Insane Tentacle Love – Cthulhu Saves The World

This little indie gem by Zeboyd Games has been on my radar for a good amount of time since release but was, unfortunately enough, left to ftagn in my Steam library with the rest of my backlog until alas! it rose from the depths of the darkest ocean to walk upon the mortal plane once more.

I’ve heard good things about both this and Zeboyd’s previous RPG, Breath of Death VII, but this marks my first foray into the necrotic clutches of their product line. And like any noble, shambling zombie of the unholy orders, I felt the pressing need to share this new-found addition to my life with the helpless, mewling masses.

Naturally the first thing I wanted to do was to configure my MindOrb 5XD-2, because using a keyboard and mouse or even a controller is like, way too mainstream.

Setting up was surprisingly smooth and accurate. Normally when I configure my MindOrb, it picks up on other lingering thoughts in my head, such as food, sex and… umm, stuff. They make for awkward moments when playing social MMOs like WoW: instead of buffing that nimble Night Elf druid I end up groping her and drinking milk. At the same time.

Zeboyd has done a stellar job of making the program focus only on input commands relevant to the game.

Starting a new game presents you with a selection of difficulty levels to choose from, each accompanied by a brief description and suitably representative art. You’re also given the option of playing through using three bonus modes upon completion of your first playthrough: Score Attack, Highlander (use only Cthulhu) and Cthulhu’s Angels (story-related).

If you grew up playing turn-based RPG classics from either Square or Nintendo, you’d feel right at home with this title, so choose a difficulty you feel would challenge you. Even if you’ve never once in your life touched the genre (or a video game, for that matter) then please at least give the Normal setting a shot before choosing Easy. The game does a decent job of introducing you to combat, so if you actually engage yourself in it and not simply mash Attack like some games teach you to do lately, you’ll find yourself having quite a blast.

Without giving away too much, Cthulhu Saves The World is essentially a RPG parody. Having slumbered for ages, Cthulhu awakens only to have his powers stolen by a mysterious wizard waiting by a cliff. Weakened and powerless, our tentacled hero washes ashore and “discovers” that the only way for him to regain his powers is to, ironically, become a true hero.

The visual style follows that of the classic turn-based RPG, with a top-down view and pixel caves, towns and landscapes for you to explore, interact and fight in. Scattered across the world are white question marks denoting developer commentary, something I’m a huge fan of. They can be toggled off before starting a game if you so desire but I recommend you leave them on.

No more than a minute after Cthulhu allows you to direct him, you get your first taste of basic combat. You end up saving Umi as a result, who swoons over her hero and decides to join him on his quest.

The game has a menu option for you to chat with your party members and Umi quickly adds another layer of humour to the story without her love-struck condition being too overbearing.

Combat is broken into turns, with your Agility statistic determining whether you go first. On your turn you get the option of choosing either to Attack, use Tech, cast Magic, do a Union move (with other party members for stronger, expensive attacks) and use Items.

Physical and certain Tech attacks build up a combo meter at the side, allowing you to unleash a Finisher move that deals massive amounts of damage, depending on how high your meter was. One of the game’s combat modifier is to make your enemies go Insane, which is akin to them going berserk: they take and deal more damage.

As Cthulhu’s guiding hand, you are to juggle these choices along with status modifiers — Sleep, Poison, Blind etc. — to control the flow of battle and make it go in your favour. And you will have to learn how to do so because the combat gets challenging. Really challenging. Your attack patterns and tactics grow exponentially complex as you get more members and come across a stronger variety of enemies for you to flail your shiny, sharp stick at.

That said, the game’s combat difficulty may have to do with how hard it is for you to regain MP, which is used by every ability that isn’t called “Attack.” The faster you win the battle, the more MP is regenerated; health refills to full after each win. The problem here is that the only time you’ll ever see MP gains of 4 or more is when you wipe the floor with the pasty remains of your enemies and that usually only occurs after you “clear” a stage, i.e. finding stronger equipment, defeating a boss character and the like. Perhaps later on you’d get enough members and abilities to do so but from the first few hours I’ve pumped into it, I’ve yet to see otherwise.

As a RPG parody, it’s only right that the game has a template band of heroes. A template band of heroes that are out to kill Cthulhu of course, the dreaded “monster” of legend. You’ll get to meet and defeat them shortly after you navigate past a few caves and learn that the Cthulhu’s Angels mode involve them.

CTSW adopts the random encounter model of enemy combat, which I admit to not being a fan of. While it is faithful to how old-school RPGs approach mobs, I would have preferred if I could actually see an enemy patrolling or approaching my party. It need not even be a full representation of the enemy group: a single sprite representing the strongest would do.  If you’re the sort that enjoys monsters phasing-in out of nowhere, you’ll get to experience that in spades.

Thankfully the game has a wide variety of enemies to toss at you, each with their own unique art style, description and attack pattern so you never find yourself exasperated at fighting the same thing for too long — unless you happen to be figuring out how to get that damn treasure chest and are walking back and forth in an area. Needless to say, a lot of effort has been put into the art department and it shows right off the bat.

I would love for Zeboyd to release the planned dating sim as a future update.  It’ll be perfect because it wouldn’t feel out of place at all. I can’t foresee it being released as DLC though, considering how cheap the game is (which comes bundled with Breath of Death VII too).

And seriously, leave the commentary on. It’ll be absolutely worth it.

As a parody, Cthulhu Saves The World is a hilarious cauldron of all sorts of humour. As a RPG, it does a great job of standing on it’s own. It suffers from its share of problems but these are countered by its solid presentation and genuinely entertaining story, and if nothing else, its absurdly low price-point: USD $2.99 for both CTSW and Breath of Death VII. Honestly, who doesn’t want to play as Cthulhu trying to become a hero so he can then destroy the world?

Available for both PC and XBox 360.

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