Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Indie Preview - Valzar

I recently had the chance to experience new roguelike platformer, Valzar, and had all of my previous expectations surpassed. The game is in a near complete state and just needs your votes on Steam Greenlight I decided to do an early impression of the game, and although I cover most of the basics the number of small secrets in this is so huge that I only scratch the surface. It's a game I'll be playing for a long time but here's what I think so far;

 A lot of action based roguelike/roguelites of recent memory tend to have a very similar dungeon setting, and while I adore late games like Legend of Dungeon and Rogue Legacy I am much more attracted to the whimsical and surreal style of Valzar. The different mystical gods, the bright, colorful and otherworldly backgrounds all combine for a most genuine fantasy world. I delved into the game right away and fell completely in love with the aesthetics here both in visuals and music, I notice right off the bat that the enemy designs are especially fantastic and creative.

                                        Valzar has one seriously colorful cast of characters.

You start your adventure on what seems to be a mysterious and dangerous sunken land with the title screen showing us the main girl we will be playing the role of sitting alone atop a bounty of treasure in the middle of a body of water enclosed by patrolling sharks, imagery that is actually quite normal compared to the sights you will encounter ahead. You find yourself in a large, rocky area with nothing but the waves around you and a plethora of spells and weapons for you to choose from to start your journey with all encompassed by even more scores of mysteriously unknown and unlockable spells. 

The four weapons you have to choose from offer some very distinct passive abilities that will make your choice a strategic one, as it will be what you're stuck with for the next run. Your starting choices are the dagger which modifies your spells with a poison property, an axe that sends any attacking foes into the air for an easy combo, a wand that enchants spells with a slowing property, and finally a sword which burns attacked foes. Once you're set on your perfect deadly combination of weapon and spells you move into the great ship before you, where your humanoid yet bug-like captain awaits your charting orders.

Only a small portion of the vast amounts of unlockables you'll uncover.
Playing Valzar is an engrossing experience that I have a lot of trouble putting down once I get started. The challenge represented here is incredibly motivating due to the very unique behaviour and dynamic humanlike A.I. of every meticulously designed enemy, which keeps you striving to learn the patterns and abilities of each of your foes and continue surpassing your previous efforts. The ingenious and unique artistic features of your various adversaries is exceeded only by the utterly distinct actions each one will take against you ranging from monsters that evade your every attack, lay frozen mines that slow your movement, or attach to you with grappling hooks to bring you in for the kill. 

While the game is challenging in it's pursuit of following the classic roguelike rule of losing all of your progress on death, the aforemention unlockable spells at the beginning area are a persistent element that can be gained through further explorations into the Island. This means that even though you lose your gold and items on death, any new spells you unlock through defeating bosses will now remain in your starting area on every consecutive playthrough giving you more options to survive the harder you play.

Your foes are intelligent and will respond accordingly to every movement you make.

You navigate your chosen stage using a very open grid-based map of which you have full control, where each tile is hidden and uncovered if you choose to explore in it's direction. Each map you visit is randomly plotted with Treasure rooms, increasingly harder randomized stages, a cryptographer that can unveil everything for you on said map, as well as an array of many other cryptic secrets I still haven't learned of after hours of play. 

One of the more important plots on the map you'll be searching for are Gods (also known as Jinns) who when worshipped bestow a different set of exclusive abilities you can unlock through Favor gained by specific tasks. These tasks can range anywhere from exploring uncharted areas to suffering through curses which impede your gameplay and make gaining Favor for new abilities fun and interesting. In order to complete and exit a particular region you must first defeat it's boss and make your way to the ship, however proceeding without carefully uncovering useful treasures will only ensure your swift death on future areas.

Worshipping the elegant Deer God will grant you special abilities in exchange for Favor.

 Even after really getting into Valzar and exploring the different regions of the overworld I still find myself wondering what purpose many of the anomalies serve as I come across new relics, one of which being the golden pieces of a strange and mysterious Amulet that you collect on your inventory screen. I'm not totally positive what these do yet but there are multiple pieces to collect that form a whole, with each region of the map seeming to have multiple smaller pieces. 

Upon using one of the smaller pieces I was taken to another hidden void on the map and pitted against a dark rival, which gained me extra Favor for my worshipped god as well as a new ability to use on the rest of my trip. This had me really excited to continue exploring even larger surfaces of each map to find new Gods collect as many pieces of this Amulet as I could to discover it's effect when completed, yet one more addition to the growing list of enigmatic mysteries to keep you hooked on uncovering the world. 

There's more than enough to keep track of in the inventory to keep you busy between brawls.

 The game is very fast-paced and seemingly simple at first glance with it's hyper-speed combat and arena styled stages making it feel almost like some kind of a roguelike infused Smash Bros. or Towerfall: Ascension, but as you really start to poke around you're quickly faced with all of the convoluted procedures you would expect from a full fledged roguelike. On your inventory screen is a myriad of things you're going to need to keep close track of in order for your survival which will keep you strong willed in your collecting instincts. T

here's headgear, gold that can be used to buy different Spirit Animals and Auras from vendors you come across, apple juice bottles to collect which act as health items, strange multi-colored gems that seem to power the helpful Aura effects you buy from previously mentioned vendors, and your stock of chickens which will keep you sated while decreasing by one with each square moved as well as be used to predict unidentified potions.

 Last but far from least important is the Class slot, of which give passive benefits that severely favor a particular playstyle. The assassin class will grant you stealth at the beginning of a stage allowing you that tide-turning opening blow whereas the guardian class will deflect a single blow at the start of each stage. Classes are an integral part of your arsenal and will benefit many different weapon and spell combinations with lots of experimenting, giving players of varying skill plenty of room to play around with their preferred method of tackling each progressively harder stage.

With the help of the assassin class I avoid the detection of my enemies.. for now.
As you scour the map for items and events to help you on your way you'll locate other very crucial treasures for use between battles, like the very important fruits and potions. These add another layer of complexity to your stat and item management, as you travel you stock on potions which will remove curses as well as bestow random effects like a boost in attack power or damage resist. Alongside potions are fruit, which can be used for other helpful enchants like increasing random stats or rerolling the loot around you when combined with your identified potions. Ever wanted to ask a chicken to identify your potion, pour the potion on a fruit, then eat it? Well in Valzar you can!

A suspiciously generous whale offers me chicken, fruit, and potions.

 For a one-man independent developer, this is an exceptionally high quality package that is chocked full of features most often ignored by indie game devs such as full controller support with proper button icon switching, lots of resolution plus frame rate options, the ability to turn screen shake on and off, and an abundance of persistent unlockables along with the ability to play with them all on from the start. 

The music is obviously created with a lot of love for the history of this art-form as it induces a lot of feelings of nostalgia in classic gamers, and as mentioned many times the character and enemy designs presented in this artistically magnificent game are completely out of this world. From floating whale gods and deer gods to purple furred foxes that upon being hit are distorted into a dark wraith wearing what was once it's fur as armor, you're bound to discover new entities and surprises with every trip into the lands of Valzar.

The creative and beautiful settings create an uncommonly engrossing atmosphere.

 This grabbed my attention other games in this genre rarely do. It's the kind of game that is easy enough to get into for quick pick-up-and-play romps through the multitude of quick minutes long stages, but has just enough complex concepts to keep the most RPG-hardy gaming vet busy for hours unlocking and searching out the many secrets of these mysterious water-lodged lands.

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