Originally posted on 5/13/16 on Vox Ludicus. My views on this game remain the same as they did back then.
I have been puzzling over how to approach this review for a few days now. On one hand, I think about how much I enjoyed the game early on, with its unique and colorful hand drawn art work and fascinating mythology. On the other hand, I think about how much I despise several of the classes and how horribly unbalanced and repetitive everything gets after about two hours of play, and I am torn. This is a divisive game, as divisive as I have ever seen or played. Anyway, let’s get right into the Four Pillars and break down the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This game kills in the visual department. Despite what complaints I have about it (and I do have quite a few), the visuals are not one of them. It uses well designed sprite work for its world, characters, and enemies and it’s well implemented, making it easy to tell one enemy or item from another. I very rarely had any confusion trying to determine what I was looking at.
During cutscenes and conversations, the systems uses hand drawn artwork to represent your characters on screen, and every character has a unique design. Each of the six playable characters look visually distinct from each other both in sprites and their character portraits, and its very very well done.
I am very very glad that KitFox games gave us each a copy of the Soundtrack edition of the game, because the music is amazing. I am a sucker for good music, having been a bit of a band geek in middle and high school growing up. And this soundtrack is amazing.
The voice acting during the opening and ending scenes of the game is decent, and thankfully set the mood well. The sound effects during fights, on the other hand, are very bare bones and honestly I sort of stopped hearing them after a while. There are not many variations in combat so you don’t end up with many variations of sound.
However, the biggest issue with the audio is one of repetition. You see, each zone has its own single music track. That’s it. One. And I mean zone type, not just zone. So for example, all Forest Maps sound alike, all Desert Maps sound alike, etc. Thankfully each of the four towns have their own unique songs, as does the final battle, but overall you will end up hearing the same music on loop endlessly. By the fifth hour of playing I honestly had gotten tired of every track I had heard.
This is a roguelike, and as such is rather thin on story. Regardless, what is here is very interesting. You play a Hero of myth and legend, trying to determine why the Moon has vanished from the sky. You see, in this universe, the Moon is worshiped as a Four Faced Goddess, and there are four main towns who represent each of the four faces. Your character will come from one of these towns, and goes out in the world to solve this mystery.
Along the way, you find NPCs and lore scattered randomly around the map. It’s an interesting system, and I enjoy it, but again, we have an issue with repetition. The game does not handle how it gives out story bits very well, and in fact I had two different runs come out almost identical, even with me making different choices when offered.
You can make choices, by the way, when talking to people and resting at night. However, it doesn’t seem to matter very often other then simply changing what people say. Events, for the most part, are going to play out the same way each time. There are a few events mind you where your choice can provide a different outcome, but most of the time the choice simply determines which Attitude and Stats you gain.
The game has two primary screens – the main world map screen, which is procedurally generated each time you play, and then you have the Adventure screens where you move around towns or battlefields. The game also has six characters you can use to play the game, two of which must be unlocked through play.
On the world map each area is represented by an icon that shows what kind of map it is. Forests, Swamps, Towns, Mountains and Deserts. Further, there are small icons that show what sort of things you might find in a map, such as Upgrade vendors and special events. I love how the icons work as it made it easy to determine new things that I might not have seen were in a specific zone. Things like Baba Yaga for example, or cooking ingredients. It’s very handy and well done.
However, as I previously mentioned, things can get repetitive. Early on, you only have the Forests, Mountains, and the few Towns. And with the procedural nature of the game, you may never run into another town, and instead just have the Mountains and Forests, and occasional Deserts available to visit. Further, each zone looks fairly similar. If you have seen one Forest map you have seen them all. In the Gameplay video I am going to add you will see what I mean about Locations repeating.
Now the basic flow of gameplay is to choose a location, enter it, and then find the exit. In the Adventure maps you can find special events which generally just give you stat boosts and sometimes a constellation unlock, which I will go over later. After you finish an adventure map you go into Camp, where you can do a variety of activities such as Resting, Stargazing, Cooking, Hunting, and Keeping Watch. These activities are how you increase your stats normally and also sometimes provide unlocks and events.
Alright, now I need to talk about the characters. There are going to be some minor spoilers here, so you may want to skip this, but I have to bring it up to discuss this.
You have four primary playable characters in this game: The Spellblade, the Occultist, the Druid, and the Witch. You also have two unlockable characters in the Sun Cultist and the Songweaver.
Each of these six characters plays very differently from one another and fills a distinct role. The game is designed with multiplayer in mind.
The Spellblade is a melee oriented character. His primary strikes are a three stage combo that hits in front of him twice, and then unleashes a small tornado. His alternate attack is a knock back and stun. His movement power is a basic dash. He is easy to play, and I was able to complete the game with him on my first try through. Being in melee range was really annoying at times however, as the hit detection in this game, in general, is a bit off.
The Occultist is a ranged attacker. Her primary attack is a black orb she fires out which can basically cover the distance up to the edge of the screen. Her secondary attack is a black hole that grabs enemies, hold them in place, and stuns them slightly. She has a teleport for her movement power. She is the best character, I think, for a soloist and was my easiest run through the game by far. In fact, this is the only character I played twice, and both times had a super easy time of it.
The Druid is a nightmare made of pixels. If you are playing by yourself, do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to use this guy. His primary attack is a three leaf spreadshot in front of him that does minimal damage. His secondary attack is just a giant field of leaves that slow enemies. His movement power is unique, however, in that it changes him to a wolf and speeds him up, and also gives him a very strong bite attack. I was not able to finish a run with the Druid whatsoever, as his main damage ability is very weak. He is best used when transformed, but then you have to get in melee range and it’s a bit hard to control him.
The Witch is a midrange damage dealer. Her primary attack is a short range spear thrust. It’s hard to aim or control honestly, and sometimes for some reason I would suddenly start attacking behind her without warning despite aiming ahead. Her secondary attack is more useful, as its a red death beam that pushes enemies back. Her movement mode is actually really fun, as its basically a tackle that damages enemies and knocks them away. Her attack is the worst part as not only is it hard to aim but the damn thing pushes YOU away from your target every time you strike. Playing her felt like I had to go Strike, Strike, run back up, Strike Strike, run back up. It became very frustrating.
The Sun Cultist is a melee attacker with some unique twists. His main attack is a large arcing swing of his chakram, and if you hold down the attack button he throws a fire chakram out after the swing which boomerangs back to you. His secondary attack is to summon a large flaming meteor from the sky to damage enemies and leave a fire patch on the ground. His movement power is a dash that burns foes. As a note however, any fire he leaves behind (and his upgrades can give every attack the ability to leave flames on the ground) will hurt yourself AND your friends. I enjoyed him actually, but when I got to the end boss I found I could not do enough damage fast enough to kill him, and died there. This allowed me to see the bad ending though so I guess that worked out for me.
Finally we have the Songweaver. She is a support character, and on most places I looked she is considered the hardest character to play and almost impossible to solo with. I have to disagree with this assessment. And in talking about the Songweaver, I need to discuss HOW combat works. I used a mouse and keyboard when playing, but you can use a Controller. Left click is your main attack, right click your secondary, space your movement power. When ANY other character attacks they stand still, in place. Enemies suffer the same restrictions however. Most of the time, with the characters who have ranged attacks, it’s not too bad, but melee characters can suffer with this.
The Songweaver however does not follow this restriction. She can move while using her primary attack, which is also an area of effect around her. Now whats unique with her is that by mixing your attack and movement commands you create different songs. Honestly, I was easily able to beat the game with the Songweaver. The ability to move while attacking is a huge deal in this game, and basically allows you to kite the enemies around and slowly wear them down.
This game uses some light RPG Elements for customization. As you kill enemies you gain Opals, which are used at Upgrade vendors to buy upgrades to your existing moves. Honestly, you will never miss’em if you don’t get them. Given that you have to find an upgrade vendor to buy them and you cannot visit an area twice, it becomes a sort of “use it or lose it” situation when you have Opals and are at a vendor. The upgrades per vendor are randomized, so sometimes you will find a vendor with an upgrade you REALLY want, but that you can’t afford – tough luck, because the likelihood of seeing that upgrade again is low.
Now, you do unlock things on the account level via the Constellation systems. As you complete runs, based on things you locate or events you see, you will unlock characters, areas and cooking ingredients for future runs. You can view the constellations for bits of story. Furthermore, your own characters are assigned a constellation based on your actions and reputations. Sadly, the constellations you have yet to unlock give no hints as to HOW to unlock them. For example, I have seen the Bad Ending and the Neutral ending. There is a good ending however, but I have no idea how to access it. I know I need to find a Temple, and click on some moon phases, but I have never seen this temple or these moon symbols.
There is one final thing I want to bring up that bothered me a great deal while playing. There is no in-game large map. You have a minimap in the lower right corner and that’s it. The levels get very sprawling, and sometimes you find you need to backtrack to make sure you miss nothing. However, it can be very difficult at times to figure out where exactly you need to go. Did I miss a path back there? Did I miss an event? I have no idea! I have to go wandering around the entire level at times simply trying to make sure I missed nothing. With levels this sprawling a map of the area that is uncovered as you explore would have been welcome, but alas, all you have is the dinky minimap.
I wanted to say I enjoyed my time with the game, and could recommend it at its full $14.99 price tag. However, I simply can’t. Early on I had a ball, but after about 3 hours the game became super repetitive, with me having runs that basically consisted of the same events and same unlocks over and over again. No matter how I tried to vary it by starting in different locations or going to different areas, I never seemed to make headway. And I never could figure out what I was missing. Online guides gave me no direction either.
I will say that I loved the visual style, audio style, and backstory / lore of the game. If KitFox games sat down and maybe added more variance and options to this game it could be a winner, but in its current incarnation I cannot recommend a purchase unless it’s discounted. At the full asking price there is not enough here to entertain. Even if you did play it multiplayer it would still be hard to control, hard to play, and repetitive.