Agenre Provocateur: Role with it

Agenre Provocateur is a column that explores the best of independent video gaming aimed at those new or returning to the scene.

You remember I said I would talk about Roguelikes last time?

Yeah, it turns out it’s impossible to write about them without covering role-playing games first, and of course you need to walk before you can role play so LET’S DO THIS! [+1 Enthusiasm]

I can only imagine that the 1970’s were a revolutionary time if you were a NERD, due to an explosion of their favourite pastimes: NUMBERS and FIGHTING BALROGS.

Computers were scaled down to a size less than an actual room and Dungeons & Dragons was allowing communities of neckbeards to band together using nothing more than dice, pen & paper and the FERTILE PLAYGROUND OF THE MIND. Of course, anyone who watches movies or TV will tell you that imagining stuff blows, so it wasn’t long before these two interests were smooshed together, enabling geeks to perform world-saving quests even without any pals (phew).

These early titles were text-based requiring the player to type in specific commands to perform actions. However, they quickly evolved graphical interfaces showing the player represented via an onscreen avatar, or presenting simple wire-frame dungeons as seen through the eyes of the protagonist.

Although most of the initial RPGs were swords and sorcery adventures influenced by D&D, as technology advanced the genre came to encompass any theme designers could imagine. Today I’ll be looking at three indie titles that show the depth of the genre. For those of you that are totally new, I’ve listed them sequentially in terms of how complex they are. Hopefully, these demonstrate the power of RPGs to tell a compelling story without bogging you down in stats and menus.

Costume Quest

Set during Halloween, you take control of one of a pair of siblings and have to rescue the other after they get bumped with the crappy candy corn costume, leading to their kidnap by a sweet-toothed monster. As the title implies, your party explores a series of environments collecting costumes (that provide different powers), collecting candy (money) and battling monsters (they bad). The turn-based combat is incredibly simple, requiring you to respond to button prompts to increase damage or block attacks.

The combination of cutesy, hand-drawn-style graphics and genuinely superb humour make Costume Quest a great RPG that anyone can enjoy. (An alternate title for this: Ladybird First RPG.) A sequel is also available if this scratches an itch for you. (Windows/Mac/Linux, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android)

Costume-Quest-Screenshot

Bastion

Ask anyone who has ever played Bastion what they thought about it, and they’ll get that look reserved for recalling good times with friends and family before replying “Bastion, yeah” and walking off into the sunset. Set after an event known as The Calamity, you take control of The Kid as he attempts to rebuild the world. The Kid sports a melee and ranged weapon plus a special attack that are used to engage in real-time combat. There are a wide variety available that all handle differently, so there’s always a combination that you’ll feel comfortable using.

However, despite the gameplay being commendable it’s the aesthetic that absolutely drives Bastion. Featuring a truly exquisite narration from Logan Cunningham, the atmosphere is augmented by an acoustic-focussed soundtrack that draws heavily from Westerns (think Firefly or Deadwood). Put it all together and you’ve got an RPG experience that draws you in from beginning to end. (Windows/Mac/Linux, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360. iOS)

Bastion-Screenshot

Shadowrun Returns

Originally a pen-and-paper RPG in the vein of D&D, Shadowrun takes the established fantasy tropes and dumps them into a futuristic setting of hacking, cybernetic implants and megacorporations. Holding everything together is a noir sensibility that makes conversation as important than fighting.

Here, you create your main character from the ground up. With a wide variety of races and classes, it’d be easy to make creating a character an overwhelming experience. However, every aspect is explained fully – via cleanly presented and streamlined menus – meaning you’ll only be spending a minority of your time in them.

Enemy encounters are turn-based but much more tactical than Costume Quest. Each area is grid-based and characters have a certain amount of action points to spend on movement, attacks and skills. Furthermore, like real life you’re safer behind cover, and much of the game is trying to maneuver into more advantageous positions.

If this sounds complicated, don’t sweat it. There’s a comprehensive tutorial at the start and an easy difficulty setting if you’re not feeling particularly confident. There’s also downloadable content (Dragonfall), a sequel (Hong Kong) and a ton of user created content available meaning that if the world of Shadowrun takes your fancy, you don’t have to leave, EVER. (Windows/Mac/Linux, iOS, Android)

Shadowrun-Screenshot

  • Next time – Roguelikes. Like, actually this time.