Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Sweep the leg. No mercy!

Game Name: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (original 2007, re-master 2016)
Developer: Vanillaware (Dragon’s Crown, Grim Grimoire, Muramasa Rebirth)
Platform: PS2 (original), PS3, PS4, Vita, (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Sidescrolling Reflex-Based Combat, Top-Tier Art Execution, 2D Exploration, Map Node Dungeons, Focused Combat Skill Progression, MOB Juggling/Crowd Control, Challenging Bosses, Casually Epic Story, Multiple Vantage Points, Extensive Voice-over Dialogue, Immersive and Engaging World, Extreme Inventory Management, Masterful Port

May Appeal To: button mashers, RPG addicts, art critics, Vanillaware fanbois, nostalgics, completionists, and introspectively deliberate story appreciators.
May Repulse: women’s liberation advocates, stat-crunchers, and brevity seekers.

Comparable To: the sultry hand-drawn visuals of Dragon’s Crown but minimal sexualized characters and situations. Odin Sphere: Lift-raiser has the sounds and story-telling mechanics of Grim Grimoire and bears similarities to Darkest Dungeon’s navigation. I’m not crazy, but the battle mini-map plays out like classic Defender and you slurp life essences out of the air like Soul Reaver. Continue reading

Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge

Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge

I don’t…. I mean….. How is…. Alright fine, whatever.

Game Name: Wizardy VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (1990)
Developer: Sir-Tech (Jagged Alliance 2, Wizardry 8, Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs)
Platform: AmigaOS, MS-DOS, SNES, Mac OS, NEC PC-9801 and FM Towns according to Wikipedia, whatever those are (reviewed on PC via DOSBox)
Categories: 1st Person Dungeon Crawler, Custom 6 Person Humanoid Team, Old Skool Fantasy RPG, Movement Grid, Turn-Based Battles, Vendors/NPCs, Deep Spell System, Sprawling Labyrinthine Locales, Dialogue via Word Parser, Traps and Loot, Punishing Difficulty, Archaic Presentation, DIY Mapping, DIY Quest Notes/Tracking, DIY Item Juggling and Stat Cataloguing, Multiple Classes, Multiple Endings (sort of)

May Appeal To: senior citizens, codgers, curators, dinosaurs, dotards, fogeys, fossils, geezers, grandfathers, greybeards, old timers, patriarchs, and those with an unusually severe computer budget. I’m kidding around but this game is really showing its age.
The cartography is quaint and amusing while epic completionists looking to export their party across the Dark Savant trilogy will want to start here.
May Repulse: anyone with eyeballs, ear holes, or sensibilities. Wizardry 6 lacks post-90s conventions and by no means should be played on its own without ulterior motive.

Comparable To: the overall feel of Wizardry 7, Bard’s Tale, and The Dark Spire. Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land, Strange Journey, and the Etrian Odyssey series are all superior versions of the same style of grid-based first-person dungeon crawling. Wizardry 8 and Legend of Grimrock take obvious cues from Wizardry 6 though have splintered off in considerably different directions. I couldn’t help but think of King’s Field and Shadow Tower as being inspired by this game despite a lack of similarities. Continue reading

Into the Breach

Into the Breach

Metal Geeeear?!

Game Name: Into the Breach (2018)
Developer: Subset Games (FTL – Faster Than Light)
Platform: PC, MAC, Linux, Nintendo Switch (reviewed on PC)
Categories: High Concept Puzzler, Turn-Based, Tactical Positioning, Tile Defense, Mechs and Tanks vs Bugs, Environmental Hazards, Squad Management/Design, Pilot Growth, Roster Quirks and Complementing Abilities, Rogue-Like Sessions, Multiple Difficulties, Pixel Art, Isometric, Time Travel, Parallel Universes, Addictive, Replayable

May Appeal To: brains, masterminds, mech jockeys, players on the go, Rogue-like session divers, time attackers, completionists, and “God damn time traveling robots”.
May Repulse: those expecting something akin to a Godzilla or Pacific Rim type brawl, or anyone with hopes for nuts-and-bolts mech customization with RPG-like progression.

Comparable To: Starship Troopers’ bug variety and collateral warfare, I suppose. You’ve got all sorts of conceptual influences across the various sci-fi strata though the only real video game ancestor I can name is Advanced Wars. Even then, only the grid-based tactics and overall unit design is similar, with Into the Breach retaining little resemblance to a classic TBS focused on a single battle. Record of Agarest War also has elements where team members’ relative positions provide a tactical advantage. Continue reading

Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story

Can someone get him a damn comb?

Game Name: Vagrant Story (2000)
Developer: Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts)
Platform: PS1, Vita (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Grand Cinematography, Interesting Characters, Attractive Artstyle, Labyrinthine and Mysterious Dungeon, Intricately Gritty Story, Real Time RPG, Pausable Battles, Isometric, Weapon/Armor Melding, Equipment Affinity, Cube Puzzles, Halberds, Dragons, ye Olde English, High Fantasy, Dark Magic, Risk/Reward, Chained Combos, Powerful Growth and Progression, Item Management, Ambitious, Formidable

May Appeal To: Ivalice completionists, Akihiko Yoshida fans, dungeon divers, monster slayers, weapon crafters, game design students, dialogue skeptics, Archers, Berserkers, Black/White/Red Mages, Chemists, Dark Knights, Mage Knights, Dragoons, Fighters, Gamblers, Monks, Paladins, plain ol’ Warriors, and spatial puzzle Wizards.
May Repulse: puzzle haters, challenge shirkers, Squeenix detractors, the disorganized, the immethodical, people prone to getting lost, and fashion critics of ass-less chaps.

Comparable To: Parasite Eve + Fullmetal Alchemist + Disgaea in a blender. It has combat from the first, the second’s setting, and visual/gameplay elements from the third. Newer Fallout players will draw correlations to the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, specifically that you freeze time and target an enemy’s unlucky body part. The map draws parallels with a horizontally-oriented MetroidVania; the character design is distinct to Square’s Final Fantasy XII or Tactics Ogre; and Shadow Hearts Covenant’s timing and puzzles are in the forefront of my mind once more. Diablo II’s gradual -and irreversible- leveling system as well as Monster Hunter’s focus on personal knowledge and equipment affinity vs numerical player levels are both relevant. Continue reading

Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon

“Let me share with you the terrible wonders I have come to know…”

Game Name: Darkest Dungeon (2016)
Developer: Red Hook Studios (have made only this game)
Platform: Windows, OSX, Linux, PS4, Vita, iOS, Nintendo Switch, XBOne
(reviewed on PC and Vita)
Categories: Lovecraftian Horror, Turn-Based Party Combat, Real-Time 2D Exploration, Gore-gous Art Style, Carnage and Viscera, the Darkest Tone, Bleak and Brooding, Punishing Difficulty, Structured Rogue-Like, Sacrificial Risk/Reward, Engrossing Story, Best Narration, RPG Equipment, Skills, Traits, Afflictions, Madness and Stress Mechanics, Town Development,  Procedural Missions, Dark Fantasy, Perma-Death,

May Appeal To: mettle testers, metalheads, medal earners, angsty teens/tweens, masochists, self flagellators, punishment gluttons, horror fans, disturbed obsessors, H.P. Lovecraft freaks, Alice Cooper and other pasty consumers of black eyeshadow
May Repulse: God fearing folk, scaredy cats, responsible parents, the busy, the previously abused or burnt, [boring] well-adjusted citizens, self respecting abstainers, and that one dude that knows his limits

Comparable To: a bunch o’ games that leap to mind…. but aren’t all that similar after consideration. It bests Bastion’s charismatic voice-overs. It champions TellTale Game’s bold, bright comic book style. Early Final Fantasies’ turn based, four person battle system -complete with spells and items- are the closest that I can dredge to measure its architecture. Dungeon of the Endless is a rogue-like exhibiting mysteriously ominous environs and specific character roles in defeating the bloodthirsty swarms. (This one also had a transactional battle system that is closer to Darkest Dungeon’s mission setup.) Etrian Odyssey and early Wizardry games are contenders for the labyrinthine, tile based exploration and testicle crushing difficulty DD may have taken inspiration from. Long story short, it’s a primal RPG amplified by modern conventions flying in the face of its predecessors, and no comparison does it justice.

Continue reading