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Library of Ruina (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Okay, let’s get an important warning out the way right now: Library of Ruina somewhat spoils the ending of Project Moon’s previous game I’ve reviewed, Lobotomy Corporation. It is, after all, a direct sequel.

And damn, does it have a great intro. The game, also, is solid, if a little grindy at times, and annoying at others. But we’ll be getting into that.

Instant bonus points for the use of my favourite word, Angela. And Project Moon.

So, our protagonist (?) is a Fixer, essentially, a high-grade mercenary in a city where urban legends are both real and deadly, and, having been seemingly killed, he is resurrected, and given a very special job: To kill others in increasing power, who are invited to the library, to create pages from their souls… To hopefully create… The Perfect Book.

And how do you do that? Essentially, by deckbuilding, and using those cards (balancing powerful attacks with lower cost cards) in turn-based battles. Using the powers of the pages to increase your own, as “burned” books create pages, which your increasing cast of Librarians and Assistants can equip to take on their likeness (to an extent) and abilities… And the pages, when burned, can Realise other pages (level them up), and give you cards from said page’s deck, to use in your own combat decks. You don’t need to engage with that last part for the early game at least, but it’s highly recommended to take a look, and see where a Page’s base deck can be improved or changed to fill a good role.

Yes, the ones who came before you have all died here. Repeatedly. I’ve been… Grinding them… Ohohoho…

Earlier fights can be replayed for their pages, which is useful if you want to get said pages to their level cap (although fights also give XP to that page), but generally, you engage in an upward journey, eerily similar to the Sephirah of the previous game (and, indeed, said Sephirah are represented by familiar characters from Lobotomy Corporation, still under the control of Angela from the previous game), occasionally fighting equally familiar Anomalies from the previous game, such as the Forsaken Murderer to progress.

Each Anomaly is, essentially, a sort of puzzle boss, with some pretty specific strategies, although the Anomalies give hints sometimes, and you learn their patterns. Dying doesn’t do anything bad, at least as far as I know, so you’re welcome to try, try again. And, funnily enough, it’s the anomalies where I find the most grind and irritation. Forsaken Murderer, in particular, was, as the technical term goes, “A right bastard”, and it, along with some later fights in the current content, required some good strategy and a fair amount of grind to get things to the level I wanted.

This one, thankfully, wasn’t too bad. Later ones will not be as forgiving.

Aesthetically, the game is split between a well painted manga style, and a more stylised chibi set for the turn based fights themselves, with a sort of Art-Deco look to some elements, contrasting with the blood-red lettering of some elements, the scratchy backgrounds of character thoughts at the bottom, but every element that needs to be clear is clear, from health, to the emotion system, and the UX. Yes, there are lots of fonts, but each has its purpose. The sound, similarly is good, and the music solid.

Basically, if you want to see where Lobotomy Corporation’s world went after the first game, or if you like deckbuilding turn based combat with RPG elements, Library of Ruina is a solid pick, and its eerie world, with some light elements, but mostly surreal and a little dark, appeals.

The Mad Welshman loves libraries. He also loves tastefully done flesh-walls. Perhaps there’s some way to mix the two?

Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit In Wonder Labyrinth (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Mmmm, I love me some experimentation, and I’ve been getting a fair bit of it. I love me some Metroidvania funtimes, those action platformers where you unlock new areas by finding items, powerups, switches for somewhere way off, and defeating bosses. I’m not particularly familiar with Record of Lodoss War, but I’m informed it’s good.

And yet, I’m not quite meshing with Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, even knowing and loving its inspiration. And it’s mostly my fault.

Not pictured: A big ass water blast.

Let’s explain that: One of the things somewhat unique to this game is a spirit mechanic. The Wind spirit protects you from small wind element attacks, and gives you a sort of glide (we’ll come back to that.) The Fire spirit protects you, again, from small fire attacks, and adds fire to your attacks. Switching between them is important in this game, as, without it, you’re going to take a lot of unnecessary damage on the first boss, not get to certain areas you need to, and not, generally speaking, progress very far in the game.

I am not very good at this. Oh, and gamepad is recommended, or some heavy reconfiguring of keyboard controls, because the keyboard mapping is… Ohgod, for the first boss fight, three things you will definitely want are your bow (S), your jump (X), and switching your spirit (W.)

I genuinely love this mechanic. Good puzzling action.

Now, in my defense, health is not plentiful. You get some back by successfully attacking in fire form, but it doesn’t take all that much for you to keel over and go back to the last save point. And it doesn’t level up. Your magic levels up, and down, and your attacks level up (and down) based on how well you fight, but your health doesn’t appear to.

So it’s a tadge difficult, and I’m bad at it. It should also be mentioned, at this point, that it’s very much a work in progress, and only two areas (each with a midboss and a final boss) are in the game at the time of writing. So if that’s a turnoff, wait.

Still, it plays well, my badness and the keyboard controls notwithstanding, and aesthetically, it’s great. The feel it’s intending to give off is a homage to Symphony of the Night, and it pulls it off very well, with Deedlit even having, as fans call it, the Alucard Strut. The music is good, the spritework is damn fine, and the only real mar on the aesthetic is a smallish text size. Nonetheless, it’s a clear text separated well from the background, and the UX is otherwise pretty damn clear, so it’s solid in that respect.

God-damn door mimics!

I’m sure I’ll get better at this, and I appreciate most of the changes it makes to the formula of this genre, so I’d say that if you’re not turned off by the currrently short playtime (comparatively), and if you like a little challenge, then Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is a solid pick. And I get the feeling it’ll only get more interesting with time.

Elves. Nothing poignant, just… Elves, man, elves…

Subnautica: Below Zero (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 1

Ah, Subnautica. An oceanic first person survival game, a bit of a rarity as a subgenre, and damn, was it beautiful. Even though the ending had you leaving the planet, I never got there, because I loved the sea too much. Still, Below Zero, its sequel, has changed the planet, or at least the region… New meter, new creatures, new overarching threats… Looking forward to more of it, just as I have before…

These are not optimal conditions for a re-entry, asshole!!!

But… Below Zero’s new story… There are some beats that are the same from when I last looked at it, and there are certainly some interesting changes, but… I don’t know, it doesn’t grab me as much. Maybe that’s due to the lines not being voiced yet, because, I freely admit, I loved Robin’s voice (and her enthusiasm, in the old story, about the world she was researching.) Maybe it’s that it has a similar start to the previous game, but with a little extra boneheadedness (Okay, going to find out what happened? Good. Flying close to a meteorite on descend? Nooooot so smart.) But… As a starting point, I am going to say that the story hasn’t been grabbing me, so far, as much as it had previously.

Ah, Sea Monkeys… My old enemy…

ALAN remains interesting, though. And so, funnily enough, does the world of Subnautica, now frostier than its previous incarnation. And the threats, also, have changed. I was surprised by the brinefish my first time, and, holy shit, I almost died from the innocuous little bastards. You see… They freeze you. And naturally, if you’re frozen underwater, and you’re close to running out of oxygen… You’re very… Very dead. Add to this the creatures I’d previously talked about, the Sea Monkeys (who steal shit from your hands), among quite a few others, and you’ve already got some new, interesting wrinkles in the world.

Ohhh, don’t worry, players… Bombfish are still there, and they’ll still do their best to kill you while you try to harvest that sweet, sweet sulfur.

Not pictured… The sound of something angry which isn’t close… But I don’t know how “Not-close” it is…

Aesthetically, the game remains as pleasing as its previous incarnation, with the soundscape really immersing you, letting you know there are threats around, and otherwise so calming, the musical stings being relatively rare… And visually, the world is as intriguing as its previous incarnation.

Essentially, if you want to try oceanic survival games in a science fiction world, Subnautica and this sequel remain the top of their field, and, despite my lukewarm reception to the new story, I still heavily recommend this, and look forward to where it’s going.

Still not leaving once I’m mostly done with the plot, Subnautica team. Can’t make me!

Fareo: Shadowlands (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Rifts in time and space. They let you do lots of fun things! Well, until they inevitably go wrong, and heroes from across time and space have to stop whatever’s behind all of it, or shut down the machine, or whatever.

And so it is with Fareo: Shadowlands, a combination of roguelite and strategy RPG that does a fair amount different to my usual experiences. And I appreciate that.

This guy is an asshole. I mean, he’s meant to be, but… Asshole.

Even if I most definitely don’t appreciate Yan, the final boss. So let’s get him out of the way first. Like any boss, he has pieces which are associated with some of his attacks, and he has several of them. Like any boss, he can attack all around him, some of his attacks at range (so nowhere’s really safe), and he can do three a turn… Most of which are area attacks. And any two of them in combination destroys one of my heroes.

I don’t like Yan, final boss of the dungeon or no.

Otherwise, however, I’m quite enjoying Fareo: Shadowlands, partly because it’s aesthetically solid. I wouldn’t really use superlatives, or go “gosh!”, but it’s solid stuff, a consistent aesthetic, and, apart from parts being a little hard to hover over or parse (tooltips and icons in battle, mainly), it’s okay in terms of accessibility.

Friends would skewer me if I didn’t mention Fadrake. Which is good, because I actually want to mention that oh hey, there’s a beefy shark with an anchor called Fadrake, and he kicks ass…

But mostly because of its interesting systems. The basic idea is that you take one of three paths offered to you, which can be a number of things. For example, Rifts are a normal fight, Huge Rifts are a more difficult fight, Priest can (for a price in one of the currencies of the game, the coins) resurrect dead party members, so on. But some of these are necessary for levelling up heroes you find, items you find, enchanting items you find… And there are good reasons for doing so.

Before Level 5 (the maximum, which all four of your base party members start with), you only have one special ability. Levels 1 to 4 are for rune slots, modifiers you can make to your hero, costing 1, 1, 3, and 5 runes out of the 10 allotted to you in the prep phase for a fight. For example, Fandrake, a beefy shark boy with a massive boomeranchor, can, with 5 runes, make the party immune to damage reflection. But with his first two rune slots, he can make half his damage be unblockable Chaos type (rather than wearing away the enemy’s armour), and every time he kills someone with his special Sweep ability, all the party gets their potion effect.

The other important thing is the card/movement system. Each turn, you’re dealt a number of cards (2 x the number of currently alive heroes, an important fact to remember for later) in one of four types: Attack, Defence, Mana, and Potion. They serve a quadruple purpose: They’re spent on movement, 1 a tile. They buff the hero (In the case of Attack and Defense, better attack and a shield respectively. The last two give mana or use your equipped potion.) They trigger special abilities when used in the correct order (like Sword and Shield for Hasaki, which unleashes a devastating attack.)

Awww crap, it’s a robot… That looks a bit like a buff cat! I don’t know whether to fight or scratch it behind the ears, HELP!

The thing is, you have to use the cards while moving to get their effect. Just standing still does nothing. So it emphasises mobility and synergy for the best effect. But not moving, not spending those cards, unleashes the other, fourth use: Using the terrain. Sometimes this is necessary, to move a map obstacle out of the way. But each single tile terrain item has an effect, and putting it on top of someone, for good or ill, does things. Rocks stun. Snowy trees freeze. Scrolls power up. That sort of thing.

It still heavily incentivises moving around, which is a shift in thinking that’s important to playing, but it’s an interesting one. Flaws wise, well, apart from the bosses being fucking hard, and the aforementioned tiny icons, there’s some tiny amount of untranslated text, or poorly translated text, but that last one’s a minor niggle, and overall?

Overall, this is an interesting game, trying something different, and it seems to be working. I look forward to seeing what happens next with it, and recommend taking a look.

I feel like rifts between time and space throwing disparate groups together to clash in a fun way isn’t done enough. Just throwing that out there…

Monster Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For me, Monster Sanctuary is a bit of an odd experience. It is, by no means, a bad game, a metroidvania combined with the monster raising and fighting type games many of us love so much. Its skill trees, balance, and difficulty curve appear pretty solid, and I like its pixel art designs.

So it’s bugging the hell out of me that I’m not terribly enthused with it, and can’t work out why.

Monsters, some tame, some not, protag, got it, I know where I stand!

It’s certainly not the thinnish story, or the obvious gamey unlocks of features based on progression. I’m used to those, and honestly, it’s not that big a deal. You want to be the very best Monster Tamer, bad things are happening, and you work in an organisation, so it’s all good there.

The grind, similarly, isn’t bad. After all, monsters in the line share XP, so if you’re in need of seriously levelling someone up, you can put them as a reserve, beat up some lower level monsters, and don’t put them in the frontlines until they’re needed. And, of course, monsters are the level you catch them at.

It’s some solid visrep of combat, and a clear UX too.

Even the combat is engaging, because it’s this balancing act of factors. Do you put a monster in the very front, where it won’t do as much damage, but it’ll rack up combos for the monsters after it? Do you use a powerful ability, or tone it down and do less damage, because the powerful version outstrips the mana regeneration that monster currently has? Adding to this, you can see the types of monsters in a group (and they are, apart from uniques, always in a group), and plan accordingly, looking at your monster journal for weaknesses, coming up with a plan for the following encounter.

So, the systems fit pretty well together, with multiple elements to play with, multiple different roles, and the fact that even healing will add to a combo helps you keep the flow going with a healer role in the party. Moving around isn’t bad, especially since different monsters have different abilities you can use in the world, from breaking open inaccessible areas, to mobility improvements…

An example of this would be the bird. Poor bird, he has to carry the protag. Can’t do it for too long, but it’s enough.

It’s a solid game. And yet… I had trouble keeping my enthusiasm going, and I don’t particularly know why. There’s still time to work it out. There’s still time to change my mind, or have my mind changed by some update or another. And it’s a solid mix of platformer and turn-based monster taming RPG. It just… Doesn’t really grab me right now.

The Mad Welshman hates not knowing why he doesn’t get on with a thing. Normally he’s much better than that.