The Sleeper Has Awakened!
As we near the end of the year and talks begin of game of the year, I realized I had very few nominations for downloadable games. Being a fan of Zeboyd Games previous effort Breath of Death VII, I decided it was time to play through Cthulhu Saves the World, and I am certainly glad I did. Released on Xbox Live Indie Games, Cthulhu sat languishing so a campaign was quickly started to get the game released on Steam, and in July of 2011 the Cthulhu Saves the World: Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD – Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector’s Edition (without Avatars!) was released and in its first week of sales on Steam made more revenue than its entire life on XBLIG. Regardless of where you purchase it from, this is one adventure that you’d be a madman to let slip by.
That is Not Dead Which Can Eternal Lie
Cthulhu Saves the World has an interesting premise to say the least. The great old one Cthulhu has risen from his slumber to destroy the world, but before he can accomplish this his power is banished by a mysterious figure on a cliff. Stripped of his supernatural abilities Cthulhu is informed the only way he can regain them is to become a true hero. Cthulhu agrees to become a hero and save the world so that he may restore his power and destroy said world. Of course, a lifetime of abominations is not so easily washed away, so you will guide Cthulhu on his quest going from town to town rescuing the citizens from their mortal peril. The quests begin small, retrieving a lost dog from a cave, but quickly escalate into things such as saving a village from a demon dragon or even other great old ones such as Dagon and Nyarlathotep.
Along the way you will be joined by some unlikely allies. A young girl who becomes infatuated with Cthulhu, an ancient sword meant only for true heroes, a not-cat from outer space, and even the aforementioned demon dragon. Each character has their own items and abilities that can be upgraded as the quest continues. The game employs an interesting leveling system where each level up is accompanied by some mandatory stat increases (HP, MP, etc) but you are then presented with two choices to pick for your level. These can include new spells, abilities, or can consist of augmenting existing abilities such as making them stronger, or allowing them to hit multiple times. This system is interesting as it allows the player to feel more in control of their characters progression than a simple stat curve, do you want your characters to lean more physical or magical? Do you want them to rely on a multitude of spells and abilities or simply augment their best attacks to the highest they can go? The choices are yours to make and it goes a long way to allowing you to tailor the game to your playstyle.
Face The Thing That Should Not Be
Cthulhu Saves the World, like its predecessor Breath of Death VII, is a throwback RPG. It relies on nostalgia to initially sell it, mimicking the classic 8 and 16 bit RPGs that came before it. However, it also realizes it is a game created in and for the world of today and so has made many concessions to long held RPG conventions. These changes I feel make the game playable for a new breed of gamer who may not be used to the archaic design of yesterday. While many gamers may cry foul at the systems in place, I feel they go a long way to keeping the game moving forward at a very brisk pace and will be able to keep everyone engaged and interested throughout the game.
The first major change is that your parties HP will automatically refill at the end of every battle. Your MP will also go up slightly, more so depending on how quickly you finish the battle, but it will not refill entirely. While some may think this would make the game easy it certainly doesn’t. Most battles are balanced to give you a challenge throughout the entirety of the dungeon, there were some enemy configurations I dreaded fighting as they would inevitably kill one or two of my party members every time. The fact that the game revives these party members upon completion of the fight simply means that each encounter can feel deadly and dangerous, but once completed you don’t feel like you have to leave the dungeon and heal up, you can always make continuous progress. In that vein, ALL characters gain XP from battles, whether they are in the party, out of the party, or even dead. This is great because it means you don’t have to pick a party and stick with it constantly, if you want to swap in a new character and try them out they will already be appropriately leveled for the group.
The world of Cthulhu is a streamlined one. There are multiple towns you will visit on your quest but the only thing to really do in them is rest at the inn to restore your MP and buy and sell equipment. Each town will basically have one major quest for Cthulhu to complete which moves the plotline along. While some RPG purists may see this as simple, it is refreshing as it keeps the plot moving briskly and never really slows you down. The dungeons are essentially bare bones mazes, while some of them later on have interactive sections such as conveyor belts or needing to raise and lower water to create new paths. There is really very little to do in them other than fight monsters, hunt for treasure chests, and proceed to the boss. This is where another, and my personal favorite, change to the RPG mold comes into play. In each dungeon there are random battles, however there is a cap on how many battles you will encounter. For example, one dungeon has a cap of 25 random battles, after your 25th battle you will never get a random encounter again, so you are free to search the area for treasure without being harrassed constantly. This is nice because it gives you an easy to use measuring stick of how leveled your characters should be, it allows you to blow through the battle cap and then explore unimpeded, and should you want to battle more you can always call up a fight through the menu system. Not having to constantly fight random enemies becomes a godsend in the later dungeons as the enemies become tougher and the dungeons become larger and more convoluted.
Battles themselves are intended to be quick affairs as your enemies actually grow stronger with each round that passes. It behooves you to defeat them as quickly as possible, which requires using your strongest abilities, and as your MP does not fully regenerate after each battle, these fights quickly become a game of stamina management. Each successful attack also increases your combo meter, some attacks increase it multiple times by being multi-hit attacks. The combo meter in turn fuels your high powered combo abilities. The higher your combo the stronger these attacks become. When facing bosses it wasn’t uncommon for me to abandon my normal high damage attacks in favor of weaker multi-hit attacks so I could build my combo meter quickly up to 100+ and deal out massive 10,000 damage hits killing bosses quickly in one attack. The only major issue I had with the battle system, is that it is very difficult to know when your enemies are suffering from status afflictions(other than insanity). There are no separate colored sprites to denote an enemy has been poisoned or slowed etc, so if you miss the message that your attack has missed or not you may not be aware of their current status. The insanity affliction though does have a unique individual sprite for every enemy in the game. Insanity can cause some enemies to become weaker and take more damage, but it can also have the opposite effect on certain monsters so you have to be very careful how you use it.
While Cthulhu Saves the World is meant to emulate its RPG forefathers, it is certainly not going to let itself be held back by them. I enjoyed the light hearted tone of the game. It sported an interesting premise, and some seriously funny writing. The dungeons and plot progression moved along briskly enough that I never felt bogged down by having to grind or got lost in where I was going. Also of special note is the soundtrack to the game. Each town, dungeon, and area has its own unique song and these tunes are really phenomenal. From smooth jazz in a smokey haunted forest to a pounding industrial beat in a ruined factory, these songs will have you bopping along the entirety of the game. I spent approximately 7 hours getting through Cthulhu Saves the World, but that is without even touching the other modes. There are multiple difficulty levels for those who want a challenge, a Highlander mode which allows “ONLY ONE” playable character at a time, a score attack mode awarding points for quick kills, and multiple collectibles to find, the game even sports a developers commentary! The asking price on Steam is criminally low at $2.99 for both Cthulhu and Breath of Death, I highly recommend both of these games. Whether you are an old school gamer looking for a new bit of nostalgia or a new gamer wondering how the magic of these old games keep us coming back, Cthulhu Saves the World will satisfy and won’t break the bank.