As a gamer, one thing that draws me in is character design. Ever since Disgaea got its fangs into me all those years ago, I’ve often been pulled to games with interesting characters. This effect is multiplied almost exponentially with games with an anime aesthetic. As such I’ve found some of my most beloved game series, the aforementioned Disgaea and Etrian Odyssey to name a few. I like to put my faith into niche JRPGs, I enjoyed the Neptunia series (despite their slightly repetitive gameplay) and as such when I acquired my Vita, I looked to find more games and found Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God.
As a fan of the Disgaea franchise, I’m no stranger to silliness and wackiness with my JRPGs and the premise of Sorcery Saga seemed to provide this in spades. Expelled after failing her magic exam to retrieve a magic orb from the top of a tower, our heroine Pupuru (yep that’s her actual name) finds instead a recipe to make a legendary magical curry. Just in time, as her favourite hangout is in danger of closure after a big fancy chain curry restaurant has just opened and aims to crush the smaller independent restaurant. Vowing to track down the ingredients from increasingly dangerous locales, our heroine, accompanied by a small magical creature called Kuu that eats anything in its path, sets off to complete the recipe. Cue a host of largely forgettable rival characters that rival Pupuru in her quest, some after the recipe, some after it purely because its magical and others after Pupuru herself.
The gameplay is a roguelike RPG, and if you’re not familiar with the genre allow me to elaborate. Roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by procedural level generation, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics and permanent death, and typically based on a high fantasy narrative setting. While you never truly ‘die’ in Sorcery Saga, defeat can be utterly crippling. Completion or leaving a dungeon reduces you back to level one. That means no power levelling or grinding to defeat a difficult section. Your strength comes with limited use magic spells and your equipment. You can equip a weapon and a shield and these are what will keep you from death. They can be powered up in a variety of ways by combining them with other weapons of an equal or higher quality but if you die when Kuu is knocked out, these weapons will vanish. This is the games equivalent of permadeath. Your character remains but all of her strengh is gone with the destruction of your weaponry. So its a challenge to say the least.
Better weapons and shields are your bread and butter
Indeed, underneath the cutesy exterior, with its pretty little anime girls and squeaky voices beats a black, vile heart that expects you to take every step carefully. Each venture into each dungeon is massively risky, you could clear it with powered up items and new ingredients for making curry on the fly but fall foul of the games countless traps and tricks and you can end up penniless and equipment-less. Personally I’ve been killed three times by shopkeepers because the buying system in-game is a bit confusing and when trying to buy items, I’d bring on their wrath and suffer an insta-kill. Even the falsely advertised “ID scrolls” which can tag your item and make it so you wont lose it cant protect you. The difficult in the game is borderline cruel simply because of the randomness of it all. It’s lazy these days to compare a difficult game to the Dark Souls franchise, but where the souls games are punishing and forgiving, they will rarely kill you outright with cheap tactics. No such luck here. You can be walking along and suddenly your path will be blocked off, preventing backtracking. The “monster house” event can spawn upwards of five monsters on you, surrounding you. The game tells you to use tight corridors to coral multiple enemies, so it’s aware these are painfully challenging but each monster house I’ve encountered happened in wide areas, with no time to retreat before I was literally surrounded. Thus death and item loss occurred again. Kuu has abilities which can prove to be a double edged sword, and coupled with some enemies special attacks can be almost hilariously cruel. Point in case: one ability allows Kuu to eat items laying on the floor. A useful skill as your inventory is limited and its a handy way to level him up further. However, a certain enemy can disarm you, flinging your weapon out of your hands. Suddenly my +17 sword looked awful tasty as it was flung onto Kuu, who promptly ate it. And the game autosaves so there’s no reloading to regain losses.
Bosses can be a relief as they signal closeness to the exit
I had vowed not to let the game get to me and that i’d win, but by the third death via merchant, I was about done. While I can appreciate that translation and localisation is difficult, an English voice track would have gone down a treat, even if just for combat as both Pupuru and your enemies spout off random Japanese sentences which may as well be gibberish. Its a pity as the cut scenes show the translation team put a lot of love into the game (I counted at least three references to Cthulu or his other old one god buddies). The music also gets old very quickly, I played the majority of the game with the volume off and I have no small tolerance to wacky J-pop.
This is a game that offers a true challenge and you’ll need more than a little thick skin to cope. You WILL die, you WILL lose weapons you spent hours powering up and in the end, this punishing, harsh gameplay style may only keep you entertained if the cute aesthetic and bouncy music can ease the fury of the somewhat cheap deaths. However these are pitfalls of the genre so you get what you pay for.