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CHAOS SEED / Taito / SNES
Chaos Seed is a whole stew of different ideas kinda jammed together in the framework of an action-RPG, maybe a few too many for its own good.
To start out, picture the basic gameplay style of Terranigma, just less smooth and polished. But the game isn't an action-RPG; it's more like Dungeon Keeper, in that you build caves and have to defend them from invaders (though this game actually came out a year earlier). There's also some influence from '90s PC RTS games like Warcraft and Dune, as you have to manage consumable resources and build new structures and unit types on the fly in real-time. Even a bit of Roguelike to it, really.
The chief problem with all this is that instead of doing it from menus or an "eye of God" type of view typical to RTS games, you have to run around manually in Terranigma/Zelda style from room to room to issue any kind of command. And you're put on a short leash by a turn system that has a VERY short timer.
The setup is that the Earth is dying of corruption of its life force and etc., and this life force flows through underground veins that monsters are throwing their Mountain Dew cans and taking a dump in or something. As a Dousen, some sort of magical cave hermit, it falls to you to build caves that dig down to these veins and mine enough energy to recharge them. Of course, there's monster resistance, but you actually get even more resistance from above, as the ignorant surface dwellers believe the Dousen are actually the cause of the monster attacks and constantly send raiding parties into their caves to kill them.
So basically, here's everything you have to do, in a series of very time-constrained turns:
* Build new rooms and corridors, then clear them of the rocks and monsters that appear
* Designate each new room for assignment - energy production (needed for creating new rooms, maintaining new rooms and a certain amount has to be deposited into the "Dragon Furnace" to clear the level), senjou production (needed to build certain rooms, resources and summon and revive magical monsters to help you), monster summoning, item storage (you have a very limited inventory), digging for items, sensors to improve your overall map, or "attack rooms" that zap enemies who wander in and also give you the ability to build traps that can be placed anywhere
* Fight off any invaders and try to destroy all of their randomly-appearing teleportation portals, which can appear anywhere and keep a stream of foes coming in until destroyed (and will persist between turns)
* Designate independent monster groups to patrol the cave for enemies, and also transfer energy and senjou between the production rooms and all the other rooms that need some amount each turn for maintenance
That doesn't sound like a *huge* amount of stuff to balance, but there's all these little wrinkles that combine to really weigh the odds against you. The first is simply the short timer turns and the fact that you have to manually run to each room to perform actions -- summoning and reviving monsters, extracting the energy and senjou that have been produced that turn before asshole enemies destroy the room and snatch all the energy it produced for that turn from you, creating new rooms and corridors where you want them by manually running to that spot on the map, etc.
Then there's the enemies. Their teleporters can appear in any room at random each turn, making it very difficult to actually plan a defense since they can come at you from anywhere at any time. The antidote to this is the use of traps and summoned monster patrols to automate some of the defense of the cave while you're running about doing everything else, but this is problematic for several reasons. You can only summon one new monster per turn, and a group of only one or two monsters on their own will get waxed easily by the first enemy group they encounter. Not only does it take a good amount of turns just to summon enough monsters to defend the cave, there's also the question of getting them combat experience. See, the enemies scale to the player's current level, but the monsters are summoned at level 1. Send a team of level 1 monsters out and they'll be killed right away. So, summoned monsters have to travel under the player's protection for a couple of turns at least, gaining enough EXP so that they'll survive on their own. Which makes the whole process even more time-consuming.
Enemies also trash unguarded rooms at record speed. Room defenses can be bolstered and traps can be purchased, but at a high expense of energy and senjou that's hard to free up given all your other needs. You'll learn to hate the lone Thieves and Ninjas who sneak in, move around at high speeds and destroy half your rooms in a turn before you can even get to them.
There's a very long tutorial that teaches you most of this stuff gradually, and it's one of the few incidences in gaming where a 1 hour + tutorial is actually merited and welcome. The enemies start attacking in relentless waves from the 2nd turn of the first "real" scenario, though, and likely you'll still get overwhelmed the first 2 or 3 times you play it even if you felt comfortable with all the tutorial material.
But just as you feel you're starting to get a handle on the rhythm of all this, the game throws in some more bullshit out of nowhere. For example, the only consistent way to heal (other than leveling up) is depositing some energy in the Dragon Vein once it is uncovered (usually after you build a certain amount of rooms, 4 or 5 or so). You can only do this once per turn, however. And there's a random chance that a stronger-than-usual enemy group will bum rush you automatically after you do it, which usually fucks off most or all of the healing you just did. To me this is tantamount to those bullshit RPGs where you can get randomly jumped when you go back to the Inn to heal.
And after you've deposited a certain amount of energy, you may get a "special character raid." This is where some overpowered asshole story character freezes the whole game while they walk into the dungeon and walk to the Dragon Vein where they force you into a battle to the death with them. Fortunately they won't trash your rooms en route, but they will fight and kill any monster groups you have patrolling or carrying energy. Oh, and as if the normal enemy attacks weren't enough to keep up with, sometimes you get random events where they crank it up to the Xtreeeeeme and open way more portals then usual, or send the Super Paladins who are like ten levels above your main character, or some other out-of-nowhere unfair bullshit.
In the end I feel like the game is just trying to do too much disparate shit all at once without a very good sense of balance or pacing. It just kind of backs up the truck at the beginning of the game, dumps all these alien concepts and unique gameplay quirks on you, and tells you to beat your head against the wall sorting it out or fuck off. I know some people love this philosophy with the Dark Souls and etc. but this really isn't the same thing. Dark Souls is more moderately paced and rewards patience, forethought and careful experimentation. It's well planned out. This game, on the other hand, just requires you to either smoke some meth or slam 20 cans of Rockstar to keep up with the frenetic pace. It's the opposite of well planned out, it's a stew of disparate ideas just kind of thrown together and then forced to work without an entirely coherent plan.
And for something that requires so much precise time management, the control is unacceptably clunky in spots. Combat in general is a little janky, and for some reason the dash button is also the button you use to open chests and interact with everything, so you'll often end up going into a time-wasting dash when the character is just a millimeter off from where the game expects them to be. And for as exhaustive as the tutorial is, it never bothers to explain how to equip or use any of the items that dead enemies often drop. Some of them apparently allow you to cast spells that sounded REALLY helpful, but hell if I could ever figure out how to actually use them.
Chaos Seed is in a certain tradition of masochistic Japanese games that are like playing against Dungeon Master Eric Cartman. As soon as you threaten to start beating the game at its own ... game, it's like, "Oh ... uh ... no you guys because uh ... see now there's Super Paladins that come in that are level 20 and uh ... yeah that's the rules now. Super Paladins." If you want to tie on your Ryu headband and Face The Ultimate Challenge To Be #1 Legend Of Your Living Room, then OK, I guess. The rest of us probably find the game too headache-inducing to bother with. Which is a shame because I love the overall concept and there are some great ideas on display, but the designers just had no idea when enough was enough.
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