by Emma Kostopolus, Video Game Columnist
As we round in on the spookiest time of the year, the heyday of the horror game is upon us. But Halloween is more than jump scares and running from monsters. Games can also partake in the spirit of the season with aesthetic choices so that even the biggest scaredy-cats can enjoy them. Such is the case with “Darkest Dungeon.”
“Darkest Dungeon” is a “gothic roguelike” developed and produced by Red Hook Studios and functions much like a standard turn-based RPG, where everyone stands in a line and patiently waits their turn to attack. Things don’t ever get boring, however, because of the stress mechanic: being attacked and walking through hallways in the dark causes stress to your party. Once a member’s stress meter is high enough, they gain a negative trait like “Paranoid” or “Abusive,” which effects how they attack enemies and interact with the other party members. If their stress meter fills again, their heart could give out and they could die. Juggling the different stress-effects of your team in combat keeps fighting from ever getting stale. And if your party is wiped out by stress or evil monsters, never fear; there’s a screen in the home village that allows you to hire new party members between missions.
In terms of story, I didn’t notice much of one making its way to the surface of the gameplay in my time spent crawling the dungeons. I vaguely remember the narrator mumbling at one point about having had to hire my party of characters for some purpose or another, but the game doesn’t really require an in-depth story to be interesting. Its focus lies, correctly, in the combat and in building its creepy atmosphere.
Speaking of which, the aesthetic is clearly a strong draw of the game and something the developers devoted a lot of time to. The cell-shaded animation is cartoony without being cutesy, and it complements the turn-of-the-century Lovecraftian horror vibe the game seems to be going for. The narration is another high point; the gruff voiceover lends a lot of gravity to the situations you party finds themselves in.
The replay value for this title is very high, if this is your kind of game. If turn-based dungeon-crawls aren’t your stuff, this is still a good time-killer, so I’d keep it downloaded on your laptop for when you’ve got a few spare moments to delve back into the creepy-cartoon world of the game. Be prepared for a bit of a learning curve, however; I found myself wishing at a few points that the tutorials had been more thorough, or that there was more explanation provided for the different statistics attached to characters and objects. Trial and error quickly answers any lingering questions, but you may lose a party member or two while learning the ropes.
Overall, “Darkest Dungeon” is a niche game for a niche audience, but still fun and well put-together. If you aren’t already a fan of the genre, this game could be the one to pull you in, with its accessible and dynamic gameplay. It is available on Steam for $24.99.