Clair Obscur: Expedition 33 is an “evolution of JRPGs” set in 19th century France in which you fight a mad painter

We didn’t get to Sandfall and Kepler Interactive’s Clair Obscur: Expedition 33 during our coverage of Microsoft’s summer showcase, a couple of weeks ago. If memory serves, when they ran that particular trailer I was busy sponging swampwater out my eyes after writing up South Of Midnight, while Nic had become so vociferously agitated over the debut of Doom: Dark Ages that he was no longer solid and tangible enough to operate a keyboard. Graham had long since absconded with Joanna Dark to Immersive Sim Land and Matt, poor Matt, had fallen into a Locust sinkhole while “omnimanouevring” around Black Ops 6. But if one of us had been free and willing we might have had enthusiastic thoughts about this “evolution of JRPGs”, in which you must thwart a self-serious artist who is about to magically murder everybody over the age of 32. It is, alas, too late for me.

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“Once a year, the Paintress wakes and paints upon her monolith,” goes the Steam blurb. “Paints her cursed number. And everyone of that age turns to smoke and fades away. Year by year, that number ticks down and more of us are erased. Tomorrow she’ll wake and paint ’33.’ And tomorrow we depart on our final mission – Destroy the Paintress, so she can never paint death again. We are Expedition 33.” Excellent! This is the kind of early-thirties moxie and momentum that saves a world, though I would quite like to play a spin-off game starring the sprightly firecrackers of Expedition 69 and the embarrassing midlifers of Expedition 39.

Expedition 33 takes place in a world inspired by Belle Époque France – the period approximately running from 1871 to 1914, when you couldn’t move for art nouveau, cabaret dancers and Baudelairean ennui. It was during this period that the Eiffel Tower was built – you can see it in the screenshot there, though it seems to have melted. Doubtless that Paintress is to blame. She’s incorrigible!

An aerial view of 19th century Paris with the Eiffel Tower all tipped over and melty
Image credit: Kepler Interactive

As for how you go about nobbling the Paintress, this is a blend of party and turn-based combat with certain actions seemingly performed in real-time – a performance that reminds me of Lost Odyssey, and which threatens to invoke the dread word “QTE”. There’s a world map with locations including the Island of Visages and the Forgotten Battlefield, which have hidden quests and other secrets to discover. While there are named story characters – Gustave and Maelle appear to be the stars – you’ll also get to recruit “special companions” and “allies of fortune”, while following in the footsteps of previous expeditions.

My reservations about the tightrope the combat is walking aside, I think this looks hella swank and damnably cool. You can read more on the Steam page – it doesn’t have a release date yet.

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