True confession: while I admire and enjoy the heck out of Undertale, the hugely influential 2015 indie RPG that rewards a peaceful approach to conflict, I’ve never actually managed to complete a pacifist run of the game. That’s because I stink at its bullet-hell combat, which demands lightning reflexes and near-perfect memorization throughout its lengthy and brutal boss battles. So you can imagine my delight when I happened upon an adorable RPG that swaps twitchy, rage-quit-inducing challenges for gentle word puzzles.
Leximan, from developer Knights of Borria, immediately caught my eye among the many booths at December 8’s Day of the Devs indie showcase. That was largely due to its monochromatic pixel art style, which is interspersed with trippy splashes of color. You play as a pointy-hatted wizard with a slinky, gliding stride, navigating your way through a variety of colourful dungeons and puzzles.
As is the case in any worthwhile dungeon, you’ll encounter baddies to dispatch, and Leximan puts a unique spin on the genre’s familiar turn-based combat. When you enter battle, you’ll see a swirling cloud of word fragments on the bottom half of the screen, which you can then use to create mystical incantations. There’s a variety of solutions to any given situation, and the most obvious word may not be the correct option—or the most interesting one. You might have a pretty clear idea of what will happen if you cast “Fireball,” but aren’t you the slightest bit curious about what might happen if you chose “Hairball” instead?
Once you’ve landed on your approach, the ensuing dialogue will dance and shimmer on the screen, often in vibrant contrast to the game’s mostly black-and-white aesthetic. On occasion, the game’s entire interface will transform or change color—as when I cast “yellow” in response to a foe wielding a green shield. These inventive riffs on the familiar combat system combine to allow each encounter to feel distinct and memorable in its own right. At least during my brief demo, there wasn’t any hint of the kind of spammy, repetitive encounters that often plague retro-styled role-playing games.
With its full-hearted embrace of punny turns of phrase, I wasn’t surprised to discover that the team behind Leximan is based in the UK (Cornwall, to be more precise). There’s a distinct dryness and Python-esque sensibility in the writing here that feels distinct from Undertale—and its many imitators—in a welcome way. If you’re a fan of an offbeat RPG with oodles of personality, this is one to watch.
Leximan does not yet have a release date, but you can wishlist it on Steam to keep on top of future updates.
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