Overrogue Review (Switch)
Release Date: July 7, 2022
File Size: 404MB
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
In what has become a bit of a trend, I feel it is necessary to remind readers of my maddening quest to review a lot of deck building games. Is that proof enough of my pedigree? Okay, then let’s talk about KEMCO.
I don’t like KEMCO. Or rather, I have found it difficult to enjoy the games they tend to publish, which sit comfortably in a realm I like to call “junk-food JRPGs.” Many independently-developed games aspire to evoke the look and feel of… well, a top-down RPG, and I’m not really going to get any more specific because the developers don’t really make an attempt, either. These games are often mechanically simple and painfully generic. KEMCO just so happens to publish many of these.
But of course, with their recent release of Overrogue, they’ve thrown me a bit of a curve ball. The game attempts to merge some of my least-favorite elements of budget-JRPG releases with the subgenre I desperately, foolishly love. So, I am willed to play it. To beat it. To attempt to tell you why it is worth your time over the myriad other deck building games out there on the Nintendo Switch. And a part of me was very much ready to tear this game to shreds. But alas, I find myself uttering words that I never thought I would say: maybe, just maybe, a KEMCO game is… ugh, do I really have to say this…?
In the usual style of roguelike deck builders, Overrogue challenges the player with completing a number of labyrinths, each with its own set of unique events, number of levels, and enemy types. The player controls Sael, the son of the Overlord of the Underworld, and his two weird “friends,” Elize and Narba, as they access a variety of cards each turn in order to conquer their foes. Similar to the highly-polished Roguebook, Overrogue features a “change” mechanic that rotates party members through a number of positions, the key two being the vanguard and rearguard. The vanguard party member will be targeted by any attack that does not have an area-of-effect modifier, while the rearguard party member will slowly regenerate HP at the end of each turn.
There are many cards and treasures the player can use that capitalize on party placement, so managing your formation (and changing your layout in-between battles) is key. Party members act in turn order based on their speed in relation to one another and enemies, and will usually have access to a basic pool of mana by which they may cast cards every turn. Should you defeat an enemy, you’ll be able to draft from a small pool of randomly-generated cards, with “elite” and boss encounters offering an additional treasure.
Outside of these engagements, you’ll also find event spaces, upgrade spaces, card shops, treasure chests, and rest sites, which all use various resources in order to prolong your longevity. The labyrinth layouts criss-cross frequently, so it is wise to plan out your route so that you can maximize the potential of spaces on the map. Upgrade spaces vary between a grim reaper that will freely enhance one of your cards to an altar where you can sacrifice an in-dungeon currency to boost party member stats and receive other bonuses. The event spaces also mercifully keep track of the options that you have selected and their results upon return visits, making multiple runs a bit more straightforward.
Despite having a leveling function, Overrogue decides to play a dangerous game with the player by implementing a Gacha system. As you complete (or fail) labyrinths and receive a score, you’ll save up a pair of currencies known as Demon Coins and Blightstones. These resources can be used at the Sagan Gacha to roll for more cards from a particular card theme, of which there are five. Cards come in all varieties, but in order to buff out the amount of time investment, the player can also obtain stickers, which are permanent buffs to certain aspects of a particular theme. These range from raising the likelihood of obtaining certain card rarities to increasing the amount of money gathered in the labyrinth, meaning their usage is valuable, albeit in a different way. There are a few other ways to use Blightstones, such as the experience-easing Secret Room, and in case you truly don’t have time to play Overrogue at high frequency, the game does have a daily roulette where you get the chance to snag some extra meta-currency.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a KEMCO title without some egregious top-down environment exploration, and Overrogue does offer this between dungeons. Whether exploring your home base or the nearby town, you can engage a number of NPCs in side quests that are sometimes fetch-item-oriented, and at other times task the player with running one of the labyrinths in order to receive a special event, which more than often ends up being a boss encounter. The sidequest-exclusive rewards can be obtained by unlocking a Secret Room toggle through Blightstone purchase, so it’s not all that intrusive.
Aesthetics and Narrative
As previously mentioned, Overrogue does use top-down pixel art in its exploration and story phases, though its character art is a complete aesthetic departure, looking much smoother and even more over-the-top, in an Eastern sense. The characters’ designs are all meant to appear demonic, but the strange sheep Familiar and your two female compatriots just come across as cute. It’s certainly a choice, but there are far worse aesthetic decisions that could be made, and ultimately, the character designs are actually an aesthetic high point.
The one other art style is that which exists within Labyrinths, which is some strange amalgamation of pixel art and Slay-the-Spire-like flexing animation. It isn’t a particularly flattering mixture, but it works better for the larger and thicker enemy sprites. On any other character, the separation between joints leaves the whole product feeling disconnected, literally and figuratively. The card art is nice, but because the cards are used across characters, none of the art depicts any particular figure upon it, instead opting for a generic blank figure.
The backgrounds in Labyrinths are 3D corridors with some simple pixelated textures adorning them, varying in environmental aesthetic but also not terribly easy on the eyes. The music in story phases is generic at best, offering a repetitive and uninspired tune that fits with the inconsequential nature of the narrative. The battle music within labyrinths is high-intensity, though also a bit grating, to the point where I had to mute the game while playing on the TV to make the experience more pleasant.
As for the narrative, it suffers mainly from a bare-bones localization that translates a number of words and phrases literally, lacking any sort of nuance in delivery and giving each character the same voice, albeit with some slight personality due to the frequency of exclusive jargon and phrases. This localization issue extends to game mechanics and card descriptions, which actually make misleading statements that incorrectly explain functions and can result in bad gameplay choices. It is a shame, considering there are moments here that, with better-handled mood and gravitas, could deliver some decent comedy and motivation.
Sael is a weakened demon-prince who wants to make the strange Underworld a better place for everyone- even the murderous psychopaths (considering demons can’t be slain and regenerate from mortal wounds quickly, it’s really not all that bad). Elize is a tsundere, parasol-wielding enigma with motivations of her own that actually offer some compelling drama, sadly undercut by the writing. And then there’s Narba, who… really likes money. And can hold her liquor.
This is underplaying some of the more complex narrative twists presented in each story beat, but it is admittedly difficult to become invested in a script with so many text boxes and so little attention or care. At times, it feels as if the game is trying to lull the player to sleep with its copious amounts of back-and-forth, mirthless dialogue. The game once again offers mercy with a story-skip option, but that makes one wonder how much faith the developers had in the narrative themselves.
Impressions and Conclusion
There’s a decent, deck-building roguelike to be found in Overrogue, to the point where, if stripped of its KEMCO-y, JRPG-trope-laden narrative and aesthetics, could act as a serviceable, albeit generic alternative to the other titles available on the Nintendo Switch. The story-skip function is an absolute must, seeing as the game does make the player retread and explore some functions rather tediously instead of taking off the training wheels. However, the intent behind these choices was not unkind- at one point, the player is expected to dabble with the karma and customization options of the labyrinths, which are features that greatly expand the game’s longevity beyond completing its simplistic narrative. However, the blend between the two makes this feel like a KEMCO introduction to a genre that has been well-tutorialized and thoroughly introduced at this point. If anyone is using Overrogue as their entry point into deck-building roguelikes, I feel bad for them.
To elaborate, the game limits players to using specific deck types upon their first run of a labyrinth, which acts as a means of introducing the deck and labyrinth mechanics and eases players into their respective tricks. Upon completing a labyrinth, they can then retry with any other available decks and place karma modifiers on the labyrinth, which increase the challenge and amount of meta-currency gained. The more tedious elements of progression, such as the accumulation of stickers and focus on completion of decks, are tied to meta-currency generation, so even in a roguelike, the developers at EXE-CREATE have managed to build in a substantial grind. However, for those looking for a more straightforward, roguelike experience, saving up Blightstones and using them to unlock specific functions in the Secret Room does indeed strip out the more JRPG-like aspects of the game, creating a basic roguelike deck-building experience.
If it feels like the last two paragraphs have been slightly circuitous, that’s because getting to the roguelike core of Overrogue is extremely poorly-telegraphed, hidden by a bad translation and a number of meta-currency menus that the player may not even notice the ways in which the game can deliver on that promise. The game seems fine with having its bog-standard indie-JRPG cake and eating it, but crafting a balanced roguelike deck-builder is no small feat. Of course, the fact that getting through these labyrinths rarely takes more than one or two runs without much investment in the gacha system doesn’t exactly inspire much faith in the overall roguelike having that highly-prized balance. The fact that this is an EXE-CREATE game implies that, as well.
Completing the game’s short, fifteen-to-twenty hour narrative is not enough time to unlock the vast variety of cards and treasures hidden in each deck, but the hope is that there are depths to be plumbed in Overrogue. With the levels of karma and amount of grinding needed to unlock all of its secrets, this is a game that might offer three-to-four times the amount of content that its narrative presents, but it all depends on whether or not you find its other aspects- the aesthetics, the game balance, the progression mechanics- worthy of your time. It also hinges pretty strongly on your tolerance for Gacha mechanics, which are a contentious mechanic, to say the least.
There is appealing game design here, but the ease of access options exist to expedite the JRPG elements of the game, not the roguelike ones. And I can totally get behind that, as someone who doesn’t really love KEMCO’s library! Alternatively, as someone who has put dozens of hours into other deck-builders, it’s hard for me to say that any of these elements would make me choose Overrogue over any of those other options, which is why I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation. I can’t say it’s all bad, truly… but I can’t give it a vote of confidence, either.