Nobody puts Cthulhu in the corner, not even Santa Claus! In this official prequel to PC cult-hit Cthulhu Saves the World by comedic JRPG enthusiasts Zeboyd Games, our tentacled titular hero finds himself up to his squishy green neck in a hostile takeover conspiracy for the ages and the stakes have never been higher! Our plucky hero Cthulhu (okay, just pretend he’s not a mind-breaking cosmic horror) is snug in his bed and minding his own business when he awakens on Christmas Eve to find a surprise present waiting for him, left by the jolly fat man himself! Or so he thought. After opening it up and being drained of all his power, he sets out with the intention of saving Christmas by defeating the ‘clearly insane’ Santa so he can regain his powers and finally get around to destroying the world. This is all explained in a hilarious back-and-forth between Cthulhu and the game’s narrator. There is a huge amount of fourth-wall-breaking in Cthulhu Saves Christmas and it works fairly well without being too corny, which I think is mostly due to the solid writing and the fact that CSC is clearly meant to lean more towards comedy than a dramatic plot. The resulting effect is an entertaining JRPG that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which for me is a nice change of pace these days.
Getting back to the basics of the plot; Cthulhu’s vendetta against Santa lasts all of 5 seconds as he promptly runs into his granddaughter (and your new party member!) Crystal Claus. After saving her, she explains how Santa had been kidnapped by a collective of seven Christmas-themed bad guys who call themselves the League of Christmas Evil, and if Scott wants to date her, he’ll have to defeat all seven in combat and... Wait, lemme check my notes again. Sorry, I must have got mixed up with something else. The League of Christmas Evil has kidnapped Santa in order to take the holiday over for themselves. What Cthulhu had opened up earlier was an anti-present that gives the receiver the opposite of what they truly desire, which explains why Cthulhu was weakened since all he wants is more power. Crystal promises Cthulhu a permanent spot on good ol’ Saint Nick’s Nice List if he were to help her defeat the league and rescue her grandfather, so being the sweet-hearted cosmic horror that he is, he naturally agrees to help! Along your journey, you’ll encounter two more party members drawn from European folklore; a young Baba Yaga and her chicken companion Cluck-Cluck, and Belsnickel. You’re all most likely familiar with Baba Yaga (Not John Wick, I’m referring to the old witch with the chicken-legged hut) but if you’re like me you probably won’t know Belsnickel. Let me save you a Google: he’s a grungy old hobo of Germanic origins who carries around sweets for good kids and a switch for bad kids. The beating kind of switch, not the fun one from Nintendo. With a team like this behind him, how could Cthulhu fail?
The battles are turn-based, with the turn order dictated by speed and indicated by a bar on the right side of the screen. Most of a party member’s skills can only be used once before needing to be recharged by defending. Of the eight skill slots, four can be set with whatever ability you’ve learned, one is dedicated to your unique defend command, and the last three are reserved for “insanity abilities”. These so-called insanity abilities are chosen at random from your list at the start of every encounter. Occasionally you may even come across a skill that you cannot access any other way. Over the course of the battle, your characters can enter Hyper Mode for a turn, which enables you to do extra damage and even change the effects of your skills. Hyper mode is a mechanic that will be familiar to anyone who has tried Cosmic Star Heroine. Items work in a similar way to your skills, except they can only be used one time and only replenish after the fight. The Unite command is the last weapon in your arsenal. These powerful attacks and abilities can only be used once per battle and they get stronger as the turns pass, making it a smart move to save them for later on in the fight.
Since Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a smaller-scale title, it does away with some of your typical JRPG conventions. Your party members have three slots to equip their weapons and equipment, but most of your gear is found in chests so there are no shops or currency. HP and status are replenished between each fight so no need to worry about inns and healing. I know that quite often, random encounters can be the bane of an RPG gamer’s existence, so you may be happy to hear about Zeboyd Game’s refreshing approach to that particular issue. The Battle Bar shows you how many enemy encounters you have left in an area. It slowly turns from green to red until an exclamation pops up and a battle commences. However, if you feel like skipping the battle, you can just press a button to avoid it. Clearing out all the enemies in an area gives you a big XP bonus. If you still feel like grinding, you can start a battle at any time through the party menu! You can also change the difficulty at any time from the menu, so overall I feel like CSC is an accessible game for newbies and veterans alike.
In between the main dungeons, there is a Persona-like life sim segment that takes place in Christmas Village. You have the chance to build everlasting “R’lyehtionships” between Cthulhu and his crew, along with the other inhabitants of the village. It offers a glimpse into what a Great Old One does on his days off. From bonding with his allies, hanging out with the local cult, or even working as a part-time mall Santa, Cthulhu does it all! Earning equipment and enjoying funny story segments is the main focus of this gameplay feature, but you also get extra endgame scenes for every R’lyehtionship you see through to completion so it isn’t just filler.
As you can probably tell by the screenshots, the pixel-work is fantastic. In one of the later areas, Cthulhu quips about how excellent the pixelated details are and that the designers should be paid more, and I heartily agree! CSC also has an excellent soundtrack, including a bitchin’ metal rendition of Silver Bells that I am particularly fond of. While the game only runs about 4-5 hours, there is a new game plus mode that I feel is absolutely essential to play to get the whole experience. It isn’t simply replaying the game over again. As I mentioned earlier, the fourth wall is constantly being broken meaning Cthulhu and co. are thoroughly aware that they are going through the same thing again. A ton of dialogue is changed to reflect this as your party constantly reference things that already happened, much to the confusion of the rest of the cast of characters. That’s not all that’s changed. You now have access to a new difficulty, a secret boss, and the chance to complete any R’lyehtionships you haven’t completed, plus the addition of new R’lyehtionships with powerful new rewards to gain. For me, this extra playthrough pushes the game up to the 7-hour mark. I honestly can’t think of a single bad thing to say about Cthulhu Saves Christmas, go play it!
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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