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A Fairytale in Dusk Garden

Ho ho ho! This is my Secret Santa Christmas review for Archeia_Nessiah and Rhyme's "Subterranean Starfield". To be honest, it's not the kind of rpg I usually play since I prefer story and characters over battling, but it's one of the few of her games which hasn't been reviewed yet and it's Christmas, so what the heck. But did there turn out to be a brand spanking new PS4 in the stocking, or was it a mouldy orange and a lump of coal? Read on to find out!


Well, there isn't one really. A random group of adventurers (literally, since your party are randomly generated each game) are asked by some lady to clear an evil tree out of a forest dungeon. Then you explore a bit deeper, through a ruined maze and the underground starfield of the title. Then it ends, I guess. I didn't actually beat the game, for reasons explained later. But I can't fault the lack of story too much, since it doesn't claim to be anything other than a dungeon crawl game.
Score: 2 mince pies out of 5


I don't particularly like the super-chibi style of VX Ace, but I have to admit the game looks very pretty, with some lovely touches like the map names and the character portraits (though I thought it a bit strange that my sharp shooter character had one eye bandaged up - wouldn't a lack of 3d vision put him at something of a disadvantage as a sniper?). The enemy battlers are especially cute and well-drawn, and adds some charm which is lacking without individual pc personalities.
The mapping has good and bad points. Most maps have some kind of gimmick, such as buttons that change floor layout or one-way passable statues. To a greater or lesser extent they are mazes, so there are lots of dead-ends and back tracking. Most are fine, but B5F is a real pain. It's super-mazey, it loops around on itself and, to make it even worse, the darkness limits your field of vision to a few squares around your character. You will walk around a lot before you find the exit. I almost gave up here but I didn't want to give a review without playing as much as possible, so eventually I got through. Luckily, you can buy an item which prevents monster encounters, so you can take your time to explore.
Score: 3 brussel sprouts out of 5


As a dungeon crawler this is maybe the most important aspect, since most of the game is battling. Taking the things I liked first:

The encounter system is well done. A diamond in the corner of the screen changes colour as you walk around. When it becomes red, an encounter occurs. If you escape (which was always successful, at least on casual mode) the diamond takes less time before the next encounter. I found this far less annoying than a normal random encounter system, so no complaints there.

There are loads of different techniques and spells, meaning that you can fight quite tactically. Because your parties are random though, I guess you could end up with few or no healers or unbalanced parties.

A special gauge fills up as you deal damage. When it reaches 100%, you can activate an Extra Step skill which allows each character to attack twice that turn. It's a nice extra ability to have.

Now the things which were not so great:
Most of the chests in the game need keys to open, which you can buy for 50 gold back in town. Why? You already have to grind to get money to pay for the decent weapons and armour, so what's the point of paying to open chests too? On B7F I came across two chests I couldn't open as I had no keys, so I thought I'd just come back later. But when you continue to the exit of that floor a switch changes the map layout, and there seems no way to access those chests again. So just because I wasn't carrying enough keys I lost my chance to get whatever was in them forever?

Some monsters can be annoyingly unfair. Especially the skill "Dream Bloom" which is basically "Sleep" (or "Asmeep" as the game calls it for some reason...). The Lancers on B7F and B8F use it a lot, and it almost always seems to work. So you can have multiple turns pass without being able to do anything. Poison attacks are also annoying, since the only way I had to cure them was with an item. If there's a spell which cures status ailments, none of my random party had it.

I admit I'm not that great at dungeon crawlers, which is why I played casual mode. But I still had to do a lot of grinding to get money to buy decent equipment. The Lucky Coin item helps (it doubles gold drops) but it's not exactly fun. Having said that, there was a certain charm about the game which meant I didn't mind too much. For serious tactical players they probably relish a challenge and wouldn't grind quite as much, but for casual players like me it could put them off.

Score: 3 Christmas crackers out of 5


Despite the occasional frustrations at confusing maps and cheap enemies, I found the game quite enjoyable and there was a drive to try to beat it. As a simple, 2 week game made with VX Ace Lite, it has a lot of charm and is well-made. Unfortunately, I couldn't beat the final boss so I didn't see the ending. It's last form has about 6 consecutive attacks, and it buffs itself and debuffs your party faster than you can possible counter it. At that point I was about level 30, with the best weapons for everyone and decent armour, and I didn't feel like grinding again to buy the best armour. So, sorry! But I'm sure a better player than I could beat it.
So, to conclude, as it says on the tin, it's a nice little kawaii-style dungeon crawler. If that's the kind of thing that you like, than this is the kind of thing for you.
So I guess it turns out that in the stocking after all was a...Wii U?