Loop Hero (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.49 (Soundtrack £5.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

I love the premise of this game: In a fate similar to The Neverending Story, the world has been unhappened. Reality has been forgotten. Except for one person, who is, on an endless loop, trying to remember how it all used to be, fighting through monster after monster, returning feature after feature.

Here’s an early run, and, by the end of the review, you’ll see a late run. Vast difference.

It all melts away when you return to camp, but… You’ve still made a difference, even if it feels pointless. And it hits home, time and time again, that the world contains good and evil, and things in between. Narratively, this game works pretty damn well, with its mechanics tightly fitting to this idea that the more the world is remembered in some fashion, the brighter the possibility of bringing it all back becomes.

Gamewise? It’s honestly okay, a nice touch on the strategic roguelike, where the path is set, but what you put on that path is where the calculation comes in. You want room, for example, for villages, or features that heal. You can’t overuse them, because you need items and experience to face the boss of each area. But you can’t overuse those, because if the pressure gets too much, you might as well retreat and lose some of the resources you gained.

You’ve got time. Seemingly endless time. And the more time you spend, the more loops you go through, the more resources you can get, to improve the camp back home, giving you more memories of the outside world, more cards to slip into your limited deck that allows you to recreate a microcosm of the dark world you lived in, to become stronger… And the other two classes.

Bones versus Bones, who will win?!?

I like the three classes of this game, each has their own playstyle, their own focus, and I love it. The warrior, the first, is the most straightforward: Hit things, get equipment from them, get stronger, use crits, fuck shit up, rinse, repeat. There’s still variation in how you do it, builds you can play with, but it’s the simplest in terms of gameplay.

The thief and the necromancer, by contrast, ah, they’re not quite so simple. The thief only gets their items (except for village quest items) at the end/start of each loop, the camp. But their power, their levels, are determined by how many trophies you caught (IE – Monsters you killed.) It’s high risk, high reward, and the one I often push too far with. The necromancer, by contrast, well, they don’t fight themselves. You’re buffing your skelly boys with each equipment drop, with each skill you learn. And yes, each class has their own skillsets they can pick from on levelup, although it’s semirandom.

Once it’s boss time, though… Well, the bosses are no pushovers, so you have to feel like you’re properly prepared to face them. And you’re probably still going to get wrecked your first time or couple of times. Considering there’s three bosses, though? It’s all good, and you will be beating them multiple times.

Aesthetically? Omigod I love it so much. C64 style graphics, even down to the palette, dark, brooding tunes, it oozes aesthetic, is clear, and I fucking love it.

It’s a damn shame this is all going to vanish into the void that’s consumed everything. Even if it’s extremely likely to kill us.

Yes, I definitely like this one, as it has many of the positive points I find in good indie games: Tight design, mechanics married to narrative, an interesting story, and it’s a game that can be played in smaller sessions, respecting your time. Yes, I like this indeed.

The Mad Welshman returns to his own loop, forgetting the past briefly so as to concentrate on the present, the future.

Nah, he’s having so much fun with the present and the past.

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Saviours of Sapphire Wings (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Both this and Stranger of Sword City, £9.99 for each of the two soundtracks)
Where To Get It: Steam

On the one hand, this is a twofer with another step based RPG, Stranger of Sword City Revisited, but… Both games are big enough that it would just not be fair to review them together.

I’m not exactly happy that this is the closest we get to nonbinary, but… I took it.

Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a step based, first person JRPG, which is to say, y’all walk one step at a time through areas, dungeons, whatnot, have random encounters with monsters, some not-so-random encounters, and, of course, bosses. Levelling’s pretty slow, so if you want a game that can be consumed in bite sized chunks while still giving a feeling of progress, this… Isn’t it. You will grind, and you won’t be fighting bosses until you’re good and ready. That potential turnoff for folks out of the way, let’s get on with the meat and potatoes.

After all, there’s another reason that it wouldn’t be fair to review this with its companion: The two have major differences between them. In Saviors of Sapphire Wings, you are the reincarnation of the greatest knight of the round table (of this world), who fell in the final battle with the demon lord. Whoops.

He’s a big, slow, and BLOODY CREEPY boy…

But you’re reincarnated now, and, over the course of the early game, recruit two new members. A priestess and a warrior. More will join your ranks, but bonds of trust must be built up, by talking to them and counselling wisely, feeding them, and winning battles with them, a bond of blood. The more powerful that bond, the more powerful they will become. And, naturally, y’know… Demon Lord, gotta be pretty damn powerful to get up to that level from nothing.

So there’s less character creation in Sapphire Wings, although this is definitely not to say none. But there are no character switching shenanigans, the people you join with are set in stone. But honestly, they provide such a nice balance this early on, it’s not a hassle. Stat increases are still relatively minimal, skills largely fixed… But it simplifies things, allowing you to concentrate on enemies.

Some enemies will feel very familiar because, uhhh… They are. Does this make it worse? Nah, it means if you’re playing both games, you know relatively what to expect. The big ol’ scythebugs are weak to fire, these enemies are weak to wind, most mob type characters can summon other mob type characters, which is something to consider when you’re low on HP or trying to grind… It works.

We have the classiest of rides…

Aesthetically… Yup, artwork’s pretty good, music’s good, sound is okay, everything’s clear, we’re all good, great character artwork… It works, and this is good.

Like with Sword City, there’s a lot I could mention. A lot. But I will say that the story is good, you’re getting Sword City along with this (also reviewed this month), and if you know and are cool with the time demands a JRPG like this wants, then yes, this is a solid choice.

I am not the heroic type. But I do admit, slaughtering the real monsters is a satisfying experience.

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Stranger of Sword City Revisited (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Both this and Saviours of Sapphire Wings, £9.99 for each of the two soundtracks)
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. Bated breath and everything. Actually, it’s nice that my breath isn’t bated anymore, it was a real hassle. But yes, Stranger of Sword City is being Revisited, and I am very much down for trying it.

After all, when I last saw it, that one samurai guy kicked my ass, and I want to return the favour this time around with more quality of life, y’know?

Why yes, that is a Japanese schoolgirl with a big honkin’ sword, demon armour, who’s just sliced up a giant monster but good, why do you ask?

So yes, as mentioned in the Saviors of Sapphire Wings review, this is bundled with said game, and both are step based, grindyish RPGs in the vein of Etrian Odyssey or Wizardry, where you have to take the time to get powerful enough to beat that next asshole that’s blocking progress. You explore maps, you get random encounters and not-so-random encounters and bosses (I wouldn’t dare call any of them, except the beginning goblin, a miniboss), and you try and level up to get more special bosses murdered, to eventually…

Ahhh, but here we get to story, and honestly, I like this: You’ve been transported to a different world, a world where the detritus of multiple worlds ends up, including ours. And you are a chosen soul. Think that’s cool?

Well, it actually means everyone’s after either your allegiance or your head. And there are three major factions, each with their own goals to work with. It’s relatively minimal, with the focus more being on the world and its encounters, but it is interesting stuff, and the world is an asshole.

I do not wish to discuss the implications of your starting equipment at this time, thank you…

Aesthetically, it works a’ight. There’s a custom uploader for character portraits, but beyond this, and the great character/monster art already in the game, the UX is mostly workmanlike, pretty clear, everything important identified… It’s solid. I can’t really say the sound effects wow me, and the music’s alright, but overall, it’s solid, and that’s cool.

Mechanically… Okay, let’s get one thing out the way right now: If you want a game that respects your time, gives you an experience that doesn’t involve a whole lot of repetition, neither this or Sapphire Wings is it. This is an old school JRPG, and you either grind or die. Now that we have the turnoff out of the way, the game’s systems are relatively simple.

Creating multiple characters is a must for the game, as party members have a limited amount of resurrects, and if you’re not using those, they’re out for quite a while, several dungeon expeditions, in fact. Levelling and classes, well, they have fixed roles, fixed trees, and stat improvement is relatively slow, but consistent. What’s important here is that the game’s length is somewhat increased by keeping characters consistent in levels, and making sure you have backup roles, in order to ensure progression is relatively smooth.

At this time in the game, these are chumps to me. Their boss, on the other hand…

You will get caught off guard by bosses. You will run away from fights. And you will be making use of all your tools, including the new feature, Freemen. Technically, the other “new” classes are not, in fact new (the Puppeteer and the Clocker, who do enemy control and time fuckery respectively), but the Freeman most definitely is, and, at first? Doesn’t seem that useful.

However, even if they can’t take to the field like any of your other heroes, they level up in base like any other party member (At a reduced rate), and their levelling benefits… Make your life easier at home. Better experience gain for folks at the base. Better rates from the smith. Other fine benefits like that.

I could say a lot more, but, apart from the big caveat of “It’s an oldschool JRPG”? It’s a really solid game, and I’d already been looking forward to this Revisited version precisely because I already knew it was a cool member of its subgenre. It comes with Sapphire City, also reviewed this month, so it’s a solid purchase overall. Give it a go, JRPG fans.

I am no stranger to Sword City. We just never got past the hatesmooches phase in our relationship.

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Nioh 2 Complete (Review)

Source: Review Copy (Which meant I had the DLC of ye original Nioh 2, and still died a whole bunch)
Price: £49.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Play with a controller. Make sure you get a comfortable right stick setting. Prepare to die a whole bunch learning this. This is your primary warning for Nioh 2, as it is unforgiving of mistakes.

I learned this… A lot. A lot a lot.

Meet your first exam. It’s a real killer.

So yes, Nioh 2 is an action RPG with slowish levelling, more requiring skill with equipment and your abilities than anything else (although what you can equip is limited by your stats, and you should definitely keep this considered), fixed attack animations (don’t be hammering on the attack keys), combat with a fair amount of depth, such as which stances to use, tactics, using your demon abilities well… You’ll get an exam on these real early on, along with the exam on “There are enemies you definitely shouldn’t fight unless you’re super skilled”, and the lessons will be painful.

Getting to your stuff you dropped when you died is not going to be easy if you died in a particularly nasty spot, and… Look, it’s a tough game with a steep early learning curve. Play the tutorials. Experiment. Be prepared to die a lot, or less if you’re already experienced in this. There’s a fair amount of timing to it, such as recovering your ki (stamina) by pulsing it at the right moment after a combo, which also serves the purpose of purifying an area, an important facet of fights with demons, because they can power up or use them.

I think I see why I’m being dunked on so mercilessly… I chose to play a nerd.

Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. Lovely music, characters and monsters that really pop, taken from Japanese mythology and history alike, great sounds, and a clear UX. It’s good here. Writing wise, it’s stylish, and an early touch of the ghosts of your parents commenting on your character creation is… Okay, I teared up a little at hearing the character’s mother, who’d died messily not even thirty seconds earlier, say how we’ve grown so fondly.

But yes, it is tough as heck, and if that’s a turnoff, don’t bother, even with toning the difficulty down, mastering the systems I pretty much a must.

Beyond this, though, there’s… Not a lot for me to say. It’s good, and it has a lot of the stuff you’d expect from an RPG, with several different weapon types (I went edge, with a kusarigama and a switchblade, aka “It’s a scythe that turns into a bat’leth, deal with it, yokai.”), and… I enjoy it. Even if I die, and am going to die, time and time and time again.

This intro story shares a little with the story of the Red Oni and Blue Oni, but… I honestly just wanted an excuse to post a screenshot of a buff horny man with a big stick.

So, yes, if you’re either good at this sort of thing, want to struggle to play a cool game using Japanese mythology and history to tell a dramatic tale in a world of demons… This one’s good for you.

The Mad Welshman defends quick weapons to the death. Multiple deaths. Many, many deaths.

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Geneforge 1: Mutagen (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£7.19 for hintbook and bonuses, somewhat recommended)
Where To Get It: Steam

Geneforge is a name with associations for me. The clunky charm of Windows 95. College. Being able to play 2nd Edition AD&D without wincing. Not all of these are dependent on the time it was released (Windows XP was the same year as Geneforge, and AD&D… Well…) But they’re associations for a reason.

Geneforge is what we would call “oldschool.” It only takes one look at the screenshots to see eras bygone in game design, and the game was, originally, pretty damn tough. Save early, save often.

Although difficulty selection is a wonderful thing, don’t you think?

“You feel a deep compulsion” are words you generally don’t want to be hearing in a tabletop game.

In any case, being an old school type RPG is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength, in that the developer has considered how classes might be seen by the NPCs of the game, different dialogue options exist for both classes and skills, and dialogue is rich with lore.

It’s a weakness because some design elements have never really been fixed, and combat can be brutal for the unprepared, although it does ease you in very well.

God, that UI. That UI has no scaling options, and so icons are very small, so very small. Text is not quite so small, but it’s still… This ain’t the most accessible visually, and, as an aside, you will be holding down Tab a fair bit to see what the hell is interactable, and even that won’t necessarily help you with items that are just on the floor.

But for all that, Geneforge is nonetheless an interesting RPG, with a very unique world. In it, biomagics, “shaping”, are a rigidly controlled, yet powerful magic, that has shaped its society. Small, pig like creatures with humanoid faces take the place of computers, created to be repositories of knowledge and scanners, meant to last a long time. Servant beings have been created, and…

Shapers: We make monsters for utility reasons. Also dickwaving reasons.

Look, Shapers are Not Nice People. It’s made abundantly clear early on due to the early dialogue, the matter of fact way in which the protagonist is so calm about magically created/changed beings, how he just assumes that the humanoids on the island are servants, but ones who have gone a long time without a master… What sets alarm bells in his head is the canisters, one of your prime forms of levelling up in the game. They change you, change you from the inside out, insert skills, powers into your mind, your essence. And would you look at that, they’re also Shaper creations, although banned, a dark part of the Shaper’s already dark history.

Aesthetically, it’s… It’s clunky. It’s unapologetically clunky, and clearly still made with small window sizes in full screen in mind. Nothing really scales, so at larger resolutions, like, y’know, the now common 2560×1440, it’s somewhat eyestrain inducing.

“I cast death” “Hrm, what kind of death do you cast?” “Particularly deathy death.”

Combat, well, it’s turn based, it’s action point based (you can do multiple actions in a turn if you have the points, if not, well… Boohoo), and it definitely has its nuances and interesting encounters, although it will often boil down to “Murder things horribly with the right elements.” But it’s still good, and I still like it.

Still, overall, this is, again unapologetically, a niche game. It’s for those who love the old 90s isometric RPGs, with all their jank and dialogue heavy funtimes. I enjoy it… But not everyone will, and I’d only cautiously recommend it because it’s a good example of its genre.

The Mad Welshman prefers to play with artificial life. Don’t judge.

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