You wake up, on a beach, being a new arisen. Destined to destroy the seven acolytes that haunt the bloody land. It is your job as a Striver! Then, that’s all the story you get. In the vain of souls like games, you have to gather the story not only from environmental storytelling, but also item lore, and boss lore. So if you don’t read any item descriptions, you’re lost as to what the world is trying to build too, and the cause of everything. Though it has some nice world-building tones and lore, it never really got past that. There’s no deep story in the game to find, unfortunately. There is a crazy cult though, that believes when they become Enlightened, they get to achieve some sort of immortality and go to the promised lands! Every game with a dark setting just has to have that staple landmark!
Now this is where the game shines. The gameplay is reminiscent of a souls game. Slow, methodical, and filled with a whole lot of planning. Though you only get three attacks, you still have a lot of planning to do when dealing with enemies. How far away do you need to be able to hit the heavy attack? Can you kill the enemy with one more quick attack? Or should you stay back and use your ranged gun, with the small amount of bullets you have? You have to decide all in the heat of battles because one wrong move can cause you to lose all your health in an instant, and go back to the most recent checkpoint shrine. It’s riveting and rewarding and so fun in the heat of the moment! The sad thing is that there’s no real guard button. You can parry attacks if you hit a button at the right time, but other than that, your main way to dodge is by rolling. Then when you’re not in the heat of the moment, the game dies down, and you’re left exploring maps that seem way too large, and have corridors going all over the place, and it gets frustrating. There were two specific zones that felt so large, that it made me angry to traverse them. So many pathways looped back to each other, so it felt like I was getting nowhere sometimes, or the amount of dead ends made me want to throw the controller. Here I thought I was making progress, then NOPE!
But luckily apart from those two areas, the maps were the perfect size, and I was always fearful of what laid ahead. There were quite a few times where I’d have to run from areas because I never had the health or the regenerative items to be able to make it past the large enemies. So I’d just have to do better. So it felt like I was making some sort of progress! This was also coupled with the unique Blessing system. As you explore, you find statues that you can destroy to get buffs. When you’re at a checkpoint shrine, you get to equip these Blessings to do things like, have more health or stamina, or let your stamina recharge faster, or have a bigger ammo clip! My favorites let me have a large ammo clip, do more gun damage, and do more damage go Elite enemies and bosses! Also instead of the traditional leveling system, you get skill points when you reach the experience cap, that you use to level up your blessings so they become more proficient! At first you get to start out with two after you kill the first boss. But as you kill each big boss, you unlock more slots for more upgrades, so there were times where I was actually mixing and matching a bunch of them to fit my current situation! When I was at a boss and was dying, I’d make it so I took less damage, healed more with items, and did more boss damage! Then when exploring I’d have more HP and more ammo for those enemies I didn’t want to get near. It was fantastic!
Then there’s the weapons. This is a bit less fantastic and diverse. There’s not that many in the game, and they all honestly have the same stats to them. Though you can find them multiple times, the fun here comes from the rune system. As you explore and loot chests and corpses, and defeat enemies, you can find runes. These runes do quite a few things. Like add fire damage, or poison, or even the glorious life steal to your weapons. Like a weapons damage output, but hate how slow it attacks? Put on some attack speed runes and deal out handfuls of death faster than before! The one upside, or downside depending on how you look at it, is that each weapon can only have 2 runes on it at once. To me personally, this was great. Every time I wanted to upgrade my weapon, I really had to think about what I wanted. Did I want to set plant enemies on fire with quick attack speed? Or did I wanna drain their life, while they’re left poisoned? I experimented with this more than I thought I would. Luckily the runes aren’t exactly permanent either, as you can find items called “Rune Removers” to take them off items, and try again! I only wish it was this fun to experiment with the guns. Unfortunately for your ranged weapons, there’s clearly only one gun that outshines the rest like mad, and when you have it, you just upgrade it how you see fit, and leave it at that.
But once you get that perfect set up to deal with the bosses, it’s so satisfying to drain their scarily large amounts of health. As fun as they were, I do wish they didn’t have such large HP pools. My favorite boss though had to be near the end of the game, where you fight a Pianist in a concert hall. Even then, you don’t necessarily fight him, but you fight his fellow bandmates, who have seemingly come back from the dead to help him achieve glory. In the arena, there’s 4 holes that cannonballs shoot out. During the fight, there’s piano music going on, and as the tune starts to crescendo and get more epic, the fireballs start shooting out of the holes. As the battle neared the end, the beat got faster, the fireballs shot faster, so I was dodging two bosses, while avoiding fireballs and it was amazing fun, while the music roared and echoed the whole time! Then, as you win, the music stops, and there’s just dead silence. There’s also a boss, who uses their dead baby, who’s still attached to the umbilical cord, to attack you. She swings it around like a chained mace, and you hear the squish as it hits the ground. It was gruesome and dark and crazily inventive!
The game is done in a nice stylized, retro artwork. Think Legend Of Zelda. But everything looks beautiful and awesome. The enemies and bosses are greatly designed, and the areas themselves are fantastic. There’s one area that takes place in a swampland, and you can see all the different blades of grass that used in the area, instead of a clump of green with random spikes on it, to be portrayed as grass. The devs even went so far as to detail the innards of a dead shark! You see all of its guts and entrails. It’s so beautifully realized, and there were no pop-ins, or screen tears anywhere. Even when enemies throw little balls of green acid, you see the puddles on the ground bubbling.
With this game, unfortunately, you can’t really run it and spec yourself out differently. So you can’t do magic builds, or melee builds or hybrid builds of the sorts, but there are some ways to replay the game. You can challenge yourself to no death runs. Or do runs without any blessings on, to make it harder on yourself. But aside from personal challenges, the game itself doesn’t really offer any replay value or rewards for replaying the game. It was a little unusual to see a game like this without any NG+ even! But it goes to show, not all games need such things.
Although the game doesn’t have a grand story, or a very good overarching story, the gameplay, and the world itself makes up a lot for it. Even the boss fights themselves are so unique, even though some bosses have too much health. If you’re a fan of the souls-like gameplay, I can’t recommend this game enough. With enough time, there will be even more balancing brought to the game, and I can’t wait for the possibility of even more content or a sequel!