One particular genre of video game I did not have a lot of exposure to growing up was the roguelike. It was interesting to hear about a genre of game that was different every time you played. From the few original roguelikes I learned about, I also noticed that these games tended to have much more basic graphics than a lot of the mainstream games that were coming out around the same time. Around the early 2010s, there was a surge of indie games with retro graphics and gameplay styles. Rogue Legacy fits right in to give its fresh take on the roguelike genre.
The Role You Play
You play as a noble knight on a quest to avenge the death of the King and defeat his killer. Part of your journey includes navigating a large ever-changing castle. It also includes traversing obstacles and defeating enemies with either a sword or a variety of spells. Whenever you die in the game, (and it is expected to happen a lot) you continue your journey as one of your heirs, who will have a potentially different class, new spells, and some type of trait that affects how they play. These can include colorblindness, being near or farsighted, being large or small, or even having vertigo and having to play the whole game upside-down.
Throughout the game you will collect gold from enemies and treasure chests. When you die, you can use that gold to upgrade your family tree. This can include upgrading your attributes, unlocking new classes for your heirs, buying new equipment, or buying new runes that unlock new skills like jumping, air dashing or siphoning mana and health when defeating enemies.
The main plat of the game is revealed in the very beginning. You play as a knight named Johannes who murders the king carelessly standing in front of a large fountain. From then on, you play as the hero and begin a journey to reach the traitor Johannes and avenge the king. The only clues to the traitor’s motive are laid out in journal entries that you can find randomly scattered throughout the castle that become accessible as you defeat the four guardians located in each major section of the castle. You have to defeat each guardian in order to open the door that leads to Johannes.
There are a lot of different aspects to the gameplay. Not only is there a solid mix of platforming and action RPG combat, but the constant randomization of the castle and new enemy placement with each new play through keeps the gameplay fun and fresh. There are always a lot of enemies on screen and while some of their attack patterns can be a bit easy to predict, it’s the combination of room and enemy that gets to you, and because it’s always changing, you can never get a complete handle on it.
Whenever you move into a new room, you can never really predict what you will encounter or how tough it will be. Some rooms are simple with an enemy or two, some are easy with a treasure chest, and some have a bunch of enemies that fill the room with enough projectiles to make playing the game feel more like a bullet hell than a platformer or a metroidvania.
The length of each play through can vary depending on how comfortable you are with the class you have, how high of a level you are, how difficult of a challenge you’re facing, and just how good you’ve gotten at the platforming and combat. While increasing your attributes makes it easier, how quickly you progress through the game can also boil down to a combination of patience, skill and luck. In order to beat all four of the guardians and defeat Johannes, I would say that on average it takes anywhere between 6-10 hours.
After you beat the game once, you have access to a new game plus mode where you can play through the main quest again. The enemies are more difficult and drop more gold and you can find better treasure. There is no limit to the number of times you can beat the game.
There are four main sections of the map. Each one has their own theme that plays throughout the entirety of the section. The music is very good and each one reflects the environment you’re in very well. The theme that plays in Castle Hamson has a melody backed up by percussion that sounds like the clatter of weapons and armor. This is very fitting since it sounds like it belongs in a castle.
You spend a lot of time making your way through these dungeons in order to eventually get to where you need to be. Whether that be reaching a particular area or acquiring enough gold to enhance yourself, you will hear these songs loop a lot. Thankfully, after many hour, I’ve never gotten tired of any of these tracks.
What stands out the most about Rogue Legacy is just how random everything is. Because it is a roguelike, you never really know what you’re going to encounter. Even when you do, it isn’t always easy to anticipate. Some classes and traits make navigating the castle easier, but other times it makes exploring certain areas impossible.
Sometimes, you will encounter an obstacle that requires a skillset that you literally will not have the skills for. You might need to be small to get in a certain section. Other times, a special chest might only unlock if you can defeat an enemy with a particular spell. There are situations where something is beyond your control and no amount of skill can make up for it. These situations come up often and it feels a little bit unfair.
The Talking Parts
There is very little as far as dialogue goes in this game. What little talking you do encounter is remarkably inconsistent. There are a few NPCs who are running mini-games. One of them is dressed as a clown and running a break the targets-style game. Another character known as the Cheapskate Elf is running a treasure chest game. If you guess the wrong chest, he says, “NOTHING! YOU SO STUPID!” which is a blatant UHF reference. Aside from tone or two lines from the shop-keepers and Charon who steals your gold before entering the castle, the only other lines are the journal entries left behind by the prince which are optional to read.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
Rogue Legacy developers Cellar door games had a long and interesting history as game developers before they made Rogue Legacy. They have encapsulated that history by dedicating certain rooms I the game to highlighting their previous projects that you can learn all about in the form of large paintings that you can scan and get a brief behind-the-scenes look at. If you hit the painting, sometimes it will come alive and try to kill you as well.
The more I played Rogue Legacy, the more I honed the skills necessary to navigate the dungeons and defeat some of the trickier enemies. However, I will admit that the game is a bit repetitive the longer you play it. I still really enjoy the challenge that comes with pushing myself as far as I can go, but that only goes so far.