Well this was a long time coming. Almost a year ago, PC gamers got access to a pair of Indie RPG titles they had been forced to miss out on the year before. Sadly, the Xbox community also missed out due to the games being released as XBLIG titles: A little spot on the XBL service where anyone who is willing to shell out $200 can release titles or utilities with little or no over-view by the community.
On top of the rather obvious results in quality this will have, none of the games have that drug all XBL gamers seem to need in their games… achievement support. The result is these games were stuck in a shit-stain that Microsoft effectively covered with a plush run they took out of their bathroom: It doesn’t fit and no one wants to go near it.
When these games hit Steam, they were sold as a bundle, and I immediately got my hands on it to review “Cthulhu Saves the World.” I still stand by every statement in that review and highly recommend getting the bundle for that title alone. But how was the older game… the one Zyboyd Games made before they brought Chtulhu to light? Well, it’s time to talk about that.
Story: Mankind is dead. We died off in the final war, where one side was about to lose, and in desperation, released a Planet Killer weapon. Life ended on Earth that day… but death, death remains strong. Since that event, the Undead have risen to power, taking over the surface of the planet and creating their own civilization. But trouble is brewing as all the classic monsters that populated our video games have started to show up on their shores.
Our story begins with a young Skeleton Warrior named Dem who, being an honorable soul, has taken it upon himself to beat the crap out a bunch of trolls terrorizing a local town. These will be your first few fights, but we will get to that in a little while.
Shortly after getting back, he gets recruited by Sara, a historian ghost who’s passion in “life” is to research the ancient world and what happened to it. Now her rather unwilling body-guard, Dem sets out on an adventure of discovery… to what? Neither of them really know.
From here, the story will be just about as standard as it gets. You will travel between towns based on hints of finding relics, piss off the wrong people, and even recruit new members of the party. But sadly, the main story really doesn’t go anywhere through the process. It seems content to drag you by the nose to each location, put you through a dungeon maze, maybe give you a boss, and then rinse and repeat. Only at the very end do you get any explanation at all and even then it’s a pretty generic ending that does nothing but let you see everything wrap up in a “kinda” satisfied bundle. Short of ruining things, I can only say I wish this game gave you a second ending you could choose for how badly this one left me.
That isn’t to say the writing was bad, however. The game was witty and very entertaining, wasting no time mocking as many games as it could: From making jokes about how the hero usually robs the houses of the village he’s in blind to a remade version of the PokeMon theme making it’s way into inter-character conversation, this game offers players a lot of reference humor to enjoy. Expect a fun poking around memory lane in the writing as well as in the way the game looks.
Graphics: This game is designed to look like the RPG games on consoles of old… and it pulls this off exceptionally well. From the opening scenes right down to almost the end credits, this game looks exceedingly like an 8-Bit title from the NES era of gaming.
During most of the game, you will be looking at maps in glorious low-resolution with your heroes marching around through plains, mountains, deserts, caves, towns, and castles. The environments are actually really varied. And when you need the menus, in classic form, they will open over the world in black boxes that fit the motif perfectly.
Once in combat, the game takes on a view that will be very familiar to anyone who played Dragon Warrior II, III, or Phantasy Star II in appearance, if not in exact form. Across the top, your heroes health and magic will be displayed while the bottom contains what you can do with each or information on the battle. In the middle, you will see a set of pictures to represent the various monsters you are fighting. It is all very clean looking, although without the backgrounds we saw in games like Final Fantasy or even Dragon Warrior, it looks rather basic.
Sound: As to be expected in a retro-RPG game, the sound effects are very in-tune with the style and very limited. There are a few sounds used for various spells/using potions, and a generic bashing sound for when someone (you or a monster) is getting hit. Other then that, you will get nothing here but music.
And while the music isn’t bad, it’s fairly limited. Every cave will have the same song, as well every town and ruin. However, they did give the last dungeon and the outside area before the last dungeon their own scores, so this is more likely a case of keeping things uniform then lack of work… and what is here works well, fitting the tone of the areas.
Gameplay: Breath of Death VII: The Beginning is a simplified turn-based RPG built for speed. When you first open your main menu during the game, you will notice along with your health/magic display, a box that lists how many fights you still have. Every time a random encounter happens this will tick down one, and when there is nothing left, no monsters will harass you while you explore. Each level has it’s own limit, and while dungeons range from within the double-digits, the overworld will start you somewhere around 200. It may not sound like much, but this will likely last you for the length of the game readily enough.
If it does not, however, you have a command option called “Fight” which will let you summon a fight on the spot. This not only prevents you from being unable to grind if you need, but it also works before the random encounters go away, allowing you to bleed them out if you so desire, or simply make grinding that much faster since you don’t have to go find random encounters anymore.
Also among the commands available are save and chat commands. Chat will let you read a conversation within your party, and since this is usually entertaining and changes from time to time, I highly recommend checking it out. Save, on the other hand, is another streamline ability. Rather then have to find specific points or inns like most RPGs, BoD7 will let you save anytime and anywhere you like outside of the middle of a fight. If you lose hours of progress because you hit a battle you simply were not ready for, it is now your fault for not saving. And that battle will come, for there are a few areas that take an extra leap in difficulty quite unexpectedly.
That combat itself is basically the other half of the game. Each character will have a selection of things to do including “Attack” “Technique” “Magic” “Potion” “Unite” and a defensive move. Attack and defend are pretty self-explanatory, since every RPG generally lets you do this. Technique and Magic are both basically the same thing as well: special moves you will have to spend magic points on if you want to do them. They are usually a lot more powerful though. I can only think they were separated out to keep the list of moves from growing obnoxiously long and being a pain to look through, because each character will be given a number various abilities before the game is over.
Unite, on the other hand, is a rather unique option where any 2 characters will get the ability to both spend the cost of the move in MP and combine their abilities for a super-one. There is exactly one for each combination of two characters and you get them the moment the new character joins the party. And while they may not always be the best option, in specific conditions they can be the best weapons available to you in the game.
Potions are a casualty of the speed-friendly nature of the BoD7. Outside of weapons and armor, you do not get to collect items for battle. You only get to collect “potions” which are a “do-everything” item. A hero died in battle? Use a potion on them! About to die? Potion! Poisoned? A potion can cure that! Basically if it’s a negative effect, this stuff is the miracle drug to take care of it rather then searching through a long inventory to find what item might take care of what special case or give you a special edge.
Also worth noting is that when a fight is over, you have full health and any status changes go away. This also improves the speed of the game since you wont be limping to an inn to heal yourself after a brutal fight (boss or otherwise). You might go to one to regain magic points, but that’s the most you will lose if you win a tough match.
But that isn’t all that has become unique in the name of speeding the game up. Each turn the monsters will gain 10% power, making them more dangerous as the fight drags on and encouraging you to go as quick as you can. In addition, the rewards you get (such as MP back) change depending on how many turns it took to finish a fight, so quicker is better all around.
In addition, you also have a “combo-box” next to your health HUD which increases with every attack you make. Some techniques will clear the box to 0 boosting the power of your attack dramatically, allowing you to plan your attacks to deliver something truly devastating to finish the job.
Bugs: I found exactly one bug in this game, and it was extremely trivial. When going into combat, the screen would black out, but the border of the map would flash up for a split second before being replaced with the combat screen. Not a big deal and likely a left-over from this game being originally a 360 title and formatted for 720 HD resolution, where as my monitor is closer to 1080 (1440x900 if you want exacts). Not an issue to even begin worrying about, but something I did notice.
Overall: BoD7 is an exceedingly short RPG, and one I finished in under 9 hours. And while the ride was pleasant, that is damningly short, at least for this genre. However, considering the game is sold for a normal price of $3, the brevity can be forgiven pretty easily. Considering this price include the simply amazing Cthulhu Saves the World, value no longer becomes an issue.
If you are a gamer who loves old-school RPGs, you really should get this one. If you love them, but get bored with needless random encounters in dungeons you are clearly to powerful for, you REALLY should get this game. With a fast-paced tone to an old-school sensibility and a rather witty sense of humor, and I can’t imagine many games entertaining a gamer with an old-school RPG itch as well as this little title will.