Catacombs 1: Demon War is a good example of how a role playing game can keep things interesting and be a worthwhile experience without being a long slog. As it is only the first episode of a three part series, Demon War has a relatively short runtime of around two and a half hours. I’ve always considered myself an “RPG Guy”, and with over twenty years of playing them, I’ve developed quite an eye for weeding out the bad ones. So without further preamble let’s get down to brass tacks.
The story is fairly simple, just enough to get the ball rolling, really. You take on the role of a young man living in the small medieval village of Glendoe. It’s the kind of sword and sorcery setting that I would frequently enjoy in my ritualistic Friday Night games of the pen and paper version of Dungeons & Dragons. The last words of your dying father and an ominous warning about a demon called Sorsabal lead you to investigate the long-abandoned dungeons on the outskirts of town. Another thing that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside is the way the story is set up. At the beginning of the game and interspersed throughout are sections of story text set on a hand painted backdrop and dramatically read to you by a voice actor. Again, this reminds me of a Dungeons and Dragons game when the Dungeon Master trying to set the mood before the start of an adventure. It gives Demon War that classic 1990-2000 PC era medieval RPG feel to it, even though it was created in 2017. And that’s not the only thing about the game that makes it feel like an oldie but a goldie.
The musical score of Demon War is, in my opinion, really good. It’s made up of an original orchestral score and is one of the high points of the game: the battle music is especially cool and probably my favorite piece in the game. The graphics are clean, high-resolution sprites viewed at a top-down camera angle, not much else to say about them. The character sprites look decent, but they seem at odds with the nicely detailed static 2D background whenever they move.
The battles are turn-based and reminiscent of most dungeon crawlers, the Wizardry series especially. All that is seen of your characters are their portraits, whereas the enemies are displayed fully and in great detail. They aren’t just static pictures either; they expand and contract slightly to give them a living, breathing appearance. The enemies of Demon War can range from the mundane to the demonic. There are quite a few different enemy types, which surprised me considering the length of the episode. I assume most of them will be reused for the next episodes, but that remains to be seen. Most of the encounters in the game are random, while there are a few cases where enemy sprites populate the map and battles are started by touching them. The battles can be a challenge, especially if you are not properly prepared. I died quite a few times in the beginning. Hell, even later on in the game when I was hitting my stride and stomping monsters left and right I almost got taken out in one shot by an enemy’s surprise magic spell. Luckily, the save feature is very generous: it allows you to save anywhere at any time, as long as you are not in a battle.
And like most RPGs, you can gain experience and level up by completing quests and mashing monsters. There are a variety of NPCs to be found in Glendoe and its dungeons, and most of them are optional. There are a few you have to complete missions for in order to pass through certain areas, but it’s a smart idea to do all the ones you come across because you need all the XP you can get to power up your character(s). Even though I fought every battle and finished every quest available, by the end of the game I was only level 5. Whenever you level up you gain 5 points to spend in the stats you see fit. Spending your points wisely is the best way to get an edge in the more difficult battles. There are plenty of weapons and gear to find and equip, not to mention accessories. The game has a system similar to what you would find in an MMO or loot-centric RPG like Diablo. There are a number of randomly generated attributes and modifiers attached to the different variety of weapons so you probably won’t ever see the same weapon twice. And to add an extra challenge, weapons and armor break frequently, meaning you have to keep an eye out on the durability and keep extra stock unless you want to end up defenseless in the middle of the catacombs. At least if your weapon breaks, you can equip a new one on the heat of the battle without sacrificing a turn.
I only have a couple of small complaints with this game. First off are the small technical glitches. One time I accidentally walked into a door that required a numbered combination to unlock. I didn’t have the right code, and yet I could back out in any way. I was stuck in the number entry menu with no other recourse but to restart the game and lose my unsaved progress. Secondly, is using the WASD configuration. You can use a mouse/keyboard combo to play, but I much prefer using the keyboard, as it is much more accurate to move around with on a 2D plane. However, sometimes the game would stop accepting keyboard commands when it came to advancing conversations, forcing me to use the left-click of the mouse instead. Not a big problem, but an annoying one nonetheless.
To sum it all up succinctly; Catacombs 1: Demon War is a challenging - yet short - modern day classic RPG. It’s an incredibly low price, it can be beaten in an evening so it won’t add to ye olde backlog, and the battles have enough bite to them to make things interesting. To top it all off, decent graphics and a great accompanying musical score. If you want a quick but satisfying RPG with a classic medieval feel, take a sojourn in Demon War.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 7/10
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