One Step From Eden Review (Switch)
Release Date: March 26, 2020
File Size: 427 MB
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
I’ve never liked Mega Man.
I’ve never liked action platformers, really, unless the focus is on the latter half of the title and not the former. In 2D form, action is nothing more than twitch-precision and pattern memorization, which is not my forte. But Mega Man is not just an action platformer, it’s something even more special. This is a franchise that has apparently nestled close to the hearts and minds of many thanks to its iterative, and dare I say adaptive premise. The original NES titles were the foundation, but many spin-off titles would attempt to entice fans of other genres, all the while maintaining the series’ staples of precision movement and very, very, gimmicky character designs.
That brings us to Mega Man Battle Network, a game that I came to tolerate during the days of the Wii U. A friend of mine had been touting the gameplay of the spin-off series for a long time, and being a fan of RPGs, I figured the Virtual Console ports were as good a time as any to see what all the fuss was about. I made it about a third of the way through Mega Man Battle Network 2 (the starting point recommended by my friend- I’ve noticed a trend of fans stating the second installment is where things hit their stride) before I was stripped of my deck and forced to use a developer-built, purposefully garbage deck instead, and had to defeat a boss, at that, before I threw in the towel. Battle Network has some great ideas, but it falters in a few areas that frustrate me a bit too much. The “cracked tile” mechanic, which forces the player to stay within certain boundaries during battle, can cripple the composition of a deck, which often requires precision positioning in order to work. Likewise, the “grind” of the Battle Network titles relies heavily on how efficiently you can take out enemies- it’s a fine concept, but even when you rank well in a skirmish, you only have a chance of obtaining new weaponry from a downed foe. Lastly, the game’s grid-based action combat is just too fast and punitive in regards to taking a wrong step. These games are built for difficulty and frustration, which is why diehard fans defend them so vehemently- if you spend the time to become exhaustively efficient at them, you have the patience of a saint and the determination of… well, not me. Because I can’t stand these games.
So naturally, I’m the best fit for reviewing a spiritual successor to Battle Network, like One Step from Eden.
One Step From Eden is a grid- and deck-based action combat roguelike. The very direct comparisons to Mega Man Battle Network apply only in the combat system- though the combat system is pretty much everything that the game features. You possess a deck of spells that are randomized with a shuffle at the beginning of each battle, as well as when you exhaust said deck. You have four-gate movement options across your 4×4 grid, and you’ll need to position yourself properly in order to execute your spells and take out the enemies on the opposite site.
If there’s one thing I can give the game, henceforth abbreviated as Eden, credit for, is that it manages to forego the frustrating spacing elements of the Battle Network titles while adding its own irritating nuances. The game is kind enough to offer you a cursor, which comes in the form of a highlighted space five squares to the player character’s left. Though you might expect almost every single-square attack to use this as a marker, you’d be wrong. Many spells stop just short of that cursor, and though you do get a description of how a card operates on your deck overview screen, you’ll have to practice with it in-between battles in order to get a feel for the spell, something the game thankfully does offer in-between every battle.
Because of its deck-crafting sensibilities, you can already guess how this game uses skirmish victories as a means of adding roguelike elements. After each battle, you’ll be presented with a trio of cards, from which you’ll select one to add to your deck, or pass and head onward. Not only this, but skirmishes also award experience points, though the manner in which this is calculated is honestly beyond me. It seems to be largely based on the number of enemies in the battle, with your performance playing almost no factor in determining overall experience accrual. This is meant to be a contributing factor in how you plot your journey from Eden, as there are a variety of encounters you can take on. Basic combat often relies on some sort of gimmick, as players will be introduced to certain enemy types and attempt to learn their behavior in order to circumvent taking damage. While this works all well-and-good, each “tier” you progress will offer more and more complex combinations of enemies, so if you’ve yet to explore a certain biome, you can expect to get your teeth kicked in by a group of enemies that you’re entirely unfamiliar with. But, that’s all part of the roguelike experience, right?
In addition, there are also hostage scenarios, which usually provide the player with the option to rescue some helpless civilians from being wiped by enemies. Though many of these play similarly to the puzzle-like scenarios of regular skirmishes, there are ultimately very few options for finding success, and if you don’t have a viable hand to play in order to stop a landmine from detonating next to a hapless hostage, you’ll simply have to sit back and watch them get wasted. This is the risk you run by choosing to take a path that features this sort of encounter, but it hardly feels rewarding. There are also hazard stages, which are hectic, environment-focused combat sections where you’ll have to tackle an annoying amount of projectiles; miniboss stages, which usually feature one enemy with a bit more toughness than the usual affair, and merchant, campfire, and treasure spaces. When you start on a path, you’ll be more or less locked into it throughout the tier, as you’ll rarely find deviations and, as far as I know, you can’t actually view the entire tier map while selecting a path- feel free to call me on that one.
At the end of every tier, there is a boss battle, where Eden truly steps into the shoes of a Mega Man successor. Each of these bosses has its own mechanics to learn, not only as a foe, but potentially as an ally and playable option, if you should be able to take them down on tier four. These mechanics mostly range from grid control to specific attack patterns, but the ultimate goal is to become familiar with the “language” of each boss battle, so that you can reliably navigate their traps and, on a rare occasion, land a blow or two of your own.
I won’t be talking about any sort of narrative, because as far as I know, Eden doesn’t have one. The game is just an excuse for some fisticuffs. The only writing is that which appears on cards as explanatory and flavor text, as well as some brief dialogue boss characters will throw your way after beating them to a pulp. Much of the card flavor text, as well as the achievement titles and descriptions, feature tongue-in-cheek comments and references to other games and pop culture- your mileage may vary in terms of amusement.
As a successor to a series with some iconic visual design and sprite work, Eden does have some big shoes to fill, and does so rather well, for the most part. Though the in-game character art is stunning and stylish, offering each of the playable cast a delightfully colorful portrait, they feel a bit more androgynous in sprite form. Not that this is a bad thing, but if you’re expecting the petite, peppy initial protagonist Saffron to have the same detail in battle, you’ll at least be able to identify her from her color palette. Enemies are extremely varied, with some possessing extreme features and animations and others simply being giant turrets or inscrutable structures. There are elemental hounds, plant constructs, generic slimes, and more.
If there is one aspect that I find particularly irksome, again likely because of my lack of proficiency at the game itself, it’s that animation “tells” are present for some attacks, nonexistent for others, and extremely brief for most. This, coupled with the extreme visual overload that is the game’s particle and hazard effects, can make the game look extremely flashy and equally overwhelming. Seeing your entire half of the grid light up with hazard markers and reveal a few sparing safe zones is one thing, but when it’s immediately followed by another volley before the first set of markers has vanished, it becomes difficult to discern what is and isn’t safe. The same goes for many of the game’s highly aggressive enemy behaviors, which are manageable on their own, but quickly become hard to keep track of once there are two or three enemies or multiples of the same type in a skirmish.
With all of this said, Eden has some great sound design, with attacks featuring meaty effects when they confirm, and respective elements like fire, ice, and electricity possessing their own, unique tells. The soundtrack is also stellar, with a number of very relaxed and ethereal tracks to help you cool down in-between fights on the tier map screens, as well as tense combat tunes to amp you up. Once again, the game’s fast pace is almost a bit of a detriment, as one of its bosses forces you to play a rhythm game that does keep tempo with its theme, but when the whole package sounds as nice as it does, it’s hard to complain.
Impressions and Conclusions
I don’t wish to sound overly critical about Eden, as I recently took to Twitter and had a discussion with the developer about a patch that reduces the game’s difficulty on the Switch, but the majority of the time I’ve spent with the game has been joyless. The developer has stated that additional character unlocks, of which there are many, are gated behind defeating them in their respective fourth-tier forms, which adds new attack cycles and additional sequences to their arsenal. That means I’ve only had the pleasure of playing as Saffron herself, because I frankly suck at the game. The ping-ponging of my attention to my current spell loadout, the enemy side of the board, and my own playing field has been frustrating in a way that feels punitive in ways that were mitigated by Battle Network’s more economic use of screen space. Keep in mind, I have seen some progress- I’ve begun to familiarize myself with some of the basic enemy gimmicks and functions of specific cards, but as is the nature of roguelikes, the more you play, the more options become available to you, and while some are better, others simply add new mechanics to the mix that can cause some analysis paralysis. Apparently, it’s a good thing that I’m stuck with just Saffron, as the other unlockable characters feature play styles and deck setups that are more specific and difficult to operate.
What I do think is quite neat are the number of unique mechanics that are present in Eden’s card setups: if you hit a character with an ice-based attack three times, you’ll do an extra 100 damage, you can build up counters like flow and trinity in order to buff other spells or unleash powerful new versions of said attack, similar in concept yet more streamlined in execution than the combo system featured in Battle Network. Another departure from its progenitor is an increased focus on ranged attacks- most melee options will have the character leap forward, rather than cover a very limited space in front of them. Some cards create additional spells that need to be exhausted, and of course, there are certain pieces of equipment you can gain from level-ups and hostage and treasure encounters that facilitate the usage of some of these cards. As a huge fan of Slay the Spire, I love the possibility and selection on display, even if there are some cards that feel superfluous in nature. Similarly, the merchant’s shop feels overpriced for what it has to offer, ensuring that, should you encounter it on tier one, you’d likely be unable to buy a single card, piece of equipment, or use any other feature present outside of the Pact system, which presents the player with a risk/reward scenario. That’s just the luck of the draw, and it does lend itself to the inherent, weighty choices that come with deck design and roguelike formalities present.
I cannot recommend One Step From Eden to any RPG or even roguelike enthusiast without some serious reservations. The game does a fine job at communicating some of its unique mechanics, particularly those featured in boss encounters, by having lesser enemy types feature similar attack types, but it is extremely punishing in other scenarios, failing to telegraph how exactly certain mechanics and attacks work. You need to be a fan of Battle Network-style gameplay, and even then, Eden doesn’t offer as granular selection options as Battle Network’s hand selection system. You’ll need to pick wisely, and figure out how the tools you’ve gained can be used effectively throughout your run. If you have a desire for the twitchy, reactive gameplay of Battle Network and nothing else, One Step From Eden has it in spades. If you’re on the fence, I’d strongly recommend watching some gameplay before buying, as it’s very much a love-it-or-hate-it title. All things considered, One Step From Eden knows and will likely satisfy its audience, but it does little to make its gameplay systems more approachable or enjoyable for newcomers.
A.K.A.: Git gud.