29: Cthulhu Saves the World

I suppose in some ways, this review isn’t really necessary. I looked at Breath of Death VII a few months back, which was by the same developers, in the same engine, in the same style, and so there is a limit to what new information I can actually bring to the table. With that in mind it’s perhaps best to look at the positives and negatives from the last game and see what’s happened to them.

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The big draw was the comedy aspect, the gentle ribbing constantly directed at RPG tropes which saturate the market. This remains prominent and well-written. The setup best shows this, with Cthulhu rising to devour the world when a wizard suddenly robs him of all his power. “Little does he know”, smirks the narrator, “that Cthulhu will only regain his powers if he becomes a true hero!”, at which point Cthulhu reveals he’s been eavesdropping on the narration the whole time and now knows exactly what to do, mwuhahaha. With the addition of cutscenes and more frequent snatches of conversation within the party (of which there are seven possible members now rather than four), with more effort made to tie together all the little jokes into one overarcing story, this strength has certainly been played to.

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You still morph between world map and dungeon and random combat fight screens, and the dungeons are now bigger, more diverse and more sprawly, though worse off for it. It’s confusing to find your way through them, frustration rather than exploration is your main impulse, but it’s not the end of the world.

The combat is unchanged, turn-by-turn selection of attacks, and remains a challenge some of the time. I would argue that there’s no real skill to it, in every case if a fight is too hard, then you can just level up a bit and it will suddenly be immensely easy, but there has been more effort put in to the game to hide that. The world is laid out and scaled up so that you’re pretty much always at the right level to make a fight just challenging enough. Combat looks a little nicer, there’s a few more graphical effects, but you’re still doing the exact same fundamentals. There’s still the same spread of abilities and accompanying decisions on how to take fights, the same combo mechanic, the same RSI-inducing spam of the enter button on easy fights.

The combat is not brainless, it does promote some use of strategy and tactics. For example, every fight can be pretty easily won if you spam your best magic abilities, but your magic only regenerates every battle and only by enough to replenish one or two spells (there are some character upgrades you can choose that increase the regen rate and I would recommend taking them). So in fact the question is not “can I win this battle”, but “can I win it efficiently?” Can you target the right baddies at the right time, use one or two well-placed spells, and keep your magic topped up? Hitpoints regenerate in full after every battle, unconcious people are restored, status ailments are cured, so those are not important resources. Winning with standard attacks and one guy barely left alive is a better victory than killing them instantly with a barrage of high-power spells. You’re constantly picking character upgrades to emphasise strengths or cover weaknesses. Agility is a good example, a seemingly useless stat that adds no bonuses, but determines who hits first, so you have it on people that you want to get hits in first, not on the tanks but on the glass cannons.

There’s attacks that will hit all enemies, ones which will hit all enemies of one type, ones which will hit at random, ones which will do extra damage if you’ve chained up a good number of combos, ones which will reset the combo counter, ones which will do long-term damage, ones which will stick on various ailments, ones which will boost other players, ones which will turn enemies insane….there’s a lot of stuff to think about, in theory. The problem is that the game is not just satisfied with you figuring that out once, it plays the same battles dozens of times. Yo, game, I know how to win this now! Stop!

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Seeing as how I’ve now used the word “same” seven times and “more” six times, the conclusion I am forced to make is that there hasn’t actually been an improvement in terms of how I found the game, everything has just been embiggened. This isn’t really a sequel, it’s a go-again, it’s the developer looking at the experience of making Breath of Death and using it as a springboard to implement more challenging technical stuff, increase the playing area, deepen the strategic well. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, I instinctively knew how to play the game and was more aware of the decisions I should be making, more able to use my abilities well in challenging fights, but it was very much a case of Play it Again, Cthulhu. The trope-mocker has become the trope, as nobody on Earth would say.

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That’s not to say it isn’t original either, every gravestone and bookshelf and many other items have all had personal, sort-of-a-joke text crafted for them, the dialogue is well-written and never formulaic, the cutscenes are wonderfully drawn while still in keeping with the game’s graphical style. The party is diverse, from talking cat to living sword to confused old guy. Everything aesthetic was cut anew from whole cloth, it’s just that the skeleton it is draped over is identical. Cthulhu saves the world is unquestionably a bigger, better game than Breath of Death and if you had to just play one, play this one. But I’ve seen it all before.

3 stars, 8 hours spent (competed on normal)

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