I had a hard time reviewing Rogue Legacy simply because typing this required me to stop playing it for a few seconds. The game is a constant cycle of instant gratification: intrinsically fun combat that is also rewarded with treasure, death that brings you back to the shops to spend it, and your new equipment and abilities that are just begging to be tested out with another quick run. Each individual aspect is fun on its own, but it’s the way they all bleed into each other that makes Rogue Legacy impossible to put down.
It’s all in the title. You play as an entire legacy of rogues bent on traversing the fabled Castle Hamson in a quest to discover the fate of your king. It’s also a rogue-like title in that the dungeon layout changes along with each new randomly generated character. Each themed region will always appear in the same direction from your starting point and will contain the same boss, but all the rooms in between will be different. The only static feature is their likelihood of killing you.
The game’s strongest feature is its slick gameplay. Moving around and attacking feel great; hitboxes generally make sense and it’s never difficult to position your character or sword where you want them to be. Daggers, fireballs, and other special abilities are all equally satisfying methods of destroying your victims. One nice touch is the ability to swing your sword while moving forward or backward. You can slash, slide into an enemy’s range and safely slide back without waiting for the blade to retract. Many games only let you do this while jumping, forcing players to jump constantly to position their attacks with maximum control. The makers of Rogue Legacy have obviously played their fair share of Castlevania.
As smooth as it felt on PC, Rogue Legacy plays even better with a Playstation controller. Congratulations, Vita owners: it’s also a Cross-Buy title. The only additional content is a new trophy for beating the game with under fifteen deaths, but the original release was a complete package already. Despite the tiniest of added loading times, this is clearly the superior version of the game.
The game is also splashed with its designers’ quirky sense of humour. Any opportunity for flavour text is used to poke fun at gaming tropes or insert references to everything from The Matrix to Naruto. You can run into some paintings that either give anecdotes about the developers’ previous games or detach from the wall and start attacking you. Many of the character’s randomized traits are either pointless, deleterious, or just silly. Hypochondriacs “tend to exaggerate” and think they’re taking thousands of damage from every attack. Color Blindness displays the game in greyscale while Dyslexia rearranges all text. Those blessed with I.B.S. periodically fart. You can also luck out with an ability that prevents the activation of floor spikes or another that restores Mana upon breaking various objects. It’s a refreshingly goofy take on character class variability.
No matter how messed up your character is, every one is a means to the same end: gold. Gold is used to unlock classes, activate passive properties, buy equipment, buy runes, and basically anything else you could possibly want. It even replaces experience points as the main method for increasing stats. Treasure chests usually contain money but can also bequeath blueprints, which unlock equipment, and occasional permanent stat boosts. Furthermore, the labyrinth’s guardian, Charon, takes all your remaining money whenever you re-enter Castle Hamson. Not only does the game bless you with tons of cash, it also releases you from the chains of frugality by forcing you to spend it all right away.
Runes add another suite of active and passive abilities. They have to be found before becoming available for purchase and the Fairy Chests that hold them are usually blocked by some sort of challenge. Only one can be attached to each piece of equipment — sword, helm, chestplate, bracers, and cape — but the same pool of runes can be unlocked for all of them, so you can opt to multiply certain effects or make up your own combinations.
Rogue Legacy‘s difficulty level is in constant flux but skews toward “pretty damned hard.” Every time you upgrade or unlock something in the manor, your overall level raises by 1. Regardless of how helpful that upgrade was, the monsters have now become slightly stronger. New enemies and nastier groups of them will start to appear in Castle Hamson. If you were to spend all your time upgrading Magic abilities but mainly pick Physical classes, the game would quickly get harder.
This formula can also be used to your advantage. A nifty new cape or sword will have no effect on your level. The trick, then, is to be able to get through the areas that hide the strongest equipment without already having it. Piling all your money into a few stats can also help you outpace the castle’s monsters — but only temporarily. I found that strong physical classes excelled in the early game, but the incredible hordes of enemies that appear later on called for the range and spammability of magic.
The scarcity of health restoration options pumps up the difficulty even more. Aside from finding chicken legs in miscellaneous objects, the only reliable way to heal is by killing enemies while equipping one of two health-stealing runes. The shortage of healing items gives the game another old-school Castlevania vibe, but it also prevents you from using the other cool runes. Since you can equip every rune up to five times but only five in total at once, those precious restorative ones end up monopolizing the, er, runescape. New Game+ mode includes these as permanent passive abilities, but it’s also that much harder and puts you under just as much pressure to prioritize HP restoration.
Fortunately, death isn’t actually much of a punishment. You are simply sent back to the town with all of your money and must re-roll to pick a new character. In fact, you can’t get back to any of the shops until you die — the game fully expects you to perish repeatedly. I killed my character once or twice on purpose just to try out a different one. In a way, its reincarnation system actually rewards you for dying, which is a big part of what makes the game so addictive. Death cycles instantly into giddy shopping, coercing you to try out your new stuff in the dungeon again — which will probably kill you — and so on and so forth. Even if you die before gaining enough money to buy anything neat, the sting of premature defeat will reel you back in for one more quick try.
The game’s one major weakness is its insufficient variety. Character classes don’t impact gameplay enough and they all pretty much look the same. Runes are a bit of a missed opportunity, since a handful are way better than the rest, and new equipment usually just offers a simple numerical increase. At first glance, the game is a buffet of options and new paths to discover, but it gradually whittles down to a simpler experience.
Nevertheless, this is a fantastic game. It has tons of content, the gameplay is intuitive and fun, and the RPG elements fit in perfectly with everything else. You’re encouraged to explore scary new areas but barely punished when they destroy you. A few of the details could have been handled a bit better, but the core experience is rock solid. With what they’re charging, Rogue Legacy on PSN is a steal.