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 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.
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
+ Challenging battles
+Good musical score
- A few technical foibles
- Some may be put off by its length