Tag Archives: dungeon

Descend deeper and deeper with Runestone Keeper

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I am enjoying Runestone Keeper greatly despite it being the sort of roguelike that demands you suffer inordinately for its opening hours before you can even begin to fathom making progress. You know, like Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac. Do the time before you enjoy the sublime. Not like Spelunky though. In Spelunky, you can beat the game on your very first run, so long as you know what you are doing; sure, a wee bit of luck is needed to get some specific items, like the jetpack, but it is totally doable. For other harsh roguelikes with some permanence to them in terms of upgrades and accrual, you must first grind runs one after another to begin closing the distance. I think, so far, I’ve gotten to level 9 with Guy, the only playable character available until you get further or are more successful on higher difficulties.

What is Runestone Keeper you ask silently from the other side of the screen? Well, it is a piece of interactive entertainment that came out in early 2015 from Blackfire Games. What else? It was recently part of the Humble Jumbo Bundle 7, which is where I got my Steam copy. Yeah, cool, but more specifically…what is it? Technically, Runestone Keeper is an über challenging roguelike-to-roguelite dungeon crawler that blends classic roleplaying elements and turn-based combat strategy. Kind of a weird, blood magic-driven fusion of Minesweeper and Dungeons of Dredmor.

That last description probably didn’t help all that much. Allow me to try harder. Basically, dungeon floors are randomly generated and set out as a grid that can be explored in any order from wherever you start, uncovering one tile at a time by clicking on it. Each revealed tile has an effect, even if that effect is basically nothing happens. Most discoveries include finding hearts that heal your HP, gold coins, treasure chests, traps, single-use items, weapons like readied crossbows, merchants, valuable runestones, and various pitfalls. Each tile you reveal also fills up your soul meter, which dictates your usage of certain items, as well as using in-level shrines and such. Your basic goal is to reveal enough tiles to find the staircase to the room below and head deeper into the darkness.

The real trouble with that endeavor is you’ll also reveal enemies in each dungeon level. You can avoid most fights if you want, but monsters block adjacent squares from being revealed, which are essential to finding the way to the next floor. Also, early on, you will want to fight some monsters for XP and dropped loot (which contains random prefixes and suffixes for different stats), though RNG rears its ugly head from time to time, causing you to miss your ax swings even though you are standing directly next to the angry goblin. Your attacks are obviously based on your gear, and you can quickly swap between two sets; I like having something for up close, as well as ranged enemies. Monsters hit your shield first, which absorbs a certain amount of damage before stealing away HP. The cast of enemies is quite varied, and many of them have their own unique abilities, like silencing or poisoning. Early on, your best friend as Guy, is the spell he has to lower an enemy’s attack power for a few turns though it is beyond frustrating to whiff on every sword swing during this phase.

Runestone Keeper‘s gameplay is extremely layered, even if it at times it feels unfair and driven solely by luck spirits. There’s tattoos to equip, an enchantment system, worshiping and un-worshiping deities that provide buffs and debuffs, elite arena rooms, special one-time events dictated by text choices, and more. Lots of spinning plates, and I’m sure I’m missing some elements. My focus for Guy continues to be upgrading his strength and stamina and plowing through enemies as quickly as possible while also hoarding a ton of gold coins and selling unwanted to gear; unfortunately, in the later dungeon levels, he struggles to deal with ranged enemies, as well not exploding when unearthing a ticking time bomb. It’s a problem. We’re working on it.

Similar to how I approached Rogue Legacy, Runestone Keeper is perfect for doing a couple runs, being unsuccessful, but returning to the main menu hub with enough gold coins to upgrade a permanent bonus, such as gaining more XP from killed monsters or earning more gold with each pick-up, and that leaves me feeling satisfied, feeling like I am actually inching towards a better run. I’m still hoping I’ll find that “perfect storm” run where I get some killer equipment/items early on that will help me reach level 10 of the dungeon and maybe even beyond that. If not, this is surprisingly one game I don’t mind bashing my head against the wall, desperately trying to survive or crawl to the next floor in hopes of…well, hope. Not everything has to be about being the ultimate powerhouse.

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Fatal Labyrinth is still difficult, but finally makes sense

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When I first played Fatal Labyrinth, back in early 2011 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the Xbox 360, I didn’t understand it. I only continued poking at it to get a single Achievement, which tasked the player with making it to the fifth floor of the randomly generated labyrinth. In fact, this was the last Achievement I popped, after getting that super tricky for Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. I remember having great difficulty with this, eventually just avoiding all monsters and searching desperately every nook and cranny for the next set of stairs to take me upwards and away. You’ll have to forgive me, but I wasn’t familiar with roguelikes back then, confused by things like question marks on items and dark rooms full of uncertainty.

Since then, I’ve played a lot more roguelikes, some of which are very close in style and mechanics as Fatal Labyrinth. Here, let me name a few that come to mind: The Binding of Isaac, Coin Crypt, Dragon Crystal, and Hack, Slash, Loot. The games have taught me much over the past few years, like not to be scared of potions that don’t immediately reveal what they do. Yep. If you want to know what the brown potion does in Fatal Labyrinth, you have to drink it blindly; once you know its power, there’ll be no further confusion about it during your run. That said, last time I drank the brown potion, it simply said “you’re feeling much better”…so I have no clue what that actually means.

According to a gaming wiki I frequently hang out around, Fatal Labyrinth is about leading Trykaar into the castle of Dragonia in order to retrieve the Holy Goblet, which was stolen from the village. I’ll take that plot at face value because I didn’t read anything about that when I started out, but maybe if you linger long enough on the title screen you get some exposition. The castle consists of thirty levels, most of which are procedurally generated. Seeing as I’ve only ever gotten to the fifth level, I have no idea what that means. Perhaps there are boss battles that are the same each time you hit them. I don’t know.

Upon returning to Fatal Labyrinth, which, by all means was not something I planned, but rather something that simply unfolded before me when I popped in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection to see if my save progress from Phantasy Star II was still there, I found myself surviving. Slicing up enemies and throwing duplicate weapons away like a skilled ninja. Killing monsters and leveling up, as well as grabbing food and navigating menus. All of that is in stark contrast from my first go with it, and again, I have the years of noodling around with other roguelikes to thank. Except for Dungeons of Dredmor, which I’ll never be good at.

As with just about every other RPG out there, the main concern in Fatal Labyrinth is crafting your initially weak and worried hero into a walking tank, brimming with weapons, spells, potions, and other powerful trinkets. You start with just a small knife and plenty of pocket space; I found the hand axe to be killer against most foes save for those ice crystal things and got a few pieces of armor on my way to the fifth level before losing too much HP after getting surrounded. Dealing with groups of enemies one on one is also important, much like dealing with zombies in Dead Island–focus on a single threat, eliminate it, then move on to the next one.

Here’s something that is not weird, but then weird. In order to continue exploring the titular labyrinth, you need to be well-nourished. However, you only have enough food at the start of your journey for around ten minutes of exploration. You can see your food depleting in the UI, marked as a F. Thankfully, like chickens in the walls of Castlevania, there’s spare meat lying around on different dungeon floors. Here’s where things take a turn–if you eat too much, you die. So it’s a constant balance of having enough, but not too much, not too little. Toss in enemies and new gear and mysterious potions, and there’s a lot to juggle all at once, which is where most of the difficulty comes from.

Lastly, I found myself stuck in a seemingly empty room after I cleared it out of enemies and items. There were no doors or staircases, not even one to go back down a level. I thought that maybe I had glitched in Fatal Labyrinth, but after a little Googling, discovered that I was supposed to read the manual, which told me that sometimes there are hidden passageways in walls, and the only way to find them is spam the button while facing every wall unit. See how pivotal manuals are, though I guess one could argue that, at this point, the Internet is basically one big manual.

I do believe that I can conquer all thirty levels of Fatal Labyrinth, and I mean to keep trying until that belief changes stance. Here’s hoping you see a haiku for this game sooner than later.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #15 – Dungeons & Dragons Daggerdale

A halfling mage walks
Into a dungeon, grinds, grows
Kills dragon, the end

EDIT: Greg Noe submitted a haiku review of his own for Daggerdale, and as a lover of alliteration, I have to share with y’all. See it here:

Dwarf diviner ducks
To dungeon, drudges, deepens
Defeats dragon, done

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

30 Days of Gaming, #18 – Craziest thing in a game

The original 30 Days of Gaming topic for today was a sort of follow-up to “favorite antagonist,” with the focus this time being on the yin to its yang–“favorite protagonist.” The problem with that is that it is a little too similar to the topic I did for “favorite character,” and while many could argue that Gremio was not the main protagonist in Suikoden, he was a main character, and so he still remains my favorite of those. In short: frak this list, I’m making my own topic up. Let’s go with “craziest thing in a game,” okay?

Final Fantasy XII was determined to be different. It wanted to fuse MMO elements with a traditional epic plot, as well as introduce a license board, hunting for marks, and using gambits to streamline combat effectively. And it did do all of those things, somewhat successfully, but Squaresoft also added in a pinch of pure bat-shit crazy because there’s the Zodiac Spear. What’s that? Why, it’s only the strongest weapon in the game, with +150 Attack and +8 Evasion. See the shiny:

The tricky part is that for your band of girly boys and boyish girls to find this kick-ass weapon, they’re going to have to not open specific treasure chests. That’s right. Not open them. The chests to steer clear of are as follows:

  • The chest outside Old Dalan’s place in Lowtown.
  • There are two chests in the southeast corner of the Palace Cellar. Open them and all hope is lost.
  • When Vaan gets captured, he gets sent to the Confiscatory. Don’t open any of the chests there.
  • There’s an island on the Phon Coast with 16 chests on it. Touch them and die.

Leave those chests alone and you’ll find the Zodiac Spear in the Necrohol of Nabudis. Seems pretty simple, right? If only.

Naturally, during my one and only playthrough, I had opened many of these chests by the time I went online and learned of all this. Why wouldn’t I open them? Gamers are trained from very early on that opening treasure chests is a good thing, a solid way to ensure spoils and weapons and maybe even a battle with a fake treasure chest monster. I hate those things so much. It’s plain crazy to hide away such power and greatness by punishing us that play the way we’ve all been taught to play. At that point, the developers might as well took away super strong spells simply because we spoke to a Moogle in Rabanastre or used an Elixir after losing some HP. It’s just a bit boggling, and I have to wonder how anyone other than those involved in the game discovered the trick to getting the Zodiac Spear. Surely it had to be leaked out or something like that hidden room in Batman: Arkham Asylum. I mean, this didn’t hinder my love for Final Fantasy XII or stop me from completing many moons ago, but I do love collecting and completing collections; missing out on the “ultimate weapon” in a Final Fantasy game hits home hard, almost like a spear to the gut…a Zodiac Spear.