Category Archives: RPG


Mining the internet for a decent survival/crafter game these days is much like the process of mining in the games themselves: an increasingly tedious grind of repetition that requires ridiculous amounts of resources to cobble together even the simplest of shelters before you die of dehydration, starvation and, possibly, boredom.

Thank the pixel gods that Aground chose not to choose life; it chose something else. It brings out that obsessive pleasure from mining an entire island into a gaping hole in the ocean, without taking so long about getting around to letting you do it at ridiculous speeds with power tools.

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Playthrough: Helherron #4 – Goblin Cave

Welcome back to my playthrough of old school tactics RPG Helherron, where I slowly make my way through this unforgiving forgotten tactics RPG.

Previously I took my first steps through the starting village after having undertaken the painstaking process of creating eight characters who hopefully won’t die painfully. Today, that last bit might change as I set foot into the first dungeon. Right outside of the town we find the cave, and enter. Before we can blink, wouldn’t you know it, we are assaulted by a pack of goblins.

At the beginning of a battle in Helherron, you get a chance to position  your characters freely within a tight starting zone. Naturally I move my melee fighters: Grogg the dwarven fighter, Zitz the troll barbarian, Bender the golem barbarian and Chops the lizardman monk, to the frontlines. Freeman, a hobbit thief, hangs back with a bow, while the magic users: Friday, a fairy mage and Alisia, an elven priestess, stand at the back. It’s on!

Speed plays an importnt role in this game, and as you’d expect, the Thief proves to be the fastest, going first and critically hitting a goblin archer. Nice. Next up is the priestess Alisia who successfully manages to cast “weakness” on a nearby goblin warrior, which will apparently cause him to cause less damage for the next 2-3 turns. The Fairy mage goes next, shooting a magic dart at the goblin warrior for minor damage. Interestingly, she can shoot right through friendly characters without hitting them, so friendly fire isn’t an issue in this game (aoe damage might be a different matter).

Next it’s time to move the slow frontliners. “Guard” is Helherron‘s equivalent of X-COM’s “overwatch” – meaning the fighter will attack anyone who comes near, and its a very importnat feature indeed. Once enemies get close, the melee troup step up to bat, sending goblins staggering backwards before collapsing in bloody heaps (the game actually describes is as this). First blood, and amazingly, it wasn’t mine.

My Shaman is an interesting character, being an average spell caster but with the ability to summon creatures. Except that at level 1, with only a 50% chance of success, my spell doesn’t just fail it critically fails, and the caster becomes stunned, probably shocked by his own incompetence. Spell-casting is thus a slight bit more nuanced than the fire-and-forget system of most games.

From here, the battle goes pretty smoothly, especially thanks to the theif’s tendancy to score critical hits, the goblins generally go down in one or two hits.

Of ourse, this was merely the game’s very first battle, so it isn’t too demanding. Still, it is entirely possible to characters to die, so you need to get the gang working as a team pretty much from the outset.

The next battle occurs just a few yards down the tunnel, and ups the ante already – more goblins, and they are accompanied by dogs.

My Shaman conjours up a… killer chicken? Well, it’s something, and surprisingly, the killer chicken even pecks a goblin to death. This summon won’t be useful for long into the game, but for the first dungeon it’s handy to thin the herd a little. Summoned animals at this level are generally weak, but a handy tactic is to summon them in front of ranged attackers and spell-casters as this tends to tie them up on melee for a turn.

A few arrows and a “strange herb” that needs to be identified in town are the only interesting drops from this battle, but overall we’ve gotten off to a good start.

Just north, we find our first side quest in three hobbits looking for their brother who went missing in the caves. If we find him, they promise to reward us with a ring. My hobbit theif rolls his eyes. We accept the quest for the precious.

Venturing further into the depths, we stumbled across a small cave with more goblins, but lure them back into the corridor, which turns out good for us strategically. In Helherron, it’s often essential to kite enemies on the map until you have a more advantegous geographic location.

They dropped an unidentified amulet which I picked up for later.

Finally, in the north-western corner was a spider’s nest. Fearing the worst, I ventured in and engaged the giant spiders waiting within. Our melee fighters, backed up by ranged and magic attacks, made relatively short work of the spiders, even with their annoying webs.

We’ve cleared out the first floor, and are ready to descend into the second level.

Random thoughts:

  • So far, combat is easier than I remember. I remember struggling even with the very first battle, many years ago. Perhaps I’ve just gotten much better at tactical RPGs (I replayed all the gold box games last year), or maybe the newer versions of the game rebalanced things a bit to make the starting areas more easy. It’s probably a bit of both.
  • My hobbit thief is making for a surprisingly excellent archer, only missing one shot in four battles, and often scoring critical hits.
  • For now, melee fighters are the MVPs of battle, rarely missing and often doing heavy damage with knockback effects. Spell casters are less useful as they have barely any spells, and hybrid casters (the shaman and monk) have very low casting success rates, around 50-60%.
  • Melee fighters being the MVPs, that is, with the notable exception of Bender the golem, who can only move 2 steps and rarely reaches anything to be of use. I’m not sure what stats affect movement, if any, so levelling up may never improve movement. Later we should get movement-improving equipment.
  • Characters seem to gain experience per action, rather than a fixed amount per battle. This means I need to make sure to all characters have some input into battles. My magic users are “feeling the bern”, as they tend to skip a lot of turns to conserve mana. This will hopefully change after a few level ups.
  • Magic users can “boost” their spells, up to 20x the power, at a higher MP cost and lower casting chance, making even low level spells potentially useful throughout the game. I’ll go into more detail on battle mechanics and spell lists in a future post.
  • Spells and ranged attacks don’t seem to have range limitations, as far as I can tell. Presumably, though, they are less effective beyond a certain distance.

I won’t be going into this level of detail for the whole game, in future summarising things, particularly battles, more and only covering important battles in detail, or explaining new mechanics, etc. in more depth.

Helherron | download

Aggelos (full release)

We took a look at Wonderboy in Monsterworld-a-like Aggelos way back in early 2016. Now the full game is out. My how the time flies… Coincidentally, it flies just like you will fly, double jump and air dash your way through Aggelos.

I’ve spent a few hours meditating in an elemental chamber after playing the game, and now I’m ready to put cosmic thoughts to the mediocrity of the digital page.

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Mortal Manor

Mortal Manor bids itself as a Metroidvania, but also wants to stand out with a different approach to gameplay. Fortunately, this includes a vast sprawling world and tons of weapons to collect. Unfortunately, the approach also includes instadeaths and enemies that are as annoying as %*#&.

Any indie gem has rough edges and I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Mortal Manor‘s edges are about as smooth as rock golem’s butt. For those with the same sort of patience as an eternal being, though, there’s a massive game here, crammed with varied areas and bursting with weapons, relics and secrets to find.

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Chasm (demo)

We cover a lot of demos and alphas and the like here, and while the demos provide decent entertainment, pretty much none of them over the last three years have since seen the light of day as a full release. So here’s a demo for a metroidvania that is due for release in just one month. Oh, but it’s been in development for six years.

Chasm promises the usual metroidvania fare, and while it certainly is polished with all the right founding ingredients in place, the demo, which turns out to be from the dark ages of 2013, left me feeling a little uninspired.

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New Retro Picks: Steam Summer Sale #2

With a few days left, time to slip in another set of picks for the Steam Summer sale.

Last time I pointed out a bunch of games I largely already owned or ended up buying and playing due to the sale, that turned out decent enough. This time, I’m pointing out some games that I haven’t yet played, and probably games that most people have never heard of – so this is a good chance to discover some new obscure games.

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New Retro News: Steam Summer Sale

The Steam Summer Sale is currently on, running until July 5th, so another 10 days or so from this post, which means plenty of time to grab some bargains.

When 25 of my wishlisted items appeared on sale in my inbox, it was both a blessing and a curse for my wallet. I mean, sure, I spent a lot, but at these savings, it’d be losing money not to buy… uh, right? Double-mortgage aside, given the massive number of games on sale I thought this would be a good time to shortlist a few New Retro Games Staff picks.

Thimbleweed Park (40% off, ~12EUR)


An old-school adventure game throwback by Monkey Island brigand Ron Gilbert himself, Thimbleweed Park kind of gets thrown as Maniac Mansion meets Twin Peaks. Perhaps not totally inaccurate, but… to me, it feels a bit more like Zakk McKracken meets Twin Peaks.

The general impressions of the game were positive, and although while perhaps not hitting the highs of his earlier affairs, Thimbleweed seems to be offering some solid adventure so far. It sports some damn beautiful classic pixel artwork, and the five character + inventory swapping puzzles and bizarre town make it worth the discounted price for sure.

Cosmic Star Heroine (50% off ~8EUR)


I took a look at Cosmic Star Heroine back in Jan, and while I did enjoy it, I also had somewhat mixed feelings about it. A callback to 16-bit SNES rpgs brimming with modern potential, CSH had an interesting fast-paced battle system and creative cast, each with their own unique skillsets, but it tended to burn through everything so fast that it was hard to really dig in to. I finished it, including every side quest and achievement, in 17 hours, and that was at a relaxed pace. Still, sometimes we don’t want to invest 100+ hours into a game, and for less than a tenner, it’s pretty cheap.

Darkest Dungeon (70% ~7EUR)


This is a game I’d been on the fence about for a long time, persisting through numerous sales. The game brings some richly artistic flair to your dungeon crawling, mixed in with Dark Souls level punishing difficulty. As a fan of old-school dungeon crawls like the Gold Box games or even Nethack, this can be a good thing, but I also don’t quite have the patience I did those days. Nevertheless, at 70% off this sale convinced me to take the plunge and I can confirm that I have been enjoying the self-flagellation so far. Even playing on the (later patched in) easier mode, I find myself taking careful steps in combat and each trip feels suitably risky, yet rewarding. Worth the admission price, I think, even if you end up only spending 10 or so of the potentially dozens of hours the game offers.

Dungeon Warfare (66% off, ~3,50EUR)


Dungeon Warfare is a relatively simple but strangely addicting reverse dungeon crawler/TD-style game. Being some sort of sentient evil entity, you decide to fill your dungeons with an assortment of traps to put a stop to the encroaching horde of money-grubbing do-gooders from the inconvenience of killing you. Where the game really excels, however, is how well these traps work together in unison, whether it be pushing peasants into spike pits or pulling knights into an endless pit. Playing with combinations is fun by itself, but the game actively rewards you for doing so, and it gets addicting fast.

There’s a disappointingly increasing trend for browser games and mobile games to try and go big time by releasing a PC port. However, most of the time the leaving in of a horrible UI, dumbed-down gameplay and, in some cases, confounding “freemium pay-to-win” model in the game smells richly of cash grab. Luckily, this is not the case for Dungeon Warfare. It did indeed start as a free browser game (and is still available), and the Steam version simply adds a bit of extra polish and content. This may seem “low effort”, but the game itself is solid, so while technically you can get enough enjoyment from the free version, for me this really was a case of throwing a few deserved bucks the developer’s way.

Legend of Grimrock 2 (60% off, ~9EUR)


I bought this game for full price back in the day and still don’t regret it, even though it took me about 3 years to get around to finishing the thing. Grimrock 2 is an expertly-done modern take on the classic Dungeon Master crawl formula, and is also basically an improvement on its prequel in every way possible. If you like this sort of game at all, and don’t mind square dancing with giant turtles while unkillable air elementals push you into the water where a sea monster blocks the ladder while you drown to death, then hey, there’s no real reason not to get this.

Z-Exemplar (50% off, 2,50EUR)


Taking the spot of one of our games of the year back when we did that sort of thing, Z-Exemplar is a solid, if sometimes unforgiving, classical horizontal-scrolling shoot ’em up harking back, as the name would suggest, to the days of the ZX Spectrum. What helps the game stand out from its inspirations is its solid weapons system, with tons of combinations to choose from, all characteristic from branching vines to lasers to orbs of death, and all upgradable. Better yet, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and sports a lovely british sense of irreverent humour. There are also over 900 levels to non-linearly explore. They are all very short, taking around about 1 minute to beat, but goddam if that’s not insane. I am still nowhere near finishing the game.

Phew, that’s enough for now. I might try to throw together another list in a few days, because hot dam, if this isn’t a disturbingly enticing sale I don’t know what is.


The Lair

There hasn’t been a great deal of beat ’em ups that used RPG mechanics. There sure have been some good ones – the old arcade D&D games and River City Ransom were pretty cool. Zombie Smashers X and Castle Crashers were some pretty interesting indie attempts, circa the early 2000s. Yet, overall, not many have tried their hand at the unpopular genre-fusion.


The Lair takes a step to reconcile this, though it’s more a nifty little RPG-flavoured beat ’em up than true fusion of dungeon crawling and combo juggling. Still, it’s pretty darn fun, with impressive graphics for the minimalistic game-making tools used. Yes, I like this. More, please.

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Sigma-Finite Dungeon

The remarkable thing about zero-budget indie RPGs made by guys in their basement is that can compel us to still play them under the shadow of top quality million dollar triple-A ventures. Case in point: I recently acquired The Witcher III, and yet here I am, playing Sigma-Finite Dungeon. That’s not to say the Witcher isn’t great, because it is, but there’s always room to indulge in that sense of old-school satisfaction that pushing yet another pixelated goblin to its death in a spike trap elicits.


Sigma-Finite Dungeon is an intoxicating mashup of Final Fantasy Tactics party-based battles with roguelike dungeon crawling, with a party to equip, skills to leverage, and monsters to slush. It’s not quite as deep as FFT or Nethack, but its tactical combat provides some solid satisfaction.

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Magna Driver

I have a confession to make: I don’t really miss JRPGs all that much. After gluttonously gorging on Final Fantasy‘s heyday (6 and 7 in particular), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and more, I’m incredibly blessed. But I don’t really want more.

Yet… If it’s one thing I really do miss from those days where trifling matters like paying taxes were not on my radar, it is the FF5/Tactics style job system. That shit was awesome. JRPG derivations are a dime-a-dozen now, but this one enticing element is never authentically replicated.

Magna Driver heard my call, though, emerging at my darkest hour. It may be a prototype-level demo, sure, but that same addictive crack-like quality of the job system is still there, and I devoured it gleefully for about an hour until I had unlocked every job and ability for each character.

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