Review by Victar
Reviewed: 09/13/11 | Updated: 09/14/11
An RPG parody masterpiece, on par with Cthulhu Saves the World
The brainchild of a team of imaginative Italians, Doom & Destiny is an RPG with turn-based combat, crafted via the popular RPG Maker computer software and released as an Xbox Live Indie Game for 240 MS Points, or $3. Its irreverent humor plus its customization options and adjustable-on-the-fly difficulty make it a worthy pick for RPG fans in general, and gamers who loved Breath of Death VII or Cthulhu Saves the World in particular.
Doom & Destiny's stellar rating is by $3 Indie Game standards, which are much less demanding than those of a $60 game, or even a $15 game. But for a very modest price, you get a thoroughly enjoyable romp.
You control a party of four nerdy "heroes". Combat is turn-based and menu-driven, like Dragon Quest. Unlike Dragon Quest, you don't choose the entire party's actions at the beginning of each round. Instead, you can see when each hero and each enemy is about to take action on an overhead turn gauge, and as each hero's turn comes up, he can make his battle menu selection accordingly. You may have previously encountered this user-friendly variant of turn-based RPG combat in Final Fantasy's ATB system, the Grandia series, or Aphelion Episodes 1 & 2.
The usual combat options to attack, guard, use an item, or use magic/skills are all there. What gives Doom & Destiny depth is the option to customize your characters' statistics on every level up. Each character has four statistics, Strength (physical attack damage), Dexterity (a very important stat affecting speed - more Dexterity means more turns in combat), Grit (boosts magic resistance, among other things) and Spirit (boosts magic points and spell power), and you won't be able to max them all out, leaving you to weigh options... should you have fighters that are faster, or stronger? Should your healer pump Strength to lay the smack down with physical attacks?
Statistic allocations are irrevocable - if you think you messed up big time, there's nothing you can do except lower the game difficulty to Normal or Easy. Other customization options can be rearranged anytime out of battle. Your heroes can purchase a number of different powers (they won't have the gold to buy everything unless they do some serious money grinding!) and change which special abilities are equipped and ready for use. You can also adjust whether each hero is up front (where they have more strength but less hit points), in the middle, or in the back (where they have more hit points but less strength), and the marching order of the heroes will give a certain statistic bonus to the leader/penalty to the rear guard.
Finally, there is an appreciable variety of statistical bonuses among the heroes' weapons and armor. The most expensive items might not necessarily be the best, and you'll have to make hard choices with your limited funds. Curiously enough, armor doesn't reduce physical damage taken - it only increases hit points, magic resistance, or occasionally other statistics.
The freedom to customize has significant restrictions, primarily because each hero has access to strictly unique powers - for example, only Mike can heal the whole party, while only Nigel can nuke all enemies at once. But the system is flexible enough to allow for variety in strategies in playstyles.
Battles are randomly generated (most of the time); running away may fail when the heroes are low level, but almost always succeeds when they outlevel their foes. The random encounter rate is quite reasonable, and battles are quick - even quicker if you're capable of overpowering foes with just physical attacks and hold down the LT trigger to speed things up.
It's possible to save anywhere. Technically, it's possible to save in an unwinnable situation (far from a safe haven with weak heroes and no healing items), but switching the game over to Easy difficulty can probably get you out of such a jam. You have to be deliberately trying to mess yourself up in order to put the game in an unwinnable state on Easy.
Which brings us to the difficulty level... Doom & Destiny prompts the player to choose between three difficulties ("Chillax" Easy, Normal, and Hard) at the beginning, but this choice can be changed at any time out of combat, from the options menu. Easy is a cakewalk. Normal is only modestly more challenging than Easy. But Hard is obnoxiously, tooth-grindingly, masochist-players-only Hard! Just surviving random encounters without draining all your healing items is a headache on Hard, and the later Hard bosses WILL send you to the Game Over screen.
This is a feature, not a flaw; Hard is designed especially for those obsessed with challenge in their RPGs. But since Hard pumps up the statistics of random encounter enemies as well, even a dedicated challenge gamer may want to discreetly switch the difficulty down to Easy for random encounter grinding, then back up to Hard for the bosses (this is complicated by the way some bosses surprise the heroes; I would recommend playing through the game once on Normal before messing with Hard anyway).
There are a few secret places to explore, several sidequests to pursue, and a handful of puzzles to mix up the gameplay. An upcoming patch promises to bring even more optional and bonus content. You get at least 6-8, possibly 12+ hours of gameplay for your hard-earned money, more if you're gung-ho to replay the game on Hard. It's impossible to return to certain areas in the game after progressing the story, but the game almost always warns the player when a point of no return is coming. There are really no down sides here, unless you just don't like turn-based JRPGs.
Again, this is by $3 Indie Game standards. You get the finest SNES-retrospective pixels that the RPG Maker software can cough up, which are notably better-looking than the pixels of actual SNES games. Most of the anime-style character and NPC portraits are from RPG Maker as well, with some original portraits generated by RPG Maker add-on tools. The heroes have different portraits reflecting their attitude at the moment, which is a nice touch, even if their default, open-mouthed-smile portraits of the statistics menu are eerily unflattering. Battle sprites have only a small amount of animation, although the things that characters and enemies yell when doing their special attacks are often funny.
The royalty-free, licensed music fits the game's stages very well, and is quite catchy at times. There is no voice acting. A few of the sound effects (especially some menu swooshes and attack sounds) are mildly annoying, but this is a minor flaw. The belch that heroes make whenever they eat/drink a healing item is hilarious.
I'm deducting one point for the assorted typos and grammatical errors in the story; this is a forgivable vice, especially since the game creators are Italian and speak English as a second language. It should also be stressed that the typos and grammar errors are never so severe as to confuse the player, which is more than I can say for multiple commercially released games (want to see some truly horrific Engrish? Check out Wild Arms 2 or Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion. Good games, nightmarishly bad translations).
Nit-pickiness aside, Doom & Destiny is just plain funny. The story begins when four nerdy friends come to visit their gamemaster's house for an evening of pen-and-paper role-playing. An unexpected event whisks them away to a fantastic world that is mysteriously similar to Final Fantasy... or is that Legend of Zelda? The Lord of the Rings? Super Mario Brothers? Inu-Yasha? The parodies come fast and furious, as does the bickering, slapstick humor, and laugh-out-loud silliness. Some of the jokes are raunchy, but never to a graphic or gross-out extreme (for example, the Japanese High School Tentacle Monsters are a deliberately pixilated blur). There's even an amazingly coherent plot with a dash of social satire ("St. Moriaz is a town where every day is Christmas, except for poor people who can't afford it. You look like poor people.") layered into the humor.
If the story has a weakness, it's that the four heroic nerds could use a little more distinction in their personalities. Francis stands out as the Only Sane Man in a world gone mad, while the other three are just slightly different flavors of idiot, with Mike taking the Idiot Prize. Also, some more female characters in major roles would have been nice. The all-male party may be a deliberate throwback to Final Fantasy 1, and a few significant female characters (notably the Elf Queen and a certain important individual near the end) help, but is it too much to hope for more girls in a sequel? That's girls, not boobies.
Is Doom & Destiny worth your $3?
Yes, with a vengeance! Doom & Destiny ties with Cthulhu Saves the World for best RPG currently available on Xbox Live Indie Games. Even if you're brand new to RPGs, you can coast through the game on Easy while enjoying the hilarious story. If you are an insane/hardcore RPG player, then Hard mode has got your challenge and then some. There's something for everyone, and the pacing never drags. Don't pass this gem up!
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Doom & Destiny (US, 08/25/11)
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