Wayward Souls (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 8/8 Update.

Wayward Souls is, at the present time, a game with no in between. Not completely, as health is a bar, special abilities are ammo or inventory based, and, even with death, money is accrued which can be put into character abilities. No, I’m mainly talking, at the present time, about one of the core features of Wayward Souls: The enemies.

Swarmed by boars. Cause for concern? Well… Not really.

Enemies, in Wayward Souls, are either light speedbumps, or lethal terrors… And there’s no real in-between to the two. Bats? Well, they’ll hurt you if you’re inattentive, sure. But that’s usually because you’re worrying more about the five fellers throwing rocks and pickaxes, or the big crushy robots that only die when they charge into a wall twice. But pickaxe wielders are never really a problem on their own, despite their aiming. Rock fellers lose most of their threat once they switch to melee mode… Even within enemy types, there are states where the challenge swiftly moves from “Will most likely get hurt if I tangle with this (and I have to, because I’m locked in with it)” to “Will only catch me unawares if I’m literally asleep.”

The problem being that this feeling of the seemingly arbitrary bleeds over into other areas. Why are some areas of the mine, the first dungeon’s major locale, almost unreadably dark, while others are brightly lit enough that everything is clear? Unknown. Why do I feel absolutely nothing about spending a ramping amount on what may end up 16% crit chance (1,2,4,8,16), and may end up a measly, overexpensive 5% (1,2,3,4,5)? Well, the clue there is that both numbers aren’t exactly big, and spending money on an individual character is an investment you maybe want to feel something about (In the majority of cases, I don’t.) Why was switching healing at the end of the level with, er… Finding a healing fountain you can use once per level considered a change, rather than a restatement of “You only get one heal per level of the dungeon?” I don’t know. All I know is how I feel about them, and I don’t particularly feel great.

Sometimes, there will be ghosts. Who have somewhat interesting things to say.

Thing is, Wayward Souls has some good ideas hidden in the murk of this oddly arbitrary feeling balance. Splitting up dungeons is good. Having different stories for the different characters (some of whom are unlocked via progress), giving different perspectives… That’s good. Being able to pick your playstyle, to a certain extent, with characters… That’s good. And some of the enemy designs are, to be fair, very nice, the music is nice, and the sound works well… Heck, it even has the nice touch that your grave messages can be seen by friends (or people with the friend code), and you can leave gifts with those grave messages. That’s a genuinely nice touch…

…But, at the present time, the core of the game, the fighting of enemies, feels not so much like a gradation, slowly moving upwards, but a chaotic jumble of the easy and the rough, slapped together. I have more trouble with levels than I do the bosses, and even that isn’t a hard and fast rule, and that… That just feels wrong.

Maybe Wayward Souls will improve. But right now, the enemies feel oddly inconsistent, the early levels feel muddy, and the interesting ideas the game is presenting just aren’t saving it.

On the one hand, an amusing message from a bud is its own reward. On the other, the protection buff definitely didn’t hurt either.

The Mad Welshman reminds developers: Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and always consider interesting ideas when you see them.

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Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (Review/Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Touhou series has, even without counting fangames, gone a whole lot of places. Starting as a series of bullet-hell shooters on the PC-98, Team Shanghai Alice and collaborators have created Touhou fighting games and versus shooters, changing gameplay with many installments. With fangames, there’s visual novels, metroidvanias, megaman style platformers, RPGS, and, with Scarlet Curiosity, a collaboration between Ananke Spa and Team Shanghai Alice, there’s ARPGs. All set in a world where it sometimes seems that morning greetings consist of an all-out battle with apocalyptic magic between cute anime girls, some of whom are also Youkai or other folkloric nonhumans.

I mean… This might as well be called Touhou.JPG , for how emblematic this line of dialogue is.

Scarlet Curiosity is an odd beast, in many respects, trying to mix action RPG ideas with the bullet-hell gameplay of the Touhou series with… Honestly, mixed results. This is also technically a Going Back, because while this is the 2018 Steam release, the game was originally created in 2014, and officially localised by XSEED in 2016.

In any case, the general idea is that Remilia Scarlet, ancient and powerful vampire in the body of a young girl, is bored. Considering that she is, canonically, one of the more dangerous residents of Gensoukyo, this is already a recipe for disaster, but add in a Tengu tabloid monster hunt, and the fact that something largely destroys the Scarlet Devil Manor, and… Well, you have all the elements ready for shenanigans to occur.

Takes a while to get going, though, to the point that, at first, I wondered whether this really was a Touhou game, bullet helling and all. Fairies were unaggressive, giant centipedes a case of slashing while circling… This, combined with the game having some large and sprawling maps, and a lack of visual feedback beyond numbers and hit sounds, disguised the fact that, in fact, I was struggling to get through levels. Come the second stage boss, and this lack of feedback revealed itself, as I died again, and again, and again, before finally respecting their patterns. It took until the fourth boss for me to stop thinking that the jump button in the game felt like an unfair advantage (Allowing the skilled… IE – Not me… To dodge most early game bullet patterns entirely.

So… Large, sprawling maps (Each taking about twenty minutes to get through), combined with main level enemies that, like a Touhou shooter, don’t get terribly challenging until a little later on, combined with a lack of visual feedback for hits (and the fact that, like many bullet hell games, many bullet types can be nullified with an attack) doesn’t exactly paint the prettiest picture. In fact, it paints a somewhat clunky one.

I will never take away, however, how spell card effects like this one look… Awesome.

But there is good here. The models are well put together for the most part, the game does get flashy the further in you get, and the stages, while large and sprawling, are definitely not without their interesting features. Loading and saving is separate for the two main characters, Remilia Scarlet and Sakuya Izayoi, which is a nice touch. Five slots each is generous, and I appreciate this. Similarly, in addition to each character getting different types of Weapons, Accessories, and Armour, following the usual ARPG rule of “Bigger numbers, always bigger numbers” , they also get to switch out their specials and skill cards for different types as they level up, leading to a fair amount of variety that I appreciate. Heck, there’s even some difference to their basic styles, with Sakuya being a tight, melee focused character, whose jump attack is just that: An attack in the air, and Remilia being a more loose, more aggressive character, who has a hard to master, but very satisfying ground dive as her aerial attack. Despite some light value issues making the lighter enemies hard to see well at times, the game visually works, and musically… Well, the Touhou games have always been known for good music, and Scarlet Curiosity is no exception.

In the end, Scarlet Curiosity is an interesting addition to the series, but an acquired taste that is not without its flaws. Longtime Touhou players may find it slow to start, while folks new to the series may well find it frustrating, but I can definitely respect the experimentation with genre mixing going on here.

Alas, pink on translucent grey is, as a colourblindness accessibility sidenote, not a good pick.

The Mad Welshman feels, apart from the whole “Being a dude” thing, that he would fit in well in Gensoukyo. I mean, Death Rays, Death Ray Spell Cards… What’s the real difference?

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Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal (Review)

Source: Gold Coins from Captain Skully Bartella.
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the majority of which were written by tabletop legends Steve Jackson (NOT THAT ONE) and Ian Livingstone, were an interesting part of the tabletop scene, although early books in the series were well known for gotcha traps, instant death paragraphs, and some highly frustrating collectathons. Looking at you, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and your god-damn keys.

Ah, the heady days before “Mimic” became common parlance for anything pretending to be a chest…

They were also experiences that, like your linear, curated experience in a game, could be successfully completed on replaying… Through the notes you took last time, reducing the challenge of future runs.

Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal reduces the latter to a certain extent with its adaptations of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy (Gamebooks 6, 21, and 36, all written by Ian Livingstone), while… Faithfully preserving the gotchas, instadeaths, and collectathons.

As such, it can best be politely described as “An acquired taste.” Less diplomatic descriptions are usually long strings of vulgar language, interspersed with terms like “Garnet” , “Infinite Unwinnable Fights of Padding”, “Gotcha”, and “Black Imp.”

To be fair to the developers, they have taken steps to palliate this, with multiple difficulty levels and a lives system, allowing you to take multiple runs without losing your progress… To a point. Default difficulty has 9 lives, and, unless you are supremely lucky on those die rolls, and know exactly the path to take through the game… You will lose at least a couple of those lives. We’ll get back to that.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 1.

First, there’s something we’ve been missing this whole time: How have Nomad Games and Asmodee Digital adapted a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a sort of top-down, tabletop like experience with dice and cards, with random encounters to both spice up the emptier bits of the dungeon, and replace one-off events that you’ve already dealt with. It looks pretty nice, with some good artwork, definitely nice looking maps, and music that doesn’t, generally speaking, outweigh its welcome. Menus are clear, and, while I would have liked some of the map segments to look a bit less muddy, clear icon signposts for direction choices and doors helps with this a lot. Text is in neat boxes, choices are clearly highlighted… It isn’t bad, in this respect.

But, amusingly enough, part of the problem is that it is a mostly faithful adaptation of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy. A trilogy which has some rather painful moments, such as, early in the Trial of Champions gamebook, six fights in a row, with minimal healing every two fights. Oh boy, I hope your skill rolls are good, my friends, because otherwise, even the generous checkpointing for this particular part (So notable because it’s more generous than, say, the entirety of Deathtrap Dungeon, which has precisely one checkpoint), you may well lose a few of your precious lives here! Add in some difficult, if not unwinnable fights with meager rewards in some paths, gotcha traps in both set and random encounters (Take 2 Stamina Damage. No, just take it, this isn’t a Skill or Luck roll like the others, you Just Take Damage), and some places where only memorisation will save you from unpalatable options there’s precisely no signposting for. Looking at you, rat staircase and arena fight in Deathtrap Dungeon! Looking… Right… At you!

It is, however, nice in that you do get to keep your items, and setpieces you’ve completed remain completed, even if you die.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 2. Albeit without the part where you skim through the book to find the paragraph number where you succeed.

Overall, Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal is, as noted, an acquired taste. So long as you’re okay with the fact that this digital adaptation only slightly pulls the punches of CYOA gamebooks from the 80s, with arbitrary game design moments to match, then you may well find joy and interest in this title. If this isn’t your thing, then y’know what? I don’t entirely blame you, as going back through this trilogy, swearing at various elements, and then thinking “Oh… Yeah, this was roughly how I felt the first time” was quite the experience. The game is also, at the time of writing, somewhat crash prone, although I’m sure that will be dealt with in time.

Still… It’s not often I both congratulate and curse a developer for correctly emulating the feel of an old property… Not often at all…

The Mad Welshman still remembers how his first experience with another CYOA series was the Deathlords of Ixia. He feels this may have had lasting effects…

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Omensight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Artbook £7.19 , Soundtrack £7.19 , Collector’s Edition £29.87)
Where To Get It: Steam

Omensight is, on the one hand, a game I quite like, set in a world I quite like, and spiritual successor (set in the same world, but some time/place else) to another game I quite like by the same company.

On the other, it’s a game where some of its options and choices are, to my mind, flawed and hamhanded. Still, let’s describe what’s basically going on. Because this will be the last time, both in game and review, it is basic.

Battle animations are fluid, and you can dash quite a bit round the battlefield… But then, so can some of your opponents.

Omensight is a spiritual successor to Stories: Path of Destinies (by the same company), and involves many of the same themes and mechanics remixed. There are time travelling shenanigans for our hero(ine. Being some form of spirit, gender is not assumed) , the Harbinger. There are fights to be fought against enemies using light, heavy, and special attacks in combos, with better performance leading to better rewards (And some enemy types being largely immune to some attacks.) There’s lore to collect, with the overall goal of solving a murder mystery: Who killed the Godless Priestess, whose demise has unbalanced the power structures of two warring kingdoms, and is about to end the world in a single night?

Problem the first: The solving bit is slightly inaccurate. What you’re doing is going through the last night of four individuals, trying to encourage them to lead you to both clues and, in the end, the solution via the cunning use of memories and following them. Sort of a Dirk Gently mystery. And the more efficient at solving the mystery you are… The less you get to know about the characters, the world, and the very mystery you’re involved in, beyond the core bullet points.

Twenty minutes after taking this screenshot, I accidentally ended up taking the path to the next chapter, through my desire to open locked doors. WHOOPS. This screen (Reminding of clues) is not available in “True Detective Mode.”

Equally, beyond a certain difficulty level in the detective mode, you lose out on a tool that can just as much remind you where you are after a break as supposedly give away the way forward. The same way forward that the Priestess will mention… The characters will mention… And… Look, as a murder mystery, it plays its hands too heavily, which means it’s very tough to miss out on the solution to each chapter’s conundrum. Which leads into the problem that you can, quite easily, miss the story collectibles because the game is too good at solving its own mystery.

Continuing on, there are four keys, and each chapter contains one of the titular Omensights, visions with which the plot’s direction… Changes. Funnily enough, the game does foreshadow its twists fairly well, even if, as noted, I don’t feel like much of a detective because its clues are heavy handed, and the four main characters are fairly well written. They play on you being a silent protagonist. Sometimes, as in the case of the cheeky (Yet brittle) leader of the Rat Clan rebellion, Ratika the Bard, they put words in your mouth. Sometimes, like when you’re collecting things, they speculate as to your motives. This can get annoying, but I also appreciate that yes, when the Harbinger, the being that both presages and is meant to prevent the apocalypse, takes a break to smash barrels for money, you too would wonder what was up with that. The voice acting is pleasant, although sometimes stereotypical (Hi Emperor as Grand Vizier! Hi Thug Bear With A Heart of Gold! ), and the music is good. Not always memorably so, but it fits well with its areas and its timing.

One of the titular Omensights, which the Harbinger will then show other people… To get to the truth in perhaps the messiest way.

Beyond the sound and story design, combat in Omensight is a little annoying, as, on any difficulty above the easy, quick reflexes are mandatory for the dodging, and being able to quickly visually identify your enemies is mandatory if you want to do well in a fight, as some enemies have shields (Meaning that light attacks will just bounce off), some have counters (Meaning you’d best be away as soon as the Angrier Exclamation Mark appears, or else), and some are flying, and so a pain in the rear end by definition (with the saving grace that all but one of these flying enemies falls down when hit, and can be coup-de-graced immediately after.) It doesn’t feel especially great, and, for all that there’s a lot of fighting in the game, it’s by no means the strongest aspect of it.

For all these flaws, Omensight still works fairly well, partly because it has a fairly strong storyline (Although it’s a downer… Apocalypses generally are), some solid, low poly aesthetics (Each area has a different feel, and I like that) , some good voice acting and music, and adjustable difficulty separated into the detectiving and combat end, so, if you really want, you can turn both to their lowest settings, and just… Enjoy the ride. That’s the nice thing about adjustable difficulty: You get to do you.

I’ll let you guess which clan is which.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say today. It’s incredibly hot at Chez TMW.

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Moonlighter (Review)

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

It’s interesting how marketing can change your mind. If I, perhaps, hadn’t been told, by quite a few people, that Moonlighter was “Recettear with the bad trimmed off” , I would perhaps feel nicer about it. As it is, the comparison leaves me distinctly unimpressed, and I can no longer quite be certain that my assessment of it on its own as “Alright, but never really excelling at any one thing, including making me care” isn’t based on this comparison.

Will, bridger of the gap between Merchant and Warrior. Twice the work, half the happiness.

There is a world, a world with a dungeon. As with many worlds with dungeons, people exploit this one, and an economy surrounds it. Or rather, an economy is restarted by it, as Will, a Merchant who owns the dungeon shop Moonlighter, re-enters the dungeons for things for his shop. Cue action RPG with shopkeeping elements.

As with many ARPGs of the modern day, the key to playing Moonlighter well is to know when to attack and dodge, using a variety of weapons, judging enemy patterns. It feels meaty, I’ll definitely give it that… But it also feels frustrating, for several reasons. Inventory limits are a starter. Every trip to the dungeon, only 20 things (plus equipment) can be carried. Items stack to their own limits (usually 5 or 10), and both cursed and uncursing items don’t stack. Why is this system here? Mainly to add something to inventory management. Unfortunately, what it adds is… Inventory management.

Shopkeeping is similar. What gets added when you level up the shop once? Shoplifters. Extra work, on top of the work you’ve got from extra features. You can, eventually, get shop security, but in the meantime… Enjoy chasing thieves to hit spacebar over them, or lose your stuff!

Is enjoy the right word? I’m thinking, and I’m thinking that the answer is no.

“Now remember, this one can only go to the sides, this one breaks if you get hit a bit, this one stops that rule applying for the first thing with rules it…” Please stop. Please.

Similarly, there’s a narrative, and it starts… Well, honestly, it doesn’t start well at all. Will goes into a dungeon ill equipped, gets his ass handed to him by a feature never seen again, gets told “Don’t look into the dungeon” by his Wise Old Mentor, then gets given a sword by said Wise Old Mentor, who continues to tell him not to go into the dungeon. Getting mixed signals here. Meanwhile, something builds up as you explore the dungeon, where it appears the dungeons are not, strictly speaking, dungeons, but parts of other worlds, randomly snatched with their security features still active. Is there a reason for it? Yes. Is it revealed? Yes. Does it, eventually, get resolved? Yes.

Is it particularly satisfying? Not really.

Indeed, this is the main problem, narrative wise, with Moonlighter. There’s little to no pressure, it’s true. But there are also little to no stakes involved, not much of a reason to care about the shop, not much of a reason to talk to any townsfolk outside of the shopkeepers. There’s an economy, but since nothing seriously threatens that economy, there’s no real incentive to keep those wheels turning except… That you need to do it if you want a decent chance of getting to the end of the game. Long before which, due to the lack of either threat or incentive to spend, you will have more money than you know what to do with, because, despite the seemingly silly costs of anything above the second tier, the rewards from the dungeons correspondingly increase.

So, in summary? It somewhat works mechanically, in the servicable, achieves its goals way, but Moonlighter feels uninteresting, at least in part because there’s nothing, good or ill, that properly ends up pushing the narrative forward.

I will give the game this: To be an adventurer is to often perpetrate or be complicit in otherwise criminal activity, and it acknowledges it.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes confused by what his peers consider “With the bad bits gone.”

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