Role playing games have you explore dangerous locations and push your party into great dangers. But when the battle is done, most of the time, they just chug down a potion and keep marching on. When people fight dangerous battles in real-life, they face horrible stress and emotional trauma. So what happens, when you blend the dark realities of battle with basic mechanics of the traditional role playing game?
Say hello to Darkest Dungeon, a Kickstarted role playing adventure that crept it’s way to the PS Vita and PS4 in September 2016 after a successful launch on PC years ago. Does the title’s interesting mechanics help it elevate above other role playing games on the Vita?
The story opens with a narrator telling the player of how he and his family researched into the darkest depths of their manor. But they discovered horrifying truths and the land is now a cesspool of monsters. You, the player, gets a letter from the owner of the manor and you now own the land. Your goal is to hire brave heroes to explore the darkest depths of the land and find out the hidden truths while keeping sanity throughout the whole experience.
While the story itself isn’t that special, how it is presented makes it feel really engaging. Wonderfully written narration that sets the mood across the entire adventure. They speak at just the right moments throughout the game, giving everything a sense of weight and impact.
So I felt that the story was quite strong overall.
The Design and Gameplay
The basic design of Darkest Dungeon has you hiring various heroes of different class types to explore parts of the manor. They range form damp caves too dangerous forests, but it is important to prepare before going on your adventures. You can purchase items in shops, selecting who will be joining your four-person party and ensuring everyone’s stress level is okay.
Stress and emotional stability are key parts to the game, as they impact heavily into your characters progression and support for battle. Like how one would realistically respond to danger, if they reach a breaking point, they ‘snap’ and they start panicking. This can be triggered when they are close to death (and when they die, they stay dead; cannot revive them) or when light from your torch starts to dim down.
You can help your heroes recover though if they survive battle, as you can help them relieve the stress by visiting the bar for a few drinks and other measures you have at your home base. Treating your party like human beings is something that adds a really creative dimension to the entire game.
Exploring the dungeons is done on a side-scrolling perspective and use the right stick to select different paths on your route is needed. When entering combat, your characters fight in a turn-based system where you can go first based on your speed stats. But ordering of your heroes is important; if your melee focused knight is in the back, they cannot really do much but help with healing items. So positioning of your heroes is important to consider before entering battle.
With the real chance your heroes can die forever, you have added pressure to ensure victory in combat. If they die, that is it. You can continue exploring but you will be down one person and the morale for the entire party takes a heavy hit. Light is another factor to the stress levels, as you need to keep your torch lit as you explore. Darkness makes the situation worse for your party, as they start panicking even faster than before.
So everything I’m describing sounds like a lot of fun and it is, but the controls are a bit of a problem. On the Vita version of the game button placement is odd, specifically when selecting items for your party to use, and the text is a bit too small for the Vita screen. The PS4 version deals with things a bit better due to the larger display and the PC version has great controls with the mouse helping you navigate menus easier. So while there is a learning curve to the controls, you can get used to them.
Overall, the gameplay and design of Darkest Dungeon is strong, offering a creative and original take on the traditional role playing game.
The Lasting Appeal
Darkest Dungeon offers hours upon hours of content, as you have so much to dig into. The different dungeons and locations you can explore will take a while to fully complete, while leveling up your party to max levels will take quite some time as well.
So if you are looking for a RPG title with a lot of depth, you will have a lot to experience with this title.
The Gothic art style is one I really love when pulled off well and I feel Darkest Dungeon pulls it off wonderfully. It is beautiful oppressive and dark, making exploring the dungeons all the more dangerous and scary at points. Sound design is also strong, as every sound has impact. The slash of a sword hitting flesh is quite audible, as is the ‘hiss’ sound you hear as your party’s stress starts getting intense.
Music also helps with this, as the different themes that play when in battle sound great, giving you motivation to get through the dangerous fights. The game also runs really well on Vita, maintaining a locked frame rate and having no slowdown. Being in native resolution helps a lot too, making the great art direction shine even brighter on Vita. Darkest Dungeon overall is a great looking game on Vita.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Games can offer new takes on tired genres and I feel Darkest Dungeon does that quite well. Taking realistic stress elements and applying it to the RPG genre does a lot in making the game feel fresh and unique. Every fight has purpose, every action has meaning and you feel horrible when your party loses their mind. You care about your heroes and the game world, and that is entirely done through just gameplay mechanics. Supported with strong presentation and great sound design, Darkest Dungeon is one of the Vita’s best RPG’s that I highly recommend to any fan of the genre.
This game was reviewed on the PS Vita platform using a review copy provided by the publisher.