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Fun dynamic fast-moving RPG with a side of Bugbear, Lizard and Orc hunks

  • Kylaila
  • 04/03/2019 12:59 PM
TheAnnoyingBugbear: The Crystal King Demo Version 1.02

The Crystal King is a lovely fast-paced RPG focusing on the often neglected fantasy races, as far as the protagonist ranks are concerned. It features bara-style (meaty and strong or muscular men) companions, a tiny bit of flirting, lots of banter, and lots of fighting while you try to uncover the surrounding story of why your protagonist was turned into a different race - a bugbear. As of now the game is unfinished and ends with the first direct face-off against a major villain/character.
For those unfamiliar with bugbears, like myself, it is a fantasy race made famous by DnD, which is a bear-goblin mix, though no fur is really visible on the companions of this game. Think of it as a more bubbly looking orc, with nice goblin ears. That's what this game made me think, anyway. There's also orcs and lizardmen in the game. And humans, humans are also in the game.

The developer, TheAnnoyingBugbear, has been very open to discussing all aspects of the game, especially the story, and there seem to be major changes on their way looking at the updated character page already. One of the playable characters Rennic might not be playable in the full game, and the protagonist's alternate choice of weapon (Bow) has been changed into mace. A bit of a nitpick might be that with all the non-human characters around, the playable character is a human-turned-bugbear, and so we still get a human protagonist. While I don't mind this in the slightest, it makes for an amusing afterthought.
I first started the demo end of last year, and minor changes have since found its way into the demo, most notable a renewed dynamic between bugbears and human characters. They appear to be on much friendlier terms now, as our beloved characters and their villagers are just genuinely nice people to be around. However, perhaps as the game progresses, cities further away from their home village might respond differently, seeing how they may be unfamiliar with the big hunky race. At this point, this is unknown, and unlikely.

Let's get into the Demo!

The entire demo exudes a fun and relaxed atmosphere. There seems to be little urgency in the characters' actions, and the party seems to be generally very optimistic - to a fault perhaps, even. They go around having fun, running errands and bantering. Even when one of the bad guy's goons shows the slightest hint of maybe not being so bad they drop their guard and introduce him as a guest into their party. This is strange, as the only reason they might want him is as protection. Except he doesn't fight with the party and the party has been strong enough on their own just fine before that. More focus could be put onto having faith in his good deed they witnessed, since that is the only realistic explanation.

The story itself is simple: protagonist has been turned bugbear, friendly people find him and wish to aid him in getting back his old form. But it becomes more complex as you witness longer-spanning developments along your main objectives which may in fact be more important or significant than what you are trying to do. Namely, a big bad evil has set up residence somewhere, captured a mage scholar person to be forced to work for them. As the goodie-goodie person you are, you just drop by and pick them up since you are already there. The demo also introduces the Crystal King who gives the game its name - what this crystal business all entails we do not know, but it is made clear that it has indirect ties to the protagonist's plight.
Speaking of, why is the demo called anything but the Crystal King? The folder is called demo + version without any title attached, with the actual sub folder/game folder reading Bones & Arrows (totally not Dungeons & Dragons). I remember having a hard time finding the folder buried under many others on my old computer.

Gameplay largely centers around visiting different parts of the world map searching for missing people/running errands, or visiting other people to get the four items of random origin to visit a magical legend-ridden fairy with magical powers to turn back your protagonist into his original form. Will he still be a hunk then? We do not know. These plot devices do their job and are not really explained in-depths, nor do they add any depths, but they guide the pace well and give our party a clear goal to move towards. As such, you will spend a while travelling through forests and battling while you are at it, but never too long or without dialogue - you also later get warp points. This is made easier as we face on-touch encounters, 80-90% of which can easily be avoided should you choose to. I quite like that some chests you cannot reach without battle while others you can reach.

I don't think this line of bricks would suddenly disappear like that in a real castle...

The demo achieves a good balance in this and it feels like you are constantly moving forward. Areas are usually small-ish, are often revisited as you travel through them (namely the main forest area next to your village) and offer plenty reward. There are numerous chests to find, the occasional cave to explore off-the-beaten-path, and even additional dialogue options to find as you have certain spots marked on the map that initiate additional, non-main-plot dialogue, aka just banter. This is slightly reminiscent of the Tales games and it is as fun to get to see different sides of the characters. It would be lovely to see this expanded upon, and perhaps even involve some activities, like cooking or fishing, as the plot often thins this out (you literally had a sleepover with characters just getting to know each other, without any conversation whatsoever, for shame!).

The Battles

Battles are pretty fun in this game, as they generally are smooth, fast, and hit hard. You will need to gear up if you want to proceed, and this is very easy to do. (Discussion on the boards always make me remember Craze's and other philosophies on battles, and that they did not work for me, welp.) I look for a smooth challenging but not needlessly complex battle and upgrade system. This game achieves that, as you need to be on guard and react to what is thrown at you, while also offering ways to customize the characters to your play style. For example, I made the protagonist my heal-slave, my lizard friend a heavy hitter with plenty of tankiness, and my rogue well.. what rogues do. Hit hard, be fast, steal everything. I tried to ignore the existence of the fourth character in battle.

There are three difficulty modes, and I quite like the selection for myself. They do not actually affect the enemy balance, but instead affect EXP gained, making it more or less difficult both based on your base stats, and how much you can actually upgrade your characters abilities via the upgrade "Treasure Grid" system (this, I think, is a really important balancing factor). I chose blessed mode so I could avoid most enemy encounters, and enjoy seeing the game for myself (I never could imagined me doing this a few years ago, go me choosing the easy fun route sometimes!). While this made me be short on cash constantly, chests provided enough assistance to help me prepare for harder boss-fights and I had a lovely experience without it feeling too easy.

Why is it only my protagonist investing everything? I'm on Worik's grid right now! Why not the corresponding character?

The treasure grid system is a bit of an advanced approach of investing into attributes. You invest into attributes, and get some spells the further you go in into any one path. Plus, you can choose some extra attribute points of your choosing, even if you invest into something else for the spells. What you do is that you buy trophies via a certain currency - these trophies are really placeholders for upgrading things and limit your growth not just by your level, but also your cash (and NOT the cash you use for equipment, yay). You can then invest these trophies into certain attributes, increasing them according to A what attribute you chose to invest in (+2, or 10/100 for MP/HP) and B what trophy you bought (+ 3), with the additional effect of C learning spells after certain level of investment into each attribute. This is fully disclosed (with only the next spell to learn) and makes investing fun. The only limit to this is your characters' level - a level 6 character, can only reach level 6 in any one upgrade path. Well, and your ability to obtain trophies to waste en mass. Basically, it means that if you want certain spells or passive boni you need to invest into attributes you may otherwise not want or neglect, while also being able to always upgrade the ones you wish to focus on while you do so with a split. This makes you avoid min-maxing everything, because your characters can profit from a healthy spread, even if it is just to obtain some more spells. You may want to invest into more HP before a difficult boss fight, and you don't need to level up more to do so. Make sure to check it out if you are finding yourself hard pressed to win that plant boss battle!

Items are strong and recover plenty of HP, with ailment countering ones being virtually useless, though. Since I built my heal-slave I soon did not need to use them anymore except once to revive someone in a boss battle.

Quirks and potential Pitfalls

There are only a few gripes I have with the battle system, but there are many question mark areas for me present.

For the gripes, magic spells deal far too little damage. A character with three times the attack in magic will deal about the same damage in battle via the normal attack command as they do with spells that actually cost MP. Magical attacks seem to scale only very very slowly, whereas characters with boosted physical attacks and strong weapons beat everything easily. Only in healing does the magic difference show up (or is that an illusion if it is based on level?), also because investing into the MP treasure stash will grant you decent mana regen in battle.

The other gripe is that tutorials are ill-placed. The tutorial for the treasure grid was lovely (given by the person you can buy trophies at), but the other fearies working as tutorial helpers only gave totally obsolete information. One fairy explains something that the description of each trophy, which you can see whenever you buy them, already tells you! Yet at the same time, many other aspects are totally obscure with no explanation present anywhere, such as status ailments. What does oil or wet do? What does frostbite do? I have no idea and the info is nowhere to be found. A random NPC says that dexterity ( think?) affects the damage output.. however it doesn't specify if that concerns physical or magical attacks or both. I would love to have this show up somewhere, because I am genuinely uncertain how this works with less straightforward stats (compare: defense and magical defense are fairly straightforward).

Speaking of status ailments, your characters are virtually immune to most of them, which makes some of the types of immunity granted in the skill tree rather obsolete. In the main menu most characters have a displayed resistance of 100% to most status ailments (this is also true for the normal and hard mode option, I checked!). With the exception of entangled, I never had an ailment work on my characters, even if they were hit by poison claws multiple times. Actually, silence worked on Worik, but he in fact possessed no spells that he couldn't use with this in place (as per my build). The boss didn't target any other characters with this spell, so this might work, maybe.

The demo lacks some polish. Mapping can look messy at times, or be unrealistic - as in the first screenshot way above. That said, it is very utilitarian and I quite loved the monster areas for the many things to find by the wayside. The writing, while well-flowing and fun to read, is riddled with typos and errors that I pray will be corrected in the final game. One of the more glaring errors is using "founded" instead of "found" multiple times, which is not only a glaring mistake, but also makes for a completely different meaning in the sentence. Founding is the process of creating an organization or institution. Finding is picking up an item by the roadside. Said lack of polish also is apparent in the aforementioned tutorials, and even the one that is useful and works, the treasure grid tutorial, shows a character that hasn't joined your party yet, but with a wink that it is there unnecessarily and not needed just yet. It would look much better if it was simply kept to the characters you have in your team at that moment. On the treasure grid you also do not walk around with the corresponding character, but always the protagonist.

The last gripe is that the characters can do very dumb things without anyone speaking up about it or stopping it. Splitting up while commenting that it's a bad idea? Check. Going out alone when you are a wanted person? Check. Having a person who just wanted to kidnap you, and had attacked you earlier, join the party? Check. Especially the latter is a bit much, considering they already repaid some of the unexpected nice action by letting them rest and recover in town. This could simply use some more polish - use the good faith they have perhaps. I also need to mention that while our protagonist seems to want to return to being human, there is no conversation AT ALL about what he does or doesn't remember about being human, how that is different or important.. nor is there really any dialogue on how it is bothering him beyond the introduction. Is it?

Good things - Art and Hunks

What makes this game immediately stand out is just the gorgeous art the developer brings to the table. Various characters, including many side characters, have their own portraits, while sprite edits and unique monsters or bosses add to the style the game has. The soundtrack, too, is selected really well in most places and made playing it more fun. This also goes for just how nice the characters look.

Complimenting someone's sexual attractiveness out of the blue, after a boss fight? Count me in!!

One of the big selling points for the game are possible romantic or flirtatious options. At this point, only one story event offered this, but it is likely that this will be expanded upon. I would criticize the intensity of this interaction though - I thoroughly enjoyed it, but as the protagonist complimented the other person's butt, who they just met, I felt it overstayed its welcome by just a tiny bit, and for me it was a bit too much. It would be wiser to add more compliments later or just throughout the journey rather than all at once. Additionally, Rennic's shyness felt too obvious and shoved in there with the "*blush*", I reckon he'd need more time to open up about it at all.
On the plus side, most characters are generally really likable, and even the baddies look thoroughly bad-ass and might redeem themselves at some point in the story, or not. Each character has their own distinct personality, and they find themselves comfortable with each other, and this shows in the dialogue. What the story department lacks is made up with happy banter and fun dialogue between the characters. I love seeing the dynamic between the men teasing each other, and I hope to see more in the future. The only thing to criticize here is that it often remains shallow - which is fun and good, but you rarely learn something about the characters' deeper motives or aspirations in life, or hobbies. There is a reflecting scene here and there though, which I was very happy to see (I remember the one that Rennic has).

All in all:

This demo is very promising, albeit unpolished. The battles are fun, progression fast and rewarding with fun dialogues pulling it all together, on top of gorgeous characters.

I hope some of the rough points, especially the typos, will be ironed out for the full release, and more romantic or flirtatious conversations added (unless that is just empty bait, in which case I cri.)

+ naturally flowing dialogue
+ extra banter points
+ fun characters
+ fast pace
+ fun battles with difficulty options
+ on-touch encounters
+ underlying plot and hidden mysteries present (but not developed just yet)

- tutorials both insufficient and at times obsolete (faeries)
- questionable decisions made by your party
- villains and basic plot simplistic
- characters are incapable of fearing for their lives
- typos, lots of them

It's what it says on the tin, and it's fun!

3.5/5 Stars