I Guess I Actually Like Roguelikes Now

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I Guess I Actually Like Roguelikes Now
Thanatos > Megaera. Fight me Ari. (Screenshot: Supergiant Games)

Roguelike is a dirty gaming word to me: I can’t think of a genre of game that appeals to me less than one in which you do the same things over and over again in slightly tweaked variations until you somehow find the magical combination of paths, abilities, or spells to win the game. But, through a series of chance encounters, I am now horribly, unhealthily obsessed with roguelikes, or at least two of them.

Roguelikes discourage me because I hate repetition. The reason I haven’t turned this website into a Dragon Age: Origins blog that occasionally reports on other things is because my game crashed, wiping out hours of progress. I would rather leave that game behind — one of my all-time favourites — than start over. Roguelikes are games where starting all over is baked into the design.

But despite this, I’ve recently fallen in love with two roguelikes, Hades and BPM: Bullets Per Minute. I fell into the first roguelike, Hades, because: horny. I saw a tweet of the game’s different Greek mythological heroes, some of whom were people of colour (!!!) and all of whom were smokin’ hot. Then there’s the main character, Prince Zagreus, who my coworker Ian described as a “bratty twink.” A game where the Greek gods and heroes are not all white people starring a moody, bratty twink with different coloured eyes and a giant sword?

Sign. Me. Up.

Where Hades works for me, roguelike hater, is because while yes, the game is a roguelike, you play it very much like a visual novel. And while I (formerly) hate roguelikes, your girl loves visual novels. Hades has gods and heroes to befriend. Some you woo; others you curry favour with in order to win rewards. To do that, you chat them up. How do you chat them up? You get sent back to the place they congregate by dying over and over again. Each time you die, a new route opens up with each character. Each time you chat with them, you deepen the relationship. Hades makes my least favourite part of roguelikes — starting over — into my favourite part of the game.

I can't tell you how much dumb fun it is to shoot these monsters to your own made up beat. (Screenshot: Awe Interactive) I can't tell you how much dumb fun it is to shoot these monsters to your own made up beat. (Screenshot: Awe Interactive)

While Hades hooked me with its visual-novel-disguised-as-a-roguelike premise, BPM: Bullets Per Minute has no such clever dissembling. It’s a game where you progress through the Nine Realms of Norse mythology, shooting demons in time with the heavy metal soundtrack. It makes you play, it makes you die, it makes you start over again. But damn it’s catchy.

Heavy metal isn’t my musical genre of choice (though I’ve been known to bump some System of a Down when the mood strikes), so I cannot tell you how BPM ended up in my rotation of games to play at least once a day. But in much the same way Hades is a visual novel, BPM is a music-making simulator. I enjoy the ability to make “beats” as I play, combining the sound of whatever new gun I’ve found with the new rhythms I can make through firing, reloading, and clever usage of half-beats and syncopation. It doesn’t take long to get to the fun part of the game, and I can knock out several attempts — some more successful than others — in just a scant 20 minutes of play while the musical aspects of it distract me from its core repetition.

Both Hades and BPM “tricked” me into enjoying their roguelike aspects because I’m preoccupied with something else — either talking to people (and romancing Thanatos) in Hades, or making music with gunfire in BPM. I don’t know if this newfound appreciation for roguelikes is because of the clever way these games manipulate the genre. I’m currently mulling over whether I want to give Rogue Legacy 2 a shot. But if I take my chances with traditional roguelikes and find they still aren’t for me, at least I have these two games to play over and over, just as their makers intended. 

Comments

  • “I can’t think of a genre of game that appeals to me less than one in which you do the same things over and over again in slightly tweaked variations until you somehow find the magical combination of paths, abilities, or spells to win the game.” Which is funny because that’s pretty much what almost every game boils down to: Doing the same things over and over again in slightly tweaked variations until you do the thing and win the game.

    • Look, I like roguelikes, and I can see where you’re coming from in the selective quote, but there is a substantial difference between a traditional roguelike where you repeat the starting area over and over in order to get a little bit further each time and a game where you aren’t effectively starting again from zero on each subsequent play.

      The reward systems in terms of progress are quite different. With a traditional roguelike the only goal is personal mastery, maybe with bit of light unlocking such as for a new character with a slightly different play style. With something else the goal is additional unlocks and permanent upgrades, story progression, cut scenes and scripted events and other game-defined Pavlovian rewards for effort that typically stick between gaming sessions and contribute to a significantly more structured feeling of progress not being ‘wasted’.

      Although this ultimately comes down to the fact that the term roguelike has been debased to such an extent that people are willing to describe a game like Hades as a ‘roguelike’ unironically.

      Despite the article author’s claims to the contrary, no, he still really doesn’t like roguelikes, it just happens to be the case that he’s found enough non-roguelike elements in these particular games to overcome his natural distaste for core parts of the genre.

    • Loops can repeat, but the feeling of losing progress is a different thing.

      I’m almost the same as Ash. I’ve uninstalled games for wasting my time. I’ve quit games and never returned because I died on an area where the checkpointing is poor and I just can’t be bothered doing all that shit again. I can count the number of NG+ I’ve actually done on one hand.
      But I like roguelikes for the same reason I like Soulslikes: when they’re well made, you can’t actually fail. Dying isn’t failure, it’s an incremental step towards a new tool and it gives you the chance to try again in something you know you can do if you practice. The loop is progression and the progression teaches you new things all the time. There’s always novelty and progress. It’s not just redoing the same thing the same way 10 more times.

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