Alone in a giant castle, coins fall from broken chandeliers and the paintings are trying to kill me. If I reach the chest in five seconds I’ll get a reward, just need to watch out for the spikes. Everything in this castle wants to kill me and when I die, that’s that. Rogue Legacy is a “rogue-light” genealogical action RPG. What? Basically, Rogue Legacy is a side-scrolling action RPG that has elements of rogue-likes, such as permadeath, as well its unique gene-based continuation system. The gameplay rewards patience and clever thinking, but the amount of stuff going on in a given room can be overwhelming and forces the player to think on the fly. By having the castle you enter randomize its layout each time you die the game feels fresh even through the 100th playthrough. What follows is a mix of tight controls, fresh-feeling gameplay, and light-hearted humor that will make you smile.
Rogue Legacy follows the lineage of the legendary knight, Johannes. His task was to enter this twisted castle and restore peace to a kingdom that has been in disarray. Now, playing as one of Johannes’ many heirs, your job is to return to said castle and find out what’s been going on. Each character you play is unique in terms of both traits and class. At first you’ll have classes such as knave, barbarian and knight but those can be upgraded to more powerful classes later on. For every run of the castle you take your character earns gold. This gold carries over for your next heir to spend on upgrades, such as more health or mana, as well as better items or weapon enchantments. Choosing the right upgrades at the right time can make all the difference starting out. Rogue Legacy can be tough, no doubt about it, and the game will take pride in murdering you as fast as possible. The gameplay feels akin to Spelunky but without the one-hit kills and with a much more refined combat system. While Spelunky was all about exploration, Rogue Legacy is all about action and giving the player the right tools to get the job done.
Death doesn’t just bring about the choosing of a new character in terms of class though. Each of the three potential heirs you can select from upon death have different traits. These can range from ADHD to Gigantisms to Alektorophobia. It took me well over 100 heirs to finally beat Rogue Legacy and the different traits add to keeping each run feeling fresh. While most of these traits are entertaining at the start of the game, playing an heir with colorblind or vertigo certainly is neat at first, you begin to realize which traits are easiest to play with. Some traits hinder your heirs while others are a huge help, and so you’ll be selecting your heirs genes based on how you want to play the game.
Rogue Legacy is split into four main areas of this vast castle and each area has its own boss. The goal is to track down the boss of each section and defeat it. This task becomes easier as each heir earns more gold for you to upgrade your future heirs with. Gold spending is pretty necessary in Rogue Legacy as you must relinquish any unspent gold to a demon before entering the castle. This means that any leftover gold is much better spent as it can’t be saved. Each run of the castle takes between 10 and 15 minutes or so. Even in the higher levels, with a ton of upgrades, I’d clear the first section pretty easily and end up dying somewhere in the third section. This quick turnaround from death to upgrades gives the constant feeling of “one more run” because you know with more health and that special sword you can do so much better. For as many times as I died in frustration there were just as many times that I restarted with a smile, I knew I could get further.
Rogue Legacy keeps the surprises coming as some traits didn’t make themselves fully realized until well into my time with it. When you figure out what these traits do they become not only helpful, but desirable. I started going out of my way to find a certain class with a certain trait because I knew the combination of the two would be incredibly effective. All the while I was slicing up baddies and earning mountains of gold. The enemies Rogue Legacy throws at you are not as varied as they could have been but their attacks are different enough to make the game feel less stale in the later stages. While enemy differentiation often resorts to a size increase and a color swap, their attacks change to where what worked for one similar looking enemy will not work for another. Perhaps the game’s greatest challenges are its mini-bosses and bosses alike. Mini-bosses are often found randomly throughout the stages and are more devastating versions of the enemies you typically face. Often times their attacks are hard to dodge and they do a lot of damage, but when taken down you receive a permanent stat bonus for every heir, which is pretty sweet. Bosses, on the other hand, can be serious progress killers as their aggressive attacks and projectile moves become hard to dodge and kill the player pretty quickly. For as tight as the controls are in Rogue Legacy, and they are very tight, I never felt as though I had quick enough movement capabilities to avoid the boss’ attacks.
This problem goes double for the final boss, who sits in the throne room that lies right in the entranceway of the castle. His attacks and onslaught are ridiculous and it required a few extra hours of gold farming just to feel somewhat confident about beating him. Thankfully the gameplay is fun enough that farming gold felt more like exacting revenge upon the castle that had wronged me so many times before. Besides those two minor complaints my only other gripe with Rogue Legacy is the occasional graphical glitch that pulls me out of the game. At times enemies will get stuck in the ground or their attacks will stay on screen after they’ve died. I’ve also heard of a bug that is potentially save-destroying when you die just after killing a boss but thankfully I did not experience this problem. These few bugs were truly minor complaints and while they did take me out of the experience at times they were not too common to become a serious problem.
Rogue Legacy bridges the gap between the old classics of the SNES days and newer indie titles of this generation. Its old-school graphical look and amazing soundtrack mesh with its clever gameplay concepts to create something truly unique. While boss battles can create a bit of a grind and the occasional glitch is fairly noticeable, I truly enjoyed my time with Rogue Legacy. Its fluid mix of combat, platforming, and smart humor made me enjoy each of my 100+ run throughs just as much as any other. After spending nearly 20 hours with the game I can honestly say I’d love to jump right back in, if only to conquer the castle just once more.