In the distant future, mankind's first zero-point energy nuclear reactor gives birth to a new type of virus in its vacuum chambers, known as "the Punishing". When it escapes and spreads along the wind currents of Earth's atmosphere following an explosion, the cybernetic pathogen proceeds to kill humans and infect machines, causing them to mindlessly seek to destroy anything with a human consciousness. Humanity thus sees no other option but to escape into space, where survivors live aboard the space colony Babylonia. To reclaim their lost planet, humans devise a way to modify their bodies into virus-resistant combat cyborgs: the Reconstructed Soldiers, or in its short form, the constructs.
You are the commandant of a team of constructs: Gray Raven Squad. With them at your side, the counter-invasion of Earth will begin its next chapter.
At its core, Punishing is a high-speed action game in the vein of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, with the wrinkle of a Match-Three Game: As players land hits with default attacks, a queue begins randomly filling with one of three different types of special moves. If two or three prompts get joined together, the attack becomes much more powerful, and opens access to each character's unique passives.
Punishing is developed and published by Kuro Game using the Unity Engine and first released in December 2019. It was originally only available in Chinese through an official client, Bilibili and Taptap — the Taiwanese version was released in August 2020; the Japanese version was released in December 2020; and a Global version released in July 2021.
Warning: Since the Global release of PGR is roughly two years behind the Chinese release in terms of playable characters and story content, there will be spoilers, marked and unmarked.
This game provides examples of:
- After the End: The Punishing virus has left the world devastated, leaving various robots and post-humans to battle to see who will inherit the Earth.
- Attack Drone: Untold Naraka, being a Crossover with NieR: Automata, included Pods from the guest game that assisted during stages. Later, the Echo Aria update added robot pets that can be upgraded separately to give buffs to the characters equipping them, as well as attack on their own.
- The Anime of the Game: Panini: Gray Raven, a Denser and Wackier series of short animations based on the game.
- Another Side, Another Story: The game's "hidden" chapters, which are unlocked as the player progresses through the chapter, explores events related to prior chapters from different perspectives, adding new context to each storyline.
- Anti-Frustration Features:
- With characters having different ways to activate their passives, the game makes sure players have some way of learning them, with specialised tutorials, a practice room, and, at the very least, making sure the information is the first thing seen on the pause screen when a stage is active.
- 9S's Limit Break takes the form of a Hacking Minigame, but there is also a menu option to remove the sequence so that 9S will automatically damage an enemy if the player doesn't want to put up with it.
- Automatic New Game: A fresh game account starts with an In Medias Res of the initial invasion of Earth, introducing the combat mechanics and a Hopeless Boss Fight before the game's tutorial guides you through the menus. It's only after the first two missions that the game begins to ease up and let players poke around on their own.
- Bad Future: By Her Last Bow, the war has grown so dire that Gestalt predicts three potential conclusions, none of which are in humanity's favor — Babylonia wins, but depletes Earth's resources so badly they have to flee the planet, the Awakened Machines win and enslave humanity, or the Ascendants win and the Punishing Virus succeeds in terraforming all organic life off Earth.
- Beach Episode: 2020's Grand Blue event, preceded by the Summer Pockets short story, where Gray Raven squad explore an abandoned beach side resort and amusement park. (And of course, several characters got new swimsuits to commemorate the event.)
- Brain Uploading: The M.I.N.D. system allows a cyborg's mind to be digitized to go along with their mechanical body. What happens when a mind can be freely transferred around gets explored in a few different stories, as technicians can go on a Journey to the Center of the Mind by accessing a construct's memories, and cloning accidentally occurs when a stored consciousness is resurrected from a backup after the original person is mistakenly presumed dead.
- Breather Episode: The intensity of chapters like Kowloong Metropolis, and Evernight Beat and The Survival Lucem are followed by relatively lighthearted side-stories like Grand Blue, and Wandering Dream with Whale, respectively.
- Bullet Time: Similar to Bayonetta, a correctly timed dodges causes enemies to temporarily slow to a crawl, allowing players a chance to land some free hits. Furthermore, any special attacks performed at this time will be at their highest value, as if they were fully combined.
- Busman's Holiday: How Grand Blue plays out, with an overworked Commandant ordered to take time off at a waterpark in the Caribbean, which quickly gets sidelined when the Ascendants arrive with their own goals. The Commandant winds up getting his vacation extended further, due to having to recover from the near-death experience.
- Cinderella Plot: Liv's father remarried, and her new step-family promptly began neglecting her and treating her like a servant, until her fortunes turned around. Though in this case, Liv didn't meet a prince and marry into royalty: she enlisted in the army as a medic in lieu of her step-siblings, nearly died saving soldiers on the frontline, and was transformed into a combat cyborg lauded as a war hero, who is still fighting when the game begins.
- Crapsack World: Punishing's world isn't forgiving, to say the least. Humanity is sequestered into bickering enclaves that all have their own agendas, people are often left at the mercy of authorities that rarely have any, and just about every character has a terrible past. Despite this, their determination, camaraderie and unyielding hope that the Punishing virus can be defeated keeps them moving forward, and their battles end in worthwhile victories often enough.
- Choose a Handicap: In Babel Tower, you have to pick a number of handicaps that make your enemies tougher (by increasing their defense, attack or aggressiveness) or more annoying to deal with (such as them attracting you with a blackhole or planting small time-bombs on you when they hit you). The catch is that there are several levels and that the rewards depend on your combine score on all levels (but you can?t use the same characters on two levels), meaning you can smooth out the difficulty by making each level only mildly difficult instead of making a single one super hard.
- Christmas Episode: The "Night on Christmas" event, which follows Gray Raven preparing to throw a surprise Christmas party for Liv. Completion of the event rewarded unique Christmas-themed skins and weapons.
- Crossover: January 2021's Untold Naraka event, which was a collaboration with NieR: Automata. For a limited time, players had a chance to recruit the main characters of that game — 2B, 9S, and A2 — to use as playable characters.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Construct technology actually puts in a great deal of effort to avert this. Babylonia Constructs are only allowed to field humanoid frames that mimic human bodies as closely as possible, and part of a Commandant's duty is to provide psychological support to ensure their M.I.N.Ds remain stable.
- Easter Egg: The stages added during the Untold Naraka event have two hidden in out of the way routes. One leads to a field of "Lunar Tear" flowers, which appear in both Nier games, while another has posters showing Kuro Game's previous game, Twintails Battlefield (战场双马尾).
- Elemental Powers: Certain attacks have properties besides physical damage. There is fire, ice, and lightning, as per usual, but other elements, like Dark damage, also exist. Elemental RockPaperScissors is also in play as a result, with different enemies being weak or resistant to certain damage types.
- Freemium Timer: The game has a stamina system which regenerates one point of "serum" every five minutes, though it can also be refilled by using earnable serum items, when the account gains a level, or by spending Black Cards.
- Fun with Acronyms: The digitized consciousness of a construct is known as a Memory Inductive Neural Depository; in other words, the M.I.N.D.
- The Future: The future's future, even. Punishing is set around 2180-2185, one hundred years after the initial Punishing virus outbreak. It's been long enough that history has even had time to assign two post-apocalyptic periods, the Post-Pandemic Age (2079-2140) and the Reconquista Age (2140 onwards).
- Future Imperfect: The mass retreat of humanity into small struggling communities or Babylonia above has resulted tons of human culture and knowledge being abandoned. The Arts Association, in fact, runs "archeological" expeditions to try and recover such knowledge. One character, Selena, is credited as the author of an adaptation of The Tempest, but she herself admits she just based it off incomplete records.
- Gameplay and Story Segregation: While the player can recruit all sorts of constructs via Gacha, the game's story assumes the only cast present in each situation is Gray Raven squad itself, consisting of Lucia, Liv and Lee, along with any construct who appears as a secondary character; not whoever you're running the game's stages as. The most egregious example is likely Alpha, who you can select for normal chapters, even though she is essentially one of the story's villains, as a member of the Ascendants.
- Guide Dang It!: The Interlude stories of each character all have a unique "hidden" story node that serve as a sort of epilogue to each tale. True to their name, the game never advertises their existence, nor their unlock conditions, which are intentionally obtuse and requires massive leaps in logic or combing the playable stages. For example, the hidden segment of Lee's Palefire Interlude requires the player to notice that the story's Arc Number, "421", translates into binary as 100, 010, and 001. Then, using that clue, fight three groups of three enemies, while sparing the leftmost, center, and rightmost enemy of each respective group, in that order.
- Interface Screw: Recitativo di Fantasia's final boss, Hamlet, attacks the game's combat UI in several ways — first by stealing all the command prompts and then dropping them as collectable items in the stage that the player has to run around recollecting in order to even attack or dodge, then flipping the prompts across the horizontal or vertical axis, and finally, having its attacks fake draining the player's premium currency until it goes into the negatives as a distraction.
- An Interior Designer Is You: Punishing's dorm system allows for rooms to be decorated to resemble other places. Classy pub? Sure. Chinese restaurant? Of course. Austere funeral service? Well, why not?
- Limit Break: All constructs have a meter under their health that can be filled and then expended for one particular high-powered attack. They shouldn't be considered Finishing Moves, given the durability of enemies. Fire them off as quick as you can for free and safe damage. Other constructs use the meter to activate a Super Mode, rather than a single attack.
- Mêlée à Trois:
- Kowloong Metropolis has Babylonia vs Kowloon vs the Ascendants, and winds up dragging every previously seen faction into the fight, each with their own agenda.
- Her Last Bow has Gestalt predict that in a decade the war will turn into a three-way conflict between Babylonia, the Ascendants and the Awakened Machines that Nanami has been gathering.
- Me's a Crowd: Each construct variation are considered separate characters, meaning there's nothing preventing a player from assembling a team with two, or even three of the same character.
- Mobile City:
- The "Eternal Engine" Asslam consists of several building-sized carriages. It runs through Eurasia in order to power the filters that protects its population from the Punishing virus and uses its mobility to position itself as a Merchant City that can buy and sell anything from anyone.
- Later, the story introduces the Nighter, a ship that's been turned into a massive floating city. It has similar mercantile leanings, but it's quickly overshadowed by the numerous hidden agendas being pursued by rulers of the vessel. It also is ultimately subordinate to Kowloong, a stationary city-state in the middle of the ocean.
- Multiple Life Bars: Having to deplete several lifebars isnt particularly uncommon in modern action games, but PGR pushes it to the extreme with bosses that can have up to 30 lifebars.
- Nintendo Hard: PGR has a pretty steep learning curve compared to other gacha games. Once the player has passed the relatively easy early chapters of story mode, the game will rapidly throw a plethora of bosses and challenges that will require them to be constantly on their toes to dodge the fast, deadly attacks that will come from every direction. Especially in challenge modes like Phantom Pain Cage and War Zone.
- Play as a Boss: Certain hidden chapters include an opportunity to play from the perspective of bosses like Berserk/Dark Kamui and Roland. The former example eventually became Promoted to Playable as Camu.
- Play Every Day: Punishing encourages consistent play for those aiming to spend as little as possible. The daily and weekly quests are major sources of Black Cards that can be used for Gacha, and include playing the War Zone and Phantom Pain Cage modes that give rewards based on current player rankings, giving incentive to not fall behind.
- Production Throwback: Several early memories are actually recycled designs from Kuro Game's prior work, Twintails Battlefield. The Memory Rescue missions, in fact, contains multiple references to it, but given its obscurity, will likely just go over the players' heads.
- Season Finale: Kowloong Metropolis functions as The Climax for all the plot threads set up in the first 12 chapters, and even brings in elements from side content like Golden Vortex. It also serves as a Wham Episode as Lucia undergoes a Death of Personality, finishing her character arc.
- Shout-Out: The Wolf Pack Boss of Wandering Dream with Whale strike the poses of the Ginyu Force, though they stand in different positions and lack one member to make the reference merely blatant, rather than incredibly.
- Socketed Equipment: Playable constructs can equip up to six "memories". When two or four of a set are put together, they provide varying buffs, ranging from flat damage boosts of differing elements to calling down lightning strikes or providing free Bullet Time on the next three-orb combo.
- Sprint Meter: Punishing's dodges are fueled by a regenerating meter, to prevent players from trying to avoid attacks by just spamming evasive moves over and over.
- Starter Mon: Lucia (Lotus), Liv (Eclipse) and Nanami (Storm) are the first three characters you acquire in game, and together form the first Attacker-Support-Armor team the game encourages players to use. They also happen to be the only B-Ranked characters in the game, signifying that they're intended to only last until the player can assemble teams of A or S-ranked characters attained from the Gacha.
- A Taste of Power: In the days before a new chapter or event, the game likes dropping a short preview story that lets players try out the upcoming unlockables, whether it is a new character that has to be acquired via gacha, or a new set of costumes that can be worn by them.
- Technology Porn: In the game's codex, you can observe each constructs' weapon up close. Not only that, you can cycle through the appearances of their progressive upgrades, and watch as the weapons continually gains holograms and various other hinged, delightfully noisy mechanical additions.
- Unobtainium: One recurring object in the game's backstory is Tantalum-193 heteropolymer. Whatever it is, a person's compatability with it determines whether one can be converted into a construct.
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: Every so often the game's special events toss in wrinkles into the typical hack-and-slash fare. Eternal Engine had a short chapter involving a driving sequence, while Kowloong Metropolis had rudimentary stealth sequences, including activating distracting props, stealthy walking, and Back Stabs.
- Wham Episode
- Lucia's Interlude story, "Metamorphosis", reveals the identity of Unknown Construct Alpha and completely changes the player's knowledge of all the characters. Alpha is the original Lucia. The Lucia with Gray Raven squad is a clone made from her backed up memories. Furthermore, Luna of the Ascendants is Lucia' sister.
- Kowloong Metropolis ends with Lucia undergoing a Death of Personality, fundamentally changing who she is as a person going forward.
- Fake Ascension dramatically shifts the factions around going forward: The Punishing Virus is show to be undergoing evolution into life-like forms, and Gabriel betrays his Ascendant comrades, causing the others to become rogue free actors.
- Her Last Bow answers one ongoing mystery and gives a dire prediction: Nanami is actually the Machine Sage whose art is giving machines sentience. Furthermore, Gestalt has predicted that however the war will end in 10 years, humanity will not reclaim Earth.
For I am a child of light