Review by Bill Wood
"Heed the call."
Fact: I am a 16-bit RPG nerd. I still consider Final Fantasy VI to be one of the finest video games ever crafted, and I proudly sport my badge stating that I've beaten the original Super Nintendo cart not once, but twice. (Okay, so I don't actually have a badge, but if I did I would totally wear it.) You've managed to make your way to this review, so odds are you already have some clue as to what Cthulhu Saves the World is about and what my previous statement has to do with anything. Kick back and relax, 'cause this is the part where I explain how awesome Cthulhu is and why you absolutely should be playing it.
For the uninitiated, Cthulhu Saves the World is a loving ode to the 16-bit Japanese RPG formula of yore, with hefty H.P. Lovecraft references and legitimately funny humor scattered throughout. You play as Cthulhu, the Legendary Demon Lord of Insanity (or something like that) who is hellbent on destroying the world. Through a bizarre turn of events, Cthulhu is forced to become a true hero and save the world instead of destroying it. Once he has saved the world, he can then go about his business of destroying it. I told you this would be good.
Cthulhu parodies not only the classic RPG genre, but other game-related topics such as the current proliferation of zombie titles and even Space Invaders. The humor is mostly spot-on, I actually found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Of course it doesn't hurt to be a Lovecraft fan either, but don't worry if you don't know Dunwich from a sandwich, there's plenty of other stuff to smile at. Fortunately the entire game doesn't amount to one huge punchline, it also manages to be entertaining and compelling in its own right. In fact, if the jokes were removed and the tone more serious, Cthulhu would feel like very much like any other game from the genre it sets out to emulate. And that's a good thing.
The gameplay is pure 90's J-RPG, simplistic in both design and execution. If you're a newcomer to these types of games you may find a bit of a challenge, if not you may find Cthulhu a tad too easy. All HP is restored after every battle, rendering item and resource management nearly useless. Powerful spells are at your disposal from the outset. Random battles -- the bane of many an early J-RPG -- are kept to a minimum. There are a set amount in each area and once they've been exhausted that's it. You can intentionally seek out battle whenever you want but random monster encounters will cease. After experiencing this style of play, I can't help but imagine how much better those older RPGs would have been with this convention.
The overall story and quest progression is strictly linear and since you can save at any time, there's no really no excuse for backtracking. Personally speaking, I'm exhaustive when it comes to RPGs and like to methodically explore every nook and cranny on the map for loot and NPC encounters. I finished Cthulhu in around 10 hours, which is a good indication that there's a fair chunk of content here. It's definitely not epic in scope like the older Square RPGs, nor does it need to be.
Graphically, Cthulhu brings the classic 16-bit look to the Xbox 360 with great results. The low-res sprites are crisp and clean, colors bright and vibrant. You veteran RPG gamers out there will appreciate that this looks just like an SNES game ported to a modern console. I also appreciate the developers using the same retro font throughout, as I see too many retro gaming experiences are bogged down with modern, aliased fonts. The soundtrack is decent enough, personally I'd prefer something less orchestral and more chiptune-ish for this type of experience but these tracks do suit the game well.
So to answer the all-important question: Yes, Cthulhu Saves the World is more than worth your hard-earned dough, especially if you're a fan of the 16-bit era of gaming. It aims to be both parody and tribute, and its aim is true. It's also one of the finer XBL indie purchases you can make. Oh, and did I mention it's only a buck? Well, it is. So go out there and get your old-school J-RPG fix right away... you can thank me later.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/23/12
Game Release: Cthulhu Saves the World (US, 12/30/10)
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