Home > PC, RPG, Xbox Indie > Breath of Death VII/Cthulhu Saves the World Double Pack [REVIEW]

Breath of Death VII/Cthulhu Saves the World Double Pack [REVIEW]

Breath of Death VII: released April 22nd, 2010
Cthulhu Saves the World: released December 30th, 2010
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Platforms: Windows, Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace

For my first review, I’m gonna go ahead and hit up a pair of indie game staples. Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World are, in my experience, two of the most well known indie games around. With the exception of a few special cases, most indie titles seem to have one foot in the grave before they’re even released. Indie game developers need to fight extra hard to even get their games noticed, but Zeboyd Games spit on the odds and got it done anyways. They have been showered with praise by numerous websites, at least one print publication, and have had their games trumpeted around various forums across the internet by fans who are dying to share their love of these games.

BoDVII and CStW are unique, in that they’re not just traditional JRPGs, they’re comedy JRPGs. In Breath of Death alone you’ll find references to the Resident Evil, Fallout, and Castlevania series’, amongst countless others. Not to mention the way these games lovingly poke fun at their forefathers by touching on various JRPG stereotypes. I’ll start, with Breath of Death VII.

The first of Zeboyd’s traditional JRPG throwback titles, BoDVII doesn’t just parody it’s predecessors, it outright takes jabs at the ridiculousness of them. Whether it’s the main character rolling his metaphorical eyes (he’s a skeleton) when his companion attempts to explain how stats work, or the narrator chiming in when you reach the obligatory sewers level, explaining that RPGs are “legally obligated” to include them, there are jabs to be had around every corner. One of my favorites is when you climb some stairs to the second floor of a house, and through the open roof you see a treasure chest on the other side of a wall. As you investigate, the game informs you that: “Somehow you know there’s a treasure chest on the other side of this wall. Too bad you’ll never get it.” Classy.

Wit and humor are all well and good, but it takes more than that to make a game as special as this. One of the most charming aspects of Zeboyd’s RPGs is how, in addition to parodies, their characters are actually unique, even charming. In BoDVII the world has gone post-apocalyptic, and everybody is dead. Well, UN-dead. Instead of taking the role of a band of “unlikely” heroes who somehow wind up saving the world from some great evil, you instead play as a skeleton who is joined by a ghost, a vampire, and what I assume to be a zombie, in a world that’s already destroyed and well passed saving. It’s a fresh take on the genre, which is a rare thing to come by, and the writing makes sure to take full advantage of the unique settings.

 

The part that surprised me the most about this game is how fun it is to play! Witty writing and a unique twist to the setting would’ve been more than enough to convince me to play this one through, but somehow Zeboyd Games has managed to take the old school RPG mechanics of the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior games, and tweak them to where they don’t feel horrendously outdated and stale. This is especially impressive because, when I say it’s old school, I mean actually old school. During battle sequences, your characters don’t appear on screen, backgrounds are completely blacked, and there are no animations whatsoever. It’s all text menus with a few sprite images to show you what you’re fighting. And that’s okay, because despite the retro design, it’s the small things that really bring it together.

When you level up, there’s the obligatory increase in HP and MP, but in addition to that, you also get to choose between two “bonus abilities.” Sometimes it’s an enhancement to a spell you already have versus an entirely new spell, or sometimes you’ll be deciding between two different versions of the same ability, or sometimes you’ll be deciding between gaining more MP back after a battle versus adding an additional hit to one of your standard attacks. There are a number of different decisions that arise as you level up your party, and what you choose really has an impact on how your group turns out, as once you make your choice, there’s no going back. No respecs allowed and once you say no to an ability, you don’t get a second chance at it. It’s an interesting and welcome twist to the leveling process that helps keep things interesting during your quest.

Another feature of BoDVII that I’d like to mention is one that, in my opinion, this genre should’ve created a long, long time ago. As soon as I saw it, I smacked myself in the face and said “Really? How has nobody thought of this before?!” When you bring up your menu, there will be a counter in the upper right hand corner that reads: “Battles Left” with a number beneath it. This counter tells you how many random battles you’ve got left in any particular area before they stop altogether, and if you’re somebody who has spent any decent amount of time with JRPGs in your life, you can already see how amazingly helpful this is.

 

In this particular game I never caught myself really getting lost or having to backtrack very often, so an endless torrent of random battles wasn’t such a huge issue. They’re actually not much of an annoyance at all here. But I have played plenty of JRPGS in the past where I absolutely did need to backtrack a bunch or I did get lost, and the never-ending onslaught of baddies was more than just a hindrance. Let’s be honest here, how many bad guys can really inhabit these places? It’s like there’s some conveniently placed portal that they just keep flooding out of, which is just a little ridiculous. So while the battles never actually became an issue in this game, the innovation of the battle counter is a welcome feature. It could have single-handedly saved some of the more bothersome experiences I’ve had with RPGs in the past.

Another design choice that helps lower the frustration level that typically accompanies games in this genre is that your health will completely regenerate after every battle. I’m sure some of the more “hardcore” JRPG players out there will scoff at this, but it honestly adds alot to the playability of the game. It removes the need to micromanage your health outside of battles and lets you just focus on continuing your journey, which I love. The game knows what it does well, it knows what makes it fun, and it does an excellent job at keeping the focus on those aspects. The only real frustration I found in the game was the obnoxiously maze-like final dungeon, but I can’t even be mad at that, as I think it’s safe to assume the design was intentional, again poking fun at some of the overly complex dungeon layouts of it’s predecessors.

 

I’d say that’s probably enough praising BoDVII for now though. I bet you forgot this was actually a review for two games, didn’t ya? As much as I love BoD, Cthulhu Saves the World is everything I loved about it’s older sibling and more. Oh so much more. If Breath of Death VII had been the fantastic original released on the NES, then Cthulhu Saves the World is it’s brilliant sequel that eventually got made on the SNES. The writing is sharper, the visuals are head and shoulders more impressive (there are backgrounds during the battles now!), the sound is more engaging, and even the premise for the story is more interesting. I still maintain that heading up a team of undead heroes in a post-apocalyptic world is a pretty original premise, but taking control of an awakened Cthulhu who has to become a true hero by saving the world in order to get his powers back, just so he can then destroy the world, is priceless. If Zeboyd ever decided to go into this tale with more detail by writing a book, I’d be all for it.

The characters in CStW are exceptionally memorable, even more so than in BoDVII. The writing for Cthulhu’s character is genuinely funny. His dry wit and sarcasm do volumes to enhance the mood of the game. All of the characters have their own “thing” though, from the senile old wizard and the gothic sorceress, to the alien cat creature and the giant talking sword, all of the characters are memorable in their own way. Oh, and did I mention you have more than four party members this time around? Gotta love the variety. Thankfully they all gain experience equally, whether they’re active in your party or not, so you can change it up and use whoever you like, whenever you like, without having to worry about power-leveling anybody up to a usable level.

 

CStW also has a pretty hardy helping of bonus content that’ll keep you busy for awhile as well. New game modes, a secret boss, an extra campaign, developer commentary, and a few others. It’s a pretty respectable package, especially considering this is an indie game.

JRPGs have been in a sorry state for years now, at this point being mostly ignored by the gaming populace, and in my opinion, rightly so. It’s interesting to think of how powerful the Japanese RPG once was, and then compare that to how it is now. And to then realize that two of the only JRPGs that can be considered quality these days are not only western developed, but are also designed to utterly bag on Japanese role-playing game design. Oh the irony! But, parodies or not, these are genuinely great games. If you’re an old school RPG fan, or someone who has recently started exploring the JRPGs of yesteryear, these titles are highly recommended. You can pick up both games for less than $5 on either Steam or the XBLIG Marketplace.

 

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