Dust: A Classic Genre Revisited

Dust Title

A few of years ago, I was convinced that side-scrolling beat ’em ups were over. I hadn’t seen a new release in the genre for a really, really long time. I was sad, too, because my childhood held countless evenings of hacking and slashing, punching and kicking my way through lush pixelated forests and bustling back alleys packed with enemies. Titles like Final Fight, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, and I’m dating myself here, River City Ransom brought me hour upon glorious hour of button mashing, fist-punching fun.

In the early 2000s, beat ’em ups shifted over to 3d. It made sense, we had the technology. The game plan, while fundamentally the same–run into a room, kill all the things in said room, run into the next room, repeat until victory or death–still felt… off. Something about the free roaming enabled by 3D took away some of the visceral feel of the genre for me. Being trapped in a circular room with a swarm of enemies doesn’t feel nearly as intense as fighting with your back to the 2D stage wall against a similar swarm. The 3D titles were fun, though and some of the IPs that spawned from this revamping of the genre, like Devil May Cry and God of War proved so fun that their respective series are still going strong to this day.

This May, Dean Dodrill’s imaginative take on a classic beat ’em up combined with RPG elements released for Windows through Steam. The game, which had previously seen release through the Xbox Live Arcade, sends players on an adventure to Falana, a fantasy world inhabited by beautifully drawn and animated anthropomorphic animals who have recently come under attack by a mysterious figure who controls an army of less-than-cute anthropomorphic lizard men and other creatures.

Starting out, players take control of Dust, voiced by Lucien Dodge (Pokemon, Heroes of Newerth) who finds himself accompanied by a Nimbat, Fidget, voiced by Kimlinh Tran (Skullgirls, Heroes of Newerth) and the talking Blade of Ahrah, voiced by Edward Bosco (Dungeon Fighter Online, Heroes of Newerth). Without memory of his past, Dust takes up the blade and heads through the forest to the East, Fidget in tow. The three move through vividly-colored areas and interact with a host of NPCs, each fully animated and voiced. The inclusion of such a huge amount of voice acting makes the game world truly come alive. Every character encountered, no matter how insignificant they may seem, comes with a unique voice and a story to tell. This helps to motivate players to save Falana, if the game’s amazing combat wasn’t enough motivation to continue hacking apart lizard men.

The combat feels really good. It combines elements of classic 2D beat ’em ups with the combo systems of more modern titles like the DMC series. You still walk around the environment in a very 2D manner, hopping from platform to platform and swinging your sword. Different button combinations net different attack strings and certain strings allow for certain enemies to be dispatched with ease. When battling swarms of small enemies, for example, the attack string X X X performs a series of rapid, wide-arching swings that deal damage to everything around Dust. If a single, heavy hitting enemy approaches, though, consider the string X X Y; Dust follows two quick slashes by lodging his sword in the enemy’s chest, spins them around and slams them into the ground before ripping the blade back out, causing heavy damage.

The game also boasts a rewarding magic system. Spells are not cast directly by Dust. Instead, Fidget sends spells into the air. Untouched, the spells remain rather tame; Her energy blast launches two bolts of white light which lack any real momentum, but will eventually crash into a couple of nearby enemies and cause some minor damage. If Dust enhances the spells with his blade by using various Y-based attacks, this simple spell becomes positively devastating. When grounded and holding Y, Dust spins his sword in place and causes Fidget’s bolts to split into many, many smaller pieces that track and collide with nearby enemies. Dust can also activate this spell while holding Y in the air, which causes him to fly about like some sort of squirrel-copter with several full batteries of heat-seeking missiles firing in all directions. Pressing Down + Y while in the air will perform  “The Fallen,” an obvious homage to Vergil’s helm breaker from the DMC series, which splits the bolts in a different manner still.

Dust Helm Breaker

In a very beat ’em up fashion, Dust boasts bosses which are surprisingly difficult. They can flat out kill Dust from full health in just a few swings. Combine this with the fact that they are typically huge, can reach across most of the screen, come in pairs or all of the above and you’ve got yourself a fight that doesn’t lend itself to blindly mashing buttons in order to succeed. This is where the game’s parry mechanic comes in. As a boss raises a massive arm to slam his club-or-whatever into your poorly-armored head, ready your thumb! When the strike would make contact with Dust, press X to attack at the same time to parry the blow and stun the enemy. When stunned, enemies take massive damage and can be killed quite quickly with a few simple slashes. Not all bosses are the same, though, and learning the timing of each of their moves is crucial to defeating them through this method.

So all of this combat has to have a point, right? Aside from advancing the story through clearing areas, Dust gains experience and levels up like in a standard RPG. The experience that he gains per fight relies heavily on how many hits he landed without taking damage. The game’s HUD features a combo tracker that ticks up every time Dust’s sword or Fidget’s spells make contact with an enemy unit. The tracker, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t ever reach a maximum number and the more hits you land in a row, the more bonus experience you receive, so there is great benefit to trying to stay in combat for as long as possible without taking damage. This feature helps to move the game along and makes quickly clearing areas extremely fun; It also encourages strategically clearing enemies by carefully planning your attacks to keep a combo running through an entire map.

A Personal Record in the Early Game

A personal record in the early game

The leveling system, while pretty standard, has in place a mechanism to prevent players from over specializing in a certain area. Each level, players are awarded a stat point to allocate as they please into any of the four stats available; However, at no point can any single stat be more than four points higher than the lowest stat. This encourages players not to stray away from any elements of combat, as their magic will always be “good,” as will their melee attacks and their defenses. Combat also rewards players with cash and items, which can also be found in the various treasure chests strewn about the land. These items come in the form of armor, accessories, weapon augmentations, consumables like food that restores health or removes status effects and various resources which can be used to craft various other items. Combine all of this with puzzles of varying difficulty and the ability to revisit areas through a waypoint system and you’ve got hours of content to play and replay. I’m still trying to see how high I can get that combo counter!

I rather enjoy increasing my attack power

I rather enjoy increasing my attack power

If you’ve ever enjoyed a beat ’em up in the past, or if you’re looking to try a first foray into the genre, Dust: An Elysian Tail is not to be missed.

A Final Look at Hype

Two weeks ago I sat, sweating and shaking from nerves, in the Bally’s Grand Ballroom. Two weeks ago, I experienced my first Evolution tournament. Two weeks ago, I changed. As a final farewell to the hype that took place that weekend and as a means to usher in the coming year of training, I wanted to showcase this excellent compilation of Evo moments from this year’s event:

I have also compiled a short list of basic Evo survival tips:

  • Always know how to get back to your Hotel before you leave it (don’t get lost in the desert)
  • Go to the Marvel finals
  • Find where your pools are taking place well before they actually take place
  • Seriously, go to the Marvel finals
  • The Deuce is the cheapest means of getting around Vegas, but it takes 20-45 minutes to get from Fremont to the Strip (depending on traffic

Beginning Tuesday, I will be taking a short break from Fighting game-related writings and will be shifting my focus to several titles that I picked up from the recent Steam Summer Sale! Also, be sure to check for my upcoming articles on http://www.thisisanothercastle.com!

Tarnot’s First Evo: Part Three

Evo Championship Series

The second day of Evo went a little smoother than the first. I knew where I needed to be, I knew how to get there and I knew how long everything would take. That in mind, I casually woke at a reasonable hour and made my way down to Bally’s. Injustice pools took place that day and I had known for quite some time that my first opponent was CD Jr. Before leaving for Evo, I was considering trying to counterpick him, not that Superman has a real counter, but Scorpion and Batgirl can deal with his zoning better than most of the cast. I didn’t want to learn Batgirl, though, and I had a moral obligation to steer clear of Scorpion, so I stuck to my guns and played Green Lantern, even though the matchup is terrible. This Tweet that pretty much sums up my experience in Injustice pools:

CD Jr Tweet

After CD Jr, I had to fight a second Superman. Of course, he wasn’t nearly as good, but I’m genuinely bad at fighting Superman anyway and I was still pretty shaken, having just fought and lost to a player who consistently finishes with high placement in majors. So I landed a few convincing combos and got the second guy to his second bar both matches, but ultimately lost. Two and out in Injustice. Oh well.

My quick elimination from the Injustice pools, wasn’t necesarily a bad thing, as it allowed me to spend the rest of the day running around Vegas doing Vegas things. My buddies and I went and got some food at Hash House A Go Go, which I now rank as one of the most ridiculous places that I’ve ever eaten. They serve two inch thick pancakes that shamelessly sprawl across entire platters and offer up filling like fresh banana or Snickers candy bars. Yes, you can get a giant pancake with candy cooked right into it. I, however, had to get the bone-in chicken and waffles. They came out stacked at least a foot tall with a steak knife run through them like Excalibur, which means I must now be the King of Wafflesburgh, because not only did I effortlessly remove the sacred blade from its eternal holding place, but I also demolished everything around it. And it was delicious.

The rest of the evening was filled with plastic footballs full of various adult beverages, PBR tallboys and video poker, not with any intent to win money, but plenty of intent to imbibe free beverages and maybe recover what we spent on tips in the process. We saw the Fremont Light Show, which happens nightly and fills the air with 80’s music as the mile long canopy over the street lights up with animated clip art and other outdated graphics. I had seen it before several years ago and thought that maybe they would have upgraded it a bit by now, but they didn’t. The light show really serves as nothing more than a means of distracting the rest of the Fremont-goers, as they all crane their heads upward like ducks in the rain, fully prepared to drown in poor graphics.

The morning of day three passed without consequence. We slept incredibly late to allow the liquor to work its way out of our systems and eventually found ourselves at the famous El Cortez for coffee and a slice of pie. From there, I boarded the bus and made the slow trek back to Bally’s to catch the Street Fighter top 8.

On the bus, my phone was blowing up. Every couple minutes a different person texted me asking if I was at the Marvel finals. “Dude, are you seeing this?” No, I wasn’t, but I was watching Twitter, where James Chen and Ultradavid spoke about how the Marvel finals were some of the most ridiculous play they’d ever seen. They were talking about getting emotional; they were talking about people cheering for Justin–a stark contrast the days of Marvel 2. I hadn’t expected Marvel to be that hype; I have no justification for why, but I don’t typically watch a lot of Marvel, so this seemed like something that I could miss without much worry. How wrong I was.

When I finally arrived at the Bally’s ballroom, things were just starting to calm down from Marvel. I made my way inside and found a place to stand against the wall as Ono took the stage. He held his camera high in the air and gave us some brief instructions, then began to count down. At one, me and the couple thousand people around me held high our fists and shouted “SHORYUKEN!” It was my first Ono Shoryu. Hype practically pulsing through my skin, an uncontrollable smile split my face as this filled the massive screen behind Ono:

New characters, new stages and a complete balance overhaul based on fan feedback. I knew that the update was coming, but I didn’t expect it to add quite so much as it does. As the video ended, I took a seat in the back of the ballroom with Menno and Tim, who had come to watch the finals with me. The finals were a blur of emotion. Certain moments stand out above others: PR Rog’s amazing, almost disrespectful use of focus attacks on Haitani; Infiltration switching to Hakan to take out PR Rog; Sako’s ridiculous ability to land tsumuji loops on every hit confirm; Infiltration and Tokido’s Akuma mirror causing the entire audience to yell along as Akuma shot air hadokens; When you’re experiencing something like this for the first time, it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to forget exactly who fought whom and who won.

Immediately after the event, I couldn’t have told you anything that I had just witnessed. I was completely overwhelmed. I did know, though, that Xian ended up winning. I also knew that I was glad that he won. I am still glad that he won. I’m glad that Street Fighter is balanced to a point that one of the most average characters in the roster can win the biggest tournament in the world. I can’t wait to see what next year’s top eight looks like with all of the balance changes that are coming.

My early prediction? At least one Chun-Li in the top 8.

Tarnot’s First Evo: Part Two

Evo Championship Series

Today’s video post contains the three matches that I played in my Street Fighter pools at Evo! I had originally intended to do commentary on these, but, as technology has been out to get me lately, my microphone is currently out of order. I could do some ridiculous setup to feed an XBox mic through my stick and into my PC, but that would result in some terrible sound quality. Instead, I have opted to allow the videos to speak for themselves, aside from a short blurb after each, that is. Before each video are a handful of notes that I live by when playing the matchup. I included them to give an idea of what was going through my head while I was playing.

Match One: Ibuki vs. Chun-Li
General notes on the matchup:

  • Getting in on Chun-Li can be difficult due to her superior pokes; fish for kikokens and sazan (slide) under them or use EX neckbreaker
  • Do not attempt to vortex her if she has meter; EX spinning bird kick is a free escape
  • She has a weird hitbox, so c.lp, c.lp, s.lp doesn’t work on her; truncate the combo by removing one c.lp for hit confirms

This was the first match of the day for myself as well as my opponent. I talked to him briefly before we sat down. He was quite visibly nervous and it shows through in his play–mine as well, but he is by far my most nervous opponent. More than once he gets me cornered and in a combo, but drops the EX legs. Neither of us had warmed up prior to this match, which would have been a very good idea. As the match progresses, I begin to make better decisions. That doesn’t mean that I am making good decisions, but they do get better overall.

Match Two: Ibuki vs. Ryu
General notes on the matchup:

  • Stay inside his optimal fireball range once you have meter, use that meter on EX neckbreakers
  • Set up the shoto unblockable with EX neckbreaker: EX neckbreaker, LK command run, Super Jump, meaty MK (unblockable) -> vortex
  • Tempting as it may be, do NOT try and be psychic with EX neckbreakers
  • Use vortex setups with caution; the slightest mistake in timing will cause you to eat a shoryuken

This match looks a lot more like me playing. I’m very comfortable fighting Ryu, but I’m still quite obviously nervous, as there is no reason other than nerves to forward jump at a crouching Ryu from the distance that I choose (more than once) to do so. My setups, though, work out quite a bit better in this match. They aren’t perfect, no, but my muscle memory has very obviously started to work itself back into my fingers and allow me to play the game that I came to play: vortex ’til death!

Match Three: Ibuki vs. E. Honda
General notes on the matchup

  • Forward + HK stuffs every headbutt
  • Use c.MP liberally; it will stuff headbutts and allows for various option selects
  • Punish LP headbutt with Ultra 2
  • FADC out of butt stomp pressure

I’ve never been a fan of the Honda matchup and you can tell that my opponent knows how to fight Ibuki. The most prominent example of his knowledge of the fight is in the first round when he uses an ex headbutt in the incredibly small gap between hits of my MK tsumuji and nails me for huge damage. I really shouldn’t use mk tsumuji against anyone who has a reversal that fast unless I’ve confirmed the hit. These are the kinds of things that you mentally note before the match begins, but forget completely once the time comes to recall them. Overall, the first match of this set was one of my better ones at the tournament.

I didn’t attend Evo this year to win. I didn’t even honestly expect to make it out of pools. It would have been nice, certainly, but no amount of training could have prepared me for how nervous I was. You can’t practice that at home. That’s why, this year, I am going to make an honest effort to attend every tournament that I can, be it inside a Game Stop or a Grand Ballroom, to prepare for next year. Next year, I won’t be nervous. Next year, Ibuki is going to know how to swim.

Next week I will be back to my regular posting schedule. My final post about the last two days of Evo will be coming up on Tuesday. Don’t miss it!

Tarnot’s First Evo: Part One

Evo Championship Series

Prior to Evolution 2013, the largest fighting game tournament that I had attended was held at a local Game Stop to commemorate the release of Street Fighter X Tekken. The tournament ran two setups which were placed atop a single shaky table directly in front of the store’s entrance.  Patrons had to shimmy around us to enter the store. There were no chairs, so we just sat directly on the floor with necks craned up toward the TVs, one of which was incredibly laggy since we didn’t have a second HDMI cable. There were only about ten entrants and we all had a few week two combos, but none of us had truly grasped the game’s engine yet so our matches were mostly bland and filled with abuse of tactics that people weren’t used to blocking. In the case of the laggy TV, massive volleys of projectiles, for example, proved quite difficult to avoid. The first place prize was a guide for the game, second place was a Madcatz fightpad and third place was a hearty hand shake. I think I got fifth place, so I was simply asked to exit the establishment.

Three years ago, when I gained a revitalized interest in the FGC, I watched the Evo streams for the first time. If you had told me then that I would not only soon attend the tournament, but also compete, I would have thought you crazy, but last Thursday evening a small group of friends and I stepped off our plane and onto the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas to do just that. I was there to compete; they came as supporters. Our three hour flight, which was packed to the point of bursting with eager Vegas-goers who somehow managed to drink all of the booze on the plane, arrived just after dark. We caught a cab to Fremont, checked in to our rooms and wasted no time getting down Binion’s for some diner food and fifty ounce plastic footballs filled with beer. I made sure only to enjoy a single footballful evening, as I didn’t come to Vegas to drink, well, okay, I didn’t go to Vegas exclusively to drink. I came to fight, and the fighting started early the next morning.

We stayed at The Plaza, which you may also know as Biff's Pleasure Paradise from Back to the Future

We stayed at The Plaza, which you may know better as Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise from Back to the Future

My pools for Street Fighter began at noon Friday morning, so I set an alarm way too early–something to the effect of 8:15–so that I wouldn’t have to rush. I intended to wake up, grab a coffee and some sort of moderately-healthy breakfast food item, then show up in time to find a setup and get in some casuals to work out the pre-tourney jitters before my pool was slated to begin. It was a pretty good plan, but I really love hitting the snooze button and ended up sleeping until around 10:30, which left me just enough time to inhale a protein bar and a soda, rush outside the hotel, eight arc in hand, hail a cab and sit biting my nails for the 20 minute ride to Bally’s from The Plaza, certain that I would be disqualified for being late, as I hadn’t even picked up my pass yet.

With just over an hour remaining before pools, I made my way into Bally’s. A line of people, probably fifty feet in length, snaked out of a tiny, roped-off room. The room was filled with tables stacked high with black t-shirts and blue badges. I knew that I’d have to wait in the line before I could enter the venue, so I accepted my fate and checked the time every minute or so, convinced that I’d not make it to my pool in time. Then the line started moving. I talked with some of the guys that were around me and they were all there for different reasons, one for Smash, a couple for Street Fighter, another only to watch and as we talked, the line melted in front of us; after only ten minutes of waiting, we all went our separate ways and I heaved a sign of relief because I still had over half an hour to figure out where pool C15 was.

Evo Badge

The Game Stop experience in mind, you can imagine my amazement when I slipped my competitor badge around my neck and walked into the grand ballroom at Bally’s. Everywhere I looked there were small groups of players huddled closely around lagless Asus monitors as though the glow emitted by their flat screens was the only thing keeping them alive. To my left stretched an impressive food cart offering vastly overpriced burgers,  chicken fingers and sodas and towering to my right loomed a massive projector screen upon which Chun-Li and Ryu fought for dominance in front of an erupting volcano. Each successful strike landed by Chun-Li drew a grunt of pain from Ryu and a cheer or gasp from the crowd. I couldn’t turn my head without catching sight of some influential individual in the fighting game scene: Ed Boon brushed by me at a rapid pace on his way to the overflow room; Yipes leaned against a nearby wall and regaled a small group with tales of Marvels long past; Justin Wong stood, arms crossed as he watched pools just a few feet away; Yoshinori Ono snapped pictures of the event and held aloft his famous Blanka figurine in greeting to any who offered him a hello; I was, quite literally, surrounded on all sides by fighting game greatness.

I made my way to my station 15 where my pool (c15) was to be held and tried to get an idea of what kind of opponents I should anticipate. There were a lot of Onis, like… a whole lot of Onis. Every other match was Oni vs. someone. I have fought him plenty of times in the past, but I had no idea that he would have such a presence in pools. I sort of thought people had gotten over him by now, but apparently not. I watched another Ibuki, tons of Ryus, a Zangief and a particularly impressive, dirty-fighting Vega. They were all good. My brow began to bead with sweat.

I was nervous. I knew that I would be. I hadn’t anticipated just how nervous, though. When I took my seat and pulled on my headset, my hands visibly shook as a small crowd gathered directly behind me. Though it was only a handful of people, many of whom I knew personally, they were standing less than an arm’s length away from me as I plugged my borrowed stick into the Playstation. I nervously drummed the stick’s buttons as I began the most important button check I’d ever done. A quick slap of each of the six buttons, a glance at the button config menu, another slap of the six buttons and an obligatory combo with the character played before me to be sure that everything was as it should be, a quick nod and thumbs up to my opponent and it was back to the character select screen. As his cursor slid over Chun, I felt a bit uneasy. I have played as Chun extensively myself and have a decent grasp of the matchup, but I would have rather started somewhere more familiar, y’know, a Ryu or something.  I don’t believe either party to be at an advantage in the Chun – Ibuki matchup, but Chun is one of those characters who, when she has meter, can escape every vortex setup for free (ex spinning bird kick), so I have to play a different game against her, which is exactly what I didn’t want to have to do in the first round.

Me (foreground) and Chun (background) preparing to throw hands

Me (foreground) and Chun (background) preparing to throw hands

I dropped combos. I botched setups. I dashed away from kikokens when my back was to the wall, allowing them to slam into my chest. I mistimed jump-ins, whiffed kunai and wasted meter… and I took the set 4-0–a commanding victory. My nerves were shot, but such a convincing win, however ugly it may have been, boosted my spirits. I GG’d my opponent, unplugged my stick and shook the hands of everyone around me. I even got a couple of victory hugs. Suddenly the crowd felt a little less imposing. They were there to see a good fight and my opponent and I had done our best to deliver that to them. They were pleased with our performance and I moved on to my next fight: A Ryu, just what I thought I wanted.

The Ryu had been to Evo four times, he claimed. And it showed. He knew that I was nervous and he played me accordingly. I attempted to do some variant on the Gootecks shuffle to open him up, but eventually just ended up eating shoryuken after raw shoruken. I put in some work, but my jitters still weren’t gone and playing against someone who was 100% jitter-free certainly didn’t help my chances for success. Ryu came out on top, placing me in losers against a Honda player who was equally ready to fight against nervous first-timers. He had an answer for everything that I threw at him, kunai included.

Upon elimination, my friends and I went back to our rooms and drank heartily in celebration of the fact that I actually managed to send someone else to losers before going there myself. Some hours later, filled with beer thirsty for more Street Fighter, my buddy Menno–who let me use his stick since mine only works for Xbox, thanks again!–and I made our way back down to Bally’s to check out some top 64 action. As we walked, Menno asked me if there was anyone that I wanted to meet and I told him that I’d really like to shake Mike Ross’ hand and maybe get a picture with him.

“Oh, Mike? Man, that’ll be easy. Let’s go.”

See, I had in my mind that for whatever reason, I should just let the pros be, but Menno assured me that they love talking to other players. So we talked to them. We talked to a lot of them. We talked to Ricky Ortiz, Gootecks, and Maximillian. We thanked Ono for all that he does to help make these games a reality. We spent a solid twenty minutes talking to Keits about Dive Kick, then I got to play it for the first time ever with Keits coaching me.  That evening I became something greater that just a stream monster. That evening, I became a true member of the FGC. That evening I started to plan for Evo 2014.

This concludes part one of my two (maybe three?) part series on Evo 2013! Check back tomorrow for a very special video segment which includes all of my Street Fighter pools matches!

Evolution 2013

As many of you know, I have spent the last few days in Las Vegas attending this year’s Evolution fighting game tournament. During this I experienced many firsts: my first major tournament entry; my first time not going 0-2 in SF; my first Ono shoryu; and my first time sitting amid the cheering masses of fighting fans during grand finals instead of behind my computer screen.

This trip has altered my ability to blog per my usual schedule. I am due to return home tomorrow evening and will have a very robust post about this year’s event and my experiences in and around it, including the tale of my accidental vision quest where I met my spirit animal in the Vegas desert. Stay tuned for a very special Evo 2013 recap post this Thursday followed by a Friday video featuring my Street Fighter matches with commentary on what exactly went wrong, or right, and why. See you then!

You’re Going to Die. A Lot.

Rogue Legacy Title Screen

Take the classic platforming action of the Mega Man series, add randomly-generated dungeon layouts and characters that change with every death, give the player the customization options of a modern MMORPG, crank the difficulty all the way up to Dark Souls and the result is Cellar Door‘s newest release, Rogue Legacy. In this title, Cellar Door perfectly adapts the classic Roguelike genre to a much more palatable form for the modern audience. Roguelikes, named after the game that spawned the genre, Rogue, were most prominent in the early days of computer gaming because they were incredibly small and easy to run. They boasted random dungeons and encounters and permanent death; However, they did so due to a lack of hardware capabilities, not as a nostalgic nod to days past. PCs of the late 80s, as you may recall, couldn’t handle game save files or huge, pre-made maps, so companies had to take the random route and entrust an algorithm to design each play through of their game.

So what happens in a modern roguelike? Quite simply, you’re going to die. You’re going to die a whole lot and it’s going to be okay when you do. Sure, Lady Chun-Li VI was just roasted alive in the fiery maw of a disembodied skeletal head, but Sir Useless X will soon replace her. Death is part of the game. It is, quite literally, only through death that you are able to advance your characters. Each time you die, you keep the spoils of your previous adventure. All the gold, all the equipment, all the runes that you find go directly on to your next descendant, who is then chosen from a group of three randomly-generated siblings. Each character generates with 0-2 traits, which can be good or bad, a class and a spell. Pick the one with the traits that you like the most (or, in some cases, dislike the least), use the gold you collected to upgrade your stats or armor and proceed onward, pay your debt to Charon (a small fee of all of the gold you didn’t spend on upgrades) and head right back in. Die again. Reincarnate as a Sir Dude II with dwarfism and tourette’s and roleplay your foulmouthed way through the hellish labyrinthine corridors of Castle Hamson for the fiftieth time. Then die again.

the death screen shows how many beasts your blade fell that run; this is one of my better ones

the death screen shows how many beasts your blade fell that run; this was a personal best

Rogue Legacy defines the “easy to play, impossible to master” mantra. This impossibility comes from the unpredictable nature of the game’s dungeon generation system. After playing through the entire game once and spending a great deal of time running through the castle just to see how much I could kill, I do occasionally recognize a room layout. Even when I do, though, it always contains a different setup of enemies. So even if you see something that you’ve… sort of seen before, it’ll still be entirely new. Sometimes, you’ll enter a room and find nothing but treasure. Sometimes a single skeletal archer will stand a full screen away plucking arrows at you and you’ll laugh as you lob a magical knife into his rib cage, effectively ending his afterlife. Sometimes you’ll get cornered and mauled by wolves in a forest that can’t help but make you wax nostalgic over Zombies Ate My Neighbors and sometimes you’ll end up in a situation that would make Ikaruga players cringe:

Sometimes, though, you’ll find a boss room and barely lose. Instead of having to reset the castle and try to find the boss room again, you can simply tell The Architect, a dapper gentleman stationed just outside the castle wall, to lock in the map from your last play through. He keeps a hefty portion of the gold that you make in the subsequent run to encourage players to allow the castle to randomly generate, but upon use of his services, you now have the exact same castle layout and enemy spacing to deal with as your previous run. You can even teleport directly to the boss’ room if you feel so inclined.

With nine classes to play–each with a different special ability–five gear slots to fill, fifteen pieces of unique gear per slot and eleven different runes with which to enchant each piece of gear, there are multiple ways to approach every situation. I prefer running as the Assassin and Hakage classes because they’re fast, hard-hitting and have ninja-like class abilities. You don’t always get to play as your favorite class, but that’s okay because you’ll eventually learn to like them all for one reason or another. Hell, sometimes you get a choice between three abysmal characters and you think, man, there’s no way this run will be worth it, but then you get this super easy, loot-filled run where you last forty five minutes and clear nearly every enemy. Then the next spawn, you get an Assassin with gigantism and peripheral arterial disease (basically a perfect roll), and you die in the second room because it’s got three mini bosses and a horrid amount of spikes lining every wall and the ceiling. Such is life, though.

Regardless of how good or bad your characters are, or what kind of ridiculous castle Charon has constructed for you, perhaps this time you’ll complete your quest and find the cure for your father. That is, after all, why we press on: to save the kingdom!

…or perhaps you’ll stumble across these fellows with only 19 health remaining:

Rogue Legacy Skeleton Mini Bosses