I’ve been holding off on writing this for some time. I got Rogue Legacy shortly after its release, something unusual for me, because I wanted to play it as soon as I saw it. On paper it seemed like the perfect game for me: I love the exploration-focused entries in the Castlevania series, and I love the tense decision-making of Spelunky and similar games, so I had expected Rogue Legacy to be exactly the kind of game I like.
It wasn’t, though, and I think it’s worth discussing why.
The entire experience of playing Rogue Legacy grated on me at every moment, because every design element seemed to conflict with another. The game is themed around perma-death, of a sort: The characters you play die permanently each time you fail, but you have a limitless supply of them and, due to the purchasable upgrades between sorties, they tend to get steadily more powerful with each expedition. This saps the feeling of weight and consequence normally offered by perma-death style gameplay: Death in Rogue Legacy is, at worst, a minor setback.
However, this premise necessitates that the castle change randomly each time, so that the tedium of clearing out the same section over and over again doesn’t become unbearable. This means the castle must be made up of interchangeable parts: The rooms cease to serve any function. There is no dining room. There is no library. There is just a lattice of generic ‘castle’ to venture through. An acceptable price to pay, perhaps, if the challenge itself varies every time, as it does in Spelunky – but, due to the reduced consequence for mistakes, the challenge itself feels generic. It’s the worst of both worlds.
Exacerbating and exemplifying both the problems of consequence-free death and the problems of generically designed map pieces, there are Faerie Chest rooms. These rooms hide powerful treasures behind special obstacles: Some of these obstacles are quite reasonable, such as a powerful enemy or obstacle course that must be bested. Some of these obstacles are impossible on a first or second visit due to insufficient equipment, which is frustrating to those of us who wanted a more roguelike experience but make some degree of sense within the overall life-to-life game flow. However, the worst of these by far are those rooms which you just have to know how to solve, and will only get through by sheer luck otherwise. These rooms throw everything that’s bad about the game right in the player’s face: The random-but-malicious-but-generic rooms, the inconsequential-but-annoying deaths. There’s no skill to solving these rooms, no reward for achievement: Just tedious trial and error, with each trial separated by being forced to clear out another generic castle full of enemies.
I don’t like to just complain about a game without offering any thought as to what could be done better. Personally, I think there is some degree of conflict inherent in the design of the game, which wants to have the perma-death cake and eat the long-term-stat-growth cake too. If this is the theme, though, gathering resources to expand the powers of your family, why not make that the focus of the game, then? Money could provide not only long-term bonuses, but be required for each generation’s short-term health as well. Fuck up a run and they’re stuck eating gruel for 20 years, and your heir may be weak – Do well and they can hire a trainer to help them practice before their expedition. Make it so I actually have some reason to give a shit about the consequences of my success and my failures.
Give me an actual legacy to protect.
Make me care
Because, as things stand, I just don’t have the energy to care about these ceaseless generations of more-or-less identical adventurers. If one dies they’ll be replaced, and so forth, and so forth, until I get the one I want. I don’t have to deal with a bad roll of the dice, I can just roll them again.
And again. And again. And again.