Rogue Legacy: RPG or not RPG?

rogue legacyI’m starting to like roguelikes more and more (see my Spelunky post), but Rogue Legacy has me confused. At first, it seemed like any other Binding of Isaac-esque game where you dungeon crawl procedurally-generated levels while the action amps up, but then there’s this weird currency system, too.

As it turns out, the currency system flips the roguelike genre on its head, changing each dungeon crawl from a “virgin” run (i.e. you start out at the same strength level every time) to more of an RPG-rooted dungeon crawl where each run you take makes you–potentially–stronger. Thankfully, it’s the “potentially” part of that statement that makes the game worth playing.

Here’s how money works: you collect as much as you can during one crawl. You then use the money you collected to upgrade various stats like attack, armor, and magic or you can buy equipment that you might have unlocked during your crawls. That’s all pretty standard. Here’s the catch: when you start a new crawl, YOU LOSE ALL YOUR MONEY.

Honestly, I was about to put the game down when I found out that you can buy stats and weapons (I loved the Spelunky way of getting items organically each time), especially since these stats carry forward into each new crawl. However, when I realized that my money was disappearing each time I revisited the castle, I decided to give the game a chance just to see how the game makes up for that disappointment.

“I have to actually get further and further into the dungeon each time I play if I want to upgrade my dude??”

Losing all that money really does feel like a slap in the face when it first happens (especially if you gathered a ton of coins and figured you’d save up for that sweet Blood Sword you found), but when you really think about it, it’s a mechanic that saves the game from being completely broken.

A little more context: every time you upgrade a stat, it becomes more expensive to boost that particular stat. In fact, the price jump is pretty substantial, jumping up hundreds of coins at each level. What makes this so awesome is the way it fits in with the currency reset at the beginning of each crawl.

Because you have to give up all your cash and because stats cost more with each purchase (equipment works the same way), you have to actually GET BETTER AT THE GAME to progress. What a weird concept, right? I can’t just pay $0.99 to get that next Attack boost? I can’t just mine the easiest part of the dungeon to save up for that kick-ass cape? I have to actually get further and further into the dungeon each time I play if I want to upgrade my dude??

This guy. Eff this guy.

This guy. Eff this guy.

OH NO. Everyone–including myself–that thought this game would just unfold by farming resources (as many RPGs do) is now thrown into despair. “I have to actually be good at the game to beat it? What a waste of time!”

Of course, I’m oversimplifying it. You WILL still chip away at the upgrades if you sink enough time into the game. You WILL keep getting a little further and further into the dungeon and you WILL soon annihilate enemies that used to force you to run away like the baby you are.

This weird, delayed satisfaction is easy to miss though, especially if you give up on the game early like I had planned on doing. But I played for a few hours past my threshold just because I liked the gameplay and found that I appreciated the game a lot more than I thought I would. There’s something about one-shotting that pikeman that used to take ten swings that just makes it all worthwhile.

“It’s the fine balance between roguelike and RPG that makes me keep coming back for more.”

All of this is my roundabout way of getting to this point: Rogue Legacy isn’t really a roguelike. You don’t “start from scratch” with every playthrough like you would in an arcade cabinet. You also don’t have the opportunity to grind endlessly on random encounters like you would in an RPG. So what does that mean for the obsessive game chroniclers out there who just HAVE to fill out every category on a game’s wiki page, especially the “genre” one?

It means that this game strikes a great balance between two genres and does it without really shoving it down your throat. While I do feel as though the RPG elements of the game make it a little less of an even playing field, the game still has a lot of appeal, especially since you can put it down for a while then pick up again and feel like you’ve still made some progress despite being out of practice. That’s something that definitely can’t be said for Binding of Isaac or Spelunky.

There are a lot of other things that make this game great, like the ability to go to any level without having first played through the easier ones, meaning you have the ability to challenge yourself and take a few risks for a bigger payout if you’re feeling lucky. It also means that you’ll be rewarded for being better at the game, knowing the timing, and having a better feel for your characters’ movement.

Still, it’s the fine balance between roguelike and RPG that makes me keep coming back for more, no matter how many times that STUPID EYEBALL BOSS kills me.


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