Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Cthulhu Saves the World

Post-Launch Review
Cthulhu Saves the World (PC)
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Released: December 2010 (XBox Live) / March 2011 (Steam & XBLA rerelease)
Played: story complete in 6 hours


Cthulhu, the evil elder god, reawakens... and is immediately cursed by a mysterious wizard. The curse seals away Cthulhu's awesome power, and the only way to remove the curse is for Cthulhu to become a true hero. The ancient one assembles a party of heroes and sets out to vanquish evil monsters and accomplish heroic deeds... so that he can get his power back and destroy the world.

At Launch

Cthulhu Saved the World was well received, earning average review scores of 78% (for the PC version). Critics enjoyed its humour and its handling of RPG mechanics, and of course the low price.

Post Launch

Originally launched on XBox Live Arcade, Cthulhu Saves the World eventually came to Steam as the "Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD - Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector's Edition (without Avatars!)". The updated version includes an additional game mode with alternate dialogue and characters; a director's commentary mode; rebalanced gameplay; and unlockable character art.

I'm a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so I've been putting off playing this game for quite a while - I love a good parody but it somehow seemed wrong to make an 8-bit RPG with Cthulhu as the hero. But I wanted to play a short game to get ahead on review time so I can play a longer game next, so I finally got around to Cthulhu Saves the World.

This game is by the same developer as Breath of Death VII (which I have previously reviewed), and it was obvious as soon as I started the game - the overworld visuals are identical, and combat works the exact same way. There are some minor tweaks and improvements to gameplay, but it's largely the same game. For the sake of completeness, though, I will talk a little bit about gameplay.
 Combat uses a combo system to prevent fights from dragging out too long - the greater your combo the stronger your combo finisher attacks get; monsters get stronger every turn. This does a pretty good job cutting down the annoyance of random encounters, since I usually finished them in a turn or two. Random encounters are also capped and stop after 25 fights (though you can look for more via the menu if you want to) so you eventually "clear" an area and can explore at your leisure.

Each time a character levels up you get a choice of two options. Typically this is a choice between alternate versions of an ability (or upgrade), two different stat bonuses, or a stat bonus vs a new ability. Having only two choices per level makes it simple to choose, but still allows for a lot of customization when you'll be levelling 40 times over the course of the game. You do still want to try to focus each character, though - for example, there's very little use in upgrading the strength of October, the spellcaster. Most fights will probably be easy, done in a turn or two with no casualties on your side, but for the tough random encounters and for boss battles, you want to know what you're doing and have each character be good at their job.
The first noticeable change from Breath of Death VII is a run option. You can hold Shift to run, which at first I thought was great, and then I realized I was holding it all the time and why didn't they just increase the default speed so my finger doesn't hurt. It seems to have gotten stuck on at some point, though, which is cool I guess. Maybe there's an option for it; I never checked.

The other big addition is additional party members. By the end of the game you have 7 characters. Cthulhu must be in the party, but you can choose three of six for the other spots. I just kept the first characters I got because I already knew how they worked, and the later three seemed more gimmicky (though maybe they aren't; I never really used them). Anyway, it's nice to have options.
There's also a more minor combat addition: a new condition called insanity. Cthulhu deals more damage to insane enemies, but insanity makes some enemies stronger. I guess the idea was to add a kind of risk/reward element where you don't know which monsters get stronger until they hit you, but you can pretty much just ignore the mechanic entirely, so it doesn't really add that much.

And there are a few more actual choices in gear selection. Not a lot - most of the time when you find a new item it's just straight-up better than what you're using - but you'll occasionally find it difficult to choose between two pieces of gear; for example, weak gear with a special ability that really works for you, or a choice between one huge bonus vs two big bonuses.

The music is good too - catchy and varied between locations.

The story is fun but a little predictable. My favourite bits are the encounters with the party of "heroes" that are on a quest to stop the evil Cthulhu, and the false ending (that I wish was the real ending). The first character you meet - Umi - falls in love with Cthulhu, and that's good for a few laughs, but I would have preferred that the game emphasize a lot more how ridiculous it is to fall in love with an elder god of madness and chaos.

Recommendation: play it.

Overall I felt that Cthulhu Saves the World is a weaker game than Breath of Death VII. Zeboyd's first game was more of a genre parody of JRPGs, while Cthulhu feels like a Lovecraft parody that happens to take the form of a JRPG - and not a very strong parody at that. It's silly Lovecraft, and not a clever overturning of Lovecraft's themes and conventions (like Breath of Death was for JRPGs). But that doesn't mean it's not funny and enjoyable. The fast levelling and combat did a good job of keeping me engaged, and the game is that kind that's short in a good way, so that it doesn't overstay its welcome.

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