In space no one can hear you die: Interview with Cradle Games, the creators of Hellpoint, challenging Souls-like with horror sci-fi atmosphere

Action RPGs are definitively a prolific genre these days, challenging games often inspired by Fromsoftware’s works for their mechanics. Due to their challenging gameplay, death is always ready behind a corner, and players will learn to advance cautiously. For this reason, “Souls-like” mechanics combine very well with horror or dark atmospheres. However, while many titles use dark fantasy worlds and characters to enhance the stressful environment, very few games try to build a completely different world. Now thanks to Hellpoint, action RPGs have a representative for horror sci-fi settings.

Hellpoint is an action-RPG set on a mysterious orbital station where something catastrophic happened. Between cosmic horrors, claustrophobic corridors, madness, lack of oxygen, and a gigantic black hole constantly imposing its presence outside the station, Hellpoint’s atmosphere couldn’t be more horror. The oppressive feeling while walking around the station exactly triggers all the right notes of a proper horror sci-fi product. Also in terms of gameplay, Hellpoint is a great addition to the genre, including nice variations such as firearms, insane weapons including the hand of an eldritch god, cosmic magic, and alternative dimensions where the main bosses offer dialogues instead of a brutal fight (you can read more here if interested about: Why fighting when you can ally with Cosmic Evil Gods in Hellpoint? [Evil Quests]). And the surprises are not over, because one year from the official release, Cradle Games studio, the Canadian team behind Hellpoint’s development, announced a new DLC called Blue Sun.

While waiting to step back into the claustrophobic tunnels of Idis Novo station, I had the possibility of interviewing Cradle Games to know more about Hellpoint and its development. Cradle Games’ designer, Mathieu Boudreau, was kind enough to answer my questions. Also known as “Gropwel,” Mathieu is a veteran in game development and worked before with Activision and Ubisoft before co-starting Cradle Games.

If you want to know more about the development of Hellpoint, how its atmosphere and system were born, and the future of the series, you should read the following interview with Mathieu and Cradle Games.

Q1: Thank you for the possibility of interacting with you. Hellpoint is an interesting new take on souls-like games, how did the project start, and how Cradle Games was born?

A1: Of course! The project took off in the Fall of 2015 when we founded Cradle Games with a couple of fellow game devs with which I’ve been working for over a decade at Ubisoft and Activision. It all started in my house basement where I concocted this strange dark sci fi universe and we were just obsessed with the new trend of hardcore games. I took all the ideas I’ve been carrying on from childhood from Doom 1993 and Super Metroid and it was on.

Q2: The oppressive sci-fi atmosphere is clearly one of the strong points of Hellpoint. Which movies or games did you use as a reference to create this horror environment?

A2: The main inspiration for the game world came from my love of old Swedish death metal like In Flames and Meshuggah who often incorporated elements of cosmic horror put on top of face melting riffs. Game wise it was 1993’s Doom and Super Metroid that I wanted to explore again, with that unrestrained old-school level design jam packed with secrets and the feeling of no hand holding, the strong feeling of isolation deep within an alien world.

When you are alone in a space station, finding a cult of demonic creature is never a good sign.

Q3: Souls-like games are definitely one of the most famous genres now, with amazing games both from big and small studios. While developing Hellpoint, which were your “to do” and “to don’t” things to create your personal view of Souls-like games?

A3: While we adore the Dark Souls series, it’s really Bloodborne that left the deepest trauma on our gamer mantra. To me the main character is really the game world, and it’s got its own story, logic and attitude so very early on we forgot about the soul series to build and expand our own thing. It’s a really fun process! But from the beginning we made it a point of honor to invent more new ideas and mechanics than we borrowed from existing game, so yes Hellpoint has a stamina bar and “bonfire” kind of checkpoints, but beyond that it is its own thing with the jump mechanic, the real time station orbit, the way we handle multiplayer, etc.

Q4: From the huge hand of a dead god to a scythe made from the bones of an interstellar whale: Hellpoint’s weapons are a true blast of innovative and well-integrated designs. Could you name some of the favourite weapons of your team?

A4: Oh, thank you so much! We’ve put a lot of love in the weapon design and really pushed it as far as was humanely possible for us. My personal favorite is Nemundis Occulus, I find it really bad ass to defeat a boss and then fight using his eyeball. I think the team is really into the new weapons that we’ve produced for the Blue Sun DLC. They are very YOLO.

Q5: Hellpoint is rich in weapons and monsters, but I am curious, were there some creatures or weapons that for some reason were cut out from the final release?

A5: Probably we should have cut more, hahaha! That was a lot of content to produce for our small 11 people team. But yes, there was some cut content but I’m glad to say we’re putting it all back in with the Blue Sun DLC.

Q6: A very unexpected feature of Hellpoint is that the Cosmic Gods are not only enemies to be defeated but, with the right choices, they can become allies and even provide quests. Why did you decide to implement this feature in the game?

A6: Well I think it’s an interesting aspect of the “Lovecraftian” cosmic horror genre that these giant entities are too massive to really give a damn whether we live or die. So it’s an achievement for the player to be able to interact with them in either ways. It also fitted with the concept of the “Underworld” which is an inversion of everything you find in the real world.

Sometimes you can talk with Cosmic Evil Gods, and sometimes you cannot.

Q7: Hellpoint is full of novel and interesting mechanics. One of the most interesting is how the orientation of the ship around a black hole basically defines “hours,” and specific events or places can only be accessed at a specific time. How did this concept evolve during the development of the game?

A7: Something that we always like to do when we make game is try to make it feel like the game world is ever evolving whether you’re in it or not. It’s not like the show Truman where the world revolves around you, rather the opposite. It makes the world feel more concrete, alive and unpredictable. But for Hellpoint, the black hole orbit system was a huge challenge! We had to plan many different game states and mods for environments that were already immense, we had to design a dynamic skybox that spins and twists realistically, we had to make correct maths for the spin of the Irid Novo station so that the black hole always looks glorious in the sky, we had to create many different sets of stat balancing and loot drop tables for every bosses and enemies… a bit insane but it paid off by making the game feel so unique and alive.

View of the black hole in the outer space from inside the space station.

Q8: Surely Hellpoint can be defined as a challenging game, especially some sections (personally still having nightmares about the zero-gravity sections outside the ship). How did you balance the difficulty? Were there some areas that were majorly revised due to being too difficult?

A8: To be honest for us it was rather the opposite that happened. Prior to Dark Souls the whole industry was in a “casual gaming” and “accessibility first” trend so we were very thankful to From Software for making hardcore games popular again. We cranked up the difficulty to make a very skill-based game but we also wanted players to be able to personalize their experience, allowing them to skip to late game environments if they find the right secrets, or letting them craft items that would allow them to lower the stats of the enemies. The character stats and upgrades are basically not capped at all. But the enemies are still savage and can be buffed if the black hole is in the sky. The game can be played in coop uninterrupted from beginning to the end, etc.

Q9: Recently, for the first anniversary, the DLC Blue Sun was announced for Hellpoint. Could you tell us something more of what deadly and lurking things a player should expect in the new DLC?

A9: I think we really outdid ourselves with this DLC! I can’t really say much but I really hope players will see how much we evolved as a team since last year. One thing I wanted to do is making sure the added content doesn’t feel tacked on and expendable, I wanted to make content that makes the whole game more exciting and motivates another playthrough, and make sure that we make it interconnected with the base game so it doesn’t feel tacked on.

Q10: Now that the DLC is coming out, I imagine this will be your main focus for some time, but I am curious, do you already have plans for a future game or a sequel of Hellpoint? Could you tell us something just to satisfy our curiosity?

A10: We’re on fire. We got tons of projects and ideas, we’re expanding, we can finally not worry about money so much and focus on crafting our art and working with our fan base. We got new IP’s in the work as well that is sure to make folks fall off their chair. I don’t think anybody can possibly expect what’s next for us. We want to concretize as many ideas as possible while we’re not too old. It’ll take time but it’ll be worth it.

Final Remarks:

I would like to thank Cradle Games for the nice opportunity, especially Mathieu for the very interesting answers. I look forward to diving again into the oppressive universe of Hellpoint with the new DLC Blue Sun, mentally preparing to slash new grotesque monsters using the eyeball of a cosmic god. While waiting for the new DLC, if you still didn’t try Hellpoint, it is available on STEAM and all the major consoles.

Eat dragon meat or give birth to a dragon: the nefarious destiny of the Witches in Dragon Star Varnir [Mechanic]

Dragon Star Varnir is a JRPG developed by the partnership of Compile Heart and Idea Factory. In the game, Visual Novel sections alternate with dungeons exploration, moral choices, and turn-based battles. The battles are especially unique since everyone can fly, dividing the battlefield into 3 different levels. While this adds tactical decisions during normal fights, it is even more important during boss fights, because some dragons are so big that the different body parts occupy all the levels. However, there is an even more interesting and unique mechanic, very well integrated into the lore and the world-building of the game that I will describe in the following article.

The world of Dragon Star Varnir is a grim and dangerous place. Dragons roam around, challenging the bravest knights and warriors to control their population, and then there are witches, women with powerful abilities forced on feeding on dragons. In this world where everyone is at war with everyone, there are even darker secrets involved in the dichotomy between witches and dragons. In fact, witches constantly fight the biological impulse of giving birth to a dragon. Sadly, the harsh truth is that every dragon was before a witch that was unable to control this horrible event. Dragons are some kind of embryo or parasite living inside witches’ bodies, a mysterious process that will need a lot of effort for the player to be discovered, so I will minimise spoilers. A witch can control the development of the dragon by eating dragon meat or drinking their blood, a procedure that every witch finds extremely repulsive and disgusting. But when your life is at stake, and the alternative is having your body ripped by a dragon, there is not much to question about. Witches hunt dragons in order to feed on them, delaying their transformation that will generate a new dragon. Somehow, this is an extreme form of cannibalism.

If a witch refuse to feed on dragons for a long time, she will start to starve, quickly triggering the maturation of the dragon inside her. And the ending is not only sad, but extremely painful and violent. After the pain will get uncontrollable, the dragon will emerge from the witch’s body, ripping it apart in an explosion of blood. The newborn dragon will get immediately aggressive and feral, losing any humanity that the witch could have, usually attacking the other witches that before were friends.

The interesting novelty is that this constant struggle between feeding on dragons or giving birth to one is also integrated into the gameplay. This feature will not directly affect party members, since they are adult and veteran witches, which will consume dragon meat on their own. But for the young and inexperienced “Little Sisters,” this is a very delicate issue. These young witches are still fighting against the repulsive need of eating dragon meat, a disgusting practice that will keep them alive. These little sisters are waiting at home while the adult witches hunt food, but every meal is a battle for them. In the beginning, this struggle will be only part of dramatic cutscenes, but then, it will become part of the gameplay.

The Little Sisters need a constant flow of dragon meat or blood in order to retain their humanity and survive. Each sister will have an icon associated with her level of happiness, and the player should take care of it. Because if the face becomes angry, there is a clear chance that the poor little sister will run away to give birth to a dragon. Maintaining stable the mental sanity of the sisters by giving them dragon meat is essential to achieve the best endings. However, the process is very challenging and complicated, and very few details are actually explained inside the game. Because if dragon meat can be obtained by killing any enemy around the world, the timing can become quite a challenge due to a hidden internal clock. Wander, explore, or fight too much in a dungeon, and the next time you will go back home one of the sisters could be on the verge of going insane, because their happiness will constantly decrease with time.

The game should be a good balance of collecting meat and advancing the story, while remembering to leave the dungeon if too much time passed, so the dragon meat can be delivered to the sisters. And there is also another problem related to another metric, because if you “overfeed” the sisters, they will also go insane. After all, who wants to be force-feeded dragon meat if not strictly necessary to survive? Fail to correctly care for the little sisters, and they will run away to give birth to a dragon. Each sister will run to a different area and will transform into a specific dragon, which will roam in that region as a hidden boss fight. So, by failing the quest of the Little Sisters, the best endings will be locked away, but it will be possible to face secret bosses.

The constant dread of playing the game while being worried about the sisters, plus the balance between farming meat and experience knowing that each minute spent in a dungeon could send the sisters mad, transform a common JRPG game into a complex fight for survival. This is a truly interesting and unique mechanic that not only moves Dragon Star Varnir toward more survival-horror atmospheres, but is also well-integrated inside the dark and grim world that was created for the game.

The most unusual Demons from the Japanese dungeon-crawler The Lost Child

The Lost Child is a quite obscure Japanese dungeon-crawler released for PS4, Vita, and Switch, and published in the West by NIS America. The game is a spin-off and a sequel of El Shaddai, an action game with a peculiar and unique aesthetic set in the Biblical Heaven. Even if the story is now set in modern Tokyo, Lost Child is also based on biblical figures and references, featuring a cosmic war between angels, demons, and fallen angels. And of course, the humans are in the middle of this.

The gameplay alternates a first-person dungeon-crawler exploration with turn-based battles, which share an interesting similarities with Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Because if a cosmic battle against heaven and demon sharing the names of gods around the world and the different cultures was not a sufficient reference to Shin Megami Tensei, the protagonist has also the ability to capture and purifies demons to join the party. Specifically, the protagonist can in fact capture demons by using specific bullets of a heavenly gun.

The bestiary of Lost Child is very interesting, with mythological creatures and gods portrayed with a very uncommon design. The enemies are divided into three categories: Angels, which are mainly gorgeous anime-like characters, Fallen Angels, peculiar robot-like figures with complex architecture and shapes, and Demons, the most variegated and twisted designs in the pack. The captured demon can also use Karma to level up and evolve, changing into three different forms.

In the following article, I selected the most interesting and unusual Demons from the Lost Child. In general, I will only share the base design, but if some demons will have a very different and unique evolution, I will also include that one. If you like the article stay tuned, because next time could be the turn of Fallen Angels.

  • Hades

The ruler of the Greek underworld and god of death was never such alien or bizarre before. The demon can only be defined as a green organic mass that looks like an eldritch rotten pumpkin, including wings and two red spheres that could be the eyes. However, the most disturbing and interesting details are the “legs” made of a sort of dead bodies composed of a green substance, missing the head and using their hands to support the creature. If they are not tormented souls serving the god of hell, I have no idea of what else they could be. In the final evolution, the demon’s body will break like a seed, freeing a big flower on the top, and revealing a creepy skull previously hidden under the green structure. Strangely enough, the demon is associated with the wood element, and it is vulnerable to fire. However, the creature is a deadly opponent and great addition to the mid-game party, with high defense and strong physical attacks, including a skill known as Assassinate, very fitting for Hades.

  • Old Ones

A creature inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos, the Old Ones are a race of alien being serving old gods such as Cthulhu. In the game, the Old Ones are powerful demons infesting especially the 100 floors dungeon of R’lyeh. The appearance is quite interesting, with the alien creature portrayed like half-born from a cosmic egg, a grotesque mass of green flesh and tentacles still in part fused with the shell. In the following evolutions, the creature will gain more colours, also twisting quite drastically its shape in the last form. The Old Ones are wood demons, with strong defence and quite dangerous, able not only to boost their attack but also to inflict multiple wounds by summoning wood branches and tentacles.

  • Echidna

The mother of all the monsters in Greek mythology is an interesting demon, and one of the most powerful. Echidna has the upper body of a sort of female elf, with white hair and purple skin, wielding two different swords. However, at the waist, her body will twist in a mass of raw flesh, and will then transform into a gigantic and obese worm with wings. The contrast of the female humanoid with the grotesque worm creates a dynamic and original design, symbolising fecundity and the ability to procreate dozens of monsters. Interestingly, in the final evolution the demon will gain butterfly-like wings and a more epic design. The demon can be recruited and faced early on, and she is one of the most versatile allies in the entire game. Because even if Echidna is a wind demon, she will learn practically every elemental magic, making her a great magical attacker for every battle.

  • Kerberos

The three-headed dog guarding the Greek underworld is instead portrayed as a sort of aggressive baboon. The body is covered in orange fur, with yellow skull patterns. The head is big and long, with three dumb-looking faces with different expressions, the only connection with the original three-headed Cerberus. The demon will change quite drastically in the last evolution. In this case, the faces will dispose circularly on a bigger body, now looking more demonic and less dumb, while the tail will also morph in a sort of branched tentacle. Three long spikes will now come out from each face. The demon is one of the first encountered, a weak but useful foe associated with the fire element. Kerberos is a physical attacker, showing useful skills to damage the same target multiple times, making it an aggressive party member that will also learn powerful fire spells.

  • Baphomet

A classic demon as a reference, Baphomet is an evil entity usually associated with goats and the Black Mass. However, the design in Lost Child goes in a disturbing and creepy direction. The creature is a giant goat head, a sort of spider supported by four short legs, with a long white beard. Everything in the face of the creature is completely nightmare-inducing, from the yellow eyes to the long ears, but the giant human-like mouth gains the first prize as the most disturbing element. The following evolutions slightly change the face and the colours, with the final one being completely black instead of white. Strangely, Baphomet is a water demon, but it uses mainly physical attacks and spells to boost its strength.

  • Kraken

The legendary beast scourging the seas is here represented in a twisted and unique way. The face is an alien shape full of octopus-like eyes, while the body is a swollen and amorphous mass of tentacles. The Kraken also exhibits humanoid features, specifically the three clawed arms. The final evolution is not that incredible, the main change will be the face, now bigger and longer, very similar to the head of a squid. The Kraken is a common enemy in the water related dungeon of Umeda, and it is of course a water demon, which possess strong elemental magics very useful against fire enemies.

  • Shiva

A humanoid creature with purple skin and four arms, dressed in light clothes and with the face completely hidden: except for the ascetic position it will be quite difficult to recognise the Hindu god Shiva in this design. Multiple floating eyes surround the mysterious creature, an extension of its body and a very creepy detail. The evolved form is an upgrade of the original one, with a more divine look, golden accessories, a bigger throne with cobra heads behind, the floating eyes are complete of eyelids, and it is now wielding a big hammer. Shiva is an incredibly powerful demon, a secret boss, and an endgame party member with devastating physical attacks. Shiva can attack all the enemies with Acid Rain, a powerful skill able to inflict not only heavy damages but also all the negative effects. The demon is also strong on the defense side, generating mirages that could prevent all the damage for 3 turns.

  • Orthrus

The brother of Cerberus, Orthrus is a two-headed dog defeated by Hercules, also represented in Lost Child as a grotesque baboon as well as Kerberos. In contrast with its brother, the demon has a more brownish fur, misses the arms, and has a snake as a tale. The face is definitively the most unique element in the design, a huge mouth with few but long teeth and two heads, one for lip, with a more demonic and less dumb expression compared to Kerberos. The final design is a completely new look, even more bizarre than this one. The body structure will change in a sort of “Y,” with two female and almost angelic faces at the end of each branch. The body will instead remain quite similar, with an even longer snake as a tail. Orthrus is found in the very last dungeon, a demon connected to electricity, with strong lighting attacks able to hit multiple times, and even a spell that can debilitate and weak its enemies.

  • Owatatsumi

Owatatsumi is the Japanese god of the sea, and in The Lost Child it is a sort of old humanoid figure heavily connected with water. The old humanoid shows its age with the long white beard, while the grotesque blue and swollen head conveys its demonic nature. The hands are just tentacles, coming out of the robe to wield a staff surmounted by a seashell. The old god is traveling on a giant turtle, which is also the creepiest detail of the design, with a very evil face and a grinning mouth too human to be on a turtle’s face. The final evolution can be clearly called a majestic and primordial sea god: the head will become bigger and longer, like a sort of fish-like structure, while the tentacles will grow and become bigger. Everything will improve, including the staff that it is wielding, now a lot bigger and more elaborate, and also the turtle will get huge, while losing its creepy face for a more flat structure. The demon can be found in the final dungeon and it is a strong creature unexpectedly focused on physical attacks and boosting.

  • Okada Izo

A Japanese samurai is reborn as a grotesque demon with a really complex appearance. The head is a giant multicolored eye, with greasy white hair, while the body is a twisted mass of flesh. Instead of normal arms, the creature has multiple tentacles, while the red body is composed of pieces of raw flesh forming ghostly faces. Everything in the design is symbolic, probably highlighting the regret of the samurai for taking many lives. The giant eye is in fact crying a white goo, while the body is covered in the screaming faces of the people that it killed in its previous life. Elements of its past life are still part of the design, such as the armour on the shoulders, or the big and rusty sword that it now wields using the tentacles. The last form is just a sort of heroic upgrade of this one, with a more fierce pose, long orange hair, and the sword now is more magnificent and surrounded by burning souls, without a huge overall change into the design. The demon is middle- to high-level, encountered in the second half of the game. As expected from a samurai, the demon is focused on inflicting physical damages, with skills allowing it to attack a single target multiple times.

The most dark, horror, and gothic indie Metroidvania

Castlevania and Metroid created their own genre, which is getting a second youth with indie games: metroidvania. These games have in common a 2D aesthetic, a huge map to explore with interconnected elements, many secrets and hidden areas to discover using different abilities, backtracking, and in general a huge focus on exploration. Usually, metroidvania games have a wide bestiary, with many standard enemies, and gigantic bosses to defeat. RPG elements are also quite common, including statistics, levels, and dozens of different equipment.

Surely, both the founding fathers of the genre have their amount of horror elements. Metroid features grotesque aliens and an overall lonely and oppressive atmosphere. Castlevania is also not second in this, with one of the most inspiring dark fantasy/gothic settings, and with a bestiary full of the most disturbing creatures (and you can check them here: Most dark, scary and creepy bosses from Castlevania saga). However, with the new flow of indie metroidvania, the genre got even more refreshed with novel dark, horror, or mature atmospheres.

In the following article, I will describe some of the darkest or horror metroidvania games. I will include only proper metroidvania, with a 2D art-style, a huge interconnected world, and multiple abilities or RPG features needed to explore.

I will focus on metroidvania with dark, horror, or in general a mature atmosphere. It could be for the oppressive or depressing environment, for the brutal combat and the violent gameplay, or for the disturbing elements: whichever is the cause, these games are more mature-oriented than the average metroidvania. Moreover, for each of them, I will analyse the world-building, the bestiary and the bosses, and why the atmosphere is considered dark or horror. The article will be constantly updated, so new fitting games will be included once released.

Vigil: the Longest Night

Details: Vigil was a surprise last year, and one of the best examples of metroidvania directly infused with horror elements. Vigil is a great homage to the legendary Bloodborne, sharing with it the dark themes and the oppressive atmosphere. Vigil is a pure metroidvania with strong RPG elements, including a deep level system, skills, and different playstyles. From fast daggers to the complexity of the bow, the player has the power of shaping the gameplay. The exploration is a focal point, with a giant interconnected world full of secrets to discover, including alternative bosses, hidden eldritch realms, and dozens of different armors and equipment. This is where the game gets even more interesting, because every item not only is very original and interesting to use, but also well characterised in terms of lore.

World: From dense and deadly woods, to haunted mines and a ship graveyard inhabited by deep-sea eldritch terrors, the world of Vigil is a huge and twisted net touching common dark fantasy tropes. Secrets are everywhere, and backtracking is crucial to find the most hidden places and battles, and secondary characters have different quests to fulfill. Moreover, the same world will be visited under three different “conditions” (avoiding spoilers) and many areas will change according to this, with new enemies, items, and bosses. And to conclude, how to forget about the secret eldritch realms accessible only while playing special ocarina on an altar in the depths of a crypt?

Dark/Horror: The horror in Vigil is a very strong element. Secondary characters will face horrible consequences, death and disease are everywhere, and grotesque experiments on innocent people are only the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, secondary quests could end up really traumatically, and not every character should be trusted. Church and religion are also a twisted trope present in Vigil, painting an ever more dark but believable fantasy world.

Bestiary: The grotesque enemies are pure nightmare-inducing, and masterfully portrayed with a gorgeous art style. Every area has several new enemies, with very interesting designs and behaviors. For example, the ship graveyard is full of complex deep-sea creatures, including a sort of snail-woman and an aggressive mass of tentacles. The bosses have also a nightmarish and original design. I challenge you to meet the Broodmother and her spawn without being heavily disturbed (and you can know more about her in my article: Monster of the Week: The Brood Mother and her progeny (Vigil)).

Knifeboy

Details: An unexpected surprise for a crazy metroidvania based on indie comics, set in an insane sci-fi world full of charm and personality. The art-style is very detailed and interesting, especially the enemies’ design and some locations. It could be raw sometimes, but it is full of passion and able to paint a unique world full of colors and details. The combat side is not incredibly deep, with very standard combos and easy but really interesting boss fights. Platform sections are quite challenging, but never tiring, thanks to really well-planned checkpoints. Of course, as a one-man game, there are some bugs that can be a bit bothering. However, the experience is so original and interesting, that I kept playing regarding the bugs. The world, the dozens of characters, the crazy bosses, and the many secrets are too interesting to stop playing. 

World: The game is based on a quite big open world, with a lot of secrets and places to explore. A day/night cycle allows different layers of exploration, with some places opening only at a specific time, and different monsters or collectibles only available at night, for example. Each new area is a completely novel and bizarre environment, from a DJ club, to a sort of pseudo-gothic asylum, and an arena managed by a group of pig-butchers on stilts. The game is a crazy tornado of surprises and pulp references, with secondary quests allowing to access a UFO or to see the true face of Santa Claus. Also, the game is a proper metroidvania, since new upgrades will allow the player to explore new areas.

Dark/Horror: Knifeboy cannot be defined as a horror game under any category, but it surely meets the requirement to be in this article for the high level of violence and the grotesque and twisted characters/enemies. Knifeboy is like an indie comic book targeted to a mature audience, a game that is not afraid to show enemies cut in half and some nudity here and there.

Bestiary: This game knows how to create original enemies and bosses. If common enemies like a sort of colorful humanoid bat that looks like a Mexican painting under LSD are already interesting, including sort of pig-like creatures walking on stilts, the bosses have an especially great design. They are difficult to describe using words, just imagine the most gigantic, colorful, complex, and bizarre abomination, and probably you will not be even close to what you will face in Knifeboy.

Blasphemous

Details: Blasphemous is probably one of the most well-known games in this article, a huge metroidvania with strong horror elements inspired by Catholicism. The game is challenging and full of surprises, with an amazing world to explore and many tough fights. Blasphemous has also incredible pixel art, able to convey the brutality of the fighting system in every red pixel. If you are looking for a challenging, brutal, and horror metroidvania, Blasphemous should be your first choice.

World: Custodia is a dark and cruel world shaped by the Miracle, a sort of unknown force that molds the bodies of true believers in horrible ways. The world is beautifully interconnected, using really original and haunted places. From the cold peaks in which is hiding a monastery of nuns that self-burn their bodies, to the rooftop of a gothic cathedral inhabited by twisted angelic beings: Blasphemous knows how to create a complex world using religious references. The secondary characters are an integrated part of this world, insane being touched by the Miracle, forced for example to be constantly whipped by an invisible force, or to be forever imprisoned half-fused in an olive tree.

Dark/Horror: Blasphemous is probably the most horror and brutal metroidvania that is out. Every detail is pure horror and nightmare-inducing, especially how religion is twisted in favor of horror. Moreover, the fighting is brutal, with gory executions when enemies are at low health.

Bestiary: Every single enemy is a grotesque combination of religion, Spanish folklore (the developers are from there), and pure horror. Seriously, every single enemy, from the most common soldier to the most gigantic boss, could be on the cover of a metal album. The religious elements combine with the creatures in very original ways, including a boss inspired by the “Pietà” of Michelangelo, or others with Church architectures inserted in their design (more info here: Catholic Art and Architecture in the twisted world of Blasphemous: how religious iconography can build nightmares). Plus, the bosses are simply great, especially the giant skeleton of a cardinal lifted by giant hands, and the disturbing Exposito, which can only be described as a sort of gigantic baby Jesus that will literally rip the main character in half (which also have an analysis here: Monster of the Week: Exposito, Scion of Abjuration (Blasphemous)).

Demoniaca Everlasting Night

Details: Heavily inspired by Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Demoniaca is a metroidvania combining horror elements, light adult contents (brief sex and nudity), and a combat system typical of fighting games based on combos. The RPG elements are many and well-integrated, including many different items and random drops. However, since here on Dark RPGs you can already find a complete review of Demoniaca, I will just leave here the link for more details: Demoniaca Everlasting Night Review: a dark and mature beat ’em up metroidvania.

World: As mainly inspired by Castlevania, Demoniaca is entirely set in a gigantic castle. There are of course different sections, for example the library or a hall full of mirrors. The exploration is rewarded not only for secrets but also for hidden merchants and moves. A great feature is the special mini-bosses marked on the map, but almost impossible to defeat without coming back much later at a higher level. Some characters are quite original and brilliant, such as Boxman, a mysterious man teaching powerful techniques hiding his face inside a box.

Dark/Horror: Demoniaca is a violent game, especially in the pixel art cutscenes and for some brutal elements in the background. The game has also mild adult content, including brief sexual scenes that appear like random illusions, or nudity, especially involving secondary bosses, or for example, a character seating on a throne while surrounded by half-naked slaves.

Bestiary: Part of the bestiary is not very original and inspired. For example, there are too many variants of skeletons, and some creatures are really too similar to iconic enemies from Doom. However, there are some interesting surprises, especially in the library section and in the second half of the game, with creepy murderous nurse dolls wielding massive syringes or hack-saws. Another brilliant example is a gruesome spiked-skeleton with inserted body-parts that is able to inflict the negative status “thorne,” transforming the main character into a sort of Hellraiser-ish version of herself.

Dark Light

Details: The game is still in Early Access, but is clearly showing its potential. The strongest point of Dark Light is its sci-fi horror atmosphere, a sort of 2D Dead Space, which is something not very common for a metroidvania. Dark Light has also major influences from Dark Souls, especially the level up system, based on converting fragments collecting during exploration in credits. But of course, if death arrives before the conversion, the fragments will be forever lost. The gameplay is very classic, but involving several pieces of equipment, including a firearm, a melee weapon, grenades, and a drone. New items are randomly dropped while exploring, or directly as loot from defeated enemies.

World: Earth is now a rotten wasteland, a harsh landscape roamed by deadly creatures. The atmosphere is always oppressive, and the exploration extremely cautious. Even if the world is still under construction, there are already several paths and secret areas to uncover, usually using keys collected in other zones. The backgrounds are gorgeous and haunting, able to paint a horror sci-fi world, with a gigantic robotic hand emerging from the ground, or a titanic cybernetic skull, just to mention some examples.

Dark/Horror: The atmosphere is dense and oppressive, the combat is brutal, and dying is a common occurrence. Enemies will ambush from dark places, and, several times, a double-tap will be necessary to check if an enemy is truly dead. The silence is a constant threat to your psychological health while exploring the wasteland, the equivalent of exploring the silent ship in Dead Space.

Bestiary: In Dark Light, you can expect a series of quite classic but always interesting examples of horror sci-fi creatures. Invisible mutants, deadly parasites, grotesque zombies with huge chainsaws, or chaos warriors in full armor and with a Gatling gun: if you can name a creature-trope from horror-scifi, it is probably in the game.

Salt and Sanctuary

Details: One of the first examples of recent dark metroidvania, Salt and Sanctuary tried to be the first 2D Souls-like. And the experiment succeeded with really good results. The combat is stamina-based, tough and challenging, while the RPG elements are deep and satisfying. The dark world of Salt and Sanctuary is open to any gameplay, with hundreds of weapons, items, and enchantments to collect. The game is also highly-replayable, including a NG+, multiple endings, and branch-based secondary quests with more than one outcome.

World: The world is entirely contained in a huge island collecting castaways from many shipwrecks. The island is a mysterious and ethereal place, a sort of limbo or border between life and death. Salt is the main element comprising the creatures living on the island, a sort of “soul,” but also the main currency to level up in the game. Moreover, the island is a very variegated environment, with cursed forests, colossal pyramids, hidden lakes, and amoral alchemic labs. The world is a twisted maze of areas very well connected, especially vertically. There are also many hidden elements, including bosses, locations, and even obscure guilds to join.

Dark/Horror: The game has a lonely, dark and oppressive atmosphere, a constant tale of silent areas and suffering. In this sort of limbo, there is no space for anything funny or light-hearted, but only for speechless sufferance and existential doubts. The backgrounds, especially of the bosses, retrieved through the bestiary or item descriptions in proper Souls-like formula, will also add drama and horror to the already heavy atmosphere.

Bestiary: From the half of the game, every monster will be incredibly original, dark, and disturbing. From murderous dolls to living cages waiting to imprison the player to be their new son, every new enemy is an unexpected and challenging surprise. The bosses are especially disturbing, imbued with madness or extreme loneliness. A terrifying example is the skinless, a giant alchemic abomination without skin, or a metal “tree” made of tortured bodies that need to be destroyed to defeat the boss. But my favourite example is probably the Queen of Smiles, a deranged and grinning maniac with a psychotic background, which loves blades and decorating her room with corpses.

Minoria

Details: Minoria is the spiritual sequel of Momodora, with a different art-style and the same developers behind it. As the famous Momodra before, Minoria is a proper metroidvania, just on a slightly smaller scale. The game features interesting RPG elements, including levels, and different pieces of equipment to create the best strategy for every situation. The art-style is gorgeous, and it is perfectly fitting for telling a fairytale. But be aware, behind the fable-like facade, Minoria hides a more dark core, touching important topics from religion to coexisting with nature. Minoria is also full of secrets, including a hidden boss after a set of deadly challenges, NG+, and multiple endings. But what I really liked is that, if the player is able to defeat a boss without receiving damage, a secret item will be unlocked, and this is different for every boss.

World: Minoria is almost completely set in dark and labyrinthine corridors, from the majestic beauty of a cathedral to the inner depths of a torture dungeon. A forest can also be accessed later on, creating a more complex world, but still embraced in a decadent and sad-inducing atmosphere. There are also hidden chambers with a lot of interesting details and furniture scattered around. Plus, the player can retrieve diary pages that will unveil even more the dark lore of Minoria.

Dark/Horror: Even if the fairytale art-style could make you think otherwise, psychologically speaking, Minoria is probably the darkest game on this list. Gray morality is at the core of the experience, including delicate topics such as being brainwashed by religion. Several elements will make you feel unexpectedly uneasy, including bosses begging for their life, or random prisoners asking to be killed to ease their sufferance. Gore is also present in the background, including corpses and walls drenched in blood. The atmosphere is so interesting that I also wrote a complete article about it, here is the link if you want to read more about: The gray machinery of the Inquisition behind the cute facade of Minoria [Review and Analysis].

Bestiary: The number of creatures is not as wide as other titles, and the regular enemies far too common, but bosses and sub-bosses have interesting designs, with complex and inspired battles. The main enemies are usually witches or ancient nature forces. The witches tend to have different shapes, for example a gigantic and sexy succubus. Force of nature can also become particularly interesting, such as a giant slug-plant woman.

Grime

Details: Grime is an unconventional metroidvania with a gorgeous graphic, tough and challenging combat with elements from Souls-like, and a quite unique setting and protagonist. The main character is in fact a silent humanoid black-hole, born from a complex cataclysmic phenomenon. The creature will finish purposeless on a mysterious rock world, where heavy creatures will satisfy its craving for “mass.” Grime has everything a RPG can desire: multiple weapons associated with different scaling skills, stats to upgrade with enough experience, and unique abilities to unlock by hunting and devouring specific prey.

World: The world is a joy for the eyes, a surreal land that looks like a desert alien world from a Dalí painting. Light elements, gigantic statues, and primitive art and paintings are all part of this living world inhabited by cryptic creatures and ruled by mysterious principles. The inhabitants of this surreal land are tribal rock creatures, often obsessed with the perfect proportions, since they have abnormally big heads, or with chosen ones able to “carve” the rock. Every encounter is cryptic and hermetic, part of a world that is as difficult to understand as fascinating to discover. 

Dark/Horror: Grime is not a horror game by definition, nor it is violent or scary. However, the game is entirely enriched in an uneasy and unpleasant atmosphere related to the fact that the protagonist is basically an embodied law of destruction. Because being a humanoid black hole is not just aesthetic in Grime. Devouring every enemy is a base skill in the game to evolve and become stronger, by completely absorbing the mass of the enemies inside the black hole. The inhabitants will be fascinated and terrified by your presence, some will even worship and offer sacrifices, while the black hole will explore the planet and purposelessly devouring everything. Some scenes before the boss fights are also highlighting this uneasy feeling of “am I the bad guy?” as it was beautifully executed before in Nier. For example, the Whispering Mothers are two fleshy being made of a plant, sort of dancing flowers with a mouth in between. They are somehow teaching art to the stone creatures and, when the protagonist will approach, one of the rock people will run to the Mothers asking for help, in a twisted and reversed heart-breaking scene.

Bestiary: The world is full of dangerous and feral foes, almost all of them made of solid rock or tentacle-like plants. In this hostile world, any enemy should be underestimated. Some rock people use primitive weapons of stone and bones, while other beings are ferocious and aggressive masses of teeth and claws. Other creatures are like incomplete or broken statues, almost static beings that fly around attacking like drills, or will stealthily throw spears while hidden as normal art pieces. The bosses are gigantic and complex beings, where chaotic organic life meets the lifeless stone. An example of this is Amalgam, a grotesque creature with multiple arms and eyes, firstly hidden inside the gigantic head of a statue like a sort of alien hermit crab.

Wacky characters, insane machines and hypnotic mushrooms in “Let It Die”: how to build a lobby in an explosion of style [Mechanic]

Let It Die is a free-to-play game developed by Suda51’s team, so of course is 100% pure insanity. The main aim of the player is to climb a dystopian tower, fighting monsters, invaders, collecting new items and experience, while advancing each floor toward the top. The combat is souls-like inspired, with a stamina bar dictating the possible moves, light and heavy attacks combined with dodging, and easy ways to die if the enemies are underestimated. If this looks quite standard, everything else is totally over-the-top.

The tower was mysteriously built after a cataclysm on a small island close to Tokyo. Since that time, the tower has continued to grow, attracting different kinds of people. Powerful lords started to live and take control of the tower, building a sick new system where even the dead bodies are brought back to life to fight for them. Meanwhile, adventurers started to climb the tower, hoping to claim the mysterious treasure hidden on the top. The ground floor of the tower is a small shopping mall connected to the metro station, with a fountain in the middle, bathrooms, and elevators. But it is exactly this place that became the base camp of all these crazy operations, attracting the most insane and illegal merchants to open a shop there. And it is exactly the ground floor that works as the hub or lobby of Let It Die.

The lobby of the tower is the equivalent of a small town, with a lot of services and bizarre characters to interact with. Even if many places have standard services, like to buy items or to level up the player, the shopkeepers and the setting are anyway insanely original and plainly weird. Because nothing is as it should be on this floor. The bathrooms are brainwashing prisons, freezers are where clones are stored, and the metro station works as vehicles to invade other players. And these are only the standard things.

Let’s have a look at the most whacky places and services available in the lobby.

Fighter Freezer

Each death in Let it Die is permanent, there is no other way to say it. However, with enough gold, dead bodies can be collected and reanimated. On the other hand, new clones can be produced to rescue the dead body of the previous character, who will be wandering like a bloodthirsty revenant on the floor where it died. Because the lords of the tower are controlling death, and facing your previously dead characters is not a surprise The freezer is where the available characters are stocked, hanging like dead meat on chains. New characters can also be recruited here, or they can be organised for different tasks, for example, to defend the base from other players’ raids. Alternatively, unused characters can also be sent to scavenge and hunt on other player’s floors. They will become invaders, challenging enemies for the other players to face, and they will come back with scavenged materials as a reward after enough time passed.

Metro Front

Let It Die also involves a multiplayer attack-defend the base mode, freely playable by everybody. But of course, also this mode is totally insane. To access the Raid mode, the player needs to talk to a weird-looking robot, similar to a train operator mascot, with a creepy smile on the face and electric blue eyes. The small robot is totally insane, and will direct the player, with the voice full of crazy enthusiasm, to the different raid modes and the power-up for the base: “Thank you for riding with us today.” Then, the attack mode is very straightforward: jump inside the metro and it will bring you directly to the enemy base. The other players will leave their characters heavily armored to defend the base or, if you are lucky enough, it will be defenseless. With enough time available and with the defensors killed, the other players’ resources can be looted from their base.

Prison Bathroom

There is a random and bizarre consequence of the train raids. Sometimes, when another player’s character is defeated, its body will stay on the ground. These characters can be kidnapped and brought back to the base. They will end up imprisoned in the bathrooms, now reconverted in jails. The kidnapped character will be trapped there, wrapped in plastic, and with a visor on their face, totally isolated from reality and in constant sufferance. The characters are indeed undergoing a brainwashing procedure, which has a fixed time to be executed. After the time has passed, the kidnapped fighter will be totally brainwashed and ready to join the player’s team. However, the other player will not stay quiet when one of his characters is kidnapped, and will have the chance to attack the base where is imprisoned in order to free him.

Shop “Choku-Funsha”

The regular shop of Let It Die is probably the less inspired section of the lobby. Here, the player can buy weapons and armors, but also access the R&D section to develop and unlock new equipment using the correct materials. The owner of the shop is a legendary merchant, with the head protected inside a glass, and surrounded in the background by weapons drenched in blood, including chainsaws. The fact that the shopkeeper is definitively too similar to an infamous German dictator doesn’t anyway help in giving more identity to this shop.

Vending Machine “Hernia”

A regular vending machine but with a creepy twist and design. The machine will sell different items that will change periodically, which can be acquired by using different kinds of currency. One of the main forms of payment is called Bloodnium, and it is linked to blood. But the interesting detail is the execution of this payment. Small spiked cylinders will appear like a medieval trap, and the character’s hand will be voluntarily wounded by this instrument of torment in order to extract the payment: blood. The fact that the shop is called “Hernia” is also causing additional uneasy feelings.

Mushroom Club

The Mushroom Club is probably one of the most bizarre shops ever seen in a game, owned by an insane woman. She is dressed only in a bikini, covered with tattoos, with mushroom-like hair and tribal fangs covering half of her face. The legends say that she was a backpack traveler that went insane after trying weird fungi, and now is managing her tribal shop inside the tower. When not working, she will perform a lap dance on a giant umbrella, but her role is far more bizarre. Like a post-apocalyptic shaman, the woman will provide a psychedelic mushroom soup to her customers, which will give very unexpected results. In fact, after trying the different soups, the player will receive adhesives to wear like tattoos on the different characters. Some adhesives, or decals, are only temporary and will disappear with the death of the character, while the premium ones can be recovered even from dead bodies. The scene when the character drinks the psychedelic soup is particularly weird, and the decals will appear from a rainbow of colors sparkling from the empty dish.

Quests: the Voyeur Visor

Secondary quests were generally selected by talking to a cute girl in the arcade room, another section of the lobby that can be accessed from the fountain (check the associated section). However, after an update, quests can now be selected in a more bizarre and peculiar way from the main hub. A visor supported by the statues of two kids now works as shortcut to access the quest menu. The kids look like characters from an old Japanese manga, or from some school propaganda, jumping very happily while working as support for the visor. By accessing the visor, the player can select different quests to complete, from “collect x items” to “kill x enemies,” or sometimes more variegated challenges like complete specific floors without wearing any armor. Interestingly, the visor also works as a sort of voyeur machine. In fact, after finishing to select quests, the player can see the face of the girl in the arcade room. The girl seems unaware of the player’s presence, and she looks like busy watching something and will often comment “No, no , not there” or “He hide what and where!?”

Mingo Head

Experience hardly collected during the explorations inside the tower needs to be used inside the lobby to level up the characters, deciding which attribute to power up, from strength to agility. And of course, to use the experience, the player has to interact with a creepy creature that looks like a living brain combined with a motorbike in a sort of cyberpunk jellyfish. The grotesque creature will directly inject tubes with jacks inside the character’s back, and, in a painfully-looking scene, highlighted by disgusting sounds, the experience can be used to power up the characters.

The Arcade Room

A lobby inside the lobby, the arcade room is a meta-game festival, and another stylish insanity added to the game. As if Let It Die was just an arcade game that the player is actually trying to beat, the Arcade Room works as a place for hints, advice, and to better understand the lore. The different characters will tell you how to get better in the game, like if the player was really asking help from other players. Moreover, a radio can be selected to change the music, while a mysterious machine provides information for the lore of the game in the form of old and distorted VHS movies.

Death end re;Quest 2 and Ao Oni: when a horror JRPG and an indie survival-horror collaborate

It is nice to see when two different worlds collide together in the video game format. It happened several times, especially for big companies, for example hunting a Final Fantasy’s Behemoth inside Monster Hunter World. However, what is not so common is a collaboration between a big company and an obscure indie title, especially if they are from far away worlds such as JRPGs and survival-horrors. But this is exactly what happened between Death end Request 2 and Ao Oni.

Death end Request 2 is a JRPG with a strong horror component and a creepy set of creatures. If you follow the blog, the game should be already familiar since I wrote different articles about it, including a review where you can find more complete information: Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night. On the contrary, Ao Oni is a Japanese game survival-horror, a freeware and obscure title that got quite popular around 2007. The game is a RPGmaker-style horror game, with a great focus on hiding and surviving a creepy stalker. The game got quite a following in Japan, even getting manga, anime, and live-action movie adaptation. The real protagonist of the game is the enemy, the actual Ao Oni, a gigantic blue ogre with a peculiar face and altered proportions. The creature got iconic, an example of Japanese indie horror games, with a look not so intimidating, but for sure somehow disturbing.

How the collaboration between Death end Request 2 and Ao Oni take shape? During the first playthrough of the game, the player will see nothing related to the Ao Oni. Anyway, horror elements will be not missing from the experience, from gory and tragic bad endings to multiple grotesque enemies (more info here: The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2). After reaching the good ending, in Death end Request 2 it will be possible to continue in a NG+, keeping the experience and the equipment, while accessing new contents, story branches, and a new ending. It is during the NG+ that the Ao Oni will become a more present element.

In the first area of the game, an old telephone will allow the player to access new contents. The first one is a mini-game, and it is the most horror-shaped experience featuring the Ao Oni. In this short but intense mini-game, the main character needs to run fast inside a city area while avoiding different Ao Oni jumping out from nowhere. The creatures are of different sizes, from small Ao Oni to more human-sized ones. They will also jump out from the most unexpected places, including cars and water elements.

The stressful event is a fast and crazy run against the deadly blue humanoids: trial and error is the only way to survive and conquer this mini-game. Only by learning the positions of every sudden appearance of the Ao Oni, the player will have a concrete possibility of surviving. Avoiding the many blue creatures while running is not the only way of surviving because scattered around the map there are suspicious closets that can be used as temporary hiding places. Of course, this is not a completely safe solution, since the Oni can still discover you while hiding. This mini-game is an easy and different addition to the main game, and it really tries to encode the horror atmosphere of Ao Oni, with frenetic chases and breathless hiding.

There is also another surprise involving the Ao Oni in Death end request 2. Moreover, during NG+, starting from the third Act, it will be possible to visit a challenging bonus dungeon: the Pain Area. This place is a hellish maze with dozens of tough and mandatory battles, including unique and interesting bosses. But the true surprise hides on the fifth and last floor of this dungeon, where the ultimate boss fight against the Ao Oni itself will take place. The blue ogre is the toughest battle in the entire game, the secret hidden boss typical of JRPGs, which usually needs the best equipment and high-level characters. The Ao Oni is a super boss for a reason: it has an insane amount of HPs, the highest in the game, with >6 million, plus maximised attack and defence. The creature is indeed an extremely dangerous foe able to use many tricks, including almost every possible negative effect, and a complex combo of energy attacks executed as fast karate moves.

Watching the giant blue creature rendered in 3D graphic, performing deadly attacks while the group of heroines throws it around the stage, is a unique and bizarre experience. A collaboration between indie games and a big production is always a welcomed experience, especially if horror elements find a new home inside JRPGs.

Interview with Glasses Cat Games, the creators of Devil Slayer Raksasi, a souls-like inspired by Chinese legends

Devil Slayer Raksasi was really a surprise: a top-down action RPG with a souls-like battle system and roguelike elements, together with an innovative dark-fantasy atmosphere with strong references to Chinese folklore. The game has an addictive and challenging gameplay, with strategic boss battles against really interesting creatures, a lot of items and weapons to equip, and a set of 7 main characters with different skills and powers.

The game is still in Early Access on STEAM, but in one year received many updates, from new modes and gameplay-elements, to additional playable characters, bosses, and sub-chapters. The game is yet a complete and challenging experience, with different routes and optional bosses, secret sets to acquire, and the possibility to train and level-up the main characters. The heroines are all quite different, from a half-fox woman using a giant cannon, to a fast demon using knives: the replayability is very high and completionists will need dozens of hours to see everything

Raksasi’s most unique feature is the amazing mix of a novel dark-fantasy universe inspired by Chinese legends, myths, and ancient folklore. Settings, secondary characters, and especially enemies are all very interesting for design and lore. As a great addition, a recent update also improved the bestiary, and now not only it is possible to read the lore of more than 100 creatures, but also to enjoy the gorgeous and detailed portraits of each monster.

Today, together with Glasses Cat Games, the team of three developers behind Raksasi, we will look at the development of the game, the future updates, the lore behind secondary characters, and how the Chinese culture influenced the game. We will also know the favorite bosses of the developers, so if you are curious to know more, check the following interview.

Q1: First of all, thank you for the opportunity. Raksasi is an interesting take on both souls-like and rogue-like RPGs. How the idea behind this project was born?

A1: Devil Slayer Raksasi is inspired by the Souls-like games a lot while we are all big fans of this genre. The early prototype is just a simple top-down action game demo with a souls-like style combat system. Since we are worried if the core mechanism is too simple and a pure souls-like game made by a small team will lack enough game contents, we consider incorporating Roguelike elements to increase the lifespan.

Q2: From the art-style to the gameplay, Raksasi is an interesting production. Which other games influenced your work while developing Raksasi?

A2: We try our best to make our own unique game by standing on the shoulders of giants, and you may find some familiar designs and systems in Raksasi from these great titles: Souls, The Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells, Darkwood, Blade & Sword.

Q3: The art-style is really well characterised and unique, especially the portraits of the main characters and the bosses. Why did you decide to use this particular aesthetic for Raksasi?

A3: The reason is very simple, there is no other choice! because we are a very small team, the only artist in our 3-man development team chooses his own style to create all the artworks. Our artist’s early style was influenced by the Japanese anime he watched in his childhood, but he always had his own unique pursuit and did not follow the trend blindly. Therefore, the final art effect is very likely to be quite different from the current popular and most popular styles and colors and is also more recognizable.

Xilvaron, one of the 6 heroines of the game.

Q4: From the setting to the design of the enemies, the influence of Chinese culture are evident in Raksasi. How Chinese traditions and legends influenced the world of Raksasi?

A4: It’s cool to create a game with the Chinese culture we are familiar with. We did look at a lot of historical and mythological materials, and take many elements and characters from them to build the world. We hope these designs can cause the most common popular culture aesthetic and emotional resonance among Chinese and foreigners are interested in Chinese culture.

One of the disturbing monsters of Raksasi, together with the lore from the Bestiary.

Q5: The main heroines got particularly popular, both for their gorgeous design and for their peculiar weapons. How was the creative process behind the creation of each new main character?

A5: While designing our character artwork, the artist’s first goal is to meet the functional needs in the basic scheme, “it should work well as the plan”, such as the native weapons, race, and so on. After that, these characters will be given different personalities. According to these personalities, the artist will select the appropriate color scheme, decorative style, facial features, etc…Then, Bingo, who is responsible for the stories, will refine the character’s background information based on enough existing visual elements as well as the artist’s markup. Basically, all the characters are formed after everyone collides with each other’s ideas.

Q6: A pale kid, a creepy blind woman, and a giant masked-man: the merchants and the secondary characters of Raksasi are really mysterious. Could you tell us something more about the backgrounds of some of these characters?

A6: The pale kid’s name is Jubilant Altar. He looks like a little child in a wine jar, but actually, he is not a human. The ancient Chinese believed that all things have spirits. An artifact will give birth to wisdom over the years and become a human-like creature with supernatural powers, that is, the “devil” in the title name of this game. Jubilant Altar is a “devil” turned by a wine jar. He’s the warehouse manager, and his biggest preference is to collect all kinds of treasures and organize them every day. And the idea comes from a Chinese movie, The Miracle Fighters.
The creepy blind woman’s name is Raven. You may think her look reminds of Frankenstein a lot, and yep, it’s very similar. Her body is just a puppet created by the ancient gods, but she has a real human soul inside the body. As long as there is energy, she can live forever.  Through countless years, she has accumulated a wealth of knowledge.
The merchant, Baldwyn, is a fat guy with a mask, who is a member of a large and mysterious organization that operates many wilderness stores, selling secret treasures to adventurers. Many people think they are not just a purely commercial organization.

Q7: Between so many dangerous enemies to face, which are your favourite bosses and why?

A7: Haha, we love all of them. For example, the five immortals are all mysterious, powerful, and highly individual:
The rat boss, Gray Immortal, has countless henchmen, hiding in the forest, brewing some kind of conspiracy. The snake boss, Willow Immortal, has a white Snake and a green Snake as partners, and they are from a familiar story to the Chinese called Madam White Snake. The weasel boss, Yellow Immortal, who is an old man addicted to drug research often picks medicines in the deep mountains. The hedgehog boss, White Immortal, is obsessed with fighting and always looking for powerful opponents. The fox boss, Fox Immortal, who is the noble and beautiful king of the foxes can confuse people’s minds.
The ideas are from some folklores of Northeastern China influenced by Shamanism a lot.

Q8: The game is still in Early Access (EA) but got many conspicuous updates in the last year. Do you have some surprises or clues of what will be the next contents available before the final release? Maybe some clues about new bosses?

A8: We will continue to announce our upcoming new content in our steam community. We are always trying to add richer and more interesting content to our game. Soon, the game will have a new update, which adds new map Sea Caverns, and new bosses, as well as a very fun challenge mode.

The Gray Immortal is the first of 5 deadly bosses called the Immortals.

Q9: Which were the elements that changed more during the EA period?

A9: In the EA phase, we’ve added a lot of new content, such as new difficulty modes, a wooden tablet system, and a Soul charms system. In the process, a lot of new bosses, maps, characters, weapons, and props have also been added. The difficulty system is one of the more important mechanisms, the easy difficulty can be adapted to more users, and the new high difficult mode called Demonic can provide a more interesting challenge for these game masters.

Q10: Of course, I imagine that finishing Raksasi is your priority right now, but I am curious, are you already thinking of your next project? Maybe a sequel of Raksasi?

A10: Yes, we have some ideas about the next title, and we are doing some preparation work now. But there are a lot of things that are not determined and take longer to explore. So it’s too early to determine what the next game will be like.

Final Remarks:

I would like to thank Glasses Cat Games for their quick responses and the interesting answers. It is really fascinating to know more on how the Chinese traditions influenced this interesting dark fantasy world, and I cannot wait to face the new creatures in the future update of the Sea Caverns. Even if it still in EA, Raksasi already got >1200 reviews with an overall “Very Positive” grade on STEAM, so if you want to check it, the game is available HERE. Also keep an eye on Dark RPGs for a future article about the Chinese-influenced bestiary of Raksasi.

Challenging the Old Gods of Fear & Hunger [Boss Battle]

Fear & Hunger doesn’t go soft in terms of enemies and bosses, providing a set of disturbing and grotesque creatures, including challenging boss battles against gigantic abominations able to wipe out the entire party in a festival of mutilations. In fact, this is the second entry for Fear & Hunger in Boss Battle, previously featuring the relentless Crow Mauler: When it is impossible to Save: surviving all the mutilations of the Crow Mauler in Fear & Hunger [Boss Battle].

Fear & Hunger has a complex Pantheon of gods, specifically divided into Old and New. While the New Gods are humans ascended to divinity, the Old Ones are ancient twisted and macabre beings, mysterious creatures born at the beginning of time. Usually, the Old Gods are described and portrayed in books scattered around the dark dungeons, manuscripts probably wrote by cultists trying to assign a physical form to their deities, even if this is often far from the God’s true form. At least 5 Old Gods are described in the books, starting with Alllmer, a sort of twisted revisited version of Jesus Christ, to the hermetic Moon God, which seems to have a relevant role in the upcoming sequel of Fear & Hunger. However, two Old Gods appear as hidden boss battles in the original game, offering brutal and challenging fights.

Gro-goroth is also known as the God of Destruction, a dangerous and malevolent entity connected with death and carnages. The Old God lies beneath the most difficult dungeon of the game, deep inside the mouth of a gigantic monster, after passing deadly traps and monsters. Moreover, Gro-goroth can be faced only by going for the Ending B, meaning that a party member, the Girl, should be dead (if you want an idea of all the horrible things that can happen to this party member, check my article: Fear & Hunger: the many ways to permanently sacrifice the Girl [Evil Quests]). Gro-goroth will emerge from the darkness below a platform entirely made of dead bodies, ready to fight the party after an existentialist conversation. Only the upper half of the gigantic creature is visible, a muscled torso made of twisted flesh, grotesque organs, wings, and gigantic stone-like claws. Gro-goroth is a visual cacophony of flesh, even having a mouth opening in the middle of its chest, or sort of beak-like elements decorating its neck. The face somehow keeps a sparkle of humanity, a pale mask similar to a marble statue.

As expected from an end-game boss fight, the enemy is a devastating force of destruction. The gigantic god has multiple attacks, caused by different limbs and organs. The sharp claws are its main weapon, able to inflict tremendous damage, including the bleeding effect. Taking this into account, cutting-off the claws is a vital strategy to facilitate the fight. But this is not all, multiple eyes can emerge from the flesh of its body, creating additional enemies. The eyes will cry out a scorching liquid on top of the party, causing moderate damage and the burning effect. Up to 5 eyes can open in its body and, even if they have few HP, not taking action against them could cause a swarming of damages and effects in each turn.

If this is not enough, Gro-goroth also knows powerful spells, such as Burning Gaze or the mysterious Whisper of Gro-goroth. The second enchantment is particularly peculiar: it will mark a party member with a countdown and, when it will reach 0, that character will instantly die. After all, Gro-goroth is the god of death and destruction for a reason.

The second Old God was added to the game in one of the last updates. While going for ending C, the player will now reach an empty and dark wasteland, a sort of abyss out of time and space. In this extreme environment, the main character should find again the other party members while avoiding deadly and dangerous hunting creatures. But it is on a stone bridge suspended above a green light that the party will face Sylvian, the god of sex and fertility. If Gro-goroth was very similar to the images inside the unholy manuscripts, Sylvian is drastically different. The books portray her as a humanoid goddess with the body covered in breasts, a fitting representation for the god of fertility.

Sylvian is honoured with orgies from her followers, worshipped as carnal and universal love. However, Sylvian’s love for mankind got twisted during the ages, becoming a sick parody of sex, passion, and love. For example, people marrying in honour of Sylvian will be blessed with an abominable marriage, meaning that their bodies will be fused together in a grotesque mass of flesh. This is also reflected in the true form of Sylvian: a grotesque mass of green flesh and tentacles surrounding a half-exposed ribcage, with pointed breasts and a shark-like head.

The boss battle is probably the most difficult in the entire game. The god has an insane amount of HP and it can use some really dirty tricks. Each tentacle attacks individually causing different negative effects, such as stun or bleeding, but the bigger ones are the true danger, especially if they grab party members, basically trapping them in a suffocating hug. Sylvian can also strike the mind of the characters, complicating the life of spell-casters. Color of the Unknown is the most dangerous between these attacks since it will damage the minds of the entire party.

However, the most disturbing move is related to a sort of tumorigenic mass that will grow at each turn from the ribcage of the god. The attack is very similar to the one of another creature, Uterus (you can read about this monster here: Monster of the Week: Uterus (Fear & Hunger)), just this time it is even more dangerous. If not defeated on time, the mass will transform each turn into a more humanoid figure. The fully developed creature will add an extra layer of difficulty in the battle, with the possibility of completely murdering a character with one attack.

While other Old Gods are present in the game, such as the dead body of Alllmer, only Gro-goroth and Sylvian can be challenged and defeated in battle. At the moment, the Moon God seems to have a relevant role in the sequel so, hopefully, soon it will be possible to fight additional Old Gods in Fear & Hunger Termina.

Haunted Atlas: The Abandoned Amusement Park – Nier Automata

Description

Amusement parks are usually places of joy and happiness. But in the post-apocalyptic world of Nier Automata, where humanity is practically absent from the planet, the amusement park becomes a place of melancholy and sorrow. Robots are scattered around the park in a sort of parody of a human parade, throwing colorful confetti and playing music all around. The robots here are not as aggressive as in other places, except for Simone, the creepy boss hiding in the opera house. Some attractions are still partially working, providing a melancholic shadow of past happiness. But there is also another explanation, quite hinted in the official World Guide, describing the amusement park as a possible place to test unconventional weapons. In this view, maybe the machines thought that confetti and fireworks were actual weapons, and they are trying to use them against the visitors, of course with no effects. Whichever theory you want to support, the pacifist or the warmonger one, is entirely up to you.

Places of Interest

The roller-coaster is one of the attractions still functional. The robots are maintaining it for some obscure reasons, while the other games are instead broken and abandoned. Maybe in their mindless imitation of the disappeared human happiness, the machines know that the roller-coaster is the symbol of the park, an old memento of a past era that needs to be maintained. For each ride of the roller-coaster, the robots also provide a spectacle of fireworks, built using old ammunition, according to the official World Guide.

The flat-ride is broken, standing like the rusted skeleton of an archaic age. In the past, it was probably a symbol for a faraway future, with retro spaceships and rockets used to build the attraction. However, now the spinning twists and the high-speed are a memory, and the structure lies paralysed in the middle of the park, broken and ignored. The only activities that the flat-ride now offers are some platformer sections for highly-agile androids, a vestigial usage for a forgotten instrument of joy.

The opera house is the heart of the park and the most cacophonous element in this melancholic symphony of past joy. The seats are occupied by the crucified androids’ bodies, a creepy and unsettling location, where the psychotic robot Simone pursues her twisted concept of beauty. Moreover, the basement of the opera house hides a peculiar secret: a room full of packed PC monitors, a place connected with one of the bizarre synthetic secondary characters.


Local Wildlife

Robots dressed as colorful clowns or jesters are mindlessly playing around, throwing confetti and playing to keep a sparkle of artificial life in this place of forgotten happiness. They are not aggressive, and rarely will defend even if attacked, creating a place of fake but respected peace. The robot clowns move around the park in colorful parades, a carnival of artificial joy. Attacking those machines will create strong guilt in the player, an illogical act without punishment or reward, except for the player’s conscience. A variant of deadly and disgusting zombie robot clowns will appear in the basement of the opera house only in a specific side-quest, a group of unique enemies that attack by vomiting green and caustic bile.

The synthetic wildlife in the park is quite variegated, including the giant golden bunny in the entrance. The creature looks and acts like a statue, but high-level characters, with patience and effort, will be available to damage the bunny, starting a tough but rewarding fight.

Talking about bosses, a tank full of robot clowns is the first boss in the area. Again, the machine is peaceful, shooting colorful confetti instead of explosive ammunition, a sort of parade grouped inside a tank. However, the robots didn’t forget how to use a tank and, if attacked, they will switch to live and dangerous ammunition. Sadly there is no way to avoid the fight: the tank must be attacked and destroyed to proceed in the game.

Simone is the name of the psychotic boss at the end of the park, probably the most iconic fight of Nier Automata. The gigantic machine imitating an opera singer has a dramatic background, something that sent it insane and obsessed with a twisted concept of beauty. The creature is partially dressing with the skinned bodies of the androids, like if they were fashion accessories. The psychotic and macabre boss is a huge cliffhanger, totally changing the peaceful and melancholic atmosphere of the Amusement Park into a more creepy experience.

Towns with a Dark Secret: the most hermetic, cryptic, and bizarre communities at the core of open-world games — Surreal and Creepy

The sun shines high in the sky, the grass is green, the new neighbours look really friendly, and the town smells of cake. What could go wrong? Sometimes a lot of things, especially if you are unlucky enough to finish in a Town with a Dark Secret. This trope is quite well explored in horror […]

Towns with a Dark Secret: the most hermetic, cryptic, and bizarre communities at the core of open-world games — Surreal and Creepy