechanics and design felt far too antithetical to how I approached the medium, from the Metroidvania elements to the difficulty. The concept itself felt alien to me; what do you mean I have to exploit the programming of the enemies? And they all come back to life, and I’m just supposed to…ignore them after that? Sekiro was better in this regard for me, largely thanks to the parry mechanic, something I enjoyed in other games and made the experience much more pleasant. But regardless, it still didn’t spark enough interest in me to explore the sub-genre.
This is where The Tarnishing of Juxtia comes in. I must admit, if there is one thing I’m always attracted by in Souls-Likes, it’s aesthetic. From FromSoftware’s own games to something like Blasphemous, its inspirations from the occult, cosmic horror, and gothic style are extremely eye-catching and interesting from a narrative standpoint. This is the exact reason a part of me wanted to check out Juxtia. The pixel-art is astonishing, with backgrounds that get across the feeling of a beautiful civilization taken over by a higher, evil entity. Its inhabitants feel ancient and otherworldly, with sentient giant monsters and warriors sporting celestial armor.
The amazing art direction pulled me in, but now I had to face my biggest enemy yet; the gameplay. This is where things changed, and I was caught off guard. My first impression was…actually enjoyable. Slashing the first enemy with a light attack, dodging their blade, and putting an end to the fight with a heavy attack on their back felt actually satisfying to pull off. I defeated my first enemy but remained cautious; my quest was just beginning. I familiarized myself with the game’s ideas, like the ability to have unlimited stamina and magic for a short period of time after a combo or the different abilities and powers to unlock. The platforming is simple but enjoyable enough to break up the pace of movement and avoid getting repetitive.
Eventually, I found myself dying over and over again, but this time I didn’t get tired or bored. I kept trying, proving myself against the pawns and giant bosses, because I knew that with enough knowledge of my enemy and practice with the controls, I was going to be able to win.
Of course, not everything is a win; The jumping and dodging could be more precise and responsive; the lore, while not bad by any means, doesn’t feel like a highlight of the game; and the weapons you’re able to use feel more like resources to beat particular enemies instead of a way of building your own character, despite coming across as an RPG element. But this never actually overshadows the overall experience.
The Tarnishing of Juxtia is a great introduction to Souls-Like games for people like myself who felt unable to get into them. The limitation of movement by the two dimensions results in the easiness to familiarize yourself with the combat, whereas you might be overwhelmed by the multiple options 3D gives. Meeting new characters, fighting new bosses, and entering new areas feel grandiose thanks to the fantastic designs and great art direction. And the more linear structure of the game that replaces the backtracking inherent to the Metroidvania genre makes this a breezier experience than it would otherwise be. If you tried and failed to play the FromSoftware games or other Souls-inspired projects, I greatly recommend Actual Nerds’ creation to you, as it might just be the way for you to get into the increasingly loved sub-genre.