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A rogue-like test battle game with randomization and attention to detail, August 6, 2021
Arthur DiBianca has explored the creative space available for limited parsers for many years now. The sheer number of puzzles he has come up with for things like directional commands (Inside the Facility), wordplay (Sage Sanctum Scramble) and just poking a box (Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box) is impressive.
Here, we play as an adventurer in a small town where you can buy equipment, hang out at the tavern, or head down to the dungeon where you have a limited amount of time to battle and find loot. Dungeon verbs are limited to skipping the current battle, fighting, and searching, with extra fighting commands added later. It's really interesting contrasting this with the games of Paul Panks, exemplified by Westfront PC and lampooned in Endless, Nameless, where he always had a cookie-cutter village with a 3 or 4-room tavern, church, etc. and forest full of monsters. Those games were filled with a lot of cruft, while this game cuts all of that out to its bare minimum functionality.
This game is more or less an RPG or roguelike, and it has a 'grind' and RNG that sets it apart from his other games. Is this successful?
Here's my 5-point rating scale:
+Polish: The game is very smooth. Arthur's limited vocabulary allows for intense polishing on what remains, and the game feels completely smooth and operational.
+Descriptiveness: There's a clever mechanic where monsters came in 2 (and later, three) variants that differ from each other by just a small word or two. Only by careful experimentation can you distinguish which monsters are 'safe'. I feel like these constraints led to vivid descriptions since there had to be a lot of detail for the differences to be lost in.
+Interactivity: So this could go either way for most people. I grew up playing games like FFV (on an emulator with a fan translation) with my head down on a desk reading a book while I moved the arrow keys left and right, grinding encounters. To me, that was the quintessential RPG experience. This game also has a lot of grinds that can become tedious. For me, I was interested enough in seeing a little number on the screen go up; others may not be. More seriously, I had to battle the RNG on several occasions, especially the final boss, where I ended up manipulating UNDO to try and get a favorable combination. In the end, it turned out I had a misconception about the boss, and so my UNDO was unnecessary, but I did use UNDO for some of the final achievements which, unlike past DiBianca games, were less about showing extra skill and more about extreme patience with RNG.
+Emotional impact: For me, this game hit a spot of nostalgia. Otherwise, I probably would have felt distanced a bit by the 'where's Waldo' system, treating words as puzzles themselves rather than
-Would I play again? For me, the big draw in replaying an RPG is trying it with a different character class or setup or seeing what different random drops you can get. You can't really get that here, because you can only get to the final boss after thoroughly plumbing everything the game contains; there's no remaining mystery and only 1 'anointed path'.
Overall, though, I feel confident recommending this to others and consider it one of the best games in a year that's already had some great competitions.