We indienerds follow a simple recipe with our reviews; if it is not worth playing for at least fans of the genre, then we don´t bother reviewing it. No point in wasting your time or ours.
The games reviewed here represent the best you can find on the Xbox Live Indie marketplace and when I tell you that “Cthulhu Saves The World” is one of the finest indie games I ever reviewed, you might want to consider skipping the review and just go ahead and download it. I won´t blame you (much) and I don´t limit this suggestion to fans of the (J)RPG genre – this game is suited for everyone who enjoys a good laugh and well-thought-out dialogs.
Before you hit the MORE button to read the full review you should prepare yourself by adding the game to your download queue on the marketplace site and turn on your Xbox.
Breath of Death VII, the first hit Indie from Zeboyd, is considered one of the finest retro titles bringing back the spirit of 8 Bit RPGs. There is no doubt the same can be said for “Cthulhu Saves The World”, just that this time the jump to the 16 Bit era gave the game a whole new level of polish.
When I got my hands on the first playtest version a few weeks ago and wrote the preview, I was disappointed that I couldn´t jump right back into the game to finish it. This time I had no such troubles – I started a fresh game and played right through to the end. It took me almost 10 hours, it just felt like less. And after that I went back into the game to check out the extra game modes I was rewarded with … like “Highlander”, but I leave it to you to discover for yourself what that means. (Hint: “There can be only one!”)
It´s hard to write about the story without spoiling a little bit of it, but I will keep it to a minimum. As the title says, Cthulhu has to save the world. Since he usually is in the business of destroying it, this comes as a bit of a surprise, but he has lost all his powers and without them there is no world destroying on the menu. So to gain his powers back he has to save the world first (instead of just leaning back watching others have the fun). And the world is full of evils to get rid of. Other evil deities, aliens, zombies (it´s a great game so of course it has some) and I guess most of what H. P. Lovecraft fans expect. To be honest, as much as I like reading, I never got into Lovecraft and most of those references where lost on me. But others, for example those related to classic videogames, I enjoyed all the more and the game is funny as hell even if you don´t get them.
The whole story presentation got me going, and as fun as all the battles, character leveling and exploring in between are, I was always looking forward to the next funny sequence. They come with cute little comic style pictures and are progressing the plot at a very fast pace. Most of them keep the dialog form and even the narrator has to suffer through this when Cthulhu complains all the time that he still isn´t a hero, even though he has done the most heroic deeds. Since your party is gaining members they all have their little smart-ass comments to contribute and the game becomes funnier and funnier. You won´t have trouble identifying with at least one of them – I for example have the habit of driving people crazy, so Cthulhu does it for me.
In between the sequences you can always let your party have a little chat; sometimes they actually contribute to the story and at other times they just talk nonsense that is quite funny and gives the characters a little bit more depth. I highly recommend using the chat function on a regular basis, because otherwise you might miss one of the coolest aspects of the game.
On the technical site the game jumped up 8 Bit – the fights no longer have black backgrounds and instead deliver a scene fitting your surroundings. And the monster party size grew considerably, resulting in more action going on. The same goes for the levels – you can now change the layout by flooding channels or turning conveyors on and off; making exploring the dungeons a tougher but also more enjoyable experience.
The dungeons are great – very often you see a treasure you want to get, but finding the route to it becomes a challenging job. Thankfully all the strength you (should) remember from Breath of Death VII, like the limit on random encounters, are still in place. And near the end I needed to clear the dungeons first before I even got a chance to wrap my mind around the level layout and find the way to each treasure chest. If you don´t like this kind of exploring don´t worry; there is no need to find each treasure and finding the level exit is a lot easier thanks to little colored lights that indicate that the exit is down a certain path.
The graphics look nicer and there is a lot more diversity in the game. Caves with Fire or Ice themes, alien starships, big temples or factories are just a few of the settings. And they all look fantastic considering all the graphic has been done by just one artist. It´s not a Chrono Trigger, but most certainly beats Zelda.
The same goes for the music – some of the tracks I really fell in love with and the rest were still very good and complementing the atmosphere in a way you find in very few Indie games. Zeboyd will soon release the soundtrack for free on their website, so you should keep an eye out for it.
There were a few things I complained about with “Breath of Death VII”. The biggest issue, since it influenced a lot of the game, was that I was able to button smash through most of the enemies. This has changed a bit – yes exploring every corner and getting the best equipment (plus the extra leveling that comes with it) helps with fighting, but a big portion of the fights won´t be won by simply spamming the attack button. And different characters require a different approach, so selecting the right characters for the situation can be useful. A big step in the right direction here and given the considerably longer playtime a necessary one.
A more minor issue was the inventory handling – and sadly there is little improvement. Comparing your weapons could be done in a much easier fashion; instead you have to go through different submenus to manage of your equipment. Using a shop has become a bit easier though – by pressing X you can compare the item on sale with the one equipped, but doing so still feels quite clumsy.
As great as being able to save anywhere on the map is – having to select your save device (hdd or memory stick …) each time, with a screen that kills the retro feeling, is not a good solution. EDIT: thanks to roushimsx I was made aware that this is not an issue when only one storage device is connected to the Xbox – won´t help me because my MU is internal (Arcade Xbox) and the game is on the HDD… but it might be a good tip for those with devices they actually can unplug!
And the last issue I had with Breath of Death VII was the lifeless environment – and this is the only area where Zeboyd actually moved backwards. This time you can´t even read tombstones. Bookshelves, statues and lots of other interesting stuff stay just a decoration without any interaction. I can see how it would have taken a lot of extra time to fill the world with little interesting fun facts, but I also consider this a missed opportunity to make a great game even better.
Still reading? Congrats – leave a comment and I will send you an email (telling you that you should have stopped reading and started playing long before I started complaining about completely minor issues with a great game!). Now go and download the trial – and then spend the $3 asked for that game because there is no way to spend 240MSP in a better way (at least if you are remotely into RPGs). It might be three times the price asked for Breath of Death VII, but what you get is certainly more than three times the value! And buying the game might help getting Zeboyd to the point where they could do full-time game development … who knows to what great games that would lead.