Soul Smith of the Kingdom (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19 (Soundtrack £1.69)
Where To Get It: Steam

Inu To Neko games… They’re often about starting a business, and equally as often, it’s a case of tough (and sometimes misguided) love. In the case of Soul Smith of the Kingdom, Nine is the greatest smith in the nation of Aldenoar. But her uncle, perceiving a vital weakness, forbids her from smithing until she raises another great blacksmith. After all, she needs some business sense, and knowledge of how to train employees, so the legacy of the Soul Smiths can continue.

You’re right, lads. Never work at a black company. That shit can only lead to poor health and shitty Isekai.

And so, enter perhaps the most idle game like entry in the series. Although, as always, it’s not that simple, but not as intimidating as it looks. You start with two low level blacksmiths, and, as is often in the series, you get your friends (the cast of the series) to enter dungeons to get materials, you set the weapons the blacksmiths are making, gain skills, gain new blueprints by either buying them, finding them in the dungeon, or, as is most often the case, soul-smithing a weapon the blacksmith is proficicient in.

Oh, and you get skills and, once you get a single smith to level 30, you can get other smiths to inherit their skills, gain souls, and buy more skills. And the minigame, once every month.

It looks complicated. But it’s not as complex as all that.

Funnily enough, most of the game is pleasant. Yes, the translation of the character stories is Engrishy, but honestly, I don’t have that much of a problem with it, as the characters are cool, and the stories are warm and light hearted generally.

But the minigames, or, specifically, the difficulty of some of them, is my biggest issue with the game. Jesus H Christ, if I see Drop Ball or Fill In The Blanks (and, to a lesser extent, Face Checker and Speed Aim), I just leave them alone, because math puzzles involving four numbers from 1 to 9 is not something I like to do on a regular basis, and Drop Ball rapidly becomes bullshit, since both a miss and a ball falling out loses you a heart, and so it’s very easy to lose it all in three rapid clicks of panic. I dislike the minigames, except for Big Search (which grid has the bigger total?)

Face Checker gets evil on three stars and above… Little things start becoming important. ARGH.

But, overall, it’s a game I can relax with. I’m at the mid-late game now, and I’ve made my smiths too good, as, if they’re all left to make more expensive things, they’ll rapidly run out of materials. So I make the smaller stuff with two of them, to level up my friends for deeper dungeon delving, and try to ensoulise weapons with one at a time.

I’d definitely recommend this one out of the Inu To Neko games, as its mix of idle and management gameplay is pretty nice, and it’s got a pretty clear UX.

The Mad Welshman supports improving your craft. But not at the expense of your health, okay?

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Sublevel Zero Redux (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Wait, I never reviewed the original? Apparently I never reviewed the original. Which is rather odd, because Sublevel Zero is exactly my jam, and exactly the sort of thing I’d want to tell you about. Even if, alas, many wouldn’t be able to play it for the same reason they can’t play other 6 degrees of freedom shooters, procedurally generated or not.

OHGODHORRRRRKKKK!!!

Also particles. Lots and lots of particles.

Yes, motion sickness warning on this one, and a biggie. Moreso if you’re going to try this VR. God, even I feel a little queasy thinking about that. Now, let’s get into it.

It is the far future. Space-time is kind of fucked. But you, a space explorer, have been drawn into a mysterious space station full of killer drones, a space station which might actually hold the clues as to what broke space-time in the first place.

Oh. Yeah. Those killer drones might be a problem. Also some of the generators at the end of each level getting all murderous, presumably because they heard their siblings got wrecked.

Good thing you thought ahead and have guns and missiles, isn’t it?

That… Sounds like a normal one, honestly…

So yes, Sublevel Zero is a procedurally generated shooter, in which you fly around a station where “up” is a room to room matter of preference, you need to think in three dimensions (and keep track of enemies and hazards in those same dimensions), get to the end of each level, hopefully collecting lots of moolah and finding or crafting better weapons, engines, and armour along the way, until… The end. Individual runs are short, although they get longer the more you win, the more you unlock.

And it is a good game. The guns feel different, the unlocks are mostly reasonable, the story, as slim as it is, is slowly revealed to be a dramatic fuckup of epic proportions, and each enemy is recognisable by both shape and colour, even if, sometimes, they’re hard to spot due to mixing in with a specific biome (or deliberately and fittingly designed to be a little hard to spot until you’re too close, like the drone mines. Evil little things…)

Low Poly: Extremely my jam.

Aesthetically, it’s that low poly shit I love so much. Clean, yet with character, a UX that does the job, maybe a little workmanlike, but overall, its worst sins are some smallish text, good and responsive controls, a decent tutorial, and enjoyable, mood fitting sounds and music.

Problems? Well… In its final levels, it relies a bit too much on rooms filled with monsters, which, yes, is hectic, but sometimes, it’s just… Annoying, a packed shooting gallery for you to waste ammo on, as they’re all jostling in the corridor.

Overall, though, it’s a solid roguelike shooter in an arcade style of space combat, a ship that has 6 degrees of freedom, and it comes recommended for fans of both.

Pew pew, pew pew pew pew…

What, were you expecting The Mad Welshman to have something else to say when there’s so much that goes pew pew? Oh wait, dakkadakkadakka. And KABOOOOOM. Yup, that about covers it.

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Legend of Keepers (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99 (Supporter pack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, being a dungeon keeper. It’s a good job, all told. Protect yourself, lure adventurers in (those damn assholes), and murder them horribly with a combination of traps and monsterfolk.

I mean, it’s better than letting the little gits run rackets, blow up small villages or forests (accidentally or otherwise), cause diplomatic incidents… The list goes on.

And on…

If your heroes keep getting this far… You might be in trouble. Just… Overall.

And on. In any case, such is the idea of Legend of Keeper. Except you’re basically part of a miserly dungeon keeping corporation. The health plan’s good… When you can find the staff doctor. But everything else is performance based, and staff turnover and morale… God, they’re awful. All to keep adventurers away from the boss.

Okay, maybe it’s not a good job after all.

In any case, Legend of Keeper is one of those rogue like (Sorta. Maybe. Kinda) deals, where you go through two years of defending the dungeon. It’s not like the adventurers come every day… In fact, you often have a fair breather. But with each party you run off or murder (intimidate into running for tears, kill for blood), they get stronger. More assholish.

No, actually, some of them start off assholes. Like the fire mage, whose first action on entering the first battle is to shuffle your carefully curated battle line. The only way of possibly preserving your tactically placed monsters (for the elemental rock/paper/scissors of attack and defence) when you see that particular one is to deliberately place your first team out of order. And pray.

THIS GIT ON THE FAR LEFT. THIS GIT CANNOT DIE ENOUGH. I WILL RESURRECT HIM JUST TO KILL HIM AGAIN!

I hate that guy, and each time I send him to hell, I wish him the iciest time, and extremely pointy sticks. Anyway, yes, dungeon fights, when they happen, are turn based, and consist of several rooms, always with two trap rooms, two monster rooms, a spell room, and your chosen class of boss. There are three bosses, and each has something to recommend them. The Slaver, for example, has a good monster selection, and gets a free big monster, with a room of its own, each year you win (I really hope there’s a third year, because yeah, just having the one big monster feels like a waste.)

But, funnily enough, I have the best time with the glassiest of glass cannons, reliant on shields and a nasty air attack, the Mechanic.

So, how does it feel, is it accessible, does it look good? Well, apart from no subtitles for the three or four barks for each boss (You’re not missing much, especially with the Slaver, who has a bad case of internet poisoning. “Come at me, bro!” … Nyuh huh. I’ll get right on that, really I will), it’s okay. No colourblindness issues that I could see, text is okay, buttons for attacks are very clear, tooltips are easy mouse overs… Visually, it looks quite nice, actually, relatively hi-fi pixel art, with some fun and silly event pictures (like the orc caught reading an anthro magazine. Ohhh, you dirty boy, you!)

Audio wise, it’s okay. Nothing stunning, it works, that’s fine.

Yes, we’re Dungeon Keeping salarymen… And oh boy, the Marketing Department, for what it does, can go to the same place as the fire mage.

Still, this is definitely not a bad roguelike dungeon keeper deal. I’ve been having a nice, tactical time with it, getting comfortably into the swing of murdering the shit out of heroes I definitely don’t sympathise with, and if you like turn based strategy, of the “series of battles” SRPG type deal, yeah, this is a solid choice.

The Mad Welshman floats an idea… How about… We make a dungeon which unceremoniously dumps the hero(ine)s into black company office jobs? That’s MUCH more evil than what we’re doing…

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Rogue (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Rogue. The original Rogue, or, more accurately, one of the Epyx releases of this, the progenitor of the roguelike genre. Oh boy, what a historical artefact this is.

I am a little miffed this isn’t the graphically pleasing version that was released on the Atari ST and Amiga, but… What can you do?

There are two secret rooms here. But me spending the time to search for them would mean my hunger meter runs low. Time to move on after murdering this Kestrel!

Anyway, yes, the original Rogue. If you’ve ever played a roguelike, you know the deal: A procedurally generated level is made, you move in a turn based fashion, so do the monsters, you hit things (or shoot things), you don’t know what a potion or scroll does until you use it (in a run, because it doesn’t stay the same between runs), once you die, that’s it, and the number of things that can kill you is pretty high.

Funnily enough, as one of the earliest examples… Rogue is dull as dishwater. Its generation is boring, its enemies are few until later levels (although enemies constantly spawn), its difficulty is very much random (sometimes, you’re just going to die of hunger because you haven’t found edibles in time), and, beyond the excitement of potions and scrolls, there’s… Really not a lot to keep track of, or use, or play with.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a death to be sneezed at. Slimes are bastards in Rogue.

Hit points. Strength. Weapon bonuses and types. What enemies do. Is there a secret room. That’s… Pretty much it.

So, it’s good as a historical curiosity, and an example of how far the genre has come, and branched out, and evolved… But… That’s about it, honestly. As mentioned, it’s not even the one with tiles as an option over ASCII, so… Recommended to people who love the history of roguelikes that somehow don’t have Rogue?

That’s… Kind of a small demographic, really.

It always starts with chainmail. That’s a gateway into adventuring, and next thing you know, they’re 20 levels deep and looking for a +8 sword.

Remember, just say no.

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Disgaea 5 Complete (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (Arbook £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ever since I heard Disgaea 4+ Complete was coming to the PC, I’d gotten curious about the series. So I gave 1 a go… 2 a go… And, recently, 5. And it’s not hard to see how the series has evolved.

Seraphina’s… A little oblivious. And narcissistic.

So, a refresher, even though we’ve reviewed another Disgaea game this month: Disgaea is an SRPG fantasy series, in which Demon Lords (with one exception in the series) face some sort of tribulation, having to rise through the ranks of their kind by beating the shit out of others, in small battles comprising chapters in the story. And Disgaea 5 is perhaps the darkest one, as the antagonist is a Demon Lord who enslaves and conquers other netherworlds, Void Dark. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have silly moments, it certainly has those, and in spades… But it also has, for example, a demon world where it’s revealed someone in a royal family was held hostage, the people were sent off to fight as disposable soldiers, and then… The royal family was slain and resurrected as zombies.

I can’t wait to murderise the demon lord responsible for that, to be quite honest.

Just run. Just run until you’re at least in New Game Plus.

In any case, as mentioned, the evolution is interesting. Fusions? Gone, replaced by a “Mon-Toss”, aka “Monster can throw you, even if they can’t lift you.” When you hire, it doesn’t cost Mana, but HL, and characters… Can be levelled up to the highest named character level. Mana, meanwhile, goes on Skills, the Senate, and later, the Chara World, which… Well, that one’s not great in retrospect, but it is a fun little game, even if you probably want to focus on skills in your first loop. And then there are quests, which allow you to get neat stuff, from skill scrolls, to new character types (at the time of writing, I’m working toward Sage. And got her before I finished this paragraph.) There are other changes, but those are the biggies.

Aesthetically, it keeps the cel shaded/hi-def spritework of its predecessor, with a great soundtrack (the one you’ll hear the most is the bittersweet base theme, vocals and all), and some solid voice and sound work. Accessibility wise, it’s okay… Turn based stuff generally is, and it certainly tries to have map design that doesn’t obscure shit needlessly, but, sad to say, this remains a problem with the series.

There is no such word as “Overkill” in Disgaea. It’s always “Not Enough Kill”

But, except for the changes, Disgaea 5 remains what the rest of the series is: A solid strategy RPG, where I’ve never felt pressured into worrying about whether my units fall or not (except in terms of “Damn, I need them to do damage”), where I don’t feel bad about the grind (even the grinding of the Item World gives you sweet stuff, especially on or around your level), and where the stories are this interesting mix of silly and dark that I quite enjoy. Although the mileage varies on individual Disgaea games, I do recommend them as a whole for dipping your toes into SRPGs, and for the devoted SRPG fan who wants really big numbers (over time, anyway.)

The Mad Welshman is not normally a fan of pretty numbers. But even he has to admit, SRPG Big Numbers are a good feeling.

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