Aragami is perhaps the first game I’ve come across in my reviewing career to openly baffle me with its design decisions. This, unfortunately, is not a recommendation for it, except as an education to other game designers. Let’s unpack that, and talk about why Aragami is so baffling to me.
At the core of the problem is the single save/checkpoint system that Aragami has. Done well, you can still have a single save system with skill respeccing and different play paths, but Aragami… Well, beyond deleting my save data, I had no means of resetting my skill spec, or ungaining the abilities I’d unlocked in later chapters, so… That would imply the game has a score attack element, right?
Wrong. Because of the way the checkpointing works. Nothing counts, score-wise, until you’ve actually hit the next checkpoint. Combine that with another problem (The extremely thin line between “Alerted”, and “Dead.” There aren’t any enemies, even in the early game, that can’t kill you from at least short to medium range.), and you end up with… Being able to S-Rank any level, perfect Stealth or Kill Everything, because if you don’t do it perfectly, odds are pretty high you’re going to die, and none of your cockups count due to the checkpointing system. In fact, it’s better for your score to die and restart a checkpoint (Some of which are placed a fairly long way away), than to accept an alert. So… That “-500 Alerted” feels… Superfluous, as a result.
The only way to not S-Rank a level, it seems, is to be inconsistent in your approach. Is the game aiming for replayability? Well… 2 runs, one for perfect stealth, and one for killing everybody and looting the map of skill scrolls, aaaand… You’re pretty much done.
Now, one thing that the game has been criticised for is that there is no option but to use your powers to solve a level. You can’t jump, you can’t climb. Funnily enough, though, that isn’t really the problem for me. The problem for me with powers is that… Well, most of them feel decidedly unnecessary. See enemies and their cone of vision through walls? Not really a lot of situations that’s useful for, because it’s actually easier to just get spotted, die, and remember the position in future. A shadow mine? Sure, if enemies bunch up. But most of the time, unless they’re alerted… They don’t, and it leaves a lot of bodies, which… Alerts everyone once they’re found. Again, it’s easier to just kill, then use a cheaper power (Shadow Vanish) to remove the body. The only time that doesn’t work is when they either die or ragdoll after death into a brightly lit area, and there’s a nice, cheap fix for that too: Lure them with a bell (Unlocked in Chapter 3, then usable in all levels), teleport behind them after they enter a shadowy area, kill, vanish them.
That’s why it feels shallow to me: You have interesting tools, but their extremely situational use, combined with the extra busywork involved in replenishing their limited uses (Two uses of a special ability, then you have to find a shrine somewhere on the level… And, of course, shrines aren’t present in the first two levels) means that I’m disincentivised from using them. Similarly, before I unlock Shadow Vanish, an all murder run is tense and, in point of fact, pretty damn difficult. After I unlock it? It’s mostly making sure I’m not spotted or heard while murdering my way through a level.
This is pretty much a damn shame, because the game is visually appealing, and the spanish developers, Linceworks, have clearly put some effort into both their writing and research. But when most of your abilities feel like distractions rather than tools in the toolbox, there’s this strange disincentive to using a lot of them seemingly baked into the design, and completing levels feels more like recording a segmented speed-run than a fluid gameplay experience, not even these nice little touches, the lovely cel-shading and the japanese voice acting, can make this feel joyful rather than dutiful.
Give it a go if you want to see stealth experimented with, but go in aware that the experiment… Wasn’t exactly a huge success in my opinion.
The Mad Welshman gets around that whole silly Shadows Killed By Light thing by wearing white suits. You’d be amazed how often that works.
“That’s because we hadn’t put him in yet.”
Before you go thinking this is a bad sign, I’d like you to take a look at this map. This map is, as far as I am aware, entirely explorable, although certain areas are more deadly than others. It’s just, right now, there’s only a few quest lines, and you have to explore to find more than two of them, or, indeed, some of the other odd sights of the game.
Good example, on my last run, I was curious about a fish, just sitting there in the open. Turns out it was a trader, and a pretty good one at that. So yes, this is emblematic of how Caves of Qud is meant to be played: Carefully, and with attention paid both to the in-game manual and the surroundings. Especially since even the starting areas are a threat. So let’s talk about the various early-games of Timot, Mutated Human Tinker.
Timot, in all of the universes we are about to discuss, knows how to move, has a stinger on his back with paralyzing venom, glows in the dark, and is strangely muscled for one of his slight stature. He has learned a secret of the ancient mechanisms of Qud (Usually, it must be said, some form of grenade or other easily understood weapon), and can make them if he has the materials (Again, he usually has enough to make at least one.) His story always starts in Joppa, a small village with a food problem, a Zealot of the Six Day Stilt (an anti-machine cult… The Zealot seldom survives), an irascible tinker named Argyve (Who Timot invariably makes friends with, by trading some of his gear with), a trader of the Dromad people (Camel like merchants), and several chests (Which Timot loots. So don’t feel bad about his many deaths, Timot is not a nice person. So few are in Qud.)
Even here, there is potentially death. In some universes, Timot is interrupted in his thievery by Ctephius, a glowing ray-cat, and the villagers’ justice is swift. Rarely, the Zealot is triumphant, and Timot’s corpse feeds the water giving vinewafers. But Timot soon sets off, either to the Rust Plains, to gather copper wire for Argyve’s communication device, or to the caves to the north, to deal with Joppa’s food problem.
To the east, canyons and caves. To the north, however, the universes diverge more readily. Sometimes, a road bisects the vinewafer marshes Timot tramps through. Sometimes, Timot encounters ruins of the ancients, with their defenses still active, and larger, nastier creatures. All too often, Timot has cried “I have found this ancient device, and divined its meaning, it is a fine weapon, and no-URK” , as the Chitinous Puma he hadn’t noticed, or foolishly ignored, eviscerated him. Yes, even on the way to one of the first quests, creatures vastly more powerful than you can be encountered, and you can’t always run away in time. Other things only look tough, thankfully.
In another set of universes still, a vast fungus or slime field lies between Timot and his goal of Red Rock. These also have potential for good or ill, as the Weeps of the fungal fields, long forgotten biological tools of the ancients, create many substances, whether water-spoiling salt, black welling oil, life giving water, and sometimes, stranger substances, such as acids, cider, wine, honey, and even, in one case, lava. But guarding those Weeps are the fungi themselves, infecting any who dare to come close with their own unique brand of fungal infection, from the relatively benign Glowcrust to the more annoying Azurepuff.
This is all before Timot even reaches Red Rock, although he could bypass a lot of this by virtue of quick travel. But then, why would he, when the rewards can be so grand? Admittedly, a lot of the time, it’s food, or basic weaponry to trade in exchange for items, trade goods such as copper nuggets, or that combination of lifegiver and basic currency, water. But a single Water Weep, especially early on, is the stuff of mercantile legend, and the canny (or lucky) explorer can find lost technology, from grenades of various sorts, to utility devices like those poorly understand teleportation devices, the Recoilers, all the way to the truly strange, such as symbiotic fireflies, spheres of negative weight, or the fabled gaslight weaponry, elegant and lethal symbols of forgotten glory.
Of course, death also comes in many forms to the unwary, and the game is not the friendliest to begin with. It’s definitely a game where reading the in-game help is highly recommended, and, while the alternate overlay mostly reduces clutter, I find it far more useful to use the older stat/message overlay, turning it off to reduce clutter when I’m not in a dangerous situation, and holding ALT to more clearly see certain terrain features (Trash, mostly.) Sadly, the alternate button overlay is somewhat cluttered itself, obscuring several portions of the screen.
Still, that there’s enough in the game already to explore and wonder at that I completely missed the fact an important NPC hadn’t been introduced until last week speaks well of the game, and roguelike fans may do well by themselves for checking it and its mostly readable tileset out. They’ll certainly find quite a few stories waiting for them.
The Mad Welshman looked around after he closed the door. Nobody, good. He opened the Joppa villager’s chest, grinning as he saw steel and water. And then he heard it. “Mrow?”
Fuck. The Cat had found him.
Source: Regretted Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam
Aaaah, October. That time where games, regardless of quality, have to have something to do with something spoopy. Even if it doesn’t necessarily make any sort of sense. Such is the case with Cards of Cthulhu, a game with cards, yes… But the only Cthulhu related thing I’ve seen has been the title card. Everything else has been some odd combo of anime and metal album memes. And that makes me kinda sad.
Making me even more sad is that there really isn’t a whole lot to say about the game overall. A biker with seemingly no context (Out of game, the context is “Save your girlfriend.” So yay?) rides along a desert landscape, fighting a series of monsters in increasing group sizes. Most of the difficulty lies in numbers, whether that’s in the damage of your cards (Often reliant on the enemy not having a whole lot of health, or you not having a whole lot of health), or the numbers of each enemy grouping (So far, I’ve gotten up to groups of three at a time.) Numbers go down (once a second on each side, later going up to 2/s on your side with certain enemies), there’s not a lot of interaction, and when each enemy dies, a shader thing happens, and you move onto the next group.
Which would be a good point to mention that, for some reason, this seemingly all 2d game uses the Unreal engine… And I’m genuinely not sure where among the simplistic UI, animations, or canned sound effects this game really needed that.
So, onto the positive. It’s visually consistent. That’s… About it. The UI is ugly (Not cluttered, just ugly), the enemies are either monstrous, Brotastically macho, or have breasts and love to shove them out. Occasionally, there will be damned men being eaten, or women clinging to their legs. It’s all very cliché, doesn’t have a lot to do with Cthulhu, or indeed anything lovecraftian, and isn’t particularly horrific. It’s just… Trying too hard. There’s even a Cyber-Harpy who combos DRAMATIC FORESHORTENING of her biological limbs, while using two of her four cybernetic arms to, er… Show off her chest and/or try to lick it?
Meanwhile, the attack cards (Your main actual interaction) are bland as hell. Oh look, here’s the ice card. You can tell, because it has ice on it. Same with the Burn card. The Venom card is green, and has smoke and bubbles. That’s how you can tell it’s poison. And from there, it doesn’t really get any better. Here’s some swirly things for a time bomb. And what they amount to, once they’re played, is a bar counting down at the top of the screen, a canned sound effect, and maybe an explosion at the right moment.
Oh, and let’s not forget it calls itself a roguelike, perhaps because it thinks that’s fashionable, or that there is meaningful procedural generation here. It’s not really a roguelike. It’s not even a rogue-lite. It’s a game which unlocks more content the further you go and/or the more you die. And that content is basically cards. It throws you straight in, not giving a whole lot of time to appreciate the title card, and once you’re in, it’s over anywhere between 5 minutes and half an hour later.
So, if you’re looking for a low input quickie to play, and really like the artstyle of monsters you’re going to see again and again and again, then maybe this is… A buy? But honestly, I’m seriously struggling to work out where the appeal is here. And this is from someone who likes metal album monsters.
The Mad Welshman is, secretly, a cybernetic whip wielding Chihuaha surrounded by Escher Women For Cthulhu. But don’t tell anyone.
Where To Get It: Steam
Skulls. Why’d it have to be skulls? Of all the spaceports, in all the universe, there had to be skulls on this one insignificant rock in the asscleft of the galaxy. God-damn, I just wanna get off this stinkin’ rock. Such is the main, stated goal of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor: Get rid of Cursed Skull, maybe get off the planet.
And how it does it is interesting, if not for everybody: Grind. It’s quite clearly deliberate grind, and in its way, it’s soul crushing. Get rubbish. Maybe find a better deal on rubbish. Incinerate other rubbish, until you can’t anymore. Maybe have enough money to eat, or pay for the gender shifts (Including that most well known of gender choices, Susan Sarandon) so you can sleep and be well. Generally don’t eat garbage. Propitiate all the deities of this alien world so you can get their idols. Sleep to recharge your garbage incinerator, and get paid a pittance.
Meanwhile, you don’t really know your way around, and even getting home can sometimes be a struggle if you’ve gotten turned around. Everyone’s got some kind of angle, from the container obsessive next to that dungeon that kicks everything off, to even the Cat-vangelists that hang out and sing loudly and cheerily every now and again in service of their goddess. But to get anywhere, you have to find those important clues and details from people. And every day, you’re going to go home bone tired, and feeling less lucky than you were before.
Welcome, in short, to being an alien on a low paid job in a capitalist society. The cursed skull is just rubbing it in at this point. And the game does a good job of keeping that mystery, that sense of being out of place, and largely unwanted. The police will occasionally hassle you, for no good reason beyond the sense of their own power. Nobody will lift a finger to help you without something in return (Something that, often, involves rooting through garbage.) And you’re sometimes too poor to even get healthcare or food when you get sick… Better work harder, because there’s no handouts in this alien spaceport.
But, surprisingly, the game is pretty chill. Walking through the lo-fi environs (The developers even reference this in their graphics settings, which are Bad… and Worse) , until you hit one or more triggers (Night-time makes you sleepy, for example, and running out of garbage incinerator energy seems to bring this on faster), you can wander to your heart’s content. You can start to get a feel for the spaceport, where the shrines to various gods are (Including your patron deity… Mine being the enigmatic Orb of Curses, Sprence. I mean… Orbs!), and, most importantly, where various food and gender shift boxes are.
But of course, it takes time. Everything is going to take time. And a lot of hard work, of scrimping and saving, avoiding the attentions of the constabulary, avoiding ill health… Welcome, in short, to a game about being the underclass, the marginalised. That’s Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.
The Mad Welshman felt like a change. Actually, he needed a change. But he couldn’t remember where the nearest Gender Shift booth was, he was out of money, and he was sleepy. Shame, he really wanted to identify as Cary Elwes. Just for a bit.