I finally finished my first indie game this “weekend” (I say “weekend” because my days off this week were Tuesday & Wednesday). That game was Cthulhu Saves the World. I mentioned this game back in my 4th of July post. I happened to read about this game briefly while searching for some good indie games. And after playing going through the intro & fighting my first battle, I knew I had to buy the full version. So what was my experience?
The plot behind Cthulhu Saves the World is, obviously enough, that the monster-god has to save the world. Now anyone who’s ever read H.P. Lovecraft’s works knows that Cthulhu actually tries to destroy the world & drive everyone insane. So why is he trying to save it? Because, as the self-aware narrator tells us, a mysterious stranger sealed Cthulhu’s powers away just as he was rising to destroy the world. And now the only way to get his powers back is by becoming a true hero. Thus begins Cthulhu’s quest throughout the land, gathering allies & saving the day so he can destroy it. The heroic deeds Cthulhu commits range from saving a puppy to investigating the alien abduction of cows. Along the way you pick up several… interesting allies. A Cthulhu groupie, a living sword, a Necromancer, an alien cat, a senile mage, & a dragon. Eventually your journey will take you all the way into angled space.
If you’ve played any 8-bit RPG like Dragon Quest, you know what to expect. You travel around the wilderness & towns, occasionally having random encounters. The encounters trigger turn-based text combat with a group of enemies. As your characters level up, they learn new abilities & increase their stats. There’s a lot of variety in what spells & techniques you choose. You’ll always have two choices when leveling up. A unique feature of combat is that you can turn your enemies insane (this is Cthulhu, after all). This can be to your advantage or disadvantage. Some enemies have different skills when they’re insane or take more damage, but they may cause more damage. Some characters can also use Unite abilities, depending on who’s in your party. For example, having Cthulhu & Umi in your party lets you summon the Kraken. You also buy or find new weapons & armor to equip on your characters.
Narrative: Cthulhu is a quirky game, but in a good way. It’s not one of those games that tries so hard to be funny that it ends up being annoying. It has just the right amount of oddness & humor to make you smirk. Sometimes the humor is in reference to the limitations of old-style RPG’s, sometimes it’s a prod at Lovecraft, & other times it’s just funny writing. I think a lot of the humor derives from the simultaneous adherence to & attempts to subvert genre expectations. There’s something strangely compelling about playing as the bad guy trying to be a good guy so he can get back to being a bad guy. And in the end, you can choose to go either way. It’s a little less satisfying returning to being the god of insanity, though probably more in-form with “real” Cthulhu. But even if you choose to be the good guy in the end, it comes across less as Cthulhu having learned the power of love & friendship as he just likes the praise that comes from being the hero. Which, while probably out of line with Lovecraft’s vision, at least fits with his character over the course of this game.
Speaking of characters, there’s plenty to encounter. While not the most complex characters, it’s still fun to fill your party out with archetypes that would be cast-offs in other games, or perhaps even an enemy. And they’re surprisingly likable. They manage to get their personalities through with relatively little dialogue. Especially when you chat between missions. And I think a lot of the fun is seeing them play off each other.
Overall, the story is a fun little subversion of normal RPG tropes that doesn’t take itself too seriously while also still understanding the structure of a good story.
Mechanics: Simple yet effective. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but it works well. You wander around & fight random groups of enemies. There is a limit on the number of encounters you can have in an area, which I liked. Having to constantly fight would be annoying in some of the more maze-like areas, & this also prevents you from getting overpowered. This isn’t meant to be a game you grind through. There were times I was actually counting down to having no encounters left though. But if you do like to grind, you can always choose to start a fight in your menu screen, which I feel fits with the character of the game.
Combat can be a bit on the repetitive side. There’s a fair amount of strategy involved when choosing your attacks. You have physical attacks, magic & techniques, both of which use up MP, so you have to be careful. Sometimes you want to buff your party or blind your opponent. Boss fights are particularly exciting. That being said, it is all text-based. Unless it was a particularly tough fight, I found myself tapping A a lot to speed through the battle dialogue to get back to selecting my next round of attacks. However, the abilities you learn are very different from what you see in most games. For instance, the alien cat calling down nuclear strikes.
Overall, while parts of the combat can be tedious & repetitive, it’s no worse than any other old-school, turn-based RPG, & a there enough unique set dressing to distract from the monotony.
Aesthetics: It’s 16-bit, what do you expect? That being said, the enemies are well-designed & very different from each other. They even have different forms when they’re insane. The cutscenes are still pictures, but given the limitation of the genre, they’re still well done. The environments vary from each other, & the colors scheme varies as well. My main complaint isn’t so much with design as layout. The dungeons are whatnot can be difficult to navigate. They’re designed the mazes, with branching paths. Because everything looks mostly the same, it’s easy to get lost, especially when random encounters keep breaking my concentration. The audio is much better. Although still in the 8-bit genre, the music in catchy. I liked it all, with the exception of the battle theme. Mainly because there’s only one, & it gets a bit annoying after a while.
Overall, if you can accept it for what it is, the presentation is nice.
Replay Value: Surprisingly high. There are a lot of gameplay modes to unlock. No only do you unlock Insanity mode once you’ve beaten the game, but there are other bonus modes as well. Score Attack turns off random encounters, thus limiting your level, & rewards you for defeating the bosses. Highlander only lets you use one character to battle at a time, but greatly increased the XP gained. Overkill starts you at level 40, & is basically just for mucking about. Cthulhu’s Angels is the story mode told through the Necromancer October’s perspective with her acting on behalf of Cthulhu & gathering an all-female party. Currently I’m working through Overkill & Angels.
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: If you miss old-school RPG’s, enjoy a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, & like having future challenges to work on, I highly recommend this game. This indie game deserves our support.
Title: Cthulhu Saves the World Console: XBL, 360, PC Rating: N/A Developer: Zeboyd Games Release Date: December 30, 2010 Updated: September 26, 2018