Final Fantasy Type 0 HD Review

Final Fantasy Type 0 HD Review
Standard

Originally Published On Continue Play

As a statement of its intent to do something a bit different with one of the longest-running series’ in gaming, killing off one of Final Fantasy‘s most revered icons in the opening scenes is about as bold a gesture as Square Enix could make.

Shot in the back by a firing squad and bleeding out in the middle of a street isn’t the most dignified way to go, but it’s the abruptness of it that’s so jarring. This isn’t your average Final Fantasy game, the publisher seem to be saying. Strap yourself in. Kicking off the game with the death of a Chocobo is about as light-hearted as Type-0 gets; over the course of the narrative, protagonists become terminally ill and many major characters die.

Final Fantasy Type 0 HD ReviewWar is very much the backbone of Final Fantasy Type 0: HD, and Square Enix never once lets you forget that. After a while it’s difficult not to wonder if the scriptwriters were under strict orders to be as brutal as possible. Final Fantasy has never been shy of putting its characters through the emotional wringer, of course; but Type-o sees the scriptwriters being borderline sadistic.

While the narrative often plods along towards the start of the game with a drawn-out series of cutscenes to establish the premise, things soon pick up. Type 0 belongs to a subset of games in the series that Square Enix has dubbed Fabula Nova Crystallis. It’s a clumsy moniker, first announced alongside the reveal of Final Fantasy XIII many moons ago. Essentially what it means is that while Type 0 is set very much in its own universe, it shares some of the same overarching concepts as Final Fantasy XIII: if that game bored you with its endless expositional conversations about l’Cie and crystals, then you might want to prepare yourself – Type 0 absolutely loves exposition.

Thankfully, the writing is actually not bad (though the same can’t be said about the voice acting – more on that later). Characters initially feel like stereotypes, but eventually develop into a well-rounded bunch of personalities with enough variety to ensure that everyone will have their favorites. The translation means that some of the jokes (and despite the grimness of the tale, there are moments of levity) fall flat, but overall the localization work on the script is decent.

The story, as mentioned, is focused on war: Type 0‘s world consists of four great Empires, each protected from the other by the power of its own crystal and co-existing in relative harmony and a long-standing – if uneasy – truce. Unfortunately for the Empire of Rubrum, the Militesi Empire has managed to develop a weapon which is capable of negating the protective effects of crystals and rendering people unable to use magic, and puts the new weapon into immediate use – declaring all-out war and launching an offensive on its neighbors.

That’s where you come into things, taking control of a group of academy students known as Class Zero. Class Zero may be young, and they may be students, but it’s their task to push back the Militesi offensive and try to Final Fantasy Type 0 HD Reviewre-establish peace in the world of Orience, while sorting out their own internal squabbles, politics and personal crises. Who said child labor was dead and buried?

Class Zero is made up of 14 members, 12 of them playable (the other two take a back seat and act more as narrators). You start off having access to just a couple, but it isn’t long before you gain access to them all. You’ll pick your favorites rather early on – I had a soft spot for Jack, who wields a katana in battle, and Seven, who wields a chain-whip not unlike the protagonists of a certain vampire-slaying franchise by Konami.

Whoever you pick, you’ll spend your time levelling them up, upgrading their abilities and swapping out their gear for new equipment. So far, so Final Fantasy. But where Type 0 differs from the main games in the series is in the gameplay itself. Taking a leaf from the book of that other PSP Final Fantasy title, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, combat in Type 0 eschews the Active Time Battle system that the mainline entries have been in love with so long and instead opts for real-time combat, with your main attacks mapped to the controller’s face buttons. You even have a dodge button.

For players who have become so used to turn-based combat in Square Enix’s series – and who never played Crisis Core on PSP – this can initially come as something of a shock. Gone is the ability to leisurely consider your next move, replaced instead by a brisk pace which demands you pay attention and act swiftly in order to prevent the untimely demise of your party. Gone too is the ability to control your whole party at once: while you can switch between your 3-strong party of characters at will, some rather competent AI takes care of your teammates as you hack, slash, shoot or punch your way through the game’s many encounters.

Final Fantasy Type 0 HD ReviewAnother change to the series which might take some getting used to is in the actual structure of the game. Progress in Type 0 is achieved through completing relatively short missions, bookended by sojourns at the Vermillion Peristylium, the academy where Class Zero is based. Think of it as a bit like Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series – only a version of Hogwarts where Hermione carries a giant mace, Ron wields dual handguns, and Harry throws exploding playing cards at people. And with Moogles delivering your mail instead of owls.

Between missions – which are relatively linear and focused mainly on combat – you can explore the Academy grounds, speak to other characters and uncover bits of their backstory. A timer counts down the time until your next outing, and performing actions will use up a chunk of that time, in varying amounts. Having a nap might use up a couple of hours, while speaking to another character might see half a day passing by. You can also participate in a series of side-quests, dubbed Practice Missions.

You’ll certainly want to complete those Practice Missions too, because Type 0 ratchets up the difficulty in the main story very early on, and it’s easy to find yourself outlevelled and under-equipped for the challenges the game throws at you. Spend all your time lounging around between the main story missions and you’ll soon find yourself thrust into the next mission while being unable to progress. Thankfully, previously completed missions can be replayed from the menu, and any experience and items gained from replaying them (and, thankfully, failed missions) carries back over to your characters in the main game; you’ll never find yourself stuck, but you’ll occasionally find yourself needing to grind out a few more levels on your characters so that you’re better able to tackle the next chunk of the story.

Final Fantasy: Type 0 HD is highly enjoyable – when characters aren’t talking, and once you manage to turn a blind eye to the visuals. Sadly, while Square Enix has made a big thing about the lengths they’ve gone to in order to update the original PSP game for modern consoles the results are… well, inconsistent would be the polite way of putting it.

For starters, despite the HD makeover textures still resemble a late-generation PS2 game. They’re blurry, ugly, and a washed-out oversaturated appearance does nothing to help the game’s artstyle. Locations are nicely designed, and there’s plenty of imagination in the game’s world; but sadly this HD version can’t even come close to the visual standard set by the last generation of home consoles, let alone feel as though it belongs on the latest. Loading screens, meanwhile, are frequent – no doubt a hangover from the game’s origins on Sony’s first handheld. Final Fantasy Type 0 HD ReviewCutscenes fade to black only to fade back in constantly, slowing down the pace. Elsewhere, Tpye 0 HD betrays its handheld roots by restricting you to using the d-pad to navigate menus, and the camera is atrocious – the slightest nudge of the right stick sees the camera angle lurching dramatically, making it difficult to find a good viewpoint of the action. A lock-on function mitigates this somewhat, but wrestling with the camera is something you’ll find yourself doing all too frequently.

Musically speaking, there are some great compositions on offer. Final Fantasy has a long history of serving up some of the most memorable sountracks in gaming. There’s nothing here to rival the likes of One Winged Angel or Battle on Big Bridge, but some of the tunes on offer will stay with you after a play session and a couple will go down as fan favorites, sure to become staples on the set list of future Distant Worlds concerts.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the voice acting. Characters don’t so much phone in their lines as sleepwalk through them; the cast of voice actors often seem poorly matched to the characters they’re depicting, and dialogue-heavy scenes become a chore to sit through, rather than something to be enjoyed.

As a result, many of Type 0‘s most dramatic moments fall flat, as characters seem to barely react to life-changing (and indeed world-changing) events, even when the on-screen dialogue suggests huge outpourings of emotion. When one major character in the story dies, the response from the assembled actors in the scene sounds more like they’ve gone to make some toast only to discover that the bread has gone moldy, not that a beloved comrade has kicked the bucket: more understated and matter-of-fact disappointment than grief.

Despite the issues with the presentation however, Final Fantasy Type 0 HD is thoroughly enjoyable – one of the better series instalments in a long time, in fact. Just make sure to adjust your expectations of the series prior to starting your playthrough, and certainly don’t expect the series’ typically high production values. Square Enix’s flagship series is currently in a state of flux: the upcoming Final Fantasy XV promises to be the most drastic reinvention of the JRPG genre in recent memory, to the point where some are already debating where it can even be classed as a JRPG at all. Type 0 HD may be merely an updated version of a 4-year-old PSP game, but it’s nonetheless just as much a departure from what people expect from Final Fantasy as anything else you’re likely to play this year.

Rough around the edges but with plenty to like about it, Final Fantasy: Type 0 HD is a decent addition to Square Enix’s long-running franchise. Just don’t expect production values to rival the publisher’s best.

8/10

Advertisements

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata Passes Away

Satoru Iwata
Standard

Originally Published On Continue Play

In what feels like the end of an era, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has died aged 55.

“Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth,” said Nintendo in a brief statement to investors that was issued overnight.

Iwata had been suffering from ill health for some time, a matter which led to him skipping his planned attendance of the annual E3 event in 2014. His passing was as a result of a tumor on his bile duct, for which he had been receiving medical care.

Iwata first joined Nintendo in the 1980s as a programmer on games such as Balloon Fight and the classic EarthBound. He was made a Director in 2000, before taking the role of President in 2002 after the passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi, making Iwata only the fourth president in Nintendo’s 125-year history.

As President of Nintendo, Iwata oversaw a time of great transition. Famously championing the “Blue Ocean” business strategy, it was Iwata who greenlit the Nintendo Wii, DS, 3DS and Wii U. He also led the company to be more open to mobile gaming, which lead to last year’s announcement that Nintendo had partnered with mobile gaming giant DeNa.

Despite his role as one of the most prominent executives in the games industry, Iwata was known for his love of fun and managed to strike up a rapport with Nintendo fans across the world. By situating himself front and center as the presenter of the Nintendo Direct broadcasts, and his regular series Iwata Asks, he displayed a willingness to engage directly with fans – something which is rare in this industry.

There are two potential candidates to succeed Iwata as President of Nintendo: Shigeru Miyamoto, and Genyo Takeda. While Takeda is largely an unknown figure, Miyamoto is well-loved among fans, and is the creator of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Takeda has taken the role of Acting Representative Director for the time being, until a final vote sometime later this year.

Satoru Iwata, you will be sorely missed. Gomeifuku wo inorimasu.

Satellite Reign Is The Syndicate Successor Gamers Deserve

Satellite Reign Preview
Standard

Originally Published On Continue Play

Syndicate was a huge success for Bullfrog – and particularly Peter Molyneux. But it was the 1996 sequel, Syndicate Wars, which made me fall in love with the concept. Syndicate Wars was brash, riding the mid-90’s wave of the West’s newfound love of Manga and a fresh era for the Cyberpunk genre, and it took the original to new heights of moody ultraviolence, shot through with pitch black humor.

Unfortunately, beyond an ill-judged FPS reboot from EA, Syndicate has largely been stuck on a shelf in a high-tech vault somewhere for close to two decades, leaving hordes of older fans – myself included – praying to the digital gods for someone to come along and give us the modern successor we desired.

Satellite Reign Is The Syndicate Update Gamers DeserveThankfully, one other person who also wanted to play a new Syndicate game was the lead designer of Syndicate Wars himself, Mike Diskett. One successful Kickstarter and over a year in development later, we’re now able to see what a modern Syndicate might actually have looked like, had history unfolded slightly differently.

Satellite Reign is still heavy in development, but already Diskett’s spiritual successor to the Bullfrog classic is showing enough polish, atmosphere and smart gameplay that I keep going back to the Early Access demo. Partly to soak in the wonderful atmosphere of the world that Diskett and his team at 5 Lives Studios has created, but also because they have managed to update and refine the gameplay of the original so well that going back to the actual Syndicate games reveals just how unrefined and scrappy they actually are.

Syndicate is an isometric tactical game, where you control a small squad of corporate agents in real-time, waging war across city maps in a bid to bring down a rival corporation. It was fun, and incredibly violent (for the time) with a bleak sense of humor; but you could never accuse Syndicate of really doing justice to the actual tactical side of the real-time tactics equation. Sure, you could upgrade your agents to better levels of technology and acquire better weapons; but the upgrade path was rather linear – the toughest exoskeleton was always the toughest exoskeleton, and by and large your agents were all carbon copies of each other, with nothing beyond their weaponry and upgrades to set them apart from each other.

Diskett and his team clearly understand this, and as a consequence playing Satellite Reign‘s early build reminds me of another game from the 90’s: Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.

In Commandos, your plucky team of Soldiers were sent on a series of missions deep in enemy territory and it was your job to work out how to accomplish your goal using the tools at your Satellite Reign Is The Syndicate Update Gamers Deservedisposal. With each member of your squad having completely different abilities – one could wear a disguise, one was a sniper, another was demolitions expert – each level wasn’t so much a gauntlet as it was one giant puzzle. Multiple solutions meant you weren’t screwed if you buggered up halfway through a mission – just as well, because some levels could take hours to complete; but by and large you were forced to approach each obstacle tactically and think outside the box, if you were to complete your mission with all of your squad mates intact.

Satellite Reign has a lot in common with Commandos. Perhaps, aesthetics aside, even more so than it does with Syndicate: each of your four agents has their own specialism, and how you combine their skills to overcome each situation is key to each situation. Do you get your hacker to shut down the nearby surveillance and sneak past the security cameras undetected? Perhaps you get the hacker to steal money from a cash machine, and use it to bribe an official into giving you the access codes to where you need to go? In public areas, your agents can walk around largely unmolested by law enforcement, but just make sure that you don’t have your firearms drawn, otherwise you’ll start a panic and before you know it, someone has raised the alarm, forcing you into an impromptu firefight.

The malleability of the game’s interlocking systems is impressive then, and the freedom to mix up playstyles and adjust on the fly is enhanced by the fact that everything takes place in one seamless environment. In Syndicate and Commandos the action all took place in enclosed locations, custom-designed for that mission. Satellite Reign gives that approach the middle finger, whips out its chain gun and tears it to pieces with hot lead. Hell, you don’t even have set objectives for the most part. While there are going to be missions in the game, Satellite Reign is being designed to give players as much freedom as possible to play it as you want, so there’s nothing to force you into playing through a set of linear objectives.

Instead, it’s going to be left for to you to decide how you want to spend your time in the city. Perhaps you’ll want to raid the bank where a rival corporation keeps a huge stash of its funds. Maybe you want to cripple their defenses by breaking into their security network or sabotaging their bases. Or you could always just start a riot in the streets and start taking potshots when the police show up. The open-ended nature of the game is refreshing, but I have some slight concerns that it won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some may find the freedom a little overwhelming, especially when you need to really have a handle on the various abilities of your team members.

Satellite Reign Is The Syndicate Update Gamers DeserveNone of this would count for much if the city wasn’t large enough, or interesting enough to hold your attention. Thankfully, based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like Satellite Reign‘s virtual urban playground is going to provide more than enough nooks, crannies and secrets to explore. The current Early Access build consists of just a single section of the city, but it’s impressively large and packed full of detail. Many of the assets are reused, of course – tailoring each individual building and bit of graffiti or road section would be beyond the capabilities of even large-scale, big-budget endeavors. 5 Lives may have received nearly half a million pounds to fund its project – and that figure has no doubt increased thanks to Early Access backers and post-Kickstarter donations – but it’s still modest compared to some of the biggest Kickstarter projects, like Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity or Double Fine’s Broken Age. And Satellite Reign is being developed by just a small team of industry veterans, rather than an established studio.

But despite these financial and staffing limitations, Satellite Reign‘s city still manages to be both impressively large – at least, based on the demo – and with enough variety and atmosphere to keep you engrossed. Neon signs are everywhere, giant advertising billboards plaster the sides of buildings, and rain pours down out of the perpetual night sky overhead. Zooming in for a closer look is a frequent temptation, though on closer inspection you start to see a few rough edges – lack of detail on the character models, some rough textures.

Most of the gameplay also isn’t in there yet. You’re free to wander around the map and use your abilities – following a relatively smoothSatellite Reign Is The Syndicate Update Gamers Deserve linear tutorial; but so much of the underlying gameplay hasn’t been built yet, with the small selection of placeholder missions amounting to simply infiltration jobs. So much of Satellite Reign is still a largely unknown quantity then, and still a long way out of reach; but what is playable is a good demonstration that the team is more than up to the task, so long as they keep their eye on the ball and the scope of the game in check. The last thing I want to see is yet another high-profile tale of a small developer letting its ambitious gameplay aspirations get the better of it. But there’s no sign that 5 Lives is in any danger of that happening.

Sound at the moment is sparse, as is to be expected. A smattering of atmospheric effects lend character to the city, weapons feel meaty, and a great soundtrack layer on a sense of foreboding. The sound of the rain falling is a constant companion, as are sirens in the distance and the sound of people shouting in a foreign language in the streets, though there’s a slight disconnect between what you hear sometimes and what you see on the screen. Thunder rumbles, but lightning doesn’t flash – which is a shame, considering the lighting engine is absolutely fantastic.

My main bugbear at the moment is the UI, which currently feels a bit unwieldy, with icons being far too small and text being difficult to make out without sticking your face close to the screen. After one prolonged session I found myself suffering from a rather unpleasant case of eye strain, and the problem only gets worse as you increase the resolution, suggesting that proper UI scaling is yet to be implemented. The UI has evolved a few times since the early Backers’ version of the game, and it’s clear that Diskett and his team are still trying to nail down the best interface.

Of course there are the usual bugs, placeholders and crashes. Satellite Reign is a lot more stable than it once was, but as with any game at this stage of the development process, you can expect plenty of technical issues. The launcher sometimes stops responding, and while gameplay is seamless once you’re in the city, the initial loading time could do with a bit of optimization. Put up with the normal foibles associated with playing a game that’s still in active development though, and there’s a lot of fun to be had simply trying out new approaches and navigating the city.

5 Lives clearly wanted to nail the basics of gameplay before optimizing the core tech underpinning everything, and with the team currently transitioning the game to Unity Engine 5, I have my fingers crossed that the final game will be polished, satisfying and suitably expansive.

Based on what I’ve played so far, I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished game.

Angband Retrospective – an exercise in typeface terror.

Angband Retrospective
Standard

Originally Published on Continue Play

If you were asked to think of a fantasy RPG that was crushingly difficult, mechanically complex, obsessed with character statistics and utterly merciless when it comes to punishing the slightest mistake, then the chances are you’d immediately name Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. And you’d be right of course – those two games, with a third due to arrive in March of next year, have gained a justified reputation for all of the above. How many other games would celebrate their difficulty with such pride that they ask you to “Prepare To Die” before you have even slipped the disc into your machine?

But what if I told you that there was another game, predating those two by over twenty years which makes them look positively lenient in comparison? You might balk at the idea, but such a game exists.

Welcome to Angband, a game so sadistic that after two decades there are still players who have yet to conquer it; a game that can bring you out in a cold sweat simply by displaying a capital D on the screen.

Created in 1990 by Andy Astrand and Alex Custer during their time at the University of Warwick, Angband belongs to the Rogue-like genre of games; a sub-genre of the RPG named after the game that spawned it, these games are best known for random generation, permanent death and presenting their worlds purely in ASCII characters. Oh – and for being very, very difficult.

The goal of the game is simplicity itself – descend to level 100 of the dungeon and slay the monster Morgoth. That’s it. There are no side quests requiring you to fetch 8 sacred pieces of some long-forgotten amulet, no relationships with other characters to be developed, no party to manage and no tracking of morality. There’s just your character, a town screen and 100 randomly-generated dungeon levels filled with loot, traps and monsters.

Beyond that, it’s fairly standard RPG fare – if a game this devious can ever said to be standard. You create a character, choosing gender, race (11 in total, each with their own unique racial traits, starting stats and attribute modifiers), and class. You can then choose to whether to let the game auto-roll your final attribute scores or to allocate them yourself using a basic points-based system. Finally all that’s left to do is choose a name for your hero and off you go.

Boot it up for the first time and you might scoff at how laughably primitive Angband looks. After all, it’s a game that makes the humble ZX Spectrum look like a graphical powerhouse. Modern versions of the game (even after all this time it is still receiving updates, though Astrand and Custer have long since moved on from the project) have a selection of tilesets to choose from but in my opinion they actually detract from the atmosphere. If you want the “pure” Angband experience, then you’ll turn the tilesets off and play the game in all of its original ASCII glory.

The reason for doing this is simple: this is a game that rewards imagination. Having those tiles representing everything is all well and good, but it’s best, in my opinion, to simply let your mind fill in the blanks. A small 8×8 tile of a mass of white worms will never be as horrific as what your mind can conjure up. It may just be a “w” on the screen, but in your imagination that innocent letter of the alphabet will be transformed into some disgusting, writhing mass covered in ichor and beady black eyes. There may be no sound coming out of your speakers but you’ll swear you can hear every time your foot falls on dank stone and the fluttering of your torch’s flame in the darkness. Playing Angband is like a trip back in time to when the power of imagination was far greater than what a computer was capable of rendering on screen. The irony is that it actually feels more real because of it.

After getting over the shock of the visuals, the next challenge in front of you is learning how to actually play. Everything you do in the game is performed via keyboard presses and selecting options in menus. Again, this might all sound basic, but Angband is as ruthlessly challenging and mechanically deep as any game you care to mention. Your first clue to how complex this game is will come with your first look at the command list.

The game utilizes 93 basic command inputs, so many that it differentiates between lower and upper case keystrokes. For a large number of those commands, tapping the key will simply open a sub-menu with a further list of options, which will then take you to yet another menu. If you’re first starting out in Angband, you’d do well to ensure you have a separate window open to keep track of what every button does (and thankfully there are a number of excellent starter guides available online).

While a few those commands are for system functions like saving and quitting the game, the vast majority will need to be used if you’re to have any hope of descending to the 100th level of the dungeon and slaying the vile Morgoth. Corridors need to be searched for hidden passages, mineral veins and collapsed rubble needs to mined and tunneled, potions need to be quaffed and traps need to be disarmed (assuming you spot them before it’s too late). There are separate keys for praying, casting magic, learning magic, wearing and taking off armor, throwing items, aiming wands etc. The list is mind-boggling.

If you’re worried about whether or not you’ll be able to remember all of those commands in the heat of the moment as you desperately try to escape from whatever alphabetical horror is chasing you down a darkened corridor, then don’t be – the one blessed concession granted by the game is that it’s entirely turn-based. The world won’t act unless you act first, so no matter how desperate things may seem you can take all the time in the world to consider your next move. That zombie might be mere inches away from sinking its teeth into your neck, but it’s still polite enough to wait patiently for you to respond.

Not that it will make a huge amount of difference, mind. As I said before, the game is tough. At least in Dark Souls, if you die you respawn at the last campfire you rested at, your inventory and skills intact. Angband has no such respect for you. If you die, the game promptly deletes your save and presents you with a crude depiction of a gravestone complete with your character’s name, level, how deep into the dungeon they were and how they died. Get used to that screen – you’ll be seeing it a lot. And your deaths won’t be noble; a sticky end awaits around every corner and is never more than a moment away. You’ll die of starvation (characters need to eat in the game, every action gradually sapping their energy reserves), you’ll die after being ambushed by monsters while resting (there are no safe areas here), or by casting a spell only to have it backfire and disintegrate you.

The loot you pick up frequently needs to be identified, but the scrolls required to do so are expensive. If you’re a Wizard and sufficiently high-level then you might have learned how to identify items magically, but casting the spell carries a high mana cost and you never know if there might be a monster just around the corner waiting to take advantage. Of course, you could identify an item by using it, but doing so is risky. That shiny new sword could be cursed, that potion could be poisonous, and that scroll could summon a swarm of monsters from the darkest depths of the dungeon to surround you. Even the loot has it in for you.

Even in town you’re not safe – urchins will sneak up behind you and steal your items, a mercenary might mow you down simply for getting too close and even the village idiot will follow you around trying to drool on you.

And when you descend the stairs back into the dungeon after a trip to the shops? The dungeon is generated all over again, the passages down so convoluted that it’s impossible to ever return from whence you came (unless you were lucky enough to have used a scroll of Recall to return above-ground).

Make no mistake, this game hates you with a passion.

But by God, it’s satisfying. After your first, brief, humiliating trips into the darkness below the town, you’ll learn to take it slow. Your first attempts at the game are unlikely to last more than an hour if you’re very, very lucky. But gradually you’ll learn to stock up on rations and torches (yes, you always need to ensure you have a light source in order to see the world around you) and you’ll realize that often the best way to progress is to retreat; the best way to survive a fight is to never start it in the first place. Slamming a door shut and running away isn’t cowardly – it’s downright essential and until you learn that you haven’t got a hope of even descending to the 5th level, let alone the 100th. Learn those lessons though and the game transforms into one of the most tense, rewarding and satisfying games you’ll ever play. There’s not many games that can make you let out a genuine sigh of relief simply for surviving after drinking from a bottle.

It’s this sense of incremental progress that will have you coming back again and again and again. You’ll die, you’ll curse and you’ll bang your head against the back of the chair. But then you’ll go right back and create a new character because this time you might get a little deeper down, or achieve that next character level. You’ll make daring hit-and-runs on levels deeper than you have any right of being in, simply to try and get some more valuable loot, before escaping back up to a higher level either with a shiny prize or a slither of remaining health. The game is punishing, but the fine balance between risk and reward means that it never feels unfair – every mistake is your mistake, every failure your own. Victory is certainly slim, but it never feels unattainable.

Few people have ever reached Morgoth. Fewer still have defeated him. I’ve never managed to get further than the 23rd level, after more than a decade of playing and the official forums are filled with similar tales of woe – people who managed to make a character survive for months before late-night exhaustion caused them to make a stupid move or one gamble too many finally saw the game exact its revenge.

But even now, twenty years later, those players yet to conquer the deepest levels of the dungeon are still staring at that gravestone, still rolling new characters, and still breaking out in a sweat when they see the letter D coming down a corridor created by hash symbols.

Angband is Open-Source and available to download for MacOS, Windows and Android at www.rephial.org. You can also download the source code from the same site.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything Review

Please Don't Touch Anything Review
Standard

Originally Published On Continue Play

If the Milgram experiment has taught us anything, it’s that giving power to a man standing over a button is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

A game which advertises itself by saying you must not interact with it might not sound like the most captivating experience in the world, but Please, Don’t Touch Anything is actually a very clever little puzzle game – the sort that will have you tearing your hair out trying to think of a solution for hours only to have that single glorious “eureka” moment. Four Quarters has produced a game that is the perfect example of a simple concept, brilliantly executed.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything places you in front of a box with a big red button on it which you absolutely must not push under any circumstances while your co-worker is busy in the toilet. That button, which appears at first to be the sole feature of a grey box wired up to a monitor, soon reveals itself to be the gateway to all manner of conundrums, with the sole aim of the game being to find every one of the game’s endings. All of this is wrapped up in some simple pixel art and a wonderful chiptune soundtrack.

Please Don't Touch Anything ReviewI did push the button of course; getting anywhere in the game demands that you do so. Doing so reveals another button, so I flicked that. Nothing seemed to happen. I wonder what will happen if I push the first button again?, I wondered, already being pretty certain of the answer.

You can probably guess for yourself what happened.

After starting again, and a while of poking around and experimenting without getting anywhere, I noticed the little pixellated noticeboard on the wall next to the monitor. The scrawls on that noticeboard are the key to everything, as it turns out – but deciphering what it all means is something that will give even the smartest Smart Alec a run for their money. Once I started looking at that noticeboard, my brain gradually started to piece things together.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything is one of those games that’s incredibly difficult to describe in any detail without spoiling the experience. The pleasure of playing it lies in the sense of discovery, so revealing too much about it would spoil the experience. As I mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal of the game is simply to discover every ending. There are 16 in total, and reaching each one requires leaps of deduction that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. It’s infuriatingly easy to find yourself stuck and staring at the screen, but that only makes the resultant revelation all the more sweet when you finally figure out the answer to the next step.

Please Don't Touch Anything ReviewReach an ending and you’ll get a new poster adorning the wall next to the screen, and a light on the bottom of the box will light up to mark the occasion. And then it’s right back to the start to try and figure out the next ending. You never leave the desk, and you can’t even look around the room. The screen you see in the shots on this page is the only one you’ll ever see, but it never harms the enjoyment.

After a few hours (or sooner, if you give in to the temptation to cheat and look up the solution) you’ll have exhausted everything that Please, Don’t Touch Anything has to offer. But while slight in content and sparse in presentation, Four Quarters’ game will easily end up occupying your every thought as you try to unpick its mysteries. There’s some great puzzle design to be found here, though a couple of the solutions require real-world knowledge that many players won’t possess.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything is a very different game to Fez, but it channels something of the same spirit as Polytron’s masterpiece, coupled with the minimalist design of Papers, Please. It may stick you behind a virtual desk and keeps you there for the entirety of the game, but by the end you still feel like you’ve gone on a journey. Please, Don’t Touch Anything opens up a mental rabbit hole and asks that you wilfully fall through it.

With such a low asking price, if you have some spare change then definitely give Please, Don’t Touch Anything a go. You’ll never look at a button in quite the same way again.

8/10