"You take control of Lovecraftian Elder God Cthulhu as he surfaces in order to take over (and destroy) the world. Not even tentacle-faced deities can have an easy time of things, though, as a mysterious wizard strips him of his powers. Fortunately, the game's narrator is willing to help, divulging that heroic actions will restore his magic. Therefore, it's off to reluctantly save the world (griping about doing good every step of the way)…in order to destroy it…"
It might have been easier to review Cthulhu Saves the World if Zeboyd's first indie RPG, Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, wasn't so fresh in my mind. Cthuhlu is an improvement on that title, but with essentially the same engine featuring a handful of additions. Something that is making me wonder if, at times while playing, I was being critical simply because a couple things weren't "different enough" for my tastes.
As in Breath of Death, battles are fast-paced and turn-based. Enemies get stronger with each turn, so you'll be looking to finish them off before they transform from annoying to deadly. To reinforce that message, you'll regain all your hit points and a few magic points (based on how quickly you win the battle) after each fight. Each dungeon, as well as the overworld, has a finite number of random encounters. After that, you can choose to fight if you're really desperate to grind more levels, but you won't be forced to battle again in that area until you run into the local boss. Each time a character gains a level, they can choose between two different bonuses. For the first 40 levels, these range from massive stat boosts to powerful spells and techniques. Afterwards, the choice is between a small gain to all your stats or one to your health and magic.
And, as anyone who played Breath of Death probably could guess, there's a lot of humor in the dialogue and plot. You take control of Lovecraftian Elder God Cthulhu as he surfaces in order to take over (and destroy) the world. Not even tentacle-faced deities can have an easy time of things, though, as a mysterious wizard strips him of his powers. Fortunately, the game's narrator is willing to help, divulging that heroic actions will restore his magic. Therefore, it's off to reluctantly save the world (griping about doing good every step of the way)…in order to destroy it…
Cthulhu will gradually come across a number of allies. While Breath of Death forced you into using the same three support characters from the moment you met them until the game's end, Cthulhu comes across six allies to fit into three party slots. The fire dragon Ember has the most pure attack ability, but sentient sword Sharpe gains a number of techniques, some of which are great for raising abilities. October the necromancer is near-worthless as a physical attacker, but gains all sorts of lethal spells; while Paws (don't call him "kitty") is the quickest to react in battle. Water-resident Umi and the senile Dacre both are proficient at healing magic, giving players plenty of choices as far as party composition goes.
There are a few minor (but appreciated) additions and improvements. Old equipment can be sold at stores, while dungeons can be instantly escaped and progress can be saved everywhere. Many treasure chests contain 1-UPs which allow you to re-do a battle that proved a touch too fatal for your comfort -- something that comes in very handy when you allocate a turn or two for the purpose of killing the allies of a boss, only to find out the baddie will just summon new ones to take their place. Cthulhu (and some allies) can also turn enemies insane in battle, which has a variety of effects. It may dramatically lower their defense, but it also might cause them to unleash some powerful attacks.
Cthulhu Saves the World also has a few more recently-implemented improvements, as Zeboyd released a patch adding a few things, such as descriptions of the game's monsters, an extra bonus dungeon and (more importantly) a new game mode. "Cthulhu's Angels" is the same game, but with different dialogue and characters as the deity decides that saving the world is too much work, so he outsources the job to October, who then has to travel the world to find an all-female band of adventurers (one of the god's demands). That's an innovative way to add replay value to a game and Zeboyd's writing is witty enough to tempt me into playing the game again just to read more clever quips.
So, with all this praise, exactly what constitutes those things that weren't "different enough" for my tastes? Most importantly, dungeon design. Much like Breath of Death, you have what essentially comes down to confusing clusters of corridors crammed together. There's a water shrine you visit roughly midway through the game where you have to manipulate switches to raise and lower water levels so you can visit new parts of the dungeon. A bit earlier, you visited a spaceship where you had to deactivate forcefields in order to progress between floors. Those two dungeons were the only ones that stuck out in my mind. Most places are little more than labyrinths where you'll simply be trying to collect the handful of treasure chests as quickly as possible and get to the next part of the dungeon in order to do the same thing again until you've reached the boss. It just feels like a lazy approach. Slap some corridors and rooms together and toss in a few background items to indicate a factory or volcano and you've got a dungeon.
Depending on the size of one of these places, there might be as few as 10 random encounters or as many as 50. Odds are that while traversing the maze-like environs, you'll run through them well before reaching the end, which adds a whole new degree of tedium to the experience as you go through vast caves and temples unimpeded…just searching for the end. By the end of the game, I was just trying to get from a place's entrance to its boss as quickly as possible and if I missed a treasure chest or two, that was the price of maintaining my interest. Many aspects of Zeboyd's RPGs are great, but to take the next step, I think the dungeons need to feature more diversity. Make a couple that are smaller in dimension. Or a castle that is designed like a real castle. Or anything that isn't a massive collection of rooms and corridors. If Zeboyd can do this, they might truly reach perfection.
While they didn't accomplish that with Cthulhu Saves the World, they still crafted a fun game that reminds me of the times I had with the Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy adventures back in the day. Especially when you consider the patch, there's a ton of content for only $3. After playing Breath of Death, I was eager to see what Zeboyd would come up with next and after finishing this game, that feeling remains the same. These guys have a knack for making fun retro RPGs and if they continue to improve, it'll be a safe bet that I'll be enjoying their work for years to come.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 17, 2011)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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