Many have tried and failed to recreate the experience that FromSoftware so expertly crafts in their games. Thymesia by OverBorder Studio is yet another entry into the Soulslike sub-genre. It looks and feels like Bloodborne, but its gameplay style more resembles Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But does it give the same energised and challenging experience that FromSoftware games are designed for, in which many have tried and only a few have succeeded?
Thymesia is set in the Kingdom of Hermes and, in very much Souls’ fashion, this once thriving realm has fallen into chaos; a plague is rife throughout the population and monsters roam the streets as a result of misused alchemy. You play as Corvus, a mysterious, masked protagonist who is dressed as a plague doctor. He must recollect his lost memories which are scattered across the Kingdom in order to discover the truth.
Those who have played Bloodborne or any other FromSoftware game should become quickly accustomed to Thymesia’s mechanics considering they are almost a carbon copy. Rather than bonfires or lanterns, there are multiple Beacons around each location with shortcuts trailing back to them to save your progress. At these Beacons, you can level up, learn new skills in the Talent Tree, upgrade potions, and unlock and upgrade Plague Weapons. When you die, you return to the last Beacon that you visited.
Rather than souls or blood echoes, in Thymesia you collect Memory Shards when you kill enemies, which will be dropped upon death but can be picked up if you return to where you dropped them. These can be used to level up, but you can also pick up Memory Shards as consumable loot around the map. Unlike a FromSoftware game, there is a Talent Tree which also allows you to upgrade your move set and also unlock new attacks and actions using skill points generated from levelling up. You can also upgrade your potions using alchemy enhancers, including your vital healing potions, which is how you increase the number of healing items at your disposal.
Each location is laid out as a maze heading towards your desired destination. Around every corner, there is trouble, loot or even a much-needed shortcut taking you back to your last Beacon. Scattered across each area are also notes from fallen NPCs or scraps of lore, the only problem being that enemies can still attack you as you read them, so it’s usually best to just save them for later. Even so, the fact that you’re pulled from the controls to enter the reading screen to begin with will make you vulnerable, so it’s always best to clear the room first before attempting to gather loot.
There’s a lot more to the fighting mechanics of Thymesia than any FromSoftware game and this is where OverBorder Studio’s game holds at least some originality. It took me until the end of the first area outside of the tutorial to fully adjust to all the rules. Any swipe done with your Saber will only wound an enemy, and these wounds will heal if left for too long. You must follow up with an attack from your Claw or plague weapon to prevent the enemy from healing their wounds. Essentially, there are two health bars for every opponent: the white bar is their general health and the green bar underneath it represents how much of this depleted health consists of wounds that will heal over time. You need to make sure that the green bar keeps up with the white one in order to finish off your opponent. If too much time passes between attacks, then the white bar will heal and fill back up to where the green bar ends. Once both bars have been depleted, Corvus must perform an execution to permanently put down the enemy. Oh, and of course, if you take too long to execute your opponent, they’ll miraculously heal and get back up again.
If anyone has played a Souls game, they will know the phrase ‘don’t get greedy’, which is one of the biggest pieces of advice when going up against a tough boss. In other words, if you’re thinking “hmm, he’s really down on health here, can I sneak another swing in before he attacks?” then the answer is no, don’t get greedy. This phrase can’t exist with Thymesia, because you need to stay greedy to make sure that your opponent doesn’t heal. Once their health bar begins to flash, then you need to attack again quickly to stop them from healing. So, it’s a good thing that you have a long-range option.
As part of Corvus’ large arsenal, he also has Feathers which he can throw to hit an enemy from a distance. These are essential for interrupting critical attacks to prevent a large chunk of your health from being carved out. They will only inflict a small amount of damage but can be upgraded in the Talent Tree to improve this.
As mentioned at the start of this review, Thymesia’s fighting mechanics resemble more Sekiro, despite the Bloodborne comparisons. Although you are introduced to deflecting (parrying) in the tutorial level, you don’t really need to use it on regular enemies; deflecting requires quick thinking as the window to successfully pull it off is quite slim, and the payoff doesn’t make up for it as the only reward is that your opponent will receive some damage in return. There’s no opportunity to stun or pull off a riposte by deflecting. So, in most situations, you’re much safer to dodge or manoeuvre around attacks. You can upgrade your deflecting skill, but it doesn’t make that much of an improvement. That’s until you reach the first real boss, Odur. And this is where Thymesia fell apart for me.
To begin with, I was enjoying Thymesia. I found the fighting to be quick-paced and exciting, especially with the fun execution cinematics which really made you feel like an unstoppable badass. The introduction to the Talent Tree and the multitude of Plague Weapons at your disposal really made me look forward to blossoming out a build for Corvus and getting my teeth sunk into the variety of attack patterns to unlock once you get further into the game. The first location outside of the tutorial was challenging but balanced. It has fewer enemies than any starting location in a FromSoftware game, but they feel tougher, and the added mechanic of wound healing never made it seem like you were overpowered. Yes, it is much easier to run past the fewer numbers, but you’ll be disadvantaged once you realise you could have been collecting Memory Shards to level up with. Beacons and shortcuts are spaced quite far apart, making them feel even more special when you finally drag yourself to the next one and can take a breather, especially since you start off with only three healing potions. For the first hour or two, I was genuinely enjoying my time with Thymesia.
Odur is where this enjoyment quickly ended, as I felt like there was a huge spike in difficulty with this first boss. For reference, this is not my first rodeo with a Soulslike game. Personally, I found Odur to match the difficulty of a midgame Souls boss. He’s quick, unforgiving, and the slightest slip-up will end the match. I had to change from my usual preference of dodging to deflecting because his combos make it difficult to dodge out of the way quickly enough multiple times in a row. To top it this off, once you think you’ve killed him and can relax thinking “that was a bit tricky”, you’re surprised with a second phase. On the first boss. With four health potions by this point.
Now, rather than heading off to complain about it in a review, I would usually decide to go back and do some levelling up. Unfortunately, this was not an option as I realised that I had dropped down into this area. There was a shortcut back to where I had come from, but it appeared I had missed this, and it could only be opened from the way in. You also can’t fast travel between Beacons for some reason (the areas aren’t linked together, once you’ve completed them you travel back to the hub, so why can’t you go between Beacons, especially since there are sub-quests to explore too?). So, I was stuck with only three of the lowest-level enemies in the accessible area. In other words, it would take me hours to level up enough to take on Odur at a reasonable level.
On top of this, Odur has some cheap tricks up his sleeve. For one, I noticed that several of my attempts to interrupt his critical attacks were ignored. At first, I thought I was just too late for the opportunity window. But at one point, I was quick enough to even throw two Feathers at Odur, only for him to still complete a critical attack. If I’m out of range to interrupt his attack, then surely it would be unfair for him to still be in range to take a chunk from my health? On top of this, there are Ultimate Attacks, which cannot be dodged, interrupted or deflected. You must quickly pull yourself out of range of this attack to avoid it, which can span half the arena. This would be fair enough if Odur only instigated this from a distance. But he doesn’t. He once tried it while a few feet away from me, so I had absolutely no chance of surviving it as it takes half your health. Another try down the drain.
I did kill Odur in the end, but it was such a frustrating experience that felt so heavily weighed in the boss’ favour that it left a sour taste in my mouth. Suddenly, Thymesia began to resemble Dark Souls II more than Sekiro and Bloodborne. For one, Odur was absolutely no comparison to the level of difficulty that had been displayed in Thymesia so far. It was an incredible hike in expectations of the player rather than giving them a challenging taster of what’s to come. Either the whole level should have been that challenging or Odur should have been toned down. I decided to give Thymesia the benefit of the doubt after this boss and thought that maybe from here the whole game would be just as tricky, but it’s not. In the next area, The Royal Garden, you’re back to slow-moving plague monsters that felt like I was taking sweets off babies compared to Odur. All of a sudden, the tricky but well-balanced challenge that I had faced in the starting area suddenly felt like a breeze because I had just spent a ridiculous amount of time on the first boss. I don’t even remember having that much of a hard time with Dark Souls II’s Smelter Demon (the red one, let’s not talk about the blue one), or even a late-game boss in Dark Souls such as Artorias, the Abyss Walker. In other words, if this still sounds ideal then prepare yourself.
And just a quick note, I’m not dragging Thymesia through the mud for being difficult. My negative criticism of the difficulty stems from the fact that it’s poorly paced, designed and buggy to the point where the fight is heavily unfair. For the same reason that Dark Souls II faced criticism for its ‘fake’ difficulty in the wake of Demon Souls and Dark Souls’ fame, Thymesia does this even worse. Rather than bringing up the difficulty with a well-designed boss which tests your skill, it uses cheap tricks and simply piles on the health points to make the game more challenging. The only difference is that I would still give Dark Souls II a 7/10 or even 8/10, because it’s still a great game if you don’t compare it to the rest of the series. Thymesia isn’t. Because even if we just ignore the fact that my struggle against the first boss made me heavily despise Thymesia, it still presents negatives which knock points off my initial 7/10 scoring that I would have given the game based on my starting experience.
For one, it’s not really inspired by a FromSoftware game, more like a blatant ripoff was used as the foundations and then built on from there. This is why I’ve made so many references to FromSoftware games in this review, which I wouldn’t usually do with a Soulslike because, in the end, they’re usually their own game and every creator takes inspiration from somewhere. When you die, the words ‘Memory Interrupted’ appear on the screen in the exact same fashion as a FromSoftware game and in a strikingly similar text. The Beacons I would usually just look past since the idea has been used so many times by other games in the subgenre, but then the levelling up menu just looks like a dumbed-down version of a FromSoftware game, again even using a very similar design and layout. You even have a hub area called Philosopher’s Hill where you go after completing a location to speak to the NPC and level up before progressing. In other words, it’s a bad carbon copy of a FromSoftware game with some upgraded fighting mechanics.
Thymesia’s graphics are decent, though I felt like the fog that enshrouds each area makes the game design look dull and unappealing. The graphics would have looked much better without the fog and instead a backdrop to really give you a feel of each location. I did find that the camera movement was restricted when you entered certain areas. I’m not sure if this is OverBorder Studio’s way of attempting to fix the ‘camera in the wall’ issues that are present in FromSoftware games due to the free moving camera, but it doesn’t work. I would rather the camera just went into the wall and I was able to move it again rather than suddenly having the camera movement restricted midway through a tough fight.
The audio is pretty bad. To begin with, it’s average and you don’t really notice the flaws. But once you’ve made your way through the first area and faced Odur, the sound design and score start to sound heavily repetitive. When you’re repeating a level over and over again as you die, the music starts to get annoying very quickly. It was much more prominent in the fight with Odur as it surpasses the more atmospheric tones of the general area score; the Odur boss fight is accompanied by an irritating circus-themed track which you’ll end up muting after your third try. On top of this, a lot of the grunts from opponents as you hit them also begin to sound repetitive and cheap after a while.
There’s also an odd lack of voice acting. Just like any FromSoftware game, you’re presented with an intro upon starting Thymesia which explains the setting and backstory. Only there’s no narration, just subtitles. None of the NPCs speak either. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if this wasn’t also present during boss fights. While struggling with Odur, subtitles would be appearing at the bottom of the screen as he speaks to you during the fight. Are we expected to be reading these while in the middle of a boss fight? The fact that Odur will often chuckle also makes me wonder why the guy who did the sound effects for the chuckling couldn’t have also just thrown in the odd boss line as well. To begin with, I thought maybe my game was glitched or I had accidentally messed with a setting because the way the dialogue is treated really makes me feel like it should be there. To me, this makes the game seem unfinished as it definitely felt like voice acting should have been present.
Despite the blatant copying of FromSoftware games, Thymesia started off as a fun experience that I was looking forward to fully fleshing out. But this excitement quickly diminished with the wannabe Gambit boss which was unnecessarily turbocharged in difficulty in comparison to what had been present so far or even what Thymesia had to offer afterwards. Once the initial enthusiasm for the promising fighting mechanics was worn thin by Thymesia’s heavy flaws, it quickly became an unenjoyable experience that never recovered. I got to the second boss, the Hanged Queen, which is a giant bat creature that seemed okay to begin with… until she started healing, repeatedly, both wounds and her general health. Another attempt at raising the difficulty bar by slapping on more health points. Only this time, I could go backwards and level up some more. To me, Thymesia felt like an unfinished Soulslike that held plenty of promise. Its audio and visual design were lacklustre and the missing voice acting really finalised that incomplete impression. I would only rate this a 4/10 rather than a 3/10 because I know some Soulslike fans may find enjoyment out of the challenge, regardless of whether it’s poorly designed or not. In the end, I put in seven hours into Thymesia, and stopped playing once I got to the point where I would have requested a refund had I bought it.
Jess played Thymesia with a review copy on PC. Thymesia is also available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.