It has been written that some day, when the stars are right, the mighty Cthulhu will arise from his watery slumber and once more spread a never ending madness across the world. However, the squid-faced monstrosity’s plans had the kibosh put on them when he ran into a powerful mage who – using a mysterious power – sealed the Elder God’s abilities as he was rising up from the depths of the ocean. Thusly, the narrator informs everyone that the world is saved since the only way the dreaded Cthulhu could ever get his powers back where if he did the unthinkable and became a true hero himself. Unfortunately, Cthulhu then reveals that – having no need for things such as a Fourth Wall – he had actually been listening to the narrator and now knows that he can finish his plans to destroy the world after first saving it.
In Zeboyd Games’s Cthulhu Saves the World (out now, $1.99) – ported to the iOS platform through the efforts of TinkerHouse Games – you control Cthulhu as he treks through a turn-based retro-style RPG, on a mission to save the world so that he can personally destroy it afterwards. When the iOS edition was first launched a little while back it was plagued with a variety of issues that could drive players to madness, the worst of which being an aggressive crashing bug that could potentially cause the game to die each and every time a battle ended. Thankfully this – and a variety of other issues that made the port less than stellar – have all since been taken care of in exemplary fashion, and therefore it’s now time to review the iOS port of an indie comedy cult classic.
The first thing you’ll notice about Cthulhu Saves the World is the look of the game itself, the game’s sprites and environments feature a very sparse and simplistic look that harkens all the way back to the earliest console RPGs of the NES era. This motif is further carried into the Dragon Quest esque first person perspective featured in the game’s combat engine, as well as the simplistic chip tune style melodies heard throughout the adventure. What the game doesn’t do, unlike many other recent retro-appearance based games, is try to spice any of this up by adding visual/audio elements that would not have been found back in the days of gaming’s antiquity.
While the combat engine of Cthulhu Saves the World is a menu-driven turn-based affair, much the same as the earlier games that it strives to emulate, this particular game is in many ways a far more mentally demanding affair. If the game is played on the normal difficulty setting, and worse if the game is played on an even harder mode, Cthulhu Saves the World presents players with a very real chance of the entire party dying each and every time a random encounter occurs. This massively separates the game from its inspirational sources where generally, with the exception of boss battles, a player can usually go through most areas doing little more than tapping the confirm button during fights.
Enemies in Cthulhu Saves the World generally start out deadly and with dangerous tricks, and get stronger each and every round that a battle drags on (disallowing all chip away strategies has long been a tradition in every RPG released by Zeboyd Games). It is not uncommon to have your entire party wipe by the time a battle reaches the fourth or fifth round of combat, if the group’s total demise doesn’t somehow arrive much sooner than that. It’s a really good thing then, in a move I pretty much haven’t ever seen done before in other RPGs, that everyone’s health is completely restored at the end of each every random encounter.
What isn’t fully restored at the end of a fight is your group’s Magic Points, and you will become more or less screwed if you ever run out of MP in the middle of a dungeon since merely having everyone swing their weapons almost always ends up in defeat. However, while your party’s MP does not completely recharge at the end of a battle, you do get a limited amount of MP back based on how quickly you were able to resolve the confrontation. This creates a constant tension where you need to find a way to use skills to end a fight quickly enough that you get a lot of MP back when its over, without simultaneously using up so much of your reserve magic that you completely run out at an awkward place.
The various MP using skills found in Cthulhu Saves the World take the form a variety of attacks and/or ailments that either target one enemy, all enemies of a single type, or sometimes even all the enemies on the screen entirely. The most important of the aforementioned ailments found is the thematically appropriate status effect known as insanity, those who come under the influence of the mighty Cthulhu’s powers of insanity will go mad – causing their on screen sprite to change appearance in the process – and have their defense massively lowered as a result (although this sometimes also makes the enemy more dangerous in the process). There also exists a variety of powerful combination techniques that can be used by having two characters act together in a round of combat to achieve a single result, these potent maneuvers – with the specific technique in use being determined by which two characters team up – also tend to be the most MP expensive attacks to use.
Thankfully, the developers of Cthulhu Saves the World have placed a special full MP recharging save point a short distance before each and every boss fight found in the game. This is a real life saver as most of the dungeons in the game would probably become absolutely impossible to traverse if you were trying to save up your MP for the extra brutal boss fights that end caps each one. While there are also MP restoring potions to help out players who find themselves completely drained in the middle of a dungeon, these are valuable rarities that can only occasionally found in treasure chests.
Do not worry if the above mention of save points should fill you with the notion that Cthulhu Saves the World was ill-suited to make the jump to a portable platform, the iOS port – much same as the original PC/XBLA version before it – permits the player to save absolutely anywhere at any time. This actually makes the game a better fit for being played on the iOS than it was on the original release platforms, since the intense concentration demanded of the player can quickly become very mentally exhausting. Its far easier to enjoy Cthulhu Saves the World in quick bursts when time allows, than it is to play the game in the far larger chunks that more naturally tend to occur when someone sits down at home to play a game.
The other major place where Cthulhu Saves the World differs greatly from classical RPGs actually takes place entirely after a battle ends, and that’s how a characters stats or abilities grow each and every time they level up. The player will always be presented with two different choices whenever a character has enough EXP to reach the next level, either between competing moves to learn or sets of stats to increase (but never both at the same time), and the options that come up will be completely different each and every time this happens. Through this system the player has complete freedom over how they mold the destiny of each and every character in Cthulhu’s party, although this does mean a player needs to careful lest they inadvertently turn the party’s healer into a heavy damage character that barely gets any results when casting spells (leaving the group essentially up shit creek if a powerful heal spell is needed).
Perhaps the biggest black mark on the game, that will frustrate most players more than either the mentally demanding combat system or the potential to dead end their game with the level-up mechanic, is the twisted and convoluted maze like structures of each and every dungeon that Cthulhu and his groupies will have to pass through. Due to the extremely minimalistic nature of the game’s graphics, and the aggresive encounter rate of random fights in a dungeon, it’s very easy for a player to inadvertently spend a lot of time going around in circles. As a safety net against players dying from attrition because they got horribly lost, the random encounters in a dungeon will turn off completely after a certain number of fights happen in that area.
However, the place where Cthulhu Saves the World shines most brightly is in neither its accurately sparse retro-presentation – nor its unforgivingly unique combat and leveling systems – but rather the silly writing found throughout the game’s oddball adventure. During the course of this quest you will save a lost dog from ninja ghosts, save a bunch of zombies from the evil necromancer controlling them (in the process not saving the townspeople that the zombies were assaulting), investigate an evil alien conspiracy to abduct cows, and much more. The party members accompanying Cthulhu during all of this are equally oddball as well: there’s a happy Goth necromancer, an alien feline whom seems to be directly based on the cat sprites from Chrono Trigger, the blue-haired girl that gets saved by Cthulhu mere minutes into the game and then promptly falls madly in love with him, a mystical ultra heroic magical floating sword with a face, and more.
Finally, to cap the review off, I would like to spend a moment pointing out that Cthulhu Saves the World – unlike most RPGs released either past or present – has a lot going for itself in the replay value department. Where as some RPGs will let you replay the game with your previously powered up characters under the premise of a New Game +, Cthulhu Saves the World gives you a remixed version of the game with new characters – a new plot – and new bosses called “Cthulhu’s Angels”. Finishing the main game also opens up a variety of challenge modes you can try the default adventure with: such as a scoring mode that awards points based on how low of a level you defeat each boss at, or a mode where you fight enemies with only one character in your party at a time. Therefore, while the game claims the main adventure will last you from 6-to-10 hours, there’s plenty of content to keep you going in Cthulhu Saves the World if you don’t feel satiated by the time the credits roll.
iFanzine Verdict: Cthulhu Saves the World is a game that harkens back, both in appearance and sound, to the console RPGs released during the era of the NES, coupled with a very silly plot about the Elder God trying to save the world so that he can personally destroy it afterwards. The game also features a very unique – and difficult – set up that makes every single random encounter something that must be taken very seriously, or else the entire party will wipe. The game furthermore gives the player massive control over how party members evolve each and every time they level up, to the point of making it possible to mold the characters into something completely counter-productive to their intended point. Less hardcore people might consider the unforgiving difficulty and the chance to create your own noose with the level-up system as brutal, but others might consider such concepts to be appropriately old-school (thankfully there is an easy mode for people who just want to focus on the plot). All in all the game is a solid package for people looking for a silly old-school RPG experience, but the game’s presentation may be far too minimalistic for people expecting something with more modern production values.