Introduction and Story
South Park is just one of those things that always has a place somewhere in my life. It started as that cartoon that showed crude imagery and had swearing, and has since become the pinnacle of satire and criticism for the real world mess that we always seem to be in. It resonated even more because of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s turnover time on episodes; less than one week. An event can happen, and a few weeks later we would have a South Park episode about that event.
Aside from the show, I thoroughly enjoyed South Park: The Stick of Truth. It is a turn-based, fantasy themed RPG that takes place in South Park. I enjoy the setting of South Park and many of the characters involved in the show already, so having fluid gameplay solidified it for me as being at the very least entertaining.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole was announced years ago, and I admit I’ve had it at least since last years Black Friday…but backlog and all that, you know. When announced, I was interested, but less so because of the combat change. Instead of being a turn-based RPG, it was now more of a tactical grid, sometimes even requiring decisions in real time before enemy attacks go off. Not bad, just different.
When I finally cracked But Whole open, I was immediately engrossed in the world, setting and story all over again, and yes, that includes the combat. The set up sort of begins in a similar fashion to Stick of Truth. You’re a new kid in town and the rest of the South Park kids are playing their fantasy role playing game, fully equipped with elves, kings, knights and wizards.
Things happen, a cat is missing with a $100 reward, and the best way to handle the job is to become apart of Coon and Friends, South Park’s version of superheroes. You’re able to pick a class in the beginning, some centered around ranged attacks and other close quarters combat, you receive a back story which shows off all your new moves and you are ready to go.
I was surprised from the beginning how fun the combat was. Your typical situation involves controlling between 1-4 characters, each with three moves and an Ultimate Move which fills up as a battle progresses. Each move has a specific tile combination that is affected. For example, you can have a dash attack that can reach and damage an enemy from three tiles away, others are able to hit an enemy anywhere on the grid. Once you unlock more and more characters, it’s really up to you how to best approach the fights ahead.
I don’t want to say there are gimmick fights, but there are battles that give you different objectives that create a bit of variety. You may need to survive X amount of turns to activate a move that weakens a boss for example, or you should choose characters stacked with knock back so that you can knock back enemies to the back of the battle grid.
Another aspect that I appreciated is the variety of status effects. You can gross out enemies, shock them, freeze them, lower their defense, make them bleed and so on. A large part of my team building tactic for the middle portion of the game was trying to figure out how to stack as many status effects as possible on each enemy. It was always satisfying to have an enemy finish a turn just to get hit with bleed damage, then shock damage, then gross out damage. As you level up, you can also equip artifacts that you find and/or create in game to increase status effect damage. You can also do the same for something like knock back damage.
As you progress, you unlock more character classes that you can combine into your previously chosen classes. Even though you may have picked a ranged class at first, you’re free to choose a melee class this time to give yourself more choices on moves that you want to bring into battle. Don’t worry too much about the choice though, there will be a point where everything is accessible.
The game’s namesake really comes from this superpower mechanic that your character posses, a super farting ability. Throughout the game, you can use this farting ability in a lot of different ways. Early on, the first ability you obtain is to stop an enemy from attacking mid-attack, canceling out that enemy’s attack for one turn. This ability is on a long cool down, so knowing which moves to use it on can really speed up a battle.
Characters: My favorite part of the South Park: The Fractured But Whole, was experiencing each of the kids superhero persona’s. Captain Diabetes, who drinks apple juice for super strength, just to have to shoot himself with insulin to bring him back down was by far my favorite. There’s an entire chapter associated with assisting Captain Diabetes through a strip club and it’s just fantastic.
Overworld/Map: The overworld is essentially a few streets of South Park. It looks somewhat small on the map screen, but you really get a lot out of what they provide you. One building may look small, but a certain quest can send you deep underground, expanding the location quite a bit. There are gated areas throughout the game like lava (red Lego bricks) that block progress but they are surmountable as you unlock new abilities with your friends.
Side Quests: Aside from your main objective, plenty of side quests pop up throughout the town. Many are forms of fetch quests, but I found them to be not that bad because of the setting. Those sections are not the most enjoyable, but you are able to take those quests early in your playthrough so as you explore and progress you eventually are able to complete them. Highlights here include needing to help Call Girl get a phone plan and retrieving Mosquito’s credit card from the Raisin’s.
Costume Collection: Outside of the costume that you are given with your first class choice, there are hundreds of options that open up to you as you explore the game. Want to be Seaman? They got it. Want to be a goth kid? Got that too. It was a lot more fun than I expected when I saw how many options were open to you.
I’m torn. I love South Park and each of the two recent games that have been released are incredibly fun, for me. The gameplay itself is fluid and feels great, but I do feel like the majority of my enjoyment in South Park: The Fractured But Whole came from my familiarity with the property. It was exciting to see each character pop up and visit the same locations that I have watched in the television show. I’ve now spent the better part of twenty years with South Park in my life, that’s just not something you can rely on when creating a game like this.
At the end of the day, you have to be able to laugh. There are so many situations, characters, and more that pop up here, make you audibly say ‘oh my god’ and then you continue on. That’s really the essence of what South Park is. They go for that shock factor, but behind that initial reaction is a deeper context and makes you think about what was said, and why. I’m not saying that’s in every story beat or side quests that can be found in But Whole, and some fart jokes are just fart jokes, but here, you’ll likely find both.