Fashionably Late is a thing wherein I ramble on about older games I’ve never played, or have played, or have even personally reviewed but I’m returning to because I’m a big boy now and I can make my own decisions mom, jeez. This time it’s Rogue Legacy that’s in the spotlight.
ChronopandaZA is a terrible person. Really, just The Worst of All People*. As a frequent visitor to our comments section, I didn’t think much of the ominously dark, clearly evil clouds brewing on the horizon as I read ChronopandaZA’s seemingly harmless feedback on my Fashionably Late for Risk of Rain. “I enjoyed the hell out of Rogue Legacy,” reads the comment. “Have you tried it?”
No. I hadn’t tried it.
Spurred on by ChronopandaZA’s unassuming query and blissfully unaware of the dangerous situation in which I unwittingly found myself, I whipped out my credit card and bought Rogue Legacy. After leaving it to bubble and stew and ferment and quietly grow ever more potent in my Steam library for a few weeks, I finally decided to try me some Rogue Legacy.
Now I can’t stop trying it. I’ve lost more hours than my tired brain can count to the thing, and yet still it craves more. I crave more.
Is this what you wanted, ChronopandaZA? Are you happy now? ARE YOU?
My newfound obsession with Rogue Legacy can be attributed to one simple factor: it’s just so damn good. Like Risk of Rain, Rogue Legacy is a roguelike (or a roguelite, or a roguelike-like, or a seriously what the hell am I supposed to call these things so I’ll fit in with the cool, genre-savvy kids?) platformer, which means that every miserable death you suffer brings a permanent, tragic end to the character you’re currently playing, along with any short-term progress you’ve made with them. Mercifully, Rogue Legacy differs from many of its peers in that each individual run is wrapped in an elegant system of overall, permanent progression.
Confused? Let me explain. Each Rogue Legacy run randomly generates a castle and its surrounding areas for you to explore. In essence, the map it generates is comprised of various interlocking rooms, each of which may or may not contain a throng of horrible beasties eager to turn you into the adventurer-soup of the day. You’re going to die. You should come to terms with it now: you will die, repeatedly and often. But if you’re lucky, you’ll bag yourself a mountain of gold (by which I mean a small, only partially pathetic pile) and a rucksack full of sweet items (by which I mean maybe you’ll find a pair of slightly-less-crappy boots than the ones you’re wearing) before you inevitably succumb to whatever squishy, embarrassing fate awaits you this time. When you do eventually perish, your gathered gold is handed down to your next of kin, and that next of kin becomes your next clumsy adventurer to send to his or her doom with your ineptitude.
That’s right: every time you load up a new run through the castle, you’re playing as a family member of the unlucky chump who unceremoniously tripped and fell into a pit of spikes, or was eaten by a Grue, or swung their sword left instead of right and paid the price for it on your previous run. Setting aside the moral implications of repeatedly, horrifically maiming a semi-proud family tree for the sake of your own amusement, the consequence of this is that you inherit all of your fallen family member’s wealth (i.e. the gold you collected on your previous run), and once you’ve gotten over just how pitiful an inheritance it is, you can use that gold to buy new gear from the smithy that’ll increase various important stats to help you die slightly less frequently, or to buy runes that give you useful abilities like multiple jumps and a slick sideways dash. Those runes and gear are comprised of a selection of trinkets you’ve found throughout your fatal adventures. Alternatively, you can spend your gold upgrading your keep, which will not only net you crucial stat boosts, but will also allow you to gradually unlock the game’s pool of character classes, each of which has its own strengths, weakness and innate skills. Every adventurer has a melee attack and at least one spell with which to damage enemies, and upgrading your damage output with these is key to killing enemies quickly before they have a chance to retaliate.
Are you still with me? Good, because there’s more. Each new adventurer you choose may or may not carry a list of unique character traits that alter the game in some way. Some of these traits can have a real effect on your survivability. Others aren’t much more than a funny quirk, providing a few chuckles but having no tangible positive or negative effect. A character who suffers from dwarfism, for example, has the ability to wiggle their way into small spaces and uncover secrets, but their small stature means your sword swings don’t cover as large of an area, so you have to get much closer to enemies to hit them. And getting closer to enemies is dangerous. Near-sighted adventurers have a blurry filter applied to everything far away, which is more debilitating than you’d think. Dyslexic heroes, meanwhile, simply have the text in the game’s prompts amusingly muddled up.
The genetic traits are very clever, but they’re not as pivotal to the game as they seem at first glance – because with or without them, Rogue Legacy is an incredibly difficult game, especially during your first few runs. Or your first thousand runs, if you’re half as incompetent as me. I think my first run I made it something like two rooms in before a rogue painting (!) bit a chunk out of my health bar and sent me to a depressingly early grave. Sad times. I’ve never found myself feeling frustrated though, especially since the game gradually unravels a number of mechanisms which serve to make your escapades slightly more manageable. Most of my deaths are entirely my fault and not a result of the game being a sadistic A-hole – although there are some cruelly designed, spike-filled rooms in there that make me want to hurl wads of soggy paper towel at its creators. That said, I do imagine many people will find the initial difficulty curve intensely frustrating and won’t stick with it long enough to find any meaningful relief in the game’s persistent progression, but I suspect by reading all this you already know whether or not this is the game for you.
Personally, I’m thoroughly impressed and hopelessly hooked on the game. It reminds me of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, minus the underwear. I love the look of it and its catchy audio. The platforming is tightly designed and the overall feel of it is nicely polished. It’s a pleasantly intelligent romp, and even though you’ll spend a fair chunk of time staring in disbelief at your screen as you endure yet another hilariously humiliating, probably entirely avoidable death, I’m sure you’ll have a blast with Rogue Legacy.
Also, I love the run animation. It’s adorable, my overly optimistic hero’s sword held high as though they’re perpetually trapped in a valiant charge towards victory. If only they knew there’s a complete imbecile at the controls, and that they’d be better off charging in the opposite direction.