Cthulhu Saves the World
Review by Victar
"The free "Cthullu's Angels" DLC addition made this 2 great RPGs for the price of 1!"
Available as an Xbox Live Indie Game for the modest price of $3, Cthulhu Saves the world is a turn-based, menu-driven RPG by Zeboyd Games, and the spiritual sequel to their previous RPG Breath of Death VII. The combat is fast-paced, fun, and will make the player think hard about their choices at higher difficulty settings; the story an entertaining blend of raucous comedy and a loving tribute to/parody of Lovecraft's classic Cthulhu horror mythos.
Months after CSTW's initial release, Zeboyd Games offered an updated re-release with a wealth of bonus content, available to PC players through the Steam game service. As a gesture of gratitude to all of CSTW's early adopters, Zeboyd Games also added ALL the new bonus content to the Indie Game version as free DLC! This free DLC includes an extra difficulty setting, an optional director's commentary, "bromide" portraits, a bestiary, a new bonus dungeon/playable character, and the *brand new RPG campaign* of Cthulhu's Angels mode, making it effectively two RPGs for the price of one!
Compare this tremendous free DLC gift to, say, the endless re-releases of Final Fantasy installments that add little more than a bonus dungeon or two and charge the player $30-40 or more a pop. Yes, Zeboyd Games is just that awesome.
For $3, you get some of the best RPG gameplay to be found - notably better than a number of bland RPGs that sell for 10-20 times as much.
Although combat is basically turn-based and menu driven, Zeboyd Games has tweaked it with several engaging features (many of which were also in Breath of Death VII). All enemies and bosses get 10% stronger with every round, so the player can't just "turtle" through the fights - boss battles especially are a race to damage the enemy before he gets so strong he can one-shot all your characters! There is a "combo" system; most attacks build up combo points, which in turn raise the power of various combo finisher moves.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking part of the combat system is the branching level-up paths. Every character has a choice of two options upon leveling up, and choosing between them will drastically affect their final build. These options range from a choice between spells (will you pick a healing spell that makes the party regenerate some HP every turn, or a bigger, more expensive mass heal with no regeneration effect?), to raising stats (will you give your hero +10 to all stats, or +30 HP/MP?), to different passive bonuses (will you raise the necromancer's strength to make her whip attacks on par with those of other fighters, or have her automatically regenerate more MP with every victory?)
Unique to this game is the "Insanity" mechanic. Cthulhu and certain other heroes can chose to drive their enemies insane, which drastically affects their portrait and makes them more vulnerable to damage. But some enemies (particularly certain bosses) are much more deadly when insane!
The incredibly convenient features of Breath of Death VII have returned. Random encounters are fixed in number for each area (except on Insane difficulty), and finishing a set number of encounters will effectively shut them off, although the player can choose to start a random encounter anytime from the menu. All characters are restored to full HP after each battle; only MP gradually diminishes, and it can be restored at save points, which are always present before boss fights. Unlike BoD VII, CSTW allows the player to save anywhere, and one can always teleport to any town from the menu.
Unfortunately, the options for customizing the heroes' gear are quite limited. There's a little more choice than Breath of Death VII had, but not much.
The original version of CSTW had three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, and Hard), plus unlockable bonus modes. In Highlander mode, only one character can be controlled at a time and experience is greatly increased, offering a challenging new way to experience the game; in Score Attack, random encounters are turned off and the player earns points by beating bosses at the lowest possible level; and in Overkill mode, the heroes will level up to 40 in a single battle.
The free DLC added the new, merciless level of Insane Difficulty, but the centerpiece of the free DLC is the Cthulhu's Angels campaign, which allows one to play the game with (mostly) brand new characters, enemies, bosses, loot, and story! Only the maps and some of the random encounter enemies are reused. Cthulhu's Angels can be played on any of the four difficulties. Other perks like a director's commentary (which scatters notes from Zeboyd Games here and there throughout either campaign), collectible "bromide" portraits, and a bestiary are just icing on the cake. Don't look at the bestiary before playing Cthulhu's Angels though, as it contains boss spoilers!
The gameplay is addictive and invites the player to replay the game at least once for the Cthulhu's Angels experience, perhaps more to brave all the different challenges. Completing the two campaigns will take the average player some 4-8 hours each, not counting Highlander or Score Attack replays. As an Indie Game, CSTW does not/cannot provide achievements, but its "Necronomicon" does keep track of the player's accomplishments, including how many points have been earned in Score Attack, the highest difficulty at which the game has been finished, and whether Highlander mode was completed.
The only notable flaws in the gameplay are a couple of persistent DLC bugs, mentioned in their own section below. They are not enough to detract from the sheer joy of the experience. CSTW is the yardstick against which all other Indie RPGs are rightfully measured; if it didn't earn a 10 out of 10 for its gameplay, then no other Indie Game could.
Although most of the game's colorful graphics are a stylized homage to the sprite-based RPGs that we all used to know and love, characters have well-drawn portraits, and the story scenes in both campaigns unfold through the use of beautiful pictures, in a manner reminiscent of Phantasy Star IV. The addition of "parallax scrolling" (hey, characters can walk under bridges now!) and other graphical refinements add to the experience. As nostalgic as playing CSTW may make one feel, its graphics are actually substantially better than those of the classic sprite-based RPGs that served as its inspiration.
There is no animation in combat - the heroes aren't visible at all in battles, and the enemies are just still portraits like they were in the early Dragon Quest games. This the only reason why I'm reluctant to give CSTW a 10/10 for graphical excellence.
There is no voice acting, but the combat sound effects are simple and effective. CSTW has its own beautiful, original score, not licensed royalty-free music. It sounds as if a professional orchestra is playing; obviously Zeboyd Games could not have had that kind of money to burn, but my uncultured ear cannot discern the difference. The soundtrack is rich, varied, and legally available for free on Zeboyd Games' website - what more could you possibly ask for?
The story of Cthulhu Saves the World is exactly what its name suggests. Cthulhu's godlike evil powers have been mysteriously sealed, and the only way to break the spell is for Cthulhu to become a true hero. And what do true heroes do? They save the world! So, Cthulhu must save the world before he can destroy it!
Despite its premise rooted in the spine-chilling horror of Lovecraft's classic novels, CSTW is primarily a comedy. The "fourth wall" receives endless abuse, as the game begins with Cthulhu eavesdropping on the narrator and only gets crazier. The player can "chat" with other party members as the story unfolds, and virtually every last NPC will have something witty to say.
And if that weren't enough, the "Cthulhu's Angels" free DLC has a *completely different comedy story* - the playable characters/storyline bosses are all different, and (almost?) every NPC says different funny things. The premise of Cthulhu's Angels is that Cthulhu is too lazy to become a hero by himself, so he recruits October the necromancer and other sexy women to do the job for him! The astute player will notice other indications that "Cthulhu's Angels" is set in a parallel world to the original campaign, right up to the jaw-dropping end.
The apparent majority of Indie Games have the story of "You are the Hero. Go kill the Big Bad Guy", or possibly, "You are the Bad Guy. Go kill those insufferably noble Heroes", and that's if they bother to have story at all. Cthulhu Saves the World stands out from the pack with not one, but TWO stories that are a little more complex, and a lot more hilarious. If it has a weakness, it's that the characters don't get much opportunity for depth, but you won't find any better Indie Game stories unless you just don't like comedy. You may find a few games with stories that are on par (notably "Doom & Destiny" for comedy, and "Aphelion" epsidoes 1 & 2 for drama), but not better.
Bugs & Glitches
This warrants its own section because the free DLC integrated into pre-existing game saves of CSTW caused a couple unfortunate side effects.
Anyone with an old save of CSTW will find the character of Umi is virtually unplayable upon loading their game. Her stats and moves are changed, and fixed to a weak level, and the player can't access the character status screen upon putting her in the party. This issue does not seem to affect brand new playthroughs of CSTW, just old games saved before the DLC was added.
In Cthulhu's Angels mode, characters other than October do not show their stat increases for equipping their gear unless it is re-equipped, every time the game is loaded. This bug has been patched to a degree, so that the characters do actually have the correct stats; it's just not displayed properly. This is a minor annoyance and easily ignored or forgiven.
The most obnoxious bug I encountered was in Cthulhu's Angels mode - at one point, teleporting to a town left the characters "stuck" in a square, unable to move. Teleporting to more towns did not fix this problem; I had to give up and reload my last save, losing all my progress. Since the game allows a player to save anywhere, one could possibly make the game unwinnable by saving after this happened. Zeboyd Games has acknowledged this rare bug, which seems to trigger when teleporting on a bridge, but I don't know whether it was ever patched.
While these bugs are irritating, I can't possibly downgrade the game's score for them since they're an unintended result of giving the player loads and loads of free DLC content.
Is Cthulhu Saves the World worth your $3?
Undeniably YES! It's essentially two great RPGs in one, and the bonus modes add even more gameplay value for your hard-earned money. There is only one reason not to get this Indie Game on your Xbox 360 right now, and that's if you'd prefer to buy it from Steam for your PC.
What are you waiting for?
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/17/12, Updated 01/18/12
Game Release: Cthulhu Saves the World (US, 12/30/10)
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