Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Many shocking things occurred over the past several years, between myriad celebrity deaths, political absurdities and cursed sports teams becoming world champions, a lot has transpired that none of us saw coming. Out of these surprising events, nothing was more out of left field than something truly unprecedented in 2014: South Park finally had a good video game. In fact, South Park: The Stick of Truth was such an enjoyable experience people were actually excited when a sequel was announced. After a somewhat lengthy and ironic delay for a game based off a show that throws together its episodes in a six day period, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is finally out and humanity can finally learn whether or not there is enough room on this planet for two good South Park RPGs.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole takes place immediately after the events in The Stick of Truth. Cartman has grown tired of the Game of Thrones inspired game the kids were playing and busted out the Coon costume in order to find a lost neighborhood cat to claim the hundred dollar reward to help get his Coon and Friends franchise the finances and recognition to achieve his plans for movies and Netflix series. Unsurprisingly, a good portion of the kids disagreed with the direction Cartman wanted to take Coon and Friends and have splintered off into the Freedom Pals. The player once again controls the New Kid and soon the New Kid finds him/herself in the Coon’s headquarters designing his backstory and character sheet.

While there are many new features and changes, there is enough DNA from The Stick of Truth inside The Fractured But Whole that it’s a safe bet anyone who enjoyed the predecessor will like the sequel. The player assumes the identity of the New Kid and is subsequently bossed around by Cartman. There is a main storyline that begins fairly simple and grows into greater levels of absurdity as the plot progresses, and the player can pretty much spend a lot of time ignoring the main plot if they want to and freely wander about the town of South Park, getting into fights with random hostile citizens such as Raisins girls and sixth graders or finding characters from the show and take on side missions, such as finding all of Big Gay Al’s missing cats. Like its predecessor, South Park is densely packed with references to the series and activities to complete, though many of these things can be seen but cannot be completed until later when the plot progresses or certain abilities are unlocked.

As this is the norm whenever the kids play one of their games, it ends up getting out of hand and takes over the whole town. Red LEGO bricks prevent egress through certain parts of town and block off entire areas because they are designated as lava and will set the New Kid on fire if the player attempts to traverse them, which isn’t too far fetched since stepping on LEGOs is an incredibly painful experience. The adults seem relatively unfazed by the kids running around in superhero costumes bringing the destruction they are everywhere and will send the New Kid to complete quests for them and even occasionally engage them in battle. The cellphone serves a hub for accessing the inventory, active quests, character sheets and just about everything else. Social media networking is still a huge part of life in South Park, but since the New Kid has already made Facebook friends with the whole town the new objective is to amass as many followers as possible on the new proprietary social media platform Coonstagram.

An initial concern about South Park: The Fractured But Whole was that there were so many references to the show in the first game that there were doubts that could be the case with the follow up. Those worries have been laid to rest as there are plenty of references to classic South Park along with features from more recent seasons. The physical landscape of South Park has changed to reflect the gentrification that began a couple seasons ago, with the classy Skeeter’s Wine Bar and some remains of Shi Tpa Town. The Member Berries are randomly scattered about town, membering various things though even they seem to have trouble picturing Sinbad as a genie called Shazam. Classic commercials air on the TV like Wacky Action Bike and familiar songs like Jacking It In San Diego play in various business establishments. PC Principal even shows up to make sure the New Kid can identify microaggressions. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were heavily involved with the production of this title, resulting in it being an authentic South Park experience and fans of the show will see The Fractured But Whole is stuffed to capacity with all the references they were able to fit in it. The game feels like a merging of a tactics RPG with a multiple episode story arc like the Imaginationland trilogy (Editor’s Note: They had a trilogy centered around Coon and Friends and you couldn’t reference that one instead?).

The general gameplay, plot development and humor will feel familiar to anyone who played the first game, but there are also quite a few changes. The most obvious notable change is the boys are now pretending to be superheroes and are donned in the costumes of their heroic alter egos from what the Coon made his alliance with Cthulhu. Human Kite, Super Craig, Mysterion and so on all make appearances either as allies if they are the friends that compose Coon and Friends or adversaries in battle if they followed Kenny over to the Freedom Pals. The New Kid gets to create his own super hero identify which at the beginning there are only three available classes to choose from, but eventually expands to combine attributes from ten different hero classes. The New Kid will develop a tragic backstory, which features an unspeakable event that has only happened to the New Kid and no one else in the history of the world ever.

The player will select the New Kid’s race, where skin tone works as a difficulty slider with the lightest skin tone being the easiest level. This has no bearing on combat difficulty, just every other aspect of the New Kid’s life, and PC Principal is willing to help players rediscover and change their race later if they feel so inclined. Gender in South Park: The Fractured But Whole goes beyond the simple binary choice of male and female, and for review purposes a trigender pansexual is how the New Kid featured in these screenshots self identifies. Should the New Kid ever want to change genders, Mr. Mackey is there to provide advice and guidance through this delicate process in the safe space of his office. All heroes need a kryptonite, and some available options are Raisins girls and old people. Lastly, a superhero’s costume is a major part of their identity, so player stats and attributes are completely independent of each of other. A player can boost stats and abilities by equipping artifacts and DNA modifiers that have no bearing on their appearance so they are free to design any costume they wish.

Battle has received a significant overhaul this time around. Combat remains turn based, but the JRPG approach has been abandoned for a more tactics based model which allows for greater use of strategy and is overall more enjoyable. The New Kid can take up to three friends into battle with them, and with twelve unlockable buddies and ten different classes to select abilities from, there ‘s a lot of potential for different strategies. Some battles do pose a high level of challenge, but sometimes all it takes to change the tide of battle is to try swapping out team members or artifacts. During the review there was one particular battle that was proving to be difficult but when it reached a point where defeat seemed imminent changing the strategy to Super Craig using an attack to keep the much more powerful enemy in slow status allowed the New Kid to whittle away at the health bar with a constant barrage of fireballs that also did damage over time.

As combat plays out on a tactics based grid, position and distance relative to the enemies matters a lot. Because of this is it is a wise idea to mix up the party members so it’s not all people that can only attack horizontally, those attacks are often powerful but having some ranged, angled and area of attacks abilities in the mix is always a good idea. Many attacks inflict damage over time by adding effects like bleeding, burning or gross out, and stacking these on powerful foes is especially useful since with the increased party size using a healing item now uses up that character’s turn. Positioning plays a role in combat not only in who can attack or be attacked by you but also for additional damage potential. Knocking an enemy into another enemy will cause additional damage to both and knocking an enemy into a teammate allows them to get a sneak shot in. Of course, these tricks also apply to the bad guys. Like its predecessor, farts are a major aspect of The Fractured But Whole both in and outside of combat. A poorly kept secret is the game’s original subtitle was the more accurate but less clever The Butthole of Time, because the New Kid is capable of creating farts so pungent they can bend the very fabric of time. In combat this can be used at the right moment to nullify an opponent’s turn, which has been the sole deciding factor in how some battles were won. A different type of Timefart will momentarily freeze time and allow the New Kid to wander the grid and get a few extra punches in for some additional damage. The most powerful Timefart, though not sure how exactly a fart can cause this, is used to summon a body double of the New Kid who will fight alongside the player for a few turns.

Farts play just as much of a role in the sequel as they did in the predecessor, if not more of one. Some gastronomic abilities outside of combat include repairing damaged items, which can be necessary to advance the plot or uncover a secret item. They can stop time, allowing the New Kid to bypass dangerous traps or catch fast moving critters. A new means of transportation is available with the help of Human Kyte called Fartkour. With the combined gale force of the New Kid’s posterior cannon and the gliding ability possessed by the Human Kyte, the player can reach out of the way locations with well-timed button presses. Someone who farts this often probably should poop and just about every toilet in South Park is available for a pooping minigame, in which some of those four star difficulty ones require some godlike dexterity to properly complete. The toilet humor in this may be considered excessive, but considering this is South Park game, anyone reading this review probably isn’t going to see those as deterrents to playing The Fractured But Whole.

As previously stated, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were involved in every stage of development and this really is an authentic South Park experience. The graphics and voice acting are exactly what one is subjected to during an episode of the show, with a plot and dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place if this were a series of episodes. The original music score sounds like a South Park take on superhero movie music, but there are plenty of familiar songs from the show scattered throughout the game. During the review there were no performance issues such as framerate drops or crashes and the controls and mechanics operated as smoothly as one could have hoped.

Closing Comments:

South Park: The Fractured But Whole could be summarized as The Stick of Truth with better combat featuring superheros instead of swords and sorcery. This sequel builds on everything that made its predecessor good and enhances many of the gameplay elements. Despite being a well-crafted tactics RPG, being a South Park fan is probably a bigger question to ask oneself in whether or not they would enjoy this game. This is a dream come true and a must play for the hardcore fan who likes RPGs, but despite the game being so well crafted, someone who hates South Park (these people sadly exist) will probably be put off by all the South Parkness that was stuffed in this package and that will Garrison trump any other aspect that could redeem the experience for them. The Fractured But Whole is loaded with toilet humor and enough F bombs to make Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison blush, but anyone following South Park over the past twenty years should be expecting that.

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