Just now, I needed to take a look at my previous review of The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa. I needed to do so because my feelings on Lucah: Born of a Dream are similar to that game, and I don’t want people to think I’ve gotten lazy (although with my less frequent updates, that ship has probably sailed). Also similarly to The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, I did not care for this game.
Both are unique games that clearly had a strong ambition, and both are games that I can imagine a specific niche of people enjoying, but ultimately, both games disregard some of the most important rules of game design and create something that fails to engage overall. The difference between the two games is that they abandon different rules. Ringo Ishikawa abandoned the rules that games should be fun or accessible and tried to use its abysmal gameplay as a storytelling tool.
Lucah on the other hand, abandons the idea that a story should be coherent and that there should be clear sequence of events that the player can follow around. The only story you are given is that your character is cursed to have their nightmares come to life, and that they live in a world devoid of hope and shrouded in darkness. In a way, this game’s plot is much like its setting in how little the player can discern. As one can see in the screenshots provided, the game’s art design is drawn in a way to avoid letting the player see anything, and looks almost like an unfinished game at some points.
While I will give points for originality, this comes at the severe disadvantage in that it means one is unable to get attached to these characters or this world, and this in turn means that the story that is shown is ultimately less effective. And this isn’t even a game like Dark Souls where story only exists in the background for the player to piece together in their own times. There are a ton of dialogue and cutscenes in this game, a ton of dialogue and cutscenes that give little reason for the player to be engaged. You know nothing about who these characters are, what is happening to them, or why they are on this journey, yet the game still spoon feeds you cutscenes and acts as if it makes perfect sense. It’s like when you see an intro that is intended to not make sense until later in the game, only this IS the entire game!
I honestly feel like I could have played a random untranslated JRPG and still come away with more of an understanding of its plot than I did while playing Lucah in English. I get that this was intentional and it may appeal to a specific niche of people, but I can’t see most people getting too deep into this game, and not just because of the story. I also say this because the gameplay is nothing special either.
Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is not bad, it’s much more tolerable than The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, but it is nowhere near good enough to carry the game on its own. I’d compare the gameplay of Lucah to that of the first NieR in quality, but NieR had a significantly more compelling storyline and worlds. Lucah on the other hand, feels every bit as desolate and empty as it intends to be, much to its fault.
There were a few things this game did right such as the combat system. Lucah has often been referred as a “Souls like,” a term used for games like From Software’s Souls series (Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, etc). This is only a partially apt descriptor though.
One can’t simply button mash their way through the game and charge every enemy straight on, but that is more so because the combat system requires a meter to refill every time the play performs a physical attack. It is a standard stamina meter that prevents the player from spamming physical attacks, and it mostly functions well when combined with the magic meter that fills by using physical attacks. One’s magical abilities and physical attacks need to be used in tandem with each other in order to be effective, and it is a decent way of preventing the player from Leyroy Jenkins-ing they’re way through.
The system itself is well thought out, but the design is a completely different story. The gameplay of Lucah is almost entirely combat focused with little variety in what the player is doing. It’s pretty much the same strategy for 90% of the enemies in the game, and one will find themselves sticking to one specific setup the entire time. This wouldn’t be too bad if one could just run past enemies they don’t want to re-fight for the 60th time, but enemies will always re-spawn and lock you in rooms until you defeat them AGAIN!!
What makes things even worse is the fact that Lucah has perhaps the most egregious plot barrier I’ve ever seen in a game. The literal “invisible plot walls” of The World Ends With You are nothing compared to being told that you can’t go back into the area you just entered the room from because “You cannot brave the darkness.” Because to HELL with designing levels in ways that mitigate backtracking. Better just plop up an invisible barrier and pretend it’s symbolic!!! No, I don’t care if there is a very good theory as to why the player cannot brave the encroaching darkness of ten minutes ago, it does not change the fact that it is a shitty design choice!!
Another unique mechanic of this game is that it is on a timer. In the top right hand corner, the player will have a corruption meter that slowly increases as the game proceeds. If it fills all the way up before the player beats the game, then they get the bad ending and need to start the entire game over again, albeit with all the items and stat increases kept. This happens regardless of how far you have made it in the game, and it makes things rather frustrating when you have to redo the first few dungeons more than three times in the game.
The player is unlikely to have this happen on the first run through since the timer proceeds at a significantly slower rate on the first run. Once you start playing on New Game plus though, all bets are off. The meter starts filling up significantly faster AND dying to an enemy will punish you by causing the meter to instantly spike up about 5%, in addition to the how much in fills when you need to backtrack to where you already were.
There is thankfully a way to reverse the meter, but that can only be done by having the player re-load what is basically an in-game save state at the start of a chapter, which means the player will need to re-run previous levels even more! Just a reminder that in a normal game, you’d only need to play through these dungeons once!
Adding further to this conundrum is if the player’s mater is too high on the first playthrough. There is a way to revert the meter, but it comes at the cost of the player’s familiar. Not only does the game not tell you that this is the case, it also made me unable to beat the final boss, so I had to resort to using the in-game cheats to beat him. I then figured out that upon getting the bad ending, the player gets access to a weapon so fast and powerful that it ensures the player will not use anything but it for the rest of the game. It is pretty much necessary to use this weapon to see the end of a new game plus playthrough considering that you can’t beat enemies quick enough to deplete the meter (depending on how quickly you slay enemies, you can cause the meter to deplete slightly, but without the weapon in question the amount depleted will never deplete more than it gained during said battle).
Despite the incoherence of this game’s design, I would not describe it as hard as long as one knows how to play it. Once I figured out how to combine the “Aether” mantra with the “Heal” familiar, nothing in the game was any challenge, even the optional “Descent” dungeon that was said to be excruciatingly difficult. I literally beat it on my first try in one sitting. Granted this was one Normal mode as I didn’t care for this game enough to try it on a different difficulty setting.
On that note, the “Descent” portion of the game was the closest this game came to having a consistent plot and making sense, which is depressing considering the game implies it is not connected to the main story. The optional final boss of this dungeon was definitely something and it left an impact on me, but it was not enough to save this otherwise mediocre game as a whole.
And it is actually kind of saddening to admit that I did not care for this game, because it becomes quite obvious that its developer Colin Horgan was very passionate about this game, and it would be obvious even if “The Descent” post game dungeon didn’t break the fourth wall to insert himself into the game and somewhat subtly imply that the entire game is a meta-commentary on his own existence, or at least that’s the best interpretation I can come up with.
What I will give credit to Lucah though is that it is unique and interesting. As a critic, I’m often uncertain of how much I’m supposed to account for the fact that my perspective may not be shared by everyone. In review after review, my opinions are often inconsistent with the general consensus, but I also know there will at the very least be a few people who share my opinion or at the very least want to hear my view.
Ultimately I can’t say I actively say I enjoyed this game, but it is best to assume that people know what they like, and I’d say to go ahead and play it if you are still curious even after I said it wasn’t good.
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