This is yet another game I was exposed to by Giant Bomb, and I was really on the fence about playing it. Rogue-likes are very hit-or-miss with me.
For those who don't know, Rogue-like is a term that refers to a 1980 video game called Rogue that became extremely popular due to it's procedurally generated levels (read: random) and permanent character death. These two characteristics have become defining for an entire genre of Rogue-likes, and are now extending into more mainstream titles the same way "RPG elements" did before.
Games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL: Faster Than Light are, to me, perfect examples of how to do a Rogue-like. Other games, such as (spoiler for future post) Spelunky don't accomplish this quite as well.
It has been a long time since I've become this addicted to a game.
This is technically a review, since I've played Rogue Legacy through to completion. Over the course of 38 hours.
In two weeks.
You begin Rogue Legacy as a legendary warrior who runs through the game's tutorial and makes it to the game's end boss, and then the screen fades to black. You are then presented with three character options, the warrior's "heirs" who have inherited some of his glory. This is how the game proceeds. Each time you die, you continue on as an heir of the previous character, some of whom are more genetically fortunate than others, and all of whom are procedurally generated. Other than classes, which affect how you will fight, traits for each generation of player character might include vertigo, which flips the screen upside-down, gigantism, dwafism, color-blindness, irritable bowel syndrome, or being gay.
Rogue Legacy succeeds in the area that many Rogue-likes fail - progress. It may seem counterintuitive for a genre that values perma-death to have any sort of carry-through between deaths, but in the modern landscape of gaming, players expect to be rewarded for their time and hard work, and Rogue Legacy rewards players perfectly.
Each time a character dies, their money is passed on to their children. Those children, the new player character, then have a chance to spend that money on a giant skill tree, or on equipment, or on magical runes. Before they enter the castle, however, the castle's layout is randomized and an evil spirit asks the character to pay the toll - all of their remaining money.
Effectively this is saying that you can't horde money, but you do get the opportunity to spend everything you make in the castle on permanent statistic boosters. I rarely went through an entire run through the castle, even in later runs, in which I was not able to purchase anything.
Although death is a crushing defeat in Rogue Legacy (especially when you're nearing or fighting one of the game's four bosses), there is a constant sense of progress that pushes the player to go just one more death, and this is the trap that I fell into. I would start playing at eleven, expecting to just play an heir or two, and end up playing until three in the morning.
The randomly generated nature of the castle and the player character does have its drawbacks. The castle is always in fourgeneral sections - the main castle section, forest to the right, tower above, and hell below. However, because each room is selected from a relatively large selection of possible rooms, occasionally you will enter a castle with a series of unbelievably difficult rooms in a row and just get steamrolled.
You are bound to develop character classes you are preferential to as well. For me, it was the Hokage, who deals heavy damage but can't crit. Given the randomness of the three heirs you are allowed to choose from, you will occasionally be left with three terrible classes, or with three heirs who all have some trait that effects your gameplay negatively. This is ameliorated later in the game with an upgradeable skill that allows you to "re-roll" the three heirs once.
Rogue Legacy is far less interesting artistically than it is conceptually. Although I greatly enjoy that the default stance of the characters is to have their sword pointed into the sky in front of them, I never felt that the design of the characters or the world was particularly unique or exciting, although it served its purpose. This is also an example of a game in which I don't feel the pixel-art style does anything to enhance the experience of playing the game, and could be just as well suited being drawn beautifully and smoothly in high definition sprites.
The music, too, is nothing to write home about, although it, too, serves its purpose. The music is likable enough, and each area has a soundtrack that suits the mood, but I can't remember any of the melodies without re-listening to them.
The most disappointing aspect of the game artistically is the story. Although the flavor text in the game is cute and occasionally funny, the actual story is told through twenty-five journal entries that you find scattered through the castle. Although they tell a simple story and are well-written, I felt that they were too self-serious given the lightheartedness of every other aspect of the game. I feel that they could have been a wonderful opportunity for comedy that was missed.
All these minor complaints aside, Rogue Legacy is an awesome game. It's been a long time since I've been so addicted, and I couldn't put the game down until I had beaten it. The ending was satisfying, and came, I felt, at just the right time before I had a chance to get frustrated. I felt at one point that I was about to hit a brick wall, that I was going to have to spend a number of tedious hours becoming powerful enough to enter the next part of the castle, but the game moved right along, smoothly.
I'll have to put this in a new category, since I have
the game, and don't know if I'll be returning to it, soon or later. Because it might be an interesting exercise in comparison, tomorrow I' going to take a look at