Do you have a unique family member? Maybe one who is fond of castles and smashing furniture with a sword? Rogue Legacy is not your typical retro throwback, “I want to be one of the cool kids” type of games. Yes it has a 16-bit style, yes it’s a “metroidvania” style game. Yes you smash the baddies in exchange for mana and gold coins. But there are much deeper elements beneath everything. Rogue Legacy is an amazing game.
Starting Rogue Legacy you will find yourself thrust into the boots of a nameless knight running through the halls of a random castle. Unlike most games there is virtually no story. All you are given from the start is a brief glimpse at your character slaying the king and then “TADA” the game starts. No cinematics or non-sense, just get in and go. Normally this is the part where I would start complaining about a lack of depth or developers being lazy.That is not the case here. Rogue Legacy effectively tells the story of the castle through randomly placed notes. This does two things for the player. It both gives the player a challenge in locating all of the notes to complete the story, or it allows those who could care less about the story a way to bypass would be dialog and cut-scenes.
So what is the story in Rogue legacy? Simple , you are a knight who gets to destroy 4 evils that live within this big and scary castle. Once complete, a big door will open and you get to challenge the greatest evil of all, the FINAL BOSS (vague I know). The real story is told through pages from the “Prince’s Journal” that are scattered throughout the castle. To summarize there was a prince and some siblings, their father was attacked (tutorial level) by an “assassin”. Fortunately daddy king was only severely wounded. The siblings came to this castle (castle Hamson) in search of a random item that can cure anything. As the first entry from the Prince’s journal explains the Prince has arrived before the siblings, since he is an impatient go-getter. He will look for the item and save his father and his family name. The story is not really groundbreaking, slightly cliché, and unimaginative, but really that is not what makes Rogue Legacy shine. Nor does it even matter, this is one of those magical situations where we get to say screw the story. The story does not matter, that is not what makes Rogue Legacy the jewel that it is. This game is all about the experience.
The unique thing about Rogue Legacy is everything else about the game. Rogue Legacy implements a unique mechanic. Each time your hero dies, he is dead forever. Permadeath is the name of the game, and what a strong motivator she is. The unique part comes when you finally screw up and perish. Instead of starting from scratch, as you would in Ghosts ‘n Goblins, you instead get to choose the next person in your family tree that will battle through the halls of Castle Hamson. Now, as with any good family tree your relative aren’t all OK. You are given the choice of 3 successors. All of which have … traits. Well OK not so much traits, lets call them fun quarks. The next time you die, your options may be a hero with Alzheimer’s or a giant who is afraid of chickens or even a brittle mage who is color blind. This is really going to challenge the player. Sometimes these heroes are going to come in handy, helping you to unearth hidden treasures or they are going to severely handicap your gameplay. It almost adds a sense of excitement or fear the next time you fall to your death on a bed of spikes. Who am I going to be stuck with the next time around.
Along with this fancy “pick a hero” feature, you will also get to level up your character. Yes, that really doesn’t make any sense, since when you die your hero is dead. Instead you get to spend your hard-earned gold to improve your attack, damage, mana, unlock a blacksmith, an enchantress, an engineer, and even upgrade your heroes to new classes all by upgrading your stronghold. The catch here is you have to use your gold wisely. What you don’t spend on upgrading your hero must be thrown away and given to Charon, the keeper of the castle door. Balance is going to be the key here.
Exploring every room of the castle is going to be your main missions. Each room could hide a new enemy or possibly a treasure. Each death you experience will reset your progress in the castle as a new layout is procedurally generated for each heir. The player must grind through these random maps over and over again looking for enough gold, runes, and blueprints to level your character high enough to destroy all 5 bosses in the house.
The castle is broken down into 4 areas. The main castle, the forest, the tower and the dungeon. Do not move on to the next area until you have both killed the boss, and have enough confidence to take on the next area. This game is brutally hard, to the point where you will literally scream out loud in frustration. Amazingly this frustration is not a bad thing, it is a driving force to improve your skill and perform better. Unlike other “retro style” games that crank the difficulty meter up to 11 just for kicks, Rogue Legacy knows what it is doing and it will force you to enjoy your torture. Leveling is made fun by the simple fact that you will never experience the same layout twice. Nor will you fight the same boring enemies each run through. Not only do the multiple areas and random enemies keep you moving, the game is also filled with special mini-bosses as well as challenges that will test your stamina, speed, and use of all the fancy power-ups you may (or may not) have collected.
Within each of these 4 sections of the castle can be found a giant door leading to the boss room. Each of these bosses you will eventually face are brutal. If you have not taken the time and care to make your hero stronger, you don’t stand a chance. You will experience larger than life enemies who will easily overwhelm your hero. In the vein of retro gaming, key to completing the boss room is all about patterns. Learn the pattern and you will overcome, get overzealous and you can kiss your progress goodbye. Completion of the bosses will upgrade your heroes stats permanently.
This ongoing repetition that adds so much repeatability to the game is also what hurts it. This is not a game for everyone. If you are one of those people who wants to sit down and play through a game with the sole purpose of beating the final boss and then setting the game aside never to be touched again, well this may frustrated you. Rogue Legacy is not meant to be played on a single play through. This is also probably not going to be a great game for the younger crowd. Not that there is anything questionable or tacky but this game is really going to challenge the most skilled player. Junior gamers may not make it far in this platforming beast of a torture device.
Rogue Legacy took a worn out and often emulated genre and punched in the face over and over again until it was something different. Platforming, level progression, pattern mastery, and intense boss battles will challenge your patience. Rogue Legacy is not your traditional game, Rogue Legacy is quite possibly one of the best games I have ever played, hands down.