Review: Alchemic Dungeons
Posted 11 Jul 2017 at 18:48 by Grazza
CIRCLE Entertainment has made a name for itself in recent years by publishing a number of low-priced, often stripped-back, but very playable takes on various genres in the gaming world. Sometimes they are quite niche, the likes of which we may not have seen in the West without the luxury of downloadable titles.
Step forward Alchemic Dungeons, Q-Cumber Factory’s roguelike dungeon crawler. Originally a smartphone title, Alchemic Dungeons benefits greatly by the Nintendo handheld’s precise d-pad and menu navigation. There is at least one spelling error and a (beneficial) glitch, but the title has otherwise been well ported.
Choose your protagonist – Fighter, Hunter, Witch or Dwarf – and venture into one of the game’s randomly-generated levels. Visually, the appealing character sprites have been created pixel-by-pixel with thick outlines and a particularly skilful use of colour, at times highly reminiscent of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Every step matters; every action uses up a turn as you battle your way lower and lower through the dungeon. Health regenerates automatically, albeit not at a rate fast enough to outweigh the threats within.
Witch character will you choose?
Stamina needs to be replenished with food, ideally cooked, although it must be said the experience does not put much stress on the player in this regard. Combat is as simple as pressing a button (or pushing towards the enemy); the real strategy being in planning ahead. Just swiping in the wrong direction will waste a turn, whereas if the enemy is a few squares away, it may be wiser to use a ranged attack. At other times, it’s actually better to swing your weapon on the spot and let the enemy approach you.
The main crux of the gameplay, though, is undoubtedly crafting. Should you use the ore you just picked up for a weapon or shield? Would it be better to drink the potion you just received, or forge it into a stone? Is now the right time to enhance your armour, or would it be more advantageous to wait until you have something hardier? Learning which items are worth making and when to use them is key. It’s a genuinely thrilling system that pits instant gain against delayed gratification.
Once reaching the bottom of a stage, you obtain a crystal, which ends your current session and unlocks a new set of concoctions. Everything else is lost – character level, stones, equipment – in favour of the ability to make better items next time. Looking at this in a positive way, it harkens back to the early days of gaming, when the only thing that mattered was your performance on the day. No save files, no passwords – in principle, nothing affects the playthrough other than your ability in the field. Conversely, it’s somewhat disheartening to lose a Mythril helm with that perfect enhancement you worked so hard for.
This game is Pandemonium! Wait I thought it was called Alchemic Dun... Oh right.
Every time you complete a level, all your items will have theoretically just been superseded by formulas for better ones. Whether you’re actually able to make them is another matter, because the other problem is that the game is incredibly mean-spirited when it comes to ore. It gets tiresome collecting mountains of Stone, Copper and Iron when you’re going for Silver, Mythril and Gold. You almost certainly won’t be able to complete a full set of the better armour by the time you get to the bottom, which effectively means the sole reward for finishing a stage is learning recipes you might not get the chance to use.
Newly-obtained formulas and the ability to make them often seem mismatched. I repeatedly obtained Cobalt ore in the level-4 dungeon, for instance, despite not being aware of how to use it until Level 5. At this moment in the journey, the player would much rather have Silver or Gold. To make matters worse, the game generally punishes hoarding. You might be saving a piece of Mythril ore until you can combine it with another, only for it to be consumed by a Metal Eater. If that sounds frustrating, it is.
Look at all this lovely loot! What do you mean I'm going to lose it all?!
Particularly unfortunate players may stumble across a “Pandemonium” event, which basically means you are swamped by hordes of enemies, far beyond your ability to fight them off. In Alchemic Dungeons, whether you have a good or bad play playthrough is at least partially the luck of the draw. Gamers willing to invest the time may well enjoy battling away at each stage until they succeed, but it requires great patience.
It might be a Ring of Resistance or an early discovery of high-quality ore that swings the balance, but one way or another, you need to get lucky. What we have here is a good title that could have been even better with just a bit more sense of continuity between stages and a few tweaks to the in-game code. Even so, the crafting is so versatile and the desire to get deeper into each dungeon so compelling, it’s hard to stop playing.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Alchemic Dungeons is like a rough sketch by a talented, but untrained, artist. Its imperfections are clear, yet the undertaking has been crafted with such keen instinct, the quality shines through. Whether a session swings in your favour is pot luck, but the game is so addictive and the strategy so immense, the desire to win will likely keep you playing until you do so.
Extremely addictive gameplay
Simplicity of design
Gratifying sound effects
Almost no progress carried between levels
Not very generous ore system
High dependency on luck