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Cursed by Balance and Progression Problems

  • Liberty
  • 04/15/2015 10:15 PM
The Clans: Cursed Souls was one of the entries for the IGMC (Indie Game Making Contest) for 2014. As one of the judges for the RPG portion of the competition it is my pleasure to share my thoughts on the game. This review will basically just be the notes I took cleaned up. It will be based on the competition version of the game, so certain aspects of the game may have been changed.

Graphics are decent. There's a lot of care in the mapping and general game graphics - window skins, portraits, monster sprites, maps and all other graphical components fit well together and just look great.

Music and sounds are also well used, though the RTP sounds stood out quite a bit when compared to the other less-recognisable sounds.

Dialogue was decent, giving the characters their own personalities, though there were a few spelling errors that slipped past the radar (so to speak) and some awkward wording in parts.

The manga was an odd touch and broke immersion a bit. Same with the music room. Both were well-presented and looked good, though.

Battles were harder than they needed to be. While you could run from the on-map enemies, sometimes you were backed into a corner and had no choice but to battle... even if you knew you didn't have a chance. Indeed, there was a certain part of the game where you just couldn't progress due to this.

Skills aren't learned, as far as I could figure. Which is strange, as there was a skill-learning script added - it just had no skills added to learn. While the game started you off with skills to use, sadly they weren't quite enough to allow you to defeat all but the most basic of monsters.

Death was a constant companion through the game, as you would die in varied ways - whether by being touched by certain characters or by stepping on tiles. While you'd imagine such things were easily avoided, the inclusion of a mouse interaction script led to pathing that put you straight into harms way. Which meant you died. A lot. And while you could use the keyboard, you inevitably had to change back to using the mouse during battle as you could not choose a target without it.

The systems added to the game were quite neat. Crafting was done with bought or found components and could be levelled up to unlock newer recipes. This would have been a great feature if you could get enough souls after a certain point to actually continue. Sadly, often you had to choose between crafting healing items or lockpicks - both of which are necessary for survival and progress through the game.

Weapons and armour, though easy to unlock, was harder to create due to the above lack of souls for buying the necessary ingredients. Even when you did manage to create a new weapon or armour, they did not do much to increase your survivability.

Items failed to give enough healing to keep you alive during battles, the default amounts being set at 25% which was far less than the amount of damage done per battle.

Game overs occurred quite often but often the game autoloaded to your last save or in some cases, the last position (possibly autosaved). This meant that sometimes you would have to traverse back to where you were before you died or figure out how to progress from where you initially died. You also had to go back to your scene of death to gather the souls (including your own) that you had on you when you died.

The game over screen takes a while to actually leave, too - about 3-10 seconds, depending.

Fun factor
Certain aspects of the game were well planned - the systems, graphics, sounds, general plot and lay out of the mansion were quite well done and would have made the game great, if only it were fun to play.

The first part of the game was fun. You didn't have to worry about finding souls enough to progress because monsters that you could kill would hunt for you. However, after progressing past a certain door, you could no longer find said monsters and thus, your chances of getting enough souls to purchase healing items, weapons and lockpicks was quite limited.

Monsters after that point were extremely hard. Weapons did little against them, damage-wise, and healing items just weren't up to snuff. Often a battle meant certain death, which led to returning to that spot only to be killed off by the same monster. Indeed, I eventually gave up recollecting my souls and remaining as a ghost instead, so that I didn't need to worry about fighting one beast who kept appearing.

Add to that that certain characters were insta-kill if they touch you and no warning was given about it. It came to a point where I was trapped in an area and had to bang on the door out multiple times to open it. It took me quite a while to figure out how to escape thanks to a meleavolent ghost chasing me the whole time, I died many times (this was an auto-saved room, so I was stuck in there).

Sadly, while the game looks pretty and has an interesting premise, there's so much that it doesn't do well... it lets down the whole game and makes it more a trial to play than fun.

Another example of annoying design is the lack of clear direction. I found an item that I was told would need something like water to get loose. At this point I had been in all the currently open rooms and found only one instance of water. Pretty self-explanatory, yes? No. Apparently that was not the water I was looking for. However there was no other water around. After talking to all the denizins of the mansion again, I fought another beast, died and finally my hour was up.

The biggest issue with the game, I feel, was that the creator focussed more on adding systems than balancing the game. And don't get me wrong, the systems are nice, but a bit more balance with numbers, some extra pointers as to what to do and where to go, a faster game over scene ... the game may have been fun.

I gave it a 40 out of 60 for the IGMC. On RMN I am giving it 3 stars.