So, it turns out the game I wanted to write about was waiting literally right around the corner. Which is not to say that I haven't played a lot of good indie titles in the last couple of months - I have, and a few of them I'm hoping to record a podcast about real soon. But they're also getting a lot of coverage elsewhere; this one, I didn't hear about anywhere until I was watching the trailer and then buying and playing the game.
I should be up front before I start talking about it: I have a thing for rhythm games. I'm not particularly good at rhythm games, especially Dance Dance Revolution-style ones (which will be ironic in a minute), but I find them fascinating and deeply satisfying to play, even on the low and medium difficulty settings that I usually end up stuck at.
Sequence is a rhythm-based jRPG. You can view the trailer at the linked Steam page, but I'll embed it here as well for your convenience.
You'll notice watching the trailer that the developer trades on their sense of humor a bit, and that definitely comes through in the game's writing (a blessing in my book, because if there's anything I don't want to do it's play a taking-itself-too-seriously jRPG). But it's the game's mechanics that set it apart from anything I've played recently, so that's primarily what I want to talk about.
As you can gather from the video, this is "Rhythm RPG" the way Puzzle Quest is "Puzzle RPG", in that they've taken an existing tried-and-true gameplay genre (DDR-formula pattern matching) and tossed an RPG layer on top of it. Honestly, for $5 I probably would have been pretty happy with that, especially given that the music is catchy and the story at least marginally compelling. But the battle system they've devised hooked me enough to pull several hours from my schedule in the last 24 that I really didn't have to give it, and it deserves explanation.
You don't play this DDR clone on one note track, you play it on three. One is your defensive shield; miss a note here, and you'll take damage. Another is your mana generator; there's no penalty for missing notes on this panel, but every note you hit generates a bit of mana, used to fire off spells. The third is for successfully casting those spells; every time you want to attack (or heal, or use any of the other abilities you gain throughout the game) you'll need to succeed at a note sequence. Mess it up, and the spell fails, wasting the mana for it and making it inaccessible until it recharges.
This fairly simple division of the combat into three unique tasks means you're always splitting your time as a strategic resource, trying to figure out which panel is going to give you the greatest reward. You don't want to ignore the defensive panel or you'll start taking heavy damage, but if those notes come while you're trying to pull off a spell in the casting panel, that's a tradeoff you might make. You'll spend your downtime in the mana generator building up your reserves, but ending a battle faster increases your XP multiplier at the end so you don't want to burn too much time there. It's constantly engaging without (so far, a few hours in) ever becoming too frantic to handle, and it's based on solid rhythm game mechanics that I already enjoyed anyway - combined, it's a huge win.
The story's alright. I can't say I'm exactly engrossed in it, but the writing has moments of genuine wit, the voice acting is pretty decent, and the character art has some personality, in a "this is an anime-styled jRPG" sort of way. The whole thing is aesthetically pleasing, really, through visuals and music both. The RPG mechanics outside of combat are what you'd expect: level up through battling to increase stats; craft items, weapons and armor using drops from your enemies; grind your way through a level to get the necessary ingredients to proceed; repeat. So much so boring if the combat itself wasn't fun to do, but I had enough fun grinding through battles last night to completely lose track of time, so I'm not knocking it for that.
And it's $5. Five dollars. Less than that if you get it while it's on special on Steam. It's crazy - literally insane - to think that Duke Nukem Forever released at ten times the cost of this game (though of course you'll be able to find that one in cereal boxes soon enough). Go check it out. Sadly there's no demo at this point, but again. Guys. Five bucks. I love you, indie developers.