Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sequence Review

     Before I say a single thing (aside from the things that I just said) I want to make it perfectly clear that this post has absolutely nothing to do with the board game of the same name. Now with that said, let's start this thing off... *ahem* Have you ever played Dance Dance Revolution? Perhaps you've played one of those PC incarnates of the game whereupon you use the keyboard rather than a dance pad. If somehow you have no idea what I'm talking about, the gist of it is this: There is a song playing, and in the meantime arrows will be slowly sliding down the screen. When they reach a line on the bottom of the screen, you have to press the appropriate arrow, and this is all done in time to the music. It's very similar to Guitar Hero, but without the strumming. Anyways, have you ever thought "you know what this game needs? A storyline, character growth and an RPG style battle system!" Chance are you haven't, but that's ok, because someone apparently has. That's pretty much what Sequence is. The question is of course, do these things actually work together? Or does it create some sort of abomination of genres? Read on and I'll tell you!

     Now let's get all the basics out of the way. Sequence is the first (and thus far - only) game by indie developer Iridium Studios. It was originally released on Xbox Live on May 5 2011, and eventually made it's way onto Steam on October 20th of the same year. The concept of sequence is of course, that it is a Rhythm RPG, but before I get into all of the intimate mechanics of how exactly that does or does not work, let me start from the top. You play the role of a young fellow by the name of Ky. He wakes up in this strange place which he quickly learns is simply called "The Tower". There is a voice belonging to a young lady by the name of Naia speaking to him over an intercom, and she has been assigned as his Shepard. She is to assist him on his journey through the tower, but there are only certain ways that she can do this. Within the tower there are 7 floors, and your goal is to obtain the key to each floor and proceed to the next, and upon clearing #7 your freedom will be obtained.

     Now a big part of what makes this game is the fact it is very clever. Almost too much so at points, it very much teeters dangerously on the edge of pretentiousness. Regardless though, the banter between Ky and Naia is very amusing at times, and every one of the boss characters is colorful and amusing. One thing that disappointed me however was that in the second half or so of the game things start to get more serious, and a lot of the amusing dialogue goes out the window. This is a necessity for telling the story the developer wanted to tell, but I actually found it a bit frustrating. That said, in the end of the day I do feel that after witnessing all of the plot twists and such that the game has to offer, it was all worth it in the end. The awesomeness that is the final revelations only barely edges out the enjoyment you get from the game's wit. Even if the characters go all doom and gloom though, you at least have funny item names and descriptions all throughout.

     In practice, the process looks like this: Every floor has a safe room wherin you can mess with your inventory, equip your spellset, craft items etc. Then, you have the ability to choose 1 of 3 monsters per floor to fight. Each monster has 3 different items that it can drop with each one being increasingly rare. As you arrive at each new floor you also get a bunch of recipes that you can craft - the required components of course being what the monsters on that floor drop. Things you can craft include the key to the next floor (which is the only way to obtain it), an "inhibitor" for that floor, as well as a variety of equipment, spell scrolls and occasionally stat boost items. The inhibitor is there because on each floor, there is a guardian that must be faced before you make it to the next floor, and each guardian possesses a special effect that they have on battles you fight on that floor, designed to mess you up. If you have the inhibitor this effect won't be present when fighting the normal monsters, and when facing the guardian themselves, the effect will only be used once instead of several times.

     Now this brings me to my biggest problem with the game. This whole process of kill the monsters, get the items, craft the stuff, kill the boss, repeat x7 is kind of required, it's what makes it a fleshed out RPG instead of just another rhythm game. However pretty much all of my issues with the game derive from this process. First and foremost, in order to craft items, you have to invest (gamble) your hard earned experience. You get a sliding scale where you can adjust how much you put on the line, and the more you offer up the better chance the crafting will succeed. The higher the chance gets though, the more EXP it takes to increase the chance further (in other words, investing your EXP has diminishing returns) and even if you invest as much as possible (which by the end of the game, could well end up knocking you down 2-3 experience levels) you can't go above 95% success chance. What's more, when you craft scrolls you then have to use the scrolls to learn the spell. Doing so presents you with a rhythm game, which is fine, but you also have to sacrifice experience to even attempt to learn it (though you can practice the process as much as you like for free). This whole process of giving up your exp is just plain silly, it serves no real purpose that I can see, and it should come as no surprise that it's not fun to go down levels. Acquiring the items for the crafting process is also very long and grindy, and if you are like me (ie you need to craft every item) then this repetitious process will likely take up about 80% of your play time, if not more so. Crafting everything also accentuates the pain of giving up your exp.

     That's enough about the logistical stuff though. What does the actual rhythm game look like? Well basically you take what you know about PC rhythm games and multiply it by 3. Let's start from the top. Before battle you can equip some spells - up to 6 by the end of the game. Each spell has a recharge time, and a mana cost. In battle, you have 3 "fields". First off is the defensive field. In this field, arrows which you don't manage to hit will deal damage to you, with some arrows glowing a certain colour, and thus doing more damage if they get by. Next you have the spell field, where upon activating a spell (by hitting the appropriate number key) a set of arrows associated with the spell you cast will come down. If you hit all the arrows you cast the spell - if not you fail and you have wasted mana. All the while, the third field, the mana field, has arrows coming down. You hit these to gain mana at a rate of 2 per arrow, however the is no cost to missing them, so it is used on an as-needed basis. The idea is that you can swap between the active fields while keeping an eye on the inactive ones, and you just place yourself in whatever field needs it at the time. It sounds (as well as looks and feels) like a very complicated system and you have to wonder if you can manage all of this at the same time. The game does a good job of easing you into it though, and by the end you will feel like a total boss swapping between fields and nailing those spells and blocking those big attacks.

     On the whole, it is unsurprising that the battle system is what defines the experience. You spend a lot of time doing it, even during your grinding you use this sytem to of course kill the same monster for the 18th time. This is easily one of the most unique battle systems that an RPG has ever seen, and if you as much of an RPG fanatic as me, I think you owe it to yourself to experience such a fresh idea. The aspects that surround the battle system might be a bit iffy, but the battles are just plain fun. It's fast paced, the music is amazing  and it just feels amazing to be tapping those beats and killing monsters while you do it. On that note - the battle music is all done by Ronald Jenkees and DJPlaeskool. Perhaps you've heard of them, perhaps not. Suffice it to say that their work is so amazing that not only did I instantly add the tracks from this game onto my playlist, I actually actively sought out both these artists' other work and got my hands on those as well. Sequence is a great game, a truly unique experience. However if I still haven't convinced you the game is worth your time, at least go pay a visit to Ronald Jenkees and DJplaeskool, because they certainly are.

Sequence can be found on Steam here.

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