I’ve now died 119 times over the course of 15 hours. That’s eight deaths an hour; a death every seven and a half minutes. It’s really not that bad when you look at it like that, is it? Still, as I’ve grown in Rogue Legacy, the Castlevania-y rogue-like from Cellar Door, I have come to realize that the deaths aren’t the measuring stick. In fact, the real joy comes from inching your way – scraping to it with bloody fingernails at times – towards a goal. Each step feels like a huge monument in your genealogy. If the score didn’t tip you off, Rogue Legacy is an incredibly smart, incredibly fun and incredibly well-made title that everyone should play.
Bringing Gameplay Back … Over and Over
You know what’s all the rage nowadays? Bloated, convoluted, sappy, drippy stories in the middle of my video game. Hate it. In mind, the main story beats in Rogue Legacy are appropriately badass yet not shoved down your throat. You are one of the ever-succeeding line of knights that heroically throw themselves into the maw of a malevolent Castle Hamson. You die, leaving all your treasure to your children, and they take up your cause only to die and die again. That’s it.
But seriously, forget about the story and relish in the gameplay, because it is practically perfect. Rogue Legacy is the most comfortable and most fluent game I have played in a long while. It eschews story for execution, perfecting the semi-rogue-like formula first made famous by the Infinity Blade series. There is a confidence to the game that permeates every part of it and the willingness to break from its own genre make it truly special.
As I got at above, unlike most other rogue-likes that strip you bare upon death, Rogue Legacy leaves you to invest the earnings of your predecessor. With the treasure you inherit, you can invest in a rather deep character tree or gear or runes. It is much, much deeper than other games of its ilk. You will feel your character become stronger and progress will become easier over time. You’re not a randomly generated soon-to-be corpse; you’re the champion made by your actions.
In contrast to other rogue-likes where randomness permeates the entirety of the experience – rendering victory or failure moot by proxy – your growth is potent and satisfying in the way a tightly-crafted RPG is. However, there is still plenty of randomness to counter-balance the constant progression. Before entering the partially randomly-generated castle, you choose from three random characters (the respective wings are always oriented to the same cardinal directions; jungle East, tower North, dungeon South).
Barring the numerous random traits you get, there is a ridiculously deep customization interface on top of it all. There are sub-classes like Hokage, Spelunker or Assassin; there are meta-traits like lessening the cost of entry to Hamson; there are stats to dump in to. Then, add on some gear and runes which can do anything from make you fly, return damage, multi-jump, dash, life leech and so on. So, even though you have a random character, you get to fine-tune it.
Ever-Changing Castle Hamson
Now, the castle – oh, fickle Castle Hamson – is lovingly crafted both visually and structurally. In addition to randomizing within a general framework, secrets and tricks begin to show. Tiny pathways for tiny dwarves appear, challenging rooms only passable by multi-jumping heroes litter it and certain bosses typically lurk in certain rooms. Still, none of it is guaranteed and, even on my most recent 119th playthrough, I found new room layouts in Hamson-proper. I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of the later areas.
Speaking of things left unscratched, I haven’t even touched on the secret rooms, or the actual presentation, or the complexity of the moment-to-moment gameplay. I will do so succinctly: They are all fantastic and nurturingly crafted. The scenes adapt and reflect your current character and have loads of personality to them. Little things all over show the effort put into Rogue Legacy. The gameplay is scorching fast – bordering on a twitchy melee-schmup at times – with some finger-flexing platforming thrown in for good measure.
Back and Forward
There comes a time in each run when you have to decide whether you will press on to more-difficult regions or farm the easier ones for guaranteed gold. It’s a drastic and jarring decision each and every time. I tried to beat Herodotus the Infinite a dozen or so times before realizing it was folly until I can back stronger. That’s like great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren dying, man!
Does the game have any flaws? I harped a bit on the control scheme in my preview but became fully acclimated to it. Little things like when the zombies come out of the ground, they’re invulnerable during part of their animation or how when big mage bosses die while prepping a spell, it lingers after death are all non-issues. In the larger scope of the game, these don’t hinder it even a bit. What’s important here is that Rogue Legacy accomplishes everything it sets out to do with gusto, character and aplomb.
Even with a seemingly small scope, Rogue Legacy shocked me. With incredible depth and sharp-as-a-sword gameplay, it is a painfully adept and competent game. It expands the rogue-like formula with fresh and tried ideas to a unanimous degree of success. It respects and pushes the player, all the while returning the favor with tangible progression. It’s a game for almost everyone and a game Cellar Door should be more than proud of. Frankly, I have yet to put it down and don’t plan on it any time soon.