Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cthulhu Saves The World (Video Game Review)

As you can probably guess from the title, this one is a parody of the highest degree. Cthulhu Saves The World is the latest in a long line of RPG parody titles released by Zeboyd Games. Responsible for the likes of Breath of Death VII, the company specialises in parodies of classic RPG titles, often with tentative links to the horror genre in some way. However, even taking into account that a past title featured a zombie were-vampire as a protagonist, this one has an especially unique premise.

Emerging from the oceans, Great Cthulhu prepares to conquer the world. Knowing it will be an easy victory, he is none the less somehow stopped by a single mage who confronts him from a cliff face. With his power sealed away and reduced to a fraction of his usual size, Cthulhu washes up on a nearby beach where he learns (by listening into the narrator, naturally) that the only way to break the curse is to become a true hero. Determined to regain his unworldly power, Cthulhu sets out to become a true hero so he might conquer the planet personally...

The very idea of this premise is ludicrous to say the least and the entire plot is little more than snark fodder for the characters. With choices ranging from poking fun at common RPG tropes and mechanics to the very ideas behind Lovecraft's tales, the game is one gag after another. 

Pretty much everything within it is designed to assist with their delivery, and it's a good thing that for the most part they work extremely well. Zeboyd go the extra mile when it comes to inserting their style of gags into the game, from monster descriptions to even having a Chat option in the menu to hear characters converse. There's very little in the way of serious drama and the entire game is worth it just to hear most of the jokes, especially at its price.

Part of what helps is that while these are obviously groan worthy or cheesy gags, they have a kind of charm to them and thought has obviously been put into the delivery. Even those with limited knowledge of Lovecraft's stories will still get a chuckle out of Cthulhu's bombastically egotistical remarks and generally sociopathic nature. Something which, combined with his frequent conversations with the narrator, makes you wonder if they were using Deadpool as a basis for the character. It would certainly explain lines like "Yes! The great Cthulhu requires groupies. You shall do." Another element which helps in this regard is the characters he is accompanied with, foremost being the happy go lucky Umi and the increasingly insane Dacre. Seeing the former Old One surrounded by such figures is worth checking the Chat option with every new development, even more so than conversing with the NPCs.

As a result of this emphasis upon humour, gags and generally snarky moments, much of the game seems to have been designed to avoid many problematic factors of modern big RPGs. Much like Skyborn, there's an obvious attitude here to help lessen the bigger time constraints and allow things to run much more smoothly. Before we even get into the combat itself, the game comes with a few options to help travel, exploration and even grinding. Dungeons will have an encounter limit, with a grand total of 25 random encounters occurring before you can walk around freely without interruption. To offset this however, it also comes with the ability to automatically initiate a random encounter on the menu. So not only does the game eventually remove a lot of the tedium of random encounters after a while, but it rapidly speeds up the chore of grinding.

Even ignoring this however, many other aspects both during and following combat have been designed to streamline elements down to their barest elements. Combat is presented in a similar manner to Skyborn, skipping a lot of the usual flashy combat animations and allows players to rapidly cycle through moves with surprisingly fast clicks. Atop of this, the game features a combo system which racks up with melee attacks, boosting the power of certain combo breaker moves. This allows for the right bunch of characters to destroy a moderately powerful group within a couple of turns. 

Perhaps the most interesting fact however, is that parties regain all health at the end of battle and instantly revive unconscious characters. This skips a lot of the busywork of returning to inns and healing, but it doesn't completely strip down careful play and effective fighting. As shops only sell weapons and armour, players need to very carefully conserve the potions and 1-Ups they find to revive parties in combat or go for a second chance against a foe who defeats them. This makes a player buying their way to victory, or drip feeding everyone potions, utterly impossible and forces the player to consider when and how they use items. What's more is that this doesn't completely abandon the wear and tear of dungeon crawling or the necessity to return back to certain towns. There are no items to recover MP, and it can only be fully replenished at specific pre-boss save points or inns. The only other alternative is as a reward from fighting certain enemies, the faster you take down monsters, the more MP you are rewarded with.

Then of course we have character progression, which follows the same trend as everything else. Leveling up is fairly rapid, and you'll often only need a dozen or so battles to improve your party, mostly because all overworld monsters scale with your level. This make development rapid, and a lot of the direction you choose to improve characters in comes down to a series of choices. At each level, you are given a choice with how you want to upgrade a character. This can come down to a choice between improving an ability, learning a new ability, boosting HP and MP, or generally slightly improving all stats. 

The system proves to be surprisingly effective for what it is. While it does undeniably rob the player of a lot of choice they might want, it offers a great deal more choice than you would think and allows you to tailor your character. They often affect the direction you want to move your character in and the game does seem to follow in that direction, but still offers choices to alter it again. For example, when he first joins you Sharpe (no, not that Sharpe) is a glass cannon with little HP, but by the end it's very easy to turn him into a high HP tank. Similarly, the first choice with Cthulhu himself effectively comes down to a choice between melee or spell-casting in how you use him. While certain roles such as healer will still come down to one or two specific characters, it's a surprising amount of freedom given how basic the customisation is.

Now, there are a few downsides to the game. Foremost among these is a bug during the opening which never fails to be frustrating. Seemingly happening at random, you can end up with the directional keys not allowing you to scroll between options at the start. As such, you can't load your game and can only start anew. The only way I personally know of to get around this is by closing and starting again. It's infrequent, but it shows up enough to be a growing irritation.

Many of the characters in Cthulhu Saves The World also lack any serious meaning to the story and often feel flat. That might seem like an odd criticism given the previous complement, but on their own they don't have a well rounded enough concept behind them. October only stands out in her own story, and Paws, Ember and Sharpe all distinctly lack traits to really make them remain truly memorable. The only really funny bits are often when they are being used as something for Cthulhu to work off of. Atop of all this, the plot also fails to really close a lot of points brought up, and one major one is only really explained in a post-endgame mode. This unfortunately makes the game feel weaker as it goes on in terms of plot and humour, despite still throwing out some decent gags at a good rate. Also, the game doesn't explain a few elements about the Lovecraft mythos, so those without a basic knowledge of the stories might want to look through a few Wikipedia articles before starting.

The side-quest system is also virtually pointless, only showing up once or twice during the entirety of the game and the world feels undeniably small. While it might be an indie title, there are ones with far bigger and more extensive towns than the likes found here. Too many consist of gatherings of extremely small buildings, and lack distinctive or unique buildings to help make them really stand out from one another. 
Another element which harms the game in the same way is actually doe to one effort to streamline the experience, allowing players to teleport instantly to any previous town. This might look good on paper, but it only ends up making the world feel extremely small as a result and sometimes a little too easy.

On the whole though, Cthulhu Saves The World is a decent game. Much like Skyborn, it's something which won't blow all other RPGs out of the water but it's a surprisingly intelligent title which can be casually played. You can beat the main game in a good ten hours or so and the other modes such as Cthulhu's Angels will add another eight or so to that. It's definitely very good value given that and better yet it comes in a double pack with another parody RPG, Breath of Death VII. Definitely give this one a look if the premise even remotely amuses you, it's well worth the cash.


  1. I hadn't gotten this game before because I wasn't certain that it would be something I'd enjoy, and none of the other reviews convinced me otherwise, but going by this one it looks right up my alley, taking a bunch of elements of other games I really liked and putting them into one game.

    Just going by the plot and feel it looks to me most like The Bard's Tale in tone, where you have a character who's fully aware they're in a video game, to the point where they can hear (and in the Bard's case, argue) with the narrator, that game had a funny bit where the first enemy you kill has an entire treasury spill out of it when it dies (because it's an RPG monster and they always drop lots of gold), but then that never happens again because, after being initially surprised when the gold spilled out, the narrator intentionally skipped all the other times that happens in the story, does anything like that happen in this game? Or is it almost all one-off jokes?

    Having the overworld enemies scale with you but (by the sound of it) not the story enemies sounds interesting, I've only seen that done a few times before and usually it's worked out really well.

    Lastly I don't like to comment on the typing of the articles, because we all make mistakes, spelling errors are going to happen, but it looks like you're missing something on the third to last paragraph: "so those without a basic knowledge of the stories "

    1. Yeah, the developers definitely knew what they were doing with this one. I'd finished playing through Final Fantasy II and IV recently, and the game emulates a lot of elements from those sorts of titles for this parody. It works surprisingly work. As for your your comparison with The Bard's Tale, that's actually pretty apt. While there are no moments quite like that (and quite a few less songs than in that game) there are multiple bits where Cthulhu and Co. make fun of certain RPG tropes. The save system is practically insulted at the start along with the teleportation ability, and to help speed things up with item management certain chests offer effects. One for example boosts the party's stats after being enraged they found a chest with nothing to loot in it. The bigger running gags don't quite affect the entire game in such a noticeable manner as your example however. The commentary does mention they had plans for grander things but they lacked the time and money to accomplish it.

      Well, that's the odd thing. I know the overworld does scale with the characters, but how it is triggered is another matter. It might be down to the character levels, or it could be due to the party accessing a new town on the overworld. So it does scale with the characters, but it might not be purely based upon what level you are at.

      Thank you for pointing that out, i'm usually going back and forth skimming through articles for errors like those and typos these days. Unfortunately I was working on this one early in the morning due to long delays, likely hence why comparisons with The Bard's Tale or the likes of Simon the Sorcerer slipped my mind. Thank you for reminding me of that game by the way.