There is no shortage of quirky, retro-inspired independent games for PC and Xbox. But you would be hard-pressed to find a title that combines 16-bit aesthetics with challenging RPG game play as effectively as Cthulhu Saves the World. The latest release from Zeboyd Games is at its heart a hardcore RPG reminiscent of golden era mainstays, but it has enough new and interesting features to make it relevant. Factor in its irreverent take on Lovecraft, references to classic RPG’s, and fourth-wall breaking moments – and Cthulhu is definitely a game worth playing.
Before we get started, we should note that there are several versions of the game out there. The original version on the Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace runs for 240 Microsoft Points. We played the recently-released PC version of the game, (dubbed the Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD – Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector’s Edition) which includes several new game modes, rebalanced combat, insightful commentary, and new character art.
The works of H.P. Lovecraft have become popular with the geek crowd, but Cthulhu Saves the World turns them on their head. Where the source material depicts Cthulhu as a shadow of madness and destruction, the game strips him of his omnipotence and casts him as a hero on a quest alongside anime-styled flunkies. After an exchange with the narrator, Cthulhu discovers the key to restoring his godhood lies in becoming a true hero – a task which he approaches with all the earnestness one might expect of the former god of madness. Zeboyd takes the concept in entertaining directions with some cleverly written, self-aware moments, but don’t expect the overarching plot to blow you away.
The real strength of Cthulhu Saves the World lies in its take on the classic RPG formula. It takes the tried and true mechanics of SNES and Genesis RPG’s and tweaks them to make the experience fresh. For example: battles are still random, but each dungeon has a quota of random encounters. Once that number has been reached, battles will no longer occur randomly – but may still be initiated at will through the menu system. The game play seems balanced to the point where fulfilling a dungeon’s random encounter quota will usually leave your team at a sufficient level to beat the boss. We thought this was a fantastic idea as it removes the ambiguity from grinding – simply reach the quota and your team won’t be overpowered or underpowered when it comes time for the boss fight.
Be that as it may, we were surprised at how much of a fight the game puts up. We played on a higher difficulty, but weren’t ready for the ass kicking that was in store for us in the game’s earlier stages. Regular enemies don’t pull any punches, as your team is fully healed after each battle and everyone – even teammates who were KO’d – receives experience. The challenge dips a bit when your party is full and you can afford to let a team member go down. It reminds us of a time when there was much less hand-holding in video games, and much more was expected of the player.
The game also allows for some minor customization. Upon levelling up your characters, you’re allowed to choose between two bonuses. These may be stat bonuses which lean more towards physical or magical, offense or defense. You may also have to choose between two different versions of a spell or ability – perhaps one that has multiple hits to charge up the combo meter or one that exhausts said meter in a powerful finishing move. This gives you some options when designing your characters to meet certain archetypes: Cthulhu himself can be a tanky warrior or a powerful spell slinger. We wouldn’t say it grants the game a ton of replay value, but it’s definitely nice to have the option as it adds another layer of strategy to the already complex game play mechanics.
All in all, Cthulhu Saves the World scratches an itch we’ve been nursing for quite some time. If we took away one thing from our experience playing the game, it’s that every element feels well thought-out and well-implemented. We’re not saying the game is perfect, but it’s definitely a stand-out title in a sea of mediocre competitors. Simply put: this game does things right, and those of you looking for an affordable RPG fix need look no further.
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Name: Cthulhu Saves the World
Available on: PC, Xbox 360
Developed by: Zeboyd Games
Published by: Zeboyd Games
Release date: July 13th, 2011
EG Score: 4 out of 5 / “Worth Buying”