Surrealistic indie RPG’s have become much less rare, though still far from common, ever since Yume Nikki and Space Funeral became cult classics. Tantibus, taking its name from the Latin word for ‘nightmare’, certainly falls into this bizarre niche with its small, often-nonsensical world. If you’re looking for a deep plot or particularly engaging combat you won’t find it here, but you’re in luck if you’re looking to explore a unique world and interact with its increasingly-interesting inhabitants.
As with most RPG’s of this type, the aesthetics steal the show. Despite its name, nothing about Tantibus is scary or creepy; you’re not going to be seeing anything like Space Funeral’s rivers of blood here. Instead, what you get is a world where a good chunk of the environment and nearly all of the inhabitants are made of vague neon outlines in an otherwise black void. It’s a strikingly unique and refreshing look and this creative style is what drew me to the game in the first place. The references to neon lights aren’t only found in the aesthetics either as lightbulbs are used as save points and various types of lights are even used as healing items – this is a setting in which everything is apparently literally made of light and it is wonderful in its weirdness. The music, while not actually original to this game, complements the visuals remarkably well and many of the songs are catchy yet also often strangely dissonant with abrupt and unexpected changes to their melodies.
Its aesthetics aren’t all that Tantibus has going for it though as the writing itself contributes just as much to the atmosphere. This is not a game which concerns itself with creating a cohesive narrative, all four party members are silent beyond saying a line or two when they join the party and there is absolutely nothing at all in terms of an overarching plot (even the ending comes out of nowhere), but this is a game which cares for its scenarios and individual moments. All of Tantibus takes place within four towns and the roads between them and, like in many an RPG, each town faces a crisis which the protagonists inevitably end up resolving. However, these crises are far from normal and range anywhere from the entirety of a town being infected with a computer virus to a town being overrun by sentient mushrooms creating from someone vomiting on flowers. There are also plenty of NPC’s to talk to and nearly all of them change their dialogue after one event or another. The only real issue with the writing occurs in some of the item and skill descriptions as the latter sometimes are overly vague while the former sometimes state that they restore ‘MP’ even though Tantibus gives its characters PP (Psychic Points) instead.
The actual combat system is passable, but fights are more of an excuse to see some neat enemy designs than anything else. On the plus side of things, there is no miss chance and all damage is fixed, a weapon which grants you five attack power will cause your normal attack to always hit for five damage and so on, and stats for both the party and enemies are low enough that fights rarely drag on. Level ups are also not actually tied to fights and instead are found inside treasure chests, which are themselves often hidden inside ‘useless eggs’ scattered around the world which only turn into chests when the appropriate character joins the party or after you complete various events. As such, there is not much in the way of grinding unless you really need salt (this game’s version of currency) and even dungeons never have more than half a dozen fights. Otherwise, combat never consists of anything other than spamming attacks, sometimes healing, and maybe tossing out an attack buff or two during boss fights.
On the whole, Tantibus is a bizarre little adventure with quite a bit of character and a decent number of small secrets, though you will likely see everything it has to offer within two hours at most. It is neither the funniest nor the most bizarre game out there and it does suffer somewhat from having such a complete lack of an overarching narrative and from perhaps playing things a bit too safe. I love the atmosphere and there were several moments and lines of dialogue which made me smile, but there are no particularly jarring moments and the tone is so consistent throughout that it feels flat; Earthbound had Giygas, Space Funeral has the Blood Cavern, and Tantibus is just sort of pleasantly strange from beginning to end. Even if it’s probably not going to become a huge cult classic any time soon, there isn’t anything that Tantibus does particularly poorly and there are a good number of things which it does quite well; you are unlikely to be completely blown away by the experience, but this is still an experience worth having all the same.