Lumi’s note: Hey-oh,I was gone for a week for reasons that you guys won’t find terribly interesting, so I’ll just skip it and tell you about what I did last week! Don’t worry, the weekly recap will resume as usual tomorrow, with episodes 4-5 of Kaguya, Mob Psycho 100 and Go-Toubun of the last two weeks reviewed.
In my haste to clear out SOME OF THE GAMES I’ve bought last holiday season,I chose to enter into the dark and horror infested hallways of, the Darkest Dungeon.
If you’re busy,you can skip to the Verdict at the end of the post for my summary on it.
What’s the Game?
Darkest Dungeon is a challenging Gothic Horror Dungeon Crawling RPG about the stresses of dungeon crawling, developed by Red Hook Studios. You are the heir of a former noble family, damned due to the actions of a hedonistic relative who spent the family fortune excavating an ancient portal underneath the family estate and inadvertently releasing an untold number of horrifying abominations. Your goal is to drive back these horrors and redeem the family name.
You will send out teams of recruited heroes on a perilous side-scrolling descent, dealing with a prodigious number of threats to their bodily health, and worse, a relentless assault on their mental fortitude! Five hundred feet below the earth you will not only fight unimaginable foes, but famine, disease, and the stress of the ever-encroaching dark. Darkest Dungeon focuses on the humanity and psychological vulnerability of the heroes and asks: What emotional toll does a life of adventure take?
As the above states, Darkest Dungeon is, as far as most video games go, a more “realistic” take on the dungeon crawler genre. Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft and even Pokemon(!) for crying out loud, as well as numerous other RPGs would have you believe that adventuring in the deepest of monster-filled places is of no consequence, and no matter how many times your party gets wiped,you can just bounce back and try again without even a hint of remorse for the punishment you let your party experience due to your bad leadership.
Not here, you naive dungeon crawler you, here’s some PTSD and a bad case of C̻̝̘͔̱ͮͫ̏̿ͅͅ’̸̰͔̅͡t̳͔͎͚̰͙ͬ̈ͮ́͟͠ū̢̼͍͓ͮ̍͒̇͊ͦl̷̨̰̪̱͕͐̔h̟̱̘̗̳͓̲͒̽ͬͪͅu̦̞̫̹̱̓́ͅ ̺̩̮̥̖ͤ̉͜͝A͍͇͚͐̑ͦ̆́̕Ǐ̻̪̲͔̜̓͐̾D̴̹̆ͭͥ̌S͍̖̭̼̟̬̍ͥ̑͆͊͘͡ͅ for your trouble.
You see,the thing that Darkest Dungeon wants to teach players the most is that maybe, just maybe, dungeon crawling isn’t the most stable of careers for an adventurer who wants to have a shot at being healthy or sane for the foreseeable future.
This is best exemplified in by far the game’s most iconic and interesting mechanic,the Stress meter.
Whenever your party goes into a dungeon, a plethora of very bad things can happen that can cause stress to your party. Some of these include:
- Running out of torches in the pitch-black dungeons far away from the exit.
- A curious party member finding a strange book on a shelf while looting,and upon reading it, learning the futility of their existence.
- Fighting a blind mad man who shows you where his eyes went by opening his hands and letting his eyeballs drop to the floor to stare at you.
- A skeleton forcing you to drink expired grape juice from a rusty goblet.
- Being forced to dig a way through a caved-in hallway using their bare hands because you forgot (or worse,chose not to) provide shovels for them to use.
And that’s just from the first stage.
When a party member reaches 100 (out of 200) stress,they have a high chance of becoming afflicted,radically changing their behavior,dropping stats,and possibly even disobeying direct orders from you,the player. Your party member could end up,for example:
- Abusive and Paranoid,which makes them extremrly harmful towards the rest of the party,hurling insults at them that cause even more stress to your already stressed out party,and possibly even stabbing them for missing a hit on an enemy.
- Hopeless and Fearful in their plight,they sometimes finish turns without doing anything because what’s the point of fighting the inevitable,right? Worse,they can even choose to start hitting themselves so that the suffering can stop,which also understandably stresses out everybody else in your party.
- Finally,if they continue getting stressed out to the maximum level of 200,they will literally die of a heart attack from shock.
If that wasn’t enough, successful quest or not, unless you managed to calm them down before it ended,they WILL remain stressed out and afflicted until you can make them feel relaxed again once you reach town. The game offers a variety of ways to do this, be it drinking their worries away, praying to a higher power,or partaking in the pleasures of flesh. This will take a while,so that party member is effectively out for a while and can’t be used on quests,on top of having a host of mental traumas.
Maybe after killing so many undead and eldritch horrors,they start growing a morbid fascination with them,making them more likely to automatically check very bad things such as festering corpses and bloodied iron maidens that can give them physical diseases. An encounter with a cursed book could mean they no longer look to the light for strength,meaning prayer can no longer reduce stress for them.
You can get these quirks treated at a Sanitarium,but much like real life, therapy is a an arduously expensive prospect.
Oh, and one more thing I forgot to mention.
Death is permanent.
Soon enough, you’ll be throwing away lives like any other resource,and the game will constantly remind you of it. I’ve had 6 people die so far thanks to my carelessness and/or apathy. I still feel bad because the game has them buried in a cemetery in the town,along with their method of death. Failure is part of the experience,but unlike other games, this won’t let you forget about it.
You are the heir to a distant,rich and extremely sociopathic relative,whose only saving grace is that he finally realized how messed up waking Eldritch horrors are and dumping the responsibility of defeating it to you,as well as fixing the estate he ruined and possibly terrorized.
Most of the game’s main story is told through memoirs of the Ancestor (what your relative is called) you find in dungeons (where you find out how much of a huge arsehole he really was) notes of other heroes who died fighting the things that lurk in the darkness (meaning you aren’t the first to try), and of course,the deep,eloquent and very hammy narration of your Ancestor.
For the backstory of your own party members, a lot of it is shown through their in-game quotes and personal trinket descriptions, but their online one-shot comics that have no dialogue to speak of and are the best you can get for characterization. They are surprisingly powerful despite the lack of dialogue.
The full album can be found here,but for a preview of what to expect,here is the backstory of the Highwayman and Crusader,your first two party members.
You probably understood a lot of that without the need for words,and that speaks for the “show, don’t tell” approach Darkest Dungeon is great at!
As you can see,the lovingly crafted Lovecraftian art for Darkest Dungeon is appropriately rough and dark. There isn’t a single human character whose eyes you can see,to further drive home the point of how grim everybody is about this whole sordid affair. Of course,that’s not to say no eyes are seen in the game. There’s actually a lot of it.
T̺̮̱͝O̩Ó̝̘͙̮̱̭̤ ̠̳̝͖̙̗͎M̶̺͉̦͕̪Ú͔C̣̹͔H̙̥̣̥̹͖̜̕,̪̺̺̭̦̫͞ ͇͉̠̘TO̲̰̹̦̫ ̵̬̜͓ͅB͍͇͎̰̤E̢͕̝̯ ͎͖̙͕HỌ̧͙̥̥N̥̱̙E̗̠͉̘̟͙̤S̤T
T̺̮̱͝O̩Ó̝̘͙̮̱̭̤ ̠̳̝͖̙̗͎M̶̺͉̦͕̪Ú͔C̣̹͔H̙̥̣̥̹͖̜̕,̪̺̺̭̦̫͞ ͇͉̠̘TO̲̰̹̦̫ ̵̬̜͓ͅB͍͇͎̰̤E̢͕̝̯ ͎͖̙͕HỌ̧͙̥̥N̥̱̙E̗̠͉̘̟͙̤S̤T
This game balances grim and gross perfectly. It’s great for setting the atmosphere of pessimism the game wants you to be in,and it all manages to be strikingly macabre.
Another great thing is the animations aren’t even animations at all! The most frames you will see in gameplay is your party walking a hallway. The clever use of blur,flashy effects,camera panning and great sound design help mask the fact that attack and hit animations are literally only a single still frame. Even then,it still feels like every attack has impact and weight behind it.
I’ve talked about the Stress system at length,but how about the other aspects of the game?
Mechanically,the game is a pretty standard turn-based RPG roguelike,only from a purely 2D hallway perspective. You get XP from killing enemies, get skills and items through grinding for gold and artifacts, and use a plethora of class combinations to beat specific levels. The one interesting twist, besides the various unique status ailments and buffs is the importance of positioning. You have a party of four members you can bring on expeditions.
Certain classes have their usefulness tied to where they are in the formation,and their best uses are where they are in the line. It’s up to the player to experiment with the classes and what the best formations and class combinations are,and frankly,that’s where a lot of the fun and complexity of the game comes from.
The town is basically just a hub to buy stuff,relieve stress and heal up. You can upgrade them as you would expect. Like the rest of the game,RNG IS A FACTOR that can affect your expeditions. A sudden bandit attack may mean more bandits are likely to be encountered, or it was just a pleasant day so stress relief is much easier.
The game has a really simple engine,which means modding was practically a shoe-in as a positive to the game. Most especially,skins are just a matter of replacing the png files in the game folders with your own homebrew avatars.
I like the game’s artstyle,but I also like cute anime girls. I didn’t want to lose the feeling of grimdark though and ruin my immersion,so I turned to a manga artist who happened to be a huge fan of the game,who also happened to be popular for his grimdark scenarios with anime girls. Emerging from the bowels of the internet,is the one and only ShindoL.
If you don’t know who that is-
All you need to know is he made some relatively lore-friendly anime girl skins for the classes which I really like. I might edit the game files to have the same dark contours of the default skins to hide their big ol anime eyes,but they look great!
And no,this isn’t a lewd mod,he just happens to be from that side of the community who also likes hard as hell dungeon crawlers but felt there was a distinct lack of waifus.
Another interesting set of mods from the community are the custom classes, complete with their own unique in-game models,skills and dialogue. My personal favorite is one called the hollow, essentially a Jiang-shi class that focuses on healing and torch mechanics.
I’m usually the “sit back and relax” kind of gamer,but sometimes I need that old-school hard fix, and Darkest Dungeon provides in all respects. Though an overused metaphor, Darkest Dungeon does legitimately feel like the Dark Souls of dungeon crawling roguelikes, with the seemingly unfair dungeons and bosses,lack of handholding for the player on how the game mechanics work,background storytelling,and a grimdark aesthetic to die over and over for.
Darkest Dungeon gets a 4/5!
(+ ShindoL skins) = 11/5