The video game industry is beautiful because it varies, and it is thanks to this variety that it is possible to find and discover unique products of their kind. Titles capable of bringing something new, sometimes creating new standards and concepts never seen before. The examples in this sense are many: from the revolution signed Carmack and Romero with Doom to the one called The Sims put in place by Will Wright, passing through the many works by LucasArts and so on.
The history of this medium is therefore full of people, moments and companies that have really changed the cards on the table: from many points of view, we can say it, Piranha Bytes is one of these realities. Yes, because, net of a product quality questioned by many, the German team has proved to be able to bring something really different to the world of video games: a journey that began in October 1997, which today we want to retrace to understand how and how much Piranha Bytes has contributed to giving a new vision of RPGs as such.
Piranha Bytes: da Gothic a Risen
As mentioned, 24 years have passed since the birth of Piranha Bytes, which a couple of years after its foundation becomes part of the Phenomedia group: a great German publisher that will give a big hand to the team in the development of its very first projects. After four years of hard work, with an engine developed completely in-house, Gothic finally arrives: the first work of the Bochum studio and, to date, one of the most revolutionary RPGs ever conceived.
The world of Gothic is raw, terrifying and full of pitfalls: this is where we will take on the role of the so-called “Unnamed hero”, Catapulted into a context where the password is one and only one. To survive.
The Kingdom of Myrtana is in fact ravaged by a war between orcs and humans, with the latter having divided into three factions to face the terrible threat. There is only one thing that the inhabitants of this world manage to accumulate: metal, a fundamental resource for the economic, political and social life of the colony. To avoid the escape of people from the collapse of this world, twelve wizards decide to create a barrier that covers the entire territory: however, things do not go as expected, and all essentially find themselves to be prisoners of this magical dome.
The protagonist of Gothic, thrown inside the colony, will initially have a task: to deliver a mysterious manuscript of fundamental importance to one of these wizards. Here he will meet many characters, creating alliances and facing threats of all kinds, having to be very careful to watch his back at every single moment.
The peculiarity of Gothic is precisely this: the player is completely alone, in a world where making one decision or another – for example, choosing which faction to join – can change things irreversibly. Basically nothing different from many other works of the genre, if not in the approach: in fact, few titles offer a raw and authentic experience like those of Piranha Bytes, for an adventure that still appears full of charm in many of its components. .
Gothic was received in a generally positive way by the trade press: if on the one hand a too marked underlying complexity was criticized, on the other it was impossible not to praise the great work of Piranha Bytes in creating a product capable of involving the player with a truly incredible level of immersion. From the point of view of the public it was certainly not a product capable of selling millions of copies, but it created a niche of fans who, even today, follow and support the projects of the German team with truly incredible affection and attachment. A community that boasts the platform among its most active members Piranha Bytes Italia: group of fans who have always been interested in spreading and enriching the culture behind one of the most important RPGs ever.
Thanks to these great little communities, the story of Gothic will be enriched with two sequels: Gothic II will arrive in 2002 – with the additional content La Notte del Corvo published the following year – while in 2006 it will be the turn of the third chapter, which closes the circle of a story that deserves to be lived at least once by each gamer. For correctness and completeness it is also right to mention Arcania: Gothic 4 by Spellbound Entertainment, which however shares with the work of Piranha Bytes just the name and little else.
Between 2009 and 2014 it will be the turn of the Risen trilogy, whose first chapter manages to raise the bar further compared to what has already been seen in Gothic. The element linked to survival appears even more marked here, for an adventure that is also capable of capturing the player in a world full of corners, characters and creatures to discover.
Risen perhaps represents the moment when Piranha Bytes decides to aim higher, and the final result speaks for itself: we are in fact facing a more refined game, the result of a more refined development than previous projects and aimed at attracting an increasingly wider audience. A mission that succeeded in half, with Risen receiving the greatest appreciation from those who had already known and appreciated the Bochum team in previous years. More than a new revolution, in short, Risen was the project capable of consolidating the fame and name of Piranha Bytes.
Piranha Bytes: Elex and the future of RPG
In October 2017 it was then the turn of Elex, a further experimentation with which the German company wanted to try to insert something new in its way of conceiving the role-playing game as such. They change the setting and the overall setting: Elex brings us a post-apocalyptic world, where humanity is reduced to a minimum and lives – in different ways and situations – totally dependent on a chemical element that mysteriously appeared on the planet, called precisely Elex. An adventure that has garnered mixed reactions from audiences and critics, but that the arrival of the sequel promises to fix what may not have worked, enriching even more importantly an already noteworthy narrative universe.
The basic structure remains the same, with the player taking on the role of a protagonist who finds himself having to choose which faction to join to experience the adventure in his own way from start to finish, just as the approach remains consolidated. typical of Piranha Bytes. Yes, because every production of the studio is shared by characters that now make them unmistakable.
These are always and in any case games that can only be defined with one word: rough. Titles that may indeed show some gaps from a technical point of view, but which does not mean that these are experiences to be underestimated. The level of immersion offered is in fact incredibly high, putting the player in the shoes of a character who really has to fight to survive.
An immersion made even more marked by factors such as the environment, characters, plots and subplots that form the background to the context shown. They are, always and in any case, products that require patience: only those who have the firm will to overcome the initial “stumbling block”, made up of inaccuracies and an often prohibitive level of challenge, will be able to fully enjoy products of this type. But the effort, believe us, will be more than rewarded. All time.
One last side note: if productions of this kind manage to evoke a very specific atmosphere, the merit is undoubtedly also of the artistic sector that surrounds it. Like the musical accompaniment, for example, edited in the Gothic trilogy and in the first Risen by a composer of the level of Kai Rosenkranz: an exceptional signature capable of making these games, by touching the right notes, instruments capable of transmitting and communicating in a totally unique way.
Have you already tried Elex? You can find it on Amazon at a very attractive price, don’t miss it!