Burdened By Sin

Past misdeeds reveal themselves.

Much like the innumerable secrets of the Well of Khalaza do as you traverse its poisonous miasma and delve deep into its many labyrinthine realms. Seeking great treasures but usually encountering great dangers. Or trolls who like to throw their faeces at you. That was arguably the most unpleasant realm of them all. Being shrouded in suffocating miasma is expected, but being plastered in poop isn’t. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a delightfully enjoyable dungeon crawler in which you explore a mysterious well with a brigade of puppets and a curious book.

A curious book with a soul.

Where that soul came from and how it ended up in a book is eventually explained. But what’s important is that we’re exploring myriad dungeons. True adventuring spirit needs no form of exposition whatsoever, as we’d only ignore those directions and stumble upon mysteries of our own.

I hadn’t anticipated that there would be so many mysteries to uncover, but that’s how Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk creates such an enrapturing adventure. There’s always something new to discover or a new challenge to overcome. There are few things that I enjoy more than encountering a boss that feels insurmountable only to eventually defeat it, either by utilising different Pacts or employing different Facets. Pacts are interesting as you don’t typically have any that represent traditional archetypes, as most are thematic, and grant a handful of abilities, but rarely feel truly powerful. I’ve mostly made my decisions based on how many puppets they allow me to use and how they fit into my current formation. You could have up to fifteen active puppets were you to use five three puppet Pacts.

It did become tiresome relying on certain Pacts to defeat certain bosses, though. The majority of these bosses were optional, and all required powerful puppets, so you’d need to invest heavily in the Soul Transfer mechanics to be able fight them, but it wasn’t fun having my progress halted due to an arbitrary requirement. I don’t know if it’s even possible to defeat them without those Pacts. I don’t think that you could, as they usually deal ridiculous damage to the entire brigade on the first turn and it’s unlikely that you’d be able to recover on subsequent turns.

It’s a fairly trivial criticism.

And I don’t have any other issues with the combat (or character development) mechanics, but it does considerably diminish your efforts when you simply can’t fight something. Especially when spending hours grinding through Soul Transfer mechanics is a significant part of the experience.

It is, as a whole, a uniquely bizarre dungeon crawler that has engaging exploration mechanics, but does require the aforementioned hours of grinding to experience all of the content. Which doesn’t necessarily bother me. And it might not be required should you ignore the optional bosses, whereby Soul Transfer might never be used, especially if you’ve not altered the difficulty level via Witch Petitions. Not that I regret raising the difficulty level. It’s an actual challenge and (the majority of) bosses are a threat, which resulted in utilising numerous mechanics just to survive encounters. For those reasons, I highly recommend Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk to those who enjoy dungeon crawlers and/or JRPGs. It’s an unconventional but incredibly satisfying dungeon crawling adventure.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Wading Through Miasma

Where no puppet has gone before.

We’ve ventured through a vast underground expanse, a whimsical kingdom of wonder, the ruins of a civilisation with an absurd troll infestation, and a wondrous garden teeming with giant insects while exploring this bizarre dimension and we’ve got more to discover yet. I’m still not sure where we’re supposed to be going, though. Or why we’re supposed to be going there. But that’s a trivial concern. Objectives are for those who don’t have a true adventuring spirit, and would prefer to follow quest markers to their destinations rather than wandering aimlessly for hours.

I don’t need to be told where to go next.

I wouldn’t go there anyway. I’d break through a wall and discover hordes of dangerous slimes who halt my progression, only to find an alternative route (avoiding the slimes) by falling down several floors, and then encounter poisonous miasma that I can’t walk through without taking damage.

Making the entire expedition (mostly) pointless. But then I’d return, able to traverse the poisonous miasma unharmed, and with significantly stronger puppets, only to be slapped senseless by an incredibly aggressive fish. And then I’d do the same elsewhere. But that’s what makes the exploration in Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk so exciting. You’re given vague hints about your next objective and where you should go to complete it, but you’re encouraged to thoroughly explore each floor and to discover your own pursuits. Including, but not limited, to: defeating optional bosses, searching for keys, opening countless chests with those keys, solving puzzling events, breaking through walls (or falling down holes) to uncover secrets, stumbling upon new realms, or simply trying to uncover the entire map.

I didn’t listen to their warning…

There are surprisingly comprehensive and meaningful character development mechanics, too. Each puppet is assigned a Facet (its character class), a Nature (which defines its base statistics), and a Growth style (which affects the statistics gained each level) at creation. You can alter its growth at any time, but other aspects of its creation are fixed. However, through Soul Transfer, you can rebuild every aspect of a puppet by reverting it to Lvl 1, with its accumulated experience heightening its Soul Clarity. Resulting in a far stronger puppet with each reincarnation cycle.

It’s a complex but satisfying process.

One that could result in ridiculously powerful puppets if I understand the mechanics correctly. I’m not sure how much they retain of their prior incarnations, besides chosen skills, or how greatly Soul Clarity affects their growth, but my recent attempts have yielded favourable results.

Party-based dungeon crawlers can be fairly bland if the character development mechanics are unexciting, but Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk has surprising depth to its party management and allows you to build a roster of characters to be utilised with specialised Pacts. I’ve only seen something similar with Infinite Adventures. But the party compositions are much more interesting here, and encourage the creation (and use) of numerous characters with different Facets. Conversely, the individual Facets are less interesting (and varied) than the character classes in Infinite Adventures. They’re more reliant on being paired with other puppets and being stronger together. But both have presented interesting concepts for those who enjoy party-based grid-movement dungeon crawling experiences.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Amorphous Experiences

Exploration is at the heart of every great adventure.

Whether you’re exploring the irradiated ruins of post-apocalyptic societies, the vast expanse of space, or the vibrancy of ancient Greece there’s always something new to see or do. I seem to be drawn to these experiences nowadays. I don’t really know why, though. Whether it was a conscious decision wrought from previous experience, such as the hours spent scavenging the desolate landscape of the Capital Wasteland, or whether it was the various MMORPGs that encouraged me, is hard to say. But it’s been an interesting transition from the countless JRPGs of my formative years.

Not that I’ve abandoned JRPGs entirely.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom were both excellent JRPGs. I’ve just decided to invest hundreds of hours into the most recent releases of the Assassin’s Creed series, too. Mostly because of those pesky question marks. Oh, how they haunt me.

Prior to Assassin’s Creed: Origins I’d never experienced anything from the Assassin’s Creed series. While that entry (and those that follow it) are considered the black sheep of the Assassin’s Creed family, I found myself wholly absorbed by the sheer breadth of content available. It’s an incredibly competent RPG with an enthralling main campaign story. I feel the same way about Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, too. Not that I’m anywhere near finishing its main campaign. It’s like a towering chocolate gateaux, where each layer of sponge is a new task to complete and each chocolate curl playfully dusted atop its peaks is a new mechanic. While it may be incredibly alluring- and undoubtedly satisfying- it is best consumed in smaller portions. It would be unwise to attempt to eat a chocolate gateaux of such magnitude in one sitting.

Some doors are better left closed.

Not that I’m complaining. I couldn’t be happier with these purchases, not only have they exceeded every prior expectation but they exhibit complexity often woefully absent from modern RPGs. Divinity: Original Sin has similar immensity, as does its sequel, Divinity: Original Sin 2, both featuring noteworthy character development mechanics. I’d always considered statistical development to be the staple of any RPG but I’ve found many RPGs to be sorely lacking. Offering no attributes (or abilities) to invest in, or affording insignificant progression for doing so.

Which is why the release of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning has inspired me.

The original release, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, is an outstanding RPG, and one that I’d like to revisit. Naturally, the remaster would (arguably) be the best way to do this. But I’ve still got a handful of achievements to unlock in the original release, and I’d like to attempt to unlock those first.

As a result, I’ll (eventually) have two character builds. I’m considering a Finesse/Sorcery hybrid build for the original release, while I’ll probably settle on a Might build for the remaster. I’ve not actually done one of those before. I’ve built a Might/Sorcery hybrid before but never solely Might. I’ll be focusing on various quests in the original release, as many of the achievements I’ve yet to unlock are related to certain quest lines. While I’m greatly interested in the post-release DLC, Fatesworn, in the remaster, as that promises new content. I’ve been intending to revisit Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for some time, but much like Dark Souls or Fallout 3, which I’d also like to revisit, I’ve not set aside the time to do it. I’m always busy with something else. But I’m going to try to make time for these (and my creative pursuits) in the future.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Having Too Much To Do

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Artificially extending the existing content of video games to lengthen the overall experience is nothing new, and seems to be increasingly prevalent in some modern releases. But it doesn’t really add anything to the player experience. It’s not satisfying having to sit through repeated content over and over again, nor does it feel particularly engaging to continually grind to no discernible end. Having numerous mechanics to understand can be enjoyable, though. It just depends on how these are presented to players, and how natural it feels to interact with them on a regular basis.

It should never feel particularly forced.

Which it usually does. Whether it’s a tedious repeatable (or daily) quest that offers a paltry reward, or a dungeon that presents no inherent challenge but is integral to your eventual success. There are so many awful ways to do it. But there are some video games that have done it really well.

I’ve recently been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and I’ve been continually surprised by how wonderful the overall experience is. Hundreds of question marks litter the world map signifying new cities to discover, tombs to explore, war elephants to challenge, and much more. You could also partake in gladiatorial combat in two different arenas, or race for glory in the Hippodrome. Not to mention there’s a compelling main campaign to follow. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m working through the absurd amount of content that there is. Yet I’ve not once abandoned an optional objective because I’ve grown tired of it. It’s slightly ludicrous how enthralling I find exploring the vast sands of Egypt to be. I also can’t wait to sail to Thebes and experience the majesty of the otherworldly The Curse of the Pharaohs DLC.

Found a bowling alley. Never leaving.

Yakuza 0 is another outstanding example of this. There were so many things you could do as either protagonist besides the two substantial minor campaigns, all of which would contribute in some meaningful way to their character development. There were also far too many mini-games to learn. I didn’t even attempt the majority of the optional challenges, as I likely would’ve spent hundreds of hours doing so. I know that I spent far longer in the bowling alleys than I should have done. I even acquired a chicken that helped me conquer the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale.

They certainly didn’t cluck up their job.

There are many other excellent examples of this. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Disco Elysium, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to name but a few. It’s so refreshing to have single player experiences which aren’t mindlessly lacklustre, featuring compelling main campaigns and optional objectives.

Most of the aforementioned video games have interesting and ever-expanding open worlds to explore, too. Which seems to be something that I’m drawn to nowadays. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision as I’ve had many good experiences with them recently, or whether it’s a mere coincidence and doesn’t influence me in any way before purchase. But whichever it is I don’t mind. I’m just glad that single player experiences haven’t entirely disappeared in modern releases. Not that I’m entirely opposed to co-operative experiences, as I’ve got quite a history with MMORPGs which are inherently co-operative. But single player experiences shouldn’t need to suffer (or disappear) because of those. Both can exist independently of one and other, and each provides their own benefits and drawbacks to their respective genres.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Purging the Entoma Scourge

A devastating blight upon the land.

Death end re;Quest is a ludicrously bizarre JRPG where strange occurrences in a virtual world slowly bleed into reality. Our amnesiac protagonist arrives in World’s Odyssey, an abandoned VR MMORPG that shouldn’t be running but somehow is, and fights desperately against the encroaching Entoma Scourge as she attempts to active the Ending Engage. Which is now the only way to log out and return to reality. Not that it’s ever going to be as simple as finishing the main campaign, as relentless opposition alters the fate of both worlds in an attempt to prevent her from reaching her goal.

It can also be quite a harrowing experience for all concerned.

As many of the worst possible outcomes heavily suggest graphic violence, which you’d not expect from this developer. It’s an unconventional approach that encourages you to explore different outcomes. Some of which may help to explain how certain characters are not what they seem to be.

There are some rather unconventional character development mechanics, too. While you primarily level up through the acquisition of experience points, new skills are learned by chaining together different combinations of existing skills. It’s an unusual mechanic which promotes experimentation instead of mindless grinding. You can also chain together three basic attacks to knock enemies back, allowing you to throw them across the field of battle into other party members who will respond in kind. It can be fairly satisfying to watch when executed correctly. Not every skill is effective in every situation, though. Each skill (and basic attack) is of a particular affinity that can counter (or be countered by) enemy affinities, which adds meaningful variation to combat as you’ll usually face enemies of different affinities in the same encounter.

So you shouldn’t be afraid of shuffling party members around to match the current encounters. Certain characters will be almost entirely ineffective against certain enemies. Given that, when an enemy counters an affinity, the skill is cancelled and the whole chain is rendered useless. You won’t even be able to deal any damage. Characters can learn skills of different affinities, but they might be more expensive or less accessible than those of their usual affinity. This makes balanced party compositions vital to continued success. Most characters are able to heal themselves or those around them, though.

Which means that healing should always be available.

I was pleasantly surprised by how extensive the mechanics proved to be, as I wasn’t expecting combat to be as engaging as it was. I’m also glad that Glitch Mode is a temporary form with heightened statistics, rather than a persistent transformation that could be freely activated when needed.

Activating the form feels more sporadic and akin to an actual glitch. But it’s also more dangerous to utilise. As a character needs to accrue a significant amount of corruption to activate Glitch Mode, and too much corruption can lead to their immediate death. So taking damage just before (or just after) activating the form is risky. But you can’t really control when that happens. That’s why I believe that Death end re;Quest is an unconventional but incredibly capable JRPG which, while it may not be appropriate for everyone, has reasonably innovative mechanics throughout, and it’s clear that the developers wanted to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d highly recommend it to JRPG enthusiasts and to those looking for something different. I’m certain that you won’t be disappointed if you approach it with an open mind.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie