In 2013, Canadian developer Cellar Door Games released an amazing Steam game called Rogue Legacy that combined the action-platforming of classic Castlevania games with the hardcore challenge and randomness of the Rogue-like genre. But Rogue Legacy features a much more approachable difficulty than many Rogue-likes, technically making it a Rogue-lite.
At last, Rogue Legacy has made its way to Xbox One courtesy of the ID@Xbox program. Now Xbox players can control a family of adventurers with randomized traits as they explore an equally randomized (and deadly) castle. Each character has only one life to live, but the fallen heroes' money will finance upgrades that carry over to their descendants.
Read our in-depth review with video to see what makes Rogue Legacy such an amazingly addictive game!
Creating a legacy
The game begins with a sepia-colored playable prologue. A mysterious knight navigates a small portion of the castle and attacks the king he finds within. Who is this knight, and why would he attack the king? It will take a lot of adventurings to find out!
Although Rogue Legacy owes some lineage to Metroidvania games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, it doesn't feature nearly as intricate a narrative as Symphony. The focus here is on exploration. But as your many heroes explore the castle, they will sometimes discover journals that shed some light on the plot. By the time you read the 25th and final journal entry, you'll have seen what led the author to go rogue.
Family of Heroes
After the prologue ends, you'll select from three randomly generated adventurers called heirs. Each varies in many ways, including gender, appearance, class, spells, special techniques, and traits.
Class determines the character's primary strengths and weaknesses. Barbarians have the most life and deal a fair amount of physical damage, but cast weak spells. The Shinobi deals the most damage but has low life, miners earn extra gold and can see the location of every chest on the map, etc. Many of the ten classes must be unlocked through manor upgrades.
The most fun (and sometimes frustrating) aspect of Rogue Legacy's character randomization is the trait system. Each character can have one or more attributes that affect gameplay to varying degrees. A few examples:
- Some are mostly cosmetic: color blindness, farsightedness, nearsightedness, and more.
- Traits like ADHD (move faster) and eidetic memory (remember enemy locations on the map) make the game easier.
- Traits like dementia (see hallucinatory enemies), vertigo (flips the screen), and Alzheimers (no castle map) make the game harder.
- Gayness affects the game in only subtle ways while irritable bowel syndrome makes your character flatulent.
Once a character dies, you'll have to choose from a new batch for your next run. This ability adds a wonderful element of variety. The downside to the system is that you won't always like the characters available to you. Your preferred class or classes might not come up in the rotation, forcing you to play a less desirable class.
Sure, you can always just kill off an unwanted character and hope the next batch will be better. But that's a hassle, and my only real complaint about the game. The Randomize Children manor upgrade alleviates the problem though. It lets players re-roll the character selection once, essentially providing six heirs to choose from instead of three.
Exploring the castle
The castle our family of adventurers seeks to explore consists of five regions: entrance, Castle, the Forest, Maya (attic), and Land of Darkness (dungeon). Although the rooms and traps you'll encounter are randomized, the positions of the regions will always be roughly the same. You'll find the Maya at the top of the overall map, the Forest to the right, etc.
The entrance hosts a magically sealed door that leads to the final boss. To open it, you'll have to defeat the bosses of the other four regions. Of course, the bosses have lots of life and deal tremendous damage, so it will take the right combination of upgrades, pattern memorization, and class selection to defeat them. You can also fight super tough remixed versions of each boss after randomly receiving the appropriate items from shrines.
Although the layout of the castle typically changes with each run, players can pay the Architect outside the castle to lock the previous design in place.
Upgrades and equipment
Each heir's secondary goal is to collect as much gold as possible. When he or she dies, you can then spend that money on upgrades to the family manor. Whatever money doesn't get spent will be taken by Charon upon entering the castle, so spend freely.
Some manor upgrades unlock new classes or permanently upgrade existing classes. Others boost physical and magic damage, defense, health, gold gained, and more. The manor system is key to Rogue Legacy's appeal, as it ties the game together and keeps players coming back for more.
Players can also spend gold to unlock weapons, armor, and runes permanently. The runes grant unique abilities like extra jumps, dashing, vampirism (gain health from killing enemies), and more. All of these allow you to customize playstyle and gain an edge over opponents. The catch is that equipment blueprints and runes must be discovered in special chests throughout the castle. You'll usually have to defeat minibosses or complete challenging rooms to open those chests.
Don't worry if you haven't bought every upgrade and found all the equipment before defeating the final boss. All permanent upgrades carry over to New Game+ mode, so you can keep on collecting and upgrading. After beating New Game+, you'll start New Game++ and so on. Enemies and traps become progressively harder with each trek through the game.
Rogue Legacy offers 29 Achievements worth 1,000 Gamerscore. All of their names end with –philia or –phobia, the love and fear of something. Funny, but not as easy to understand as traditional Achievement names.
'Thanatophobia' – beating the game on a fresh save in 15 lives or less, initially seems like the hardest Achievement. Luckily, you can use a gold farming exploit to buy tons of upgrades and make things easier. Check out this guide for details.
The Achievement for beating the game twice is problematic at the moment. It should unlock simply for beating New Game+. Right now, you have to beat both the main game and New Game+ in a single session, which is a big hassle. The developers have promised to fix the issue with an upcoming update.
Finally, the hardest Achievements involve beating the remixed bosses. They are annoyingly hard, and each one might require an hour or more of attempts to beat. At least the game lets players retry the remixed bosses instantly upon failing.
Now that's a legacy
So far, Rogue Legacy holds the crown of my favorite downloadable game of the year. I've played through it on Steam, Vita, and now Xbox One without ever losing interest. It really is nearly a perfect game.
With a relatively low budget, Cellar Door Games has created a game that easily rivals more expensively produced titles like Ori and the Blind Forest. The tight action-platforming gameplay, challenging enemies and castle layouts, and addictive upgrade system just never get old. All platforming fans should pick up Rogue Legacy and start their own lineage of adventurers.