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Game Info:

Catacombs 1: Demon War
Developed By: SimProse Studios
Published By: SimProse Studios
Released: July 12, 2017
Available On: Windows (English only)
Genre: Turn-based RPG
ESRB Rating: None specified
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $1.99

Before we begin, my thanks to SimProse Studios for the review key for this review.

As to the work itself, despite the name giving me flashbacks to the early 1990's proto-Doom title of a similar name, this is an attempt at taking turn-based combat and fusing it with what made the Diablo franchise so good. For those not familiar with Diablo, it's a game made in 1997 that perfected the randomized dungeons and equipment role-playing game experience, meaning no two people would have the exact same playing experience since all enemies and equipment were randomized in terms of stats and rarity with some limited exceptions. Catacombs 1: Demon War takes heavily after this game in terms of concept (to the point it feels like a clone), so it will be very familiar to fans of Diablo and its sequels.

The story has many of the same elements. An evil demon is sealed away that should never be freed, the reason it was sealed plays a huge role in the plot, the story is pretty grim from the start, and as we proceed deeper in the abyss, the story gets grimmer. The similarities end there; the developer did try to do their own thing past using the basic tropes of the obvious inspiration, and while many are successful, some really need some work. The actual story is that you (default name Galahad) had your father pass away recently, and with his dying breath urged you take down a demon named Sorsobal he had a role in sealing away in the dungeons outside town and otherwise never spoke about until on his deathbed, and wanting to know why you decide to discover the truth.

Catacombs 1: Demon War
Highlights:

Strong Points: Good mix of Diablo-style and turn-based RPG mechanics
Weak Points: Horrible controls and UI
Moral Warnings: Some blood decals in some scenes; minor occult-like magic system; some violence; some dark and disturbing content

This serves as the setup for the plot, but it gets convoluted fast when you discover the story is a lot more complicated than "ancient evil daddy sealed away is returning" pretty quick. It's meant to be the first in a series of games, so the story is meant to develop much further. The title uses the RPG Maker MV engine, and while RPG Maker is notorious for asset flips and schlocky, cheaply turned out work, this game goes to great strides to make you forget it's an RPG Maker-based title. It uses the High Fantasy Medieval DLC assets as opposed to most stock assets as the core on the graphics side, and for the theme they are angling for, they are an excellent choice, as they fit the grim, dark atmosphere of the inspiration like a glove, though it's hard to notice the few original graphics used because of heavy DLC asset use. The sound draws from the same basic well, and the music and sound effects again fit the atmosphere perfectly. The game even has voice acted segments, very well done at that. For an RPG Maker game it's a very stable experience as the developer is clearly more than competent on the coding side of things as no crashes or glitches were noticeable, but the control scheme used for this game is when that goes bad otherwise.

Diablo used an isometric, eight directional movement scheme while this game is top-down, cardinal directions based. While the latter usually works fine for a basic RPG Maker game, that's one of the immersion breakers and key frustrating points of the whole experience. Worse, the key assignment is set up in a rather bizarre manner, and while they are re-mappable to a much more familiar WASD based setup this is not a fun game to play on a keyboard. In fact, most controls work best with heavy mouse usage. However, even that has issues as the UI has some response time problems and menus seem to have problems responding to the mouse at times. Movement is helpfully highlighted with the mouse, but the four directional movements can make this tedious in tight spaces. The worst part, though, would be the overall user interface. There is no easy to use UI, instead having a somewhat more obtuse and sparse layout, and while there are easy to follow tutorials, it still could use a better visual interface.

Otherwise, the mechanics of limited durability equipment and skill point leveling were otherwise adapted well to a turn-based format, though the balance is more like Dragon Quest or Shin Megami Tensei than Final Fantasy. And unlike Diablo, which had a space limited inventory, you have a huge one that can easily accommodate the rather generous randomized loot you can get, and you are encouraged to hoard: equipment can break (and be replaced) in battle, having spares is always good, as there is no repair system. You can also recruit more than one playable character to join you, which further encourages you to hoard extra equipment. However, this is also a drawback, as all characters feel very much like clones who can equip the same gear, which is easier to adapt to, but makes them very dull in terms of gameplay.

Catacombs 1: Demon War
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 66%
Gameplay - 12/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 1/5

Morality Score - 83%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

On the moral front, this game has some minor issues. Violence is fairly low, no gore or blood (save as background decor in dungeons, which is a tad gruesome in spots), and enemies disappear when they die, but there is no fighting anything human (save a token fight or two) or that doesn't force you to defend yourself, at least in my experience. Language is pretty tame and sexual content is basically absent, even the art style contains no hints of this. General dialogue is pretty clean if archaic, but that's just authentic to the setting.

The magic system does seem somewhat occult-like, spells have a pseudo-Latin naming schema to them, but aside from mentions of a demon lord, specific references to religion or God are hazy at best. Your character does work with the village residents and its elder, and while some of them aren't entirely up front with you at first, your character doesn't resist helping them willingly. For someone who enjoyed the original Diablo, this is a pretty good attempt to adapt the basic premise to a turn-based RPG, but it's crippled by frustrating and bizarre control and UI choices, which, since the developer intends sequels, definitely need severe improvement.

Otherwise, if that can be overcome, it's a pretty good discount Diablo-like experience suitable for older teens or older.

About the Author

Daniel Cullen

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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