Dark Souls clones are all the rage right now, since From Software can’t pump out new ones fast enough other companies are trying their hand with the Souls formula. Nioh and For Honor are on the horizon, but Darkest Dungeon has just hit the PS4 and PS Vita and the owners of those consoles get to enjoy a tougher than average title. What makes this port even better is that when you buy the title for the PS4, you can play it on your Vita and move the saves back and forth. If you wanted, you could always be in a dark dungeon, whether you’re in the bathroom, on the subway or just plinking around at home. This little surprise hit is perfect for the Souls fan who has just defeated number 3 and is patiently waiting for the clones to be released.
The story is similar to that of the Souls series; darkness has covered the land, but this time it is the land’s owner that sets it free. The owner of the Manor finds out about a power that resides in his opulent mansion. He uses all of his fortune to unearth relics in order to release a Cthulhu-type beast. Realizing that he has done the world a disservice, he writes to you to return this evil to the bowls from whence it came. You, the protagonist, are charged with ridding the world of this darkness. The tale begins with you riding in your carriage to the Manor, your driver goes mad in the darkness and soon you find yourself on foot. Making haste is an understatement, but after some quick battles with your buddy you reach the hub world. This is where you find out this game takes a different route with the Souls formula; which is to say that is not a terrible thing.
The game is a basic 2D dungeon crawler with a turn based fighting mechanic. You can choose four other travelers with you into these dungeons to clean your world of this blight. At first I thought the game was too simple and too easy since I wiped the first dungeon out with ease. Boy was I mistaken. I’m yet to be able to fully finish another dungeon since the first. There is so much to keep an eye out on with your characters. Since this game is taking from Lovecraft’s world a madness or stress perk is added to the characters: if you let the torch burn out madness sets in quickly. You also must load up on provisions at the onset of each quest. If you forget to stock up on food, torches or shovels you will suffer a terrible fate. Keen eyes that pick up on detail and understand grueling difficult RPGs will enjoy this title a lot. I enjoyed it, but was bummed that I couldn’t summon a buddy for help like I did in the Souls series. You are on your own in these dungeons. Luckily, you have four adventurers to rely on, but even then, they may not be enough. If you’ve ever played Dragon’s Crown on the Vita or PS3, you’ll do very well in this game. Darkest Dungeon is like its older, much more mature brother.
Combat in the game differs from that of the Souls series. In Darkest Dungeon you are trapped in a turn-based attack loop that gets confusing at some point. There was one battle I was in and I never really got a chance to attack because of all the ailments and the stress that my characters were soaking in. They kept dropping in health and getting attacked over and over until one died of a heart attack and the others received their deathblows. That wasn’t the first time all four characters died, and it certainly wasn’t the last. You don’t have to fight in every room of the dungeons you enter, but when you do fight there are mostly four enemies waiting to end you. Choosing which character fights next seems to be chosen randomly in the game. One time all my characters had a shot right at the get go, another time I had to wait for three attacks; there was no prompt on the screen as to why. When you can attack you can choose from a variety of attacks and defenses; some attacks are ranged or can attack two enemies at once. Be mindful of what you choose as every decision can result in a swift and painful end. What makes the battles even more difficult is the fact that at some points it is hard to follow who is ailed and who is stressed. At certain times you can lose turns battling if you are too addled and stressed out, which means paying very close attention to everything, something I need to get better at.
The atmosphere of this game is spot on. Red Hook Studios crafted a world that I don’t even want to make believe visit. The dungeons that you attempt to free from the darkness all have a grimy, disgusting look to them. The whole feel reminds me of early Hellboy and B.R.P.D. comic books which made me grin from cheek to cheek. Character models are nice, but you get tired of getting the same looking hero off the stagecoach once you get all your other heroes killed. Enemies are creepy and have that touch of Lovecraft to them, which makes me love the game a bit more. There are even attack moves that have the word Eldrich in them that call a huge tentacle to attack; nothing like a Cthulhu appearance. What really adds the omnius feel to this titles is the voice over work. The narrator doesn’t talk too often, but when he does he steals the show. His paralyzing voice almost rivals that of the horror legend Vincent Price, and really adds that doom and gloom feel. I may have lost interest early in this game had there not been this narrator who kept me investing in the game, even though I continued to die over and over.
Red Hook Studios really did a great job with this title. It is unforgiving yet rewarding when you finally accomplish something worthwhile. I died so many times in mid-dungeon, but when I finally completed the dungeon and the mission I was so happy to see all the gold and heirlooms fall into my lap. This game isn’t for the faint of heart; you will die, a lot, and you will lose all the items you purchased prior to the dungeon. I figured that out late in my play-through. Don’t buy for future dungeons, just buy for what you need at the time or you will find yourself out of gold and pretty much screwed. If you are a patient gamer who has bested one or all of the Souls series then this is the title for you. You will enjoy your time defeating the Cthulhu-type beasts and bringing honor and light back to your hamlet.
A PS Vita Review Code for Darkest Dungeon was provided by Red Hook Studios for the purpose of this review