Lucah: Born of a Dream (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

When you’re the sole reviewer, it becomes ever more important to separate not liking something for genuine problems, and not liking something because you’ve grown tired of certain genres and their conventions. While, normally, a writer can just recuse themselves, occasionally, something interesting comes along that requires, partly, putting aside that dislike.

Lucah: Born of a Dream is one such game. A deliberately lo-fi adventure, with a top-down false perspective, and… Soulslike combat, levelling mechanics, and saving via specific resting points. The latter of which I have, over time, become somewhat tired of.

YOU DIED [Your Corruption Has Risen]

Narratively and aesthetically, the game is bleak. Corruption, or, just as accurately, depression is a core theme, and this is aptly portrayed in a number of ways. Methods of “salvation” often turn out to be nightmares in waiting, the world is unrepentantly hostile, and, when the NPCs aren’t outright despairing, they have a bitter edge to them, such as the shopkeeper who tells you how many times you’ll see them. 2 if you do well… Another one if you don’t. None of the lines are voiced, but I can almost hear a sneer there.

Maybe that’s viewing it through the lens of my own depression. The world is mostly black and “not-black” , harsh, scribbled tones, and its moderately plodding tone outside of combat emphasises that this is a world seen on its way out, a world that’s… Keeping on, rather than thriving. It’s clever, and while it hits a little close to home for me, I can appreciate the artistry behind it. Similarly, the game has a sort of time limit on each “run” , as Corruption is slowly building (quicker the more you die, slowing as you beat fights), and when it reaches 100% ? Well, back to the beginning, you failed. Sorry.

It’s just… The way things are. Give in.

Combat, meanwhile, is also deliberate, but less plodding. In fact, it can get downright hectic at times, and it’s here that I have to separate my more generalised dislike from the few actual problems it contains. You see, for the most part, it works, and is clever. Two loadouts you can quickly switch between, each containing three elements: Your light attack, your heavy attack, and your support option, meant to buy time for your stamina to regenerate. Attacks lock you into their animation pattern, and, as you progress, you gain more abilities, some of which require using limited skill slots ,Virtues, and some of which you can turn on or off as you feel, the Tech… Turning these off appears mostly to be a challenge thing, as it includes things like the dodge parry. Speaking of…

When it works, it works well… Enemies clearly telegraph their attacks, there’s a variety of ranged and melee attacks that keep you on your toes, and the spaces range from large to confined, so there’s a lot of tactical variation. Changing your Mantras and Familiars for different loadouts of attack is definitely encouraged, as is experimenting with them to see what fits your style best. But it’s at this point that I have to mention some jankiness.

Sometimes, although I don’t fully understand why, my attacks will lock onto a specific enemy (I may have fatfingered a lockon there), and this leads to frustration as… Dammit, I was aiming for that one, not that one! Similarly, dodge timing takes a little getting used to for parries, because while often, enemies will telegraph their attacks, the telegraph is not the moment you dodge toward the attack.

Boss battles definitely live up to their name, and each has a different, interesting touch.

The actual attack is, and it’s at this point that I mention a controller is probably a good idea for Lucah, since I’ve found, on keyboard and mouse, dodge parrying a little too finicky, because yes, you do have to dodge specifically into the attack to trigger it, and that’s easier to handle with the more granular nature of an analogue stick.

The rest of my gripes with this game, quite honestly, you can simply note as gripes with the Soulslike formula, and more to do with genre weariness than any actual fault of the game. As such, it overall gets a recommendation, because it does interesting things with the genre, and has a somewhat unique aesthetic and narrative that, overall, works. Definitely one of those cases where, even weary as I am of the You Died bullshittery, I appreciate the artistry the Lucah team have brought to bear here.

Eesh. Only way to progress, huh? Chilling.

The Mad Welshman must rest. He is tired.

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Cultist Simulator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Cultist Simulator is a little like occult research itself: It’s messy, and offputting and obfuscatory at first, but, as you get deeper, it all becomes simpler, and then… Well, you’re exploring for the sake of exploring, falling deep down the rabbit hole…

The Mansus, this game’s Dreamlands, in all its glory. *Poked from off camera* Oh, sorry, wrong capitalisation. All its Glory!

To unpack this, nominally, Cultist Simulator is a real-time strategy/RPG hybrid where you, a person of some description (be that a doctor, a policeman, a working joe, or other things) get a hint of a deeper world, a world where, if you really, really want, if you work hard, and make sacrifices, you too can become a big player in the world of ancient magics.

Of course… Some of those sacrifices are human, and some of that work is murder, or suppression of evidence that you’re doing all this stuff, and I say “nominally” regarding the game because it isn’t really much like anything that’s come before. The cards, for example, are all on timers. The events are on timers. And, while you can pause and interact with them all, unless you’re doing just that, the event cards can only be viewed individually, so you’re always going to miss things, partly because here, a lack of tutorialising is a deliberate choice. Fun fact: Cult, and occult are words whose Latin roots are two letters apart. Colere, to cultivate, and Celare, to hide.

As such, a review of Cultist Simulator, by its very definition, is a somewhat spoilery experience. Starting only from a card or two, the world expands, with more verbs (that’s the squares as opposed to the cards) unlocking in play, more threats, more opportunities. Teachers are discovered, lore is uncovered. Dreams, strange places, possible cult members, and, of course… Hunters. People who would rather (and with good reason) see these ancient secrets remain buried, even if their methods, their name (The Bureau of Suppression) seems a step too far.

There’s one heck of a narrative here, but interpreting it is as much a learned skill as getting to the point I have.

This is one of the high points of the game, that the world expands, and is explained as you go, in fragments, little pieces. With atmospheric writing, overlays to the board, changes of music, the world is created. This is a game with a lot of reading, and a lot that can only be discovered through experimentation. Wait, you can Study with your Patrons? Damn, didn’t know that. You can get a rough idea of what an event or card wants by clicking the empty slot? Damn, didn’t know that at first.

It’s simultaneously frustrating as hell, and some excellent marrying of narrative to mechanics. You are, after all, always a character unfamiliar with the occult elements of its world, by choice or no, but, as a player, I can’t deny I spent some time angry that progression seemed always a step away. What the hell do I do with this door? How do I deal with the deep, dark Dread in my life? (To be fair, that’s a question I struggle answering in life, as well as this game.) It doesn’t necessarily help that yes, even if you’re so close to earning that goal, that true glimpse that destroys and creates, something simple, something you’d overlooked, can prematurely end your dreams. Since a single run can sometimes last up to 10 hours, you can imagine why that’s so devastating. The cult members and patrons remain the same, even if the story changes, and this, also, is perhaps a flaw.

Cultist Simulator is interesting as all get out, and somewhat unique, both in terms of how it handles events, and how it uses a lack of tutorialising to its benefit narratively. I would recommend it to folks, because, interestingly, it’s using its flaws. Not perfectly, and there are still things that the game does that annoys the hell out of me (such as generating cards on top of other cards, or the magnet slots on events prioritising over events that are already being used, dammit dammit dammit, but it intrigues me with its well researched and written world, its subtle, mostly minimalist aesthetic, and… Not gonna lie, it feels good when you finally achieve your goals.

The writing is excellent, and I mainly chose this screenshot for the folks who already bought the game. Some amusing… Poetic… Justice.

The Mad Welshman loves new aspirants. It’s such a delight to discover how well each goes with Garlic Butter.

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Princess Maker 5 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

For all that the Princess Maker games are, in their way, somewhat unfriendly, there’s nearly always something delightful about raising your small child, be that into a great scholar, a dancer or musician, or a HELLION OF BATTLE. And Princess Maker 5, recently localised into English (A little clumsily, it must be said, but still mostly understandable) does well at showing the joyous end of raising children.

HRNGH, GONNA STUDY, YEAH! (I love how *pumped* she is for academia. Always)

So, the Princess Maker games have changed in the details many times over the years, but the core life-sim gameplay has remained the same: Schedule time for your daughter’s activities, grow her stats (while paying attention to her needs), take part in events, and, depending on what you’ve done over the years, get one of the many, many endings. For all that it is somewhat complex, since there are no, strictly speaking, bad endings (Or few, easily avoidable ones), I can somewhat forgive the unfriendliness of the Princess Maker series. This time, it’s set in the modern day, and adventuring has returned!

Wait… Modern day? Adventuring? What’s my daughter beating up, the undeserving homeless? No, monsters do exist, because your lovely daughter, saved by Cube during the revolution after the end of the (sadly unlocalised) Princess Maker 4, comes from another world. A world that impinges on ours soon enough…

…But this, like many elements of Princess Maker 5, take time to get to. For the first year or two, it’s the usual deal of taking part-time jobs, studies, electives… Of making friends, and going to events to destress… Of buying Winter and Summer dresses (Sidenote: I enjoy how accurate the game is that children’s clothes are much more sodding expensive) , and, of course, exams. Mostly, features work as well as they did before. Weekly scheduling is better than PM3’s more confusing system, the town is hard to get around at first because you don’t, without a guide, know where anything actually is, and, if you’re looking for a specific ending, then you’re probably not doing it without a wiki.

On the one hand, there are a *lot* of stats. On the other, don’t worry, focus on a few, others will come naturally.

Still, the issues of an older lifesim game re-released aside, and some odd translations that seem odder if you don’t know Japanese culture (Bathe with your daughter is communal bathing, a common practice, and not anything filthy), Princess Maker 5 shines in one area in particular: The job animations. When studying or practicing skills, good performance feels good (Such as Athletics club, where she pulls ahead of the pack and wins by a nose), and when failure occurs? Well, I’ve winced more than a couple of times in sympathy, especially with Karate club, where failing to break those planks is… Particularly painful. There’s a lot of character to the daughter, and the cast is also characterful and interesting. Adventuring makes a welcome return, albeit with less control, but hey, adventuring, heck yes!

If you like life-sims, Princess Maker was one of the first big series in the genre, and Princess Maker 5 is definitely worth a look. I wasn’t sold on the blond moppet at first, but the animation, the writing, and the world definitely charm, and, not gonna lie, one of the things that charms the most is the cultural references, such as going to see a Tokusatsu show and cheering on the protagonists twice a month. GO BLADE MAN! YOU CAN DO IIIIIT!

As you deepen relationships, even more events unlock. Alas, love relationships are hetero only, but still… BASEBALL.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a terrible parent in real life, but here, he’s raising a master of both art, both in the traditional and martial senses. Fran: The Demoness With A Paintbrush.

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Battle Chef Brigade (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Battle Chef Brigade is charming. Its art style is clean, consistent, clear, and cool. Its music is very fitting and well crafted. It even fuses platforming combat, match 3 gameplay, and the tension of a real competitive cook-off. Although it at first didn’t seem to appeal much, it did grow on me, and part of that is how it introduces its mechanics.

So much talent, all in one place… Oh, so jealous of the judges!

Before we talk about that, though, let’s talk about aesthetic. Battle Chef Brigade is hand drawn, thin lines and flats making for a tight construction, with some good takes on fantasy designs, and similarly tight animations. Varied character design, good music, mostly good voice acting (some a little flat, but mostly good), and it ties into a world with something that I always enjoy seeing, because it’s a subject not often covered: How life changes in a fantasy world. Okay, so there are monsters, and magic. The former is deadly, the latter is potentially deadly. How do you apply the latter (and hunting) to the former, and still have a society that doesn’t have the dread Adventurer?

Battle Chefs. Complete with a cultural touchstone of an Iron Chef style cookoff, with preferred tastes and signature ingredients. It’s a simple idea, but the entire story of Battle Chef Brigade revolves around making it both plausible and interesting. Here, the Orcs Thrash and Shiv, from lineages that peacefully united the Orc tribes through a shared love of cuisine. There, Ziggy, creating a new and very possibly unsafe (but tres cool) method in Haunt Cuisine. Necromantically prepared? Hit me up with those dark aftertastes, my friend!

So, it’s an interesting world, its characters are engaging, but what about the play and main storyline? Well, here’s where it takes a bit, just a bit, to get going. If you recognise variations on the Hero(ine)’s Journey, you’ll recognise Mina Han. At first selfish, wanting to see the world, but still with promise (after all, she wants to improve a creative skill, I can applaud that), she learns hard lessons, faces a tribulation that affects both her and the world (I won’t spoil it), and becomes a better person along the way. Okay, so it may not win awards, but it has charm, and I like it.

The dishes come in many types, and they’re all *eyewateringly* nice looking.

Similarly, the basic idea of using Match 3 mechanics with a cook-off makes immediate sense once you see it in action. Hunting down monsters in a themed arena area off to one side, gathering ingredients at first seems pretty basic: Wallop monsters, they die, they drop stuff, you can carry so much, run back and forth to gather ingredients. Ingredients have different gem types and shapes, three gems make one better gem, and you can do that twice before you have the best gem. How the heck does that fit with cooking? Well, there’s only so much room in the pot, and you can’t rotate the ingredients before placement. So, if you want to make the best dishes? You want to learn the ingredients, learn the biomes.

As you go along, however, new mechanics, items, and explanations get introduced, pretty much all the way through the normal story mode. At first, this put me off, but it must be kept in mind that not only is there a New Game+ of sorts in Hard mode, there’s also two challenge modes, and a Daily Cook-Off, using fixed items. The story mode won’t take a terribly long amount of time, but it’s still enjoyable, and I did come to like the fact I’m learning new things every time I get further. Oh, wait, you can do that? The birds aren’t just assholes, but have a little ecology going? Ohhhhhh!

Overall, I have a soft spot for Battle Chef Brigade. It’s tightly focused on an aspect of its world that it’s made central, but it’s also made it believable, and not only believable, but charming. Thumbs up!

Oh, y’know, just another day hunting for cooking ingredients in a cook-off!

The Mad Welshman would, in a fantasy world, want Haunt Cuisine. Oh heck yes he would. Also he would order from the Flambe Warlocks.

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The Dresden Files Co-Operative Card Game (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (Base game. Whole shebang – £26.86. DLC – £14.86 total, individually ranging between £2.89 and £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

The Dresden Files Card Game is an odd duck, to be sure. This isn’t because it’s a bad adaptation of the tabletop game, but because, honestly, the tabletop co-op card game has things that make me go “Hrrm.” So, keep in mind, dear reader, that most of this will be about how it plays, how the cards look, because the UI is fine, the ambient soundtrack is fine in small doses, and, apart from a minor control quirk where you scroll the mouse to zoom into a card, but click on it to zoom it out, it’s perfectly fine as an adaptation.

The character art is quite nice, and the book art remains as good as when I first saw it on the books.

Right. The tabletop game. Essentially, it’s meant to recreate the adventures of Harry Dresden, private dick, wizard, and meddler who often gets in way over his head, the creation of talented author Jim Butcher. The base game, much as the tabletop version, has the first five books, and five characters, each with their own small decks and abilities (Obviously, including Harry, and, just as with the tabletop game, 5 more books and 5 more characters are reasonably priced DLC.) The general idea? Solve cases and defeat foes, using a limited hand and tactical planning, to ensure that, by the end phase (or… If you’re lucky, after the end phase) you’ve solved more cases than there are foes remaining. So far, so simple.

The thing is, you have little niggles, and all of them are to do with Fate, or, more accurately… FATE, the tabletop system based on FUDGE, which has FATE Points and FATE Dice as resolution mechanics. In the Dresden Files Card Game, FATE Points are not experience, but a limit on what actions you can take, including passing your turn. You can get FATE Points back with, for example, Chicago cop Karrin Murphy’s Stunt (One use per game) or “selling” cards, and, as such, it’s a very tactical game. Hrm, I could use Harry’s Soul Gaze to clear up that case, but if I do, I’m leaving Karrin in the lurch for finishing off that Foe, getting us some FATE Points, and getting most of the way to clearing a case. Passing will also dick her over, because it costs a FATE Point, so… Discards final card, Harry is now a liability in the final turns.

FATE Dice sometimes play a hand in FP cost, attack power, and other shenanigans. This is, hands down, the best Showdown result I’ve ever gotten. A less than 1% chance that won me the game.

Tough choices, obviously, abound. And the game does do a good job, with a fixed card pool for each book and character, of getting across the narrative each represents. Billy and Georgia, for example, are werewolves. But they’re not bad Werewolves, and at least two of their cards can only be used if it doesn’t kill or solve. Meanwhile, Susan Rodriguez is an investigation powerhouse, with mostly weak attacks, but a good chance to take advantage, overcome obstacles, and, in at least one case, get clues for a case from fighting a foe. Meanwhile, each book, even though the card pool is always the same 10 cards, has quirks. Kalshazzak the Toad Demon, from Storm Front, for example, cannot be killed, or even hurt unless you solve the core mystery of the novel. In one book, a hostage situation is an obstacle that has to be dealt with, blocking further investigation or combat.

It’s thusly sort of a shame that some of the card art is… Well, functional. Cases look the same. Combat cards, very often, look the same. Same art for a Soul Gaze as… Consulting Bob. In the Side Jobs mode (a more random, “Here’s some occult stuff and cases that Harry would be dealing with in short stories, fanfics, and part of his world” story), this becomes even more clear, with White Court Vampires, Ghouls, Shadows, and all sorts of beasties represented by… Exactly the same card art. Now, at this point, I want to reiterate that this is a very faithful adapation of the original tabletop game, so this is how it was in the tabletop game too. But it’s still a minor let down.

You’re gonna need those case points, as Grave Peril has a lot of TOUGH cases.

Finally, you have… The Showdown. Again, this is a faithful adaptation, and another tactical layer to the game. Do you save FATE Points for the Showdown, leaving some cases or foes for a Hail Mary at the end? Or do you do your best with the cards, and then leave it to the dice with narrow margins?

Neither, as it turns out, are great. Having lots of FATE Points is nominally better, with a roughly 11% chance of getting nothing out of a case… But that chance does exist, and if you need more than, say, the 3 points you buy with 3-5 FATE Points (Depends on whether it’s a clue or a foe) , you’d better hope that margin is 2 or smaller, because even 2 points above is a 23% chance of success. And Lady Luck, as many have found to their cost, has no memory. Also to be factored in is that you have to have at least some hits on a case or foe to try, and an impossible roll is… Well, still impossible. You will never get more than 9 points in the Showdown, and that’s such a vanishingly small chance that it’s really not worth it.

Is it part of that Dresden Files mood to have the final Showdown be partly based on luck? Hell yes. But equally, do I have to like that? Hell no.

In the end, it’s an interesting adaptation of an interesting game, albeit one with its flaws, it has a good tutorial, and it has hotseat for those of us who do play hotseat, meaning that yes, you can buy it to play on your tod (Thank you. No, really, thank you.) On the other, it’s definitely intended to be played with friends, and this shows in even elements of the interface (You can’t, even in Solitaire mode, just switch between characters in the planning stage to see their hands. You have to click on them, then on the hand, then scroll through it. Not much extra effort, but it’s not 100% clear.) This would be fine, except… Well, everybody’s got to have a copy of the game, and the base game is £15. Which is fine… If you are also intending to play it on your own. Which isn’t recommended for long stretches, as the sameyness, and the quirks baked into the game itself, can annoy after long periods.

I’m… Not sure what Biker Gangs exist that look like this, honestly…

Frustrating.

The Mad Welshman met Lady Luck for the fifth time at a bus stop. As before, she completely failed to recognise him.

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